The force of Filppu

One teacher’s fight for what’s right

As we walk into room 205, adorned with fairy lights and plastered with inspirational posters wall to wall,  English teacher Lucy Filppu waves us in and urges us to sit in her soft chairs. She’s engaged in conversation with two of her students, chatting with them about their lives, academic progress, and her brand-new club “Power Moves,” but she happily welcomes us into the conversation. 

When we asked, Filppu said she didn’t think she does enough to be considered an activist, noting that she doesn’t spend her weekends going to protests and that she doesn’t think she does enough for her underprivileged students. 

However, talking to those around her in the Palo Alto High School community — students and fellow staff members —  a drastically different story emerged. 

Filppu, who teaches several English classes at Paly, takes issue with inequity in aspects of the school and college application systems and works to help her students.

Although advisories explain a variety of possible paths after high school, lessons tend to center on four-year college planning. Filppu says other avenues need to be emphasized as well, especially to support students of lower socioeconomic status.

“Private four year colleges cost about $320,000 over four years,” Filppu said. “We need to get real and recognize that many of our students need another path.”

Senior Andy Robinson, who is in Filppu’s advisory, highlighted her commitment to this idea.

“She’s really not interested in fueling competition between students,” Robinson said. “She’s really emphasized that there’s lots of paths after college, and that’s something she takes very, very, very seriously.”

Senior Mia Rose Tuifua, also in Filppu’s advisory, said Filppu is dedicated to looking out for first generation college students and gives them the support they need. 

“As a first-gen student, I really feel her support,” Tuifua said. “She wants to make sure all of her students regardless of race, class, get the equal opportunity to apply to college and go.”

Tuifua said Filppu makes sure her students do their work and works them hard in order to help them succeed. 

She’s really not interested in fueling competition between students,

— Andy Robinson

“She sets high expectations for us, but honestly it just pushes us to be the best that we can,” Tuifua said.

Another area that Filppu specifically focuses on is the barriers that prevent students from taking AP courses, such as the high prices of the end-of-year exams. 

“I wish we could defray the costs of the tests for all students, I wish more students felt safe to enroll in APs, I wish we offered ‘pre-AP’ courses for students such as those in AVID so they could better prepare for APs,” Filppu said. 

As part of her quest to make the AP system at Paly more accessible, Filppu encourages underrepresented students to enroll in her AP Seminar class, which focuses on research projects. 

“We need to be more deliberate about giving underrepresented students the courage and the tools to take APs if they so choose,” Filppu said. 

Robinson also said Filppu expresses her passion for equality frankly to her class. 

“She’s never afraid to have uncomfortable conversations with her students, but in a way that’s humorous but also productive,” he said. 

History and social justice pathway teacher Caitlin Drewes said she sees Filppu as someone who respects her students.

“I see her on campus as this really positive force who really tries to see kids as individuals, as humans, to understand them and like what are the things you need,” Drewes said. 

Drewes also mentioned Filppu’s efforts in making sure her classroom is a just place. 

She wants to make sure all of her students regardless of race, class, get the equal opportunity to apply to college and go.

— Mia Rose Tuifua

“She’s done a huge amount of work in the last year trying to make her teaching practice more equitable and try to support BIPOC students in all kinds of ways, but specifically her classroom,” Drewes said.

This work that Filppu has done inspires other staff members on campus as well, Drewes said. 

“Once you hear what she does, it’s like it makes you think about your own practice and what you want to change in your own classroom,” Drewes said. 

Filppu said if she could change one thing for her students, it would be changing the way their personal relationships are valued. 

“I believe spending hours being there for a friend is as valuable as studying for a test,” Filppu said. 

Filppu also mentioned how the college application system doesn’t allow room for students to mention their greater familial responsibilities, and the lengths some students go to in order to maintain relationships

Through her many classes and her Advisory, Filppu strives to promote equality between students.

 “Every student at Paly deserves the same amount of attention and passion,” Filppu said.