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Berkeley High vs. Other High Schools

Berkeley Parents Network > Reviews > K-12 Schools > Berkeley Public Schools > Berkeley High School > Berkeley High vs. Other High Schools


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Berkeley High vs. El Cerrito High School?

March 2013

Wondering if any parents can talk to me about the pros/cons of Berkeley and El Cerrito High Schools? I'm specifically interested in Spanish language classes (our kids are in Dual Immersion programs right now- Spanish/English), AP classes, and extra curricular activities like sports and music. Thanks. Future HS parent


I don't know a lot about ECHS but here's my short assessment of BHS: It is an amazing school for the right kid and a terrible school for the wrong kid. It is a huge school, and especially in the large programs (AC and IB) it is very easy for kids to fall through the cracks. It is easy to skip classes and fail classes without anyone noticing or talking to the kids or parents. The proximity to downtown Berkeley and Telegraph Ave. provides temptations galore.

On the other hand, if your student is motivated, self-directed and good at advocating for him/herself, it is a vibrant, exciting place. BHS has tons of excellent extra-curricular activities, 75 sports teams, clubs of every imaginable kind (anime, math, public service, etc) and great music, dance and arts programs. BHS has more AP classes than any kid should ever take, but many take them all, which also makes it very academically competitive.

I have heard that ECHS is like BHS-lite, i.e., similar but scaled down in size and academics. I have no idea if that is true... --happy BHS parent


Best Public High School in Berkeley Area?

Dec 2009

Friends from Philadelphia are moving to the Berkeley area to be near family, and they can move anywhere, really. So they want to move where their 7th and 9th grade boys can attend the best public high school. The kids have always attended a private school in Phila. that has a nurturing faculty, a rigorous curriculum, and very challenging and demanding academic standards. They are thriving there, and my friends want to continue along the same vein. However, they want to send them to a public school and not spend the money on tuition for private schools. Additionally, they would like their kids to have the opportunity to attend a public school. I'm new here myself and my baby is years away from high school, so I don't know how to advise them. They've poured over the BPN archives but are still confused. What are your votes? Never mind ''scores,'' but what do you think is the best public high school, and why? Here are some of the ways one might define ''best'': a school with a diverse student body that challenges, stimulates, and inspires. One that encourages kids to take intellectual risks and develop critical thinking skills, and that nurtures a life-long love of learning. One that has a diverse curriculum with innovative teaching, exciting classes, and artistic offerings. A school that helps the students become engaged participants in their community and to become thoughtful, caring people. They could move anywhere: Berkeley, Oakland, Piedmont, etc, maybe even in a northerly direction. Thanks! Looking forward to hearing your ideas


Berkeley High, where I went to school is excellent! I also went to private school up to 9th grade, and it's a great school.
- Good teachers
- Tons of AP classes
- Very very diverse 45% White 45% African-American 5% Asian 5% Hispanic
- Many socio-economic backgrounds, some of the wealthiest in Berkeley, along with some of the poorest.

Their children will receive way more at Berkeley High than at any other high school in the Bay Area. It's not only the education that counts but also the interaction that their children will have with other students. I can say that Berkeley High helped me way more than my time at private school. Many of my classmates went onto UC Berkeley, Davis, Santa Cruz, Cal Poly, and UCLA. It's a great place. Feel free to email me if your friends have more questions. jacob


I had to respond to the question about folks moving to the Berkeley area from Philly because my husband is from Philly. He attended Catholic Schools there. We are happy with the Berkeley Public Schools. Your friends should check out BUSD. Whether or not they are the ''best,'' well, that is for them to decide, but BUSD does offer strong academics. My daughters claim their East Coast boy cousins would feel right at home at King Middle School and Berkeley High. Your friends may contact us with questions. Tricia

BHS vs private school "real life" experience?

August 2009

Re: Public vs. private "real life" experience?
Hello to you. Wanted to share our experience. Our son went to a private K-8th grade school, and we were eager to put him into Berkeley High School come 9th grade, which we did. That was our intention all along. However, 9th grade there was a lost year for our child, at least academically. It matters which small school your student is in. The fit has to work, the whole environment has to work for your kid. It wasn't good for ours, and after a negligent response by the school administration to verbal and physical threats our kid received at the end of the year, he wanted out. He's now at CPS, so we've experienced both environments. Both schools have pros and cons and my heart was broken when we decided he needed to leave BHS. I do not believe a kid at this age needs those ''real life'' experiences we all have dragged on about. There's a level of cushy entitledness at the private high schools that makes me ill, but they get plenty of experience outside of school, and there's time after high school, too, to be involved in their communities... CPS and I'm sure others, have many wonderful volunteer programs. One might say that at this age when kids can be vicious and out of control, that the intensity of it isn't real, either, that it's endemic to the age. Frankly, it can cause some real hurt. Then again, BHS is an energized place filled with interesting kids and they're seriously trying to make a go of it there - to bring everyone together... it always comes down to who your kid is and to try to make the fit a good one, if one is able. I just don't go for that real life stuff anymore. (I'd be happy to talk with you more, let me know) g.


My husband and I both went to private high schools (not in California) and had very uneven experiences. My husband was asked to leave one school, and loved the other for its sports programs and a particular great biology teacher. I went to three different boarding schools - two of them rather insular and nasty, the third larger, with a wider range of activities and an atmosphere that is difficult to duplicate.

I haven't seen any private schools in California that compare to that school. The closest in style and opportunity would be Berkeley High. We sent both our kids to public schools because we wanted to save for college, and also because we felt we could fill in any gaps in what they received - for us in particular that was international travel, camping and wilderness experiences, occasional private tutoring, and private music lessons. We also have volunteered at their schools and made donations to the schools wherever possible. Public schools can be uneven in the quality of teachers, and rather rigid in their bureaucratic requirements, but my kids have had some extraordinarily good teachers and really good teaching in a variety of subjects. My daughter, now in college, looks back in astonishment at all she achieved in high school. Both kids are pretty confident in all sorts of situations. For them, I think we made the right choice. Berkeley High parent


Alternatives to BHS for smart middle schooler with low motivation

March 2005

I have a 13 yr old son who is currently attending Willard Middle School. He enjoys the social aspects of school but has no interest in any of his classes. He makes C's and D's sometimes F's. He is very bright scores high on standard tests, has great comprehension and will participate in class discussions with intelligent and insightful questions and answers but gives little to know effort in homework or class work. All of his teachers agree that he does not work to his potential and with little effort could be an A/B student. This is not new for him. He has displayed the same dis-interest in school since 1st grade. I have tried public and private school for him but it hasn't made any difference. He just has no interest in school and consistently does the bare minimal. I am worried about sending him to Berkeley High , even with the small schools as an option, I feel he has such little self direction and motivation that he will definately be lost and tempted to hang out in the park across from the high school. Does anyone know of any kind of alternative education for an early teen other than Independent Study or the Berkeley Alternative School?


If he participates in discussions, it doesn't sound like he is completely uninterested in school. Have you had him tested for learning disabilities? Do you think he might have an executive function problem or a reading or writing problem? What does he do in class when the other students are doing the work? That might be a clue to what's stopping him; he might have a hidden difficulty, or it might just be boring, but 'it's stupid' or 'it's boring' can often be a defensive answer when a kid finds something hard and doesn't know why. If he's picking up enough by listening and talking, to learn the material, then it sounds like he's learning everything he needs to except for improving his reading and writing skills. A couple of examples that help some kids: some people need books on tape, some need a computer to type on, or a computer to talk into, some need someone to sit down with them and get them going with their homework, maybe even sit nearby and read the whole time - sometimes after spending an hour processing homework anxiety :-{ ('I can't do it' 'Just write something; write your name' 'I can't, I just can't' 'Dictate to me; I'll type it' and on and on) In my son's case this got a lot better with a keyboard and practice; now he doesn't have the anxiety.

A friend of my son's who is super-smart but has serious organization, time management, and motivation issues did well at Arrowsmith, graduated, got into good colleges. (Lack of motivation can come from an inability to make yourself do something; it's not always lack of desire.) Good luck! anon


Try looking into these public schools, which seem to be good alternatives to a traditional high schools: Millenium High School in Piedmont, Middle College High School at Merritt College or Contra Costa College, Leadership Public Charter High School in Oakland or Richmond. -mom of a high schooler
Check into millenium High School in Piedmont. It's free, not always easy to get into but not impossible. Works well for some kids with traits you describe in your son. The principal is a great guy and very knowledgeable and compassionate.

Why Should I Send My Child to Berkeley High?

I have a 7th grade son in in private school. We live in Berkeley and would like to consider Berkeley High for high school when the time comes. Through this mailing list and the BHS email tree I have read every reason in the book NOT to send my son there. I understand that there are problems in every school but from what people write BHS sounds terrible. I realize that it can't be as bad as that. Please, for myself and others families in the same boat, tell us all the good things about BHS. Tell us, WHY SHOULD WE WANT TO SEND OUR CHILDREN TO BHS? Thanks in advance
We, like you, worried when our daughter was in middle school about sending her to BHS. Now that she is an eleventh grader there we are pleased on a daily basis that she is having the BHS experience. Like you, when we read the newsletter or the e-tree we sometimes cringe. But when we see how our daughter is faring we couldn't be happier. She has had fabulous teachers, teachers who are truly dedicated to the kids, who inspire them and motivate them. True, there have been some less than stellar teachers as well, and we would be thrilled to see our student in a better maintained and more esthetically pleasing physical plant. But we could not be more pleased with the development of her critical thinking, with her passion for Latin and biology, with her awareness of social and interpersonal issues, with her independence and sense of self reliance. BHS is not ideal for every kid. But for a kid who likes the challenge of a diverse and lively social and learning environment it is great. As we move closer to the time for applying to college we hear more and more about how colleges love BHS graduates and we can see why. The assets of BHS have become ever more apparent as our daughter has proceeded through her years there. Good luck. Anonymous
I asked my sons your question. The junior responded "People think BHS is still all ghetto [I think that's slang for tough or dangerous]. It hasn't been like that for 8 years. It's a cool place." He feels an almost patriotic fervor for the school.

Here's what I think: Being a student at Berkeley High School is very similar to being an undergrad at UC Berkeley. It's a very big school and the possibility exists that your kid will sink like a stone if he doesn't figure out pretty quickly how to take care of business on his own (filling out the right forms, standing in the right line, etc.) But because of its size, and its faculty and student body, there is also a much richer environment than what you will find at any other school in the area, public or private. Is your child academically oriented? There are many, many AP classes at BHS (compare to area private schools). Gifted teachers. Esoteric classes. Better computer science classes than any other school I checked. Does your child want to play a sport? How about men's *and* women's crew, rugby, basketball, lacrosse, wrestling, golf, water polo just to name a few. (By the way there is even a girl on the football team - she is the kicker and apparently a respectable one according to my jock son.) Is your kid into the arts? Music? There's a world famous jazz band, an orchestra, chamber music group, pep band, and new ones always forming like this year's Afro-Cuban percussion group. There are a number of dance groups. There are art and photography studios, a radio station, a video production studio, an excellent newspaper. There are smaller schools within the school, like CAS, and there are groups, teams, and clubs that kids gravitate to and identify with. All kinds of clubs, from the usual (chess club, which by the way I'm told beat the one from CPS last year) to the unusual (BBQ club that grills meat outdoors at lunch). There is literally something for everyone, and if your kid doesn't get excited about something at BHS, he can start up a new club. My freshman and his pals started a "skateboard video production" club. I don't know what it means, but they got a faculty sponsor and weekend check-out permissions for a video camera.

How come there are so many complaints? Because BHS is a big underfunded bureaucracy, because there are a whole lot of parents at BHS who have high expectations, and because the bigger and more complicated the machine is, the more things there are that can go wrong. There's no lack of stuff to complain about and the school sure doesn't work for every kid - just as kids get lost at UC Berkeley and drop through the cracks, so it goes at Berkeley High School too. But the machine is big, and has many admirable components, and it works amazingly well despite the broken parts. The opportunities at BHS for a kid to become engaged, to flower, to be exposed to new ideas, to both discover himself and feel part of a group - those opportunities are just far beyond what you can find anywhere else. And that is the reason there are so many of us who proudly send our kids to BHS even as we continue to gripe.


The answer according to our daughter is: If he's a large self-confident boy, he'll probably be fine. If he's small and shy, he will likely be picked on. Getting good teachers is sometimes a challenge - you have to work the system. Some of the teachers are great - maybe the best anywhere. 9th grade is probably a waste but the school has lots of AP classes. Extra-curricular activities are very good - the school has lots of sports, clubs, and other fun things to get involved in. Another good thing: because of BHS's size there are many different groups to relate to - a kid can usually find their niche. Down side: depressing facilities, arson has been a problem but less so this year, you can get stuck with crummy teachers, and the administration is a huge bureaucracy that is difficult to deal with. -- Anonymous
We chose Berkeley High for many reasons. My husband interviews applicants for his alma mater and his experience over many years is that the students from Berkeley High are far more impressive, articulate and know themselves better than the applicants he interviews from local college preps. Understand, he is not reviewing test scores, grades, etc. It is just a "get to know you" interview.

We were overwhelmed by the sense that the college preps "spoon feed" the students. They have an incredible amount of academic stress, but all else is laid out for them. At a large urban high school, kids need to gather lots of information, make decisions, and go to bat for themselves when necessary. It is a great lesson in the ways of the world that can take place 10 minutes from home with parental support, rather than away from home with no network when first attending college.

Berkeley High School is far more representative of the community we live in than the independent schools, and the teachers who are good, are great.

We understand that there are many problems, but there are also hundreds of students who love their time at BHS. We know that we will have to keep our ears and eyes open, help our child over bureaucratic hurdles, know when to say "tough it out" and when to say "you need our help." It really requires a commitment on the parts of the parents and student to keep each other informed. Anonymous


In reply to "Why should we want to send our children to Berkeley High?" Here are some reasons: the incredible variety of academic subjects offered; the incredible variety of performing arts, athletics, school clubs (organized by and for students), student newspaper, etc.offered; some great and caring teachers (along with the not-great and non-caring); the astonishing energy, passion, and knowledge of the student body; diveristy of every sort; the opportunity for your child to learn about almost anything he is interested in; the freedom to make choices; last--and by no means least--it's free (some of us don't have the option of paying for private school).

A few years back, before BHS had really entered my radar, I met a woman in a line who told me her daughter had just graduated from BHS and gone off to frica for a few months. She told me that because of her child's experience at BHS, her daughter would be informed, comfortable, knowledgeable, and "street-smart," and would be able to go anywhere in the world and have the skills to find and do anything she wanted. I can't imagine that being said of the educational experience to be had at any private (or other public) high school in this area. BHS may or may not be for your child; but you should definitely see for yourself when the time comes and not rely on what you read or hear from others (including me!) to make your decision.


Why should you send your child to Berkeley High?

I asked my AP Chemistry students (mostly sophomores) this question. Some of their answers:

    1) Cliques don't dominate the social life of the school.  You can find 
friends who share your interests.
    2) Great teachers
    3) Diverse student body so you experience lots of different cultures and it
better representsthe world.
    4) Large variety of interesting classes
    5) You learn to deal with things (difficult people, difficult bureaucracy, etc
.)
A lot of responsibility is put on you to become organized yourself.
    6) BHS graduates know how to make thier way through difficult situations as
opposed to some sheltered prep school kids.
    7) Good arts program
    8) Good exchange programs with local colleges
    9) Colleges really like BHS graduates because they realize our graduates are
well prepared for the world.
    10) There is every club you could ever want:  examples:  Club Sorbet (the
ice-cream eating club), DJ club, Oceanic Club, barbecue club, movie watchers club,
break dance club, animation club, gay-straight alliance, renaissance club, many
religious clubs
    11) Widest variety of sports offerings west of the Mississippi
    12) Best gym and football field in the region
    13) Excellent music program
Steve Brand, BHS Science Dept.
MY TOP TEN REASONS: 

10. Because most of us can't afford to spend our kids to private schools,
like Head Royce, College Prep. 

9. There are more kids of color than in any private school, and kids from
every socio-economic background--in other words, diversity. 

8. Tons of activities and clubs--from Haapa to Ice Cream Lovers -- it's not
just academics our kids go to school for -- the variety is far beyond what
you will find at a private school. 

7. There are many, many sports--60 teams, 32 sports (fencing and women's
rugby recently added). 

6. There's a great music program that produces the pep band (going to Japan
this summer), the jazz band (been to Japan and Europe over the years), and
performing arts/drama groups. 

5. There's CAS - Communications, Arts and Sciences - a program lauded by
UCSC admissions (I read it in the BHS Bullettin reported by Rick Ayers, the
head of CAS--28 students on the CAS list of applicants to UCSC, with 15
accepted outright--four African-Americans, four Latinos, and seven white),
which leads into the fact that Rick Ayers also, along with his students,
produces a great newspaper - two Berkeley High Jacket reporters were just
written up in People magazine (Julia Roberts on the cover) about a story
they broke ahead of all the major papers regarding the Indian landlord,
Reddy, bringing young girls over from India for sex. 

4. Community service and political activism -- these are BHS kids who have
found their voices and want to be heard for causes they believe in
(currently, a Student Bill of Rights is being drawn up). 

3. Some excellent teachers (dedicated, stay after school for hours helping
students)--many more good teachers than bad; you just hear about all the bad
ones, and what complements the good teachers are some very intellectual, and
challenging courses and electives offered, e.g., Intellectual Psych. 

2. The BHS Health Center -- complete in its services and serves the student
by being able to give complete check-ups and maintains confidentiality. 

1. BHS has the greatest college counselor for a high school ever in Rory
Bled--colleges really like BHS students (last year, 1999--four students were
accepted to Harvard--percentage-wise, way above any private school
acceptance). 

It's dynamic, creative, often chaotic, but always there and
changing--teaches kids more about life and success than a safe, cocoon-like
environment you might find during school hours in a private school.  The
real world will come to your child eventually, and Berkeley High provides a
microcosm not unlike a large college or university, or urban city, more
gritty than you might wish for your child. 

If your child stays in private school, you may feel you have less to worry
about, but don't let that lull you into a sense of security -- private
school students go out and drink and binge on weekends as much as, or more
than, BHS kids; private school students have a high incidence of anorexia
among its female students, along with the drugs, drinking and sex, and
there's no health center like BHS in a private school to drop in on;
everyone in a private school will know your business (these down sides to
private schools were related to me by my BHS student who has partied with
private school students and BHS students). -Anon (April 2000)

I just want to thank all of you who took the time to respond to the request for highlighting the positive features of BHS. As the parent of a child still in 5th grade, high school is a bit in the future, but not really that far away. Reading the bulletins restored my sense of why I still live in Berkeley, which can be a complicated and difficult experience a lot of the time. But this is a fantastic city and our high school is our breeding ground for people who will see to it that it remains diverse, politically and culturally active, and brilliant for the future. Thank you for reminding me why I love it here. Lisa (4/00)
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