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Communication Arts & Science Program (CAS) at BHS

Berkeley Parents Network > Reviews > K-12 Schools > Berkeley Public Schools > Berkeley High School > Communication Arts & Science Program (CAS) at BHS



March 2011 Student Review of CAS

March 2011

RE: Starting BHS next year - which small school?

My kid is starting Berk. High next year & we want to hear about your experience w/ Academic Choice, BHIS & Communication Arts & Science. He is into computers more than anything but also loves math & has a knack for reading. Writing is a forte but he gets writer's block & has hard time starting, so too many papers prove problematic. Kids from BHIS gave a great presentation at recent open house so son was interested but BHIS has less elective than AC. How much homework do these schools give? Any opinions on the teachers? How are the advanced placement courses? BHS Students reading this, feel free to answer so we can hear from the horse's mouth! need more info


Hi, I'm a junior at Berkeley High and I'm in the Communication Arts & Sciences small school CAS. I love it! I think it's the best thing ever. You said your son likes computers and i have taken two computer arts classes and i liked them both and as a junior you take a video class which i think is one of the coolest classes ever. You also said he has a knack for math i don't like the math program its IMP(integrated math program) personally i don't like it but i have friends that do. It's all word problems and they try to use real life problems. The English teachers are absolutely amazing, they help you so much, I also get writers block but they give you planning sheets for essays that really help and the teachers will make sure your thesis for a paper is perfect. CAS is like a family, going to school and having my teachers and classmates all being so close has made my Berkeley High experience great. BIHS is also a good school. If you have any other questions feel free to email me. T.

CAS and academic difficulty


Feb 2011

Re: Confused about course choices and how rigorous the schools are
I'm sorry to say that my experience with CAS was not a good one. They claim to be interested in meeting individual needs and pride themselves on being equally ''rigorous'' as the bigger schools, but that's not what happened. My son looked at the IMP2 math book the first day of 9th grade and reported that there was nothing new until page 300. Nonetheless, they would not let him take IMP3 or any other math outside of CAS. The teacher made some attempts to challenge him, but he was mostly very bored. The reason they gave for not changing his class was so that he would not be seen as better or tracked higher than the rest of the class. However, when the teacher asked a question no one else could answer, she'd call on him knowing he could answer (waking him up; he didn't volunteer), which made him feel like a show-off and teacher's pet. The counselor (bless Molly Offerman!) advised him to take online Geometry from BYU over the summer (which he did easily and got an A) and went over the CAS lead teacher's head to put him in Algebra 2 for 10th grade. He also wasn't very impressed with the English teacher, (I agreed), and fixed the computer teacher's computer for him. He wanted to take biology after that because he said he didn't learn any biology in his class in CAS. He ended up switching to Independent Study. Disappointed and Disillusioned


Nov 2009

My daughter is an eighth grader and will be attending Berkeley High next year. I would like to have some feed back regarding CAS and the academic difficulty. How your child likes it and what ever insight you may have. Also, I would also like to have feedback about any of the other schools. We are getting prepared for the ouknown-scary. much appreciation for any information. Thank You. Megan


You inquired about CAS...my son was there for his freshman year (he is now a junior) and HATED it. He found the IMP math pretty bad (though he tested into honors geometry), though loved English there. We tried to move him into a more traditional math class but this was met with great resistance from the teachers. For him, it was totally not the right place. He was put in a a role of teaching others ''Why do I need to teach some of these kids when they don't care to learn?'' and felt like it was a lost year academically. A CAS graduate told me that IMP math underprepared her for the SATs though she did get into a great college. Have thing changed? I don't know...all I can say finally is...GOOD LUCK!! anon

Jan 2009 Parent Review of CAS

Jan 2009

Re: Entering freshman confused about AC vs. international program
I have two daughters at BHS, a freshman in AC, and a senior in CAS. We have always been very satisfied with both the academic and social aspects of CAS. My daughter has had excellent teachers- passionate, bright, committed, engaged, and available. Her classes are rigorous in their content and expectation. Student and parent support is available and consistent. CAS community is strong- of course this is a benefit of small schools. CAS, like any group that reflects a mix of socio-economic groups, is not perfect, but it overcomes adversity with understanding and respect for all. I hope that my daughter in AC will learn similar values as my CAS daughter has- academic rigor, hard work, respect for others, and commitment to the community in which we live. amy b


Discussions about CAS from 2002

October 2002

Re: Race matters at Berkeley High
Althought I am no expert on race relations, I did want to put in a plug for the Communication, Arts, and Science, CAS Small School program at BHS. This is the fourth year my son has been in CAS under the leadership of Rick Ayers, Bill Pratt, and other very talented and dedicated teachers. Students in this program take their core English/History classes together and share some required electives. They do community service, short retreats, and longer trips,(Cuba, Vietnam), together.

When my son first started in CAS, I remember Rick Ayers telling the parents that it took about four years for each class to truly become integrated. He said that over the four years, the students came to know and understand each other as individuals, they learned to trust each other with deeper feelings, and to honor the very different backgrounds of the individuals in this diverse program.

Now that my son is a senior, I see that Rick was right. I believe that people need a context in which they can become comfortable with each other as individuals. CAS has provided the structure and curriculum for the students to question and discuss social issues and, most importantly, to truly get to know each other. With the depth and longevity of this program, the stereotypes and racist reactions drop off and are replaced with true relationships that go beyond superficial boundaries.

There are many advantages to a small school. It is a plus just to have a group of caring teachers and students who know you through all four years of school. There are a few drawbacks, too. But for anyone who would like to experience a rich and culturally diverse program, I recommend CAS for an integrated, learning environment. Candace


I agree that CAS is a wonderful opportunity -- for those who get in. It is a small school and space is limited. My son was a CAS "reject," and Rich couldn't give me any good reason why he wasn't chosen. My son's oldest friend did get in -- and he's doing very, very well. My son is doing very poor at Berkeley High, and frankly, I think it's horribly unfair that CAS isn't available to everyone. i know it's too small, but it is elitest and and not fair for a public school to summarily pick and choose in a public school. My tax dollars pay for CAS, just as it does to BHS, but my son can't go to CAS. So I'm not so sure CAS should be viewed as a wonderful alternative to BHS, because it is NOT available to the majority of the students who wish to enroll. -- Anonymous
My son (now a senior) applied to CAS his freshman year. Every friend who applied was accepted but he was not. Being the person he his, he suffered a great deal from this and it colored much of how he felt about the school his first year. He did join Common Ground last year and enjoyed the small school feeling, but that program appears to be falling apart! My daughter (a freshman) is interested in CAS for next year but I'm hesitant. I don't know what the answer is but it IS a public school. I realize not everyone is chosen for the football team or to play in the jazz band but I think for an academic program specific guidelines need to be laid out as to the necessary requirements for admittance. My son had no idea whether his rejection was for academic or personal reasons. Anyone with ideas as to how this works?? anonymous..sorry, I've got kids!
I was sorry that the parent signed Anonymous was not able to get her son into the Communication Arts and Sciences program. And I must agree with her that I could give her no good reason why he did not get in, because there is no good reason. We have many students who try to get into the small schools at Berkeley High but are turned away because there just is not room. CAS is certainly not an "elite" program; we are committed to maintaining a diverse program that represents the cross-section of the BHS population. We do not admit students based on merit (like a grade review) or recommendation. Our main criterion is the interest of the student in committing to this learning community. Since we have many more students express such commitment than we can accept (and still be a small school), we have to simply do a blind draw. I'm sure that's where her son got missed.

There is absolutely no reason that the BUSD could not be offering more small school programs. There is no reason anyone in 8th grade should have to deal with "rejection" from an application for a program. But that has to be taken up with the district and the high school administration, which has so far tolerated our presence but with plenty of eye-rolling and complaining about the problems we cause by trying to be innovative. The board rejected a proposal to create a vital small schools consortium at Berkeley High last December and since then we've been in a kind of limbo, wondering what was going to be allowed next. We certainly did not start CAS to create an elite center but rather to show an alternative way to develop learning communities.

Some on the staff have argued - and we will hear this more in the coming months - that CAS has attracted too many great teachers, has developed too many interesting and exciting programs, and has made the students in the program too happy. This is what I call the "equity of millstones" theory. If we're so miserable over here, what are you doing having so much fun? But we have done nothing wrong. We don't have any extra district funds. We have simply set up a more vital and engaging learning community. Instead of getting attacked for that, we had hoped we'd be seen as a pilot, we'd hoped we were inspiring more changes and transformations at the school.

A glance at Educational Leadership (the journal for superintendents), Harvard Ed Review, or even last week's East Bay Express show the most obvious - that small schools are the most effective, economical, and exciting ways to educational innovation. But bureaucratic jealousy, narrow power centers, and lack of vision seem to have stagnated the development of small schools at Berkeley High. Rumors, but no concrete discussion, of some kind of generic houses suggest that current programs may be further undermined in favor of standardization.

We are sorry that Anonymous' son is not having a good experience at the high school. We wish our leadership were unleashing more creative innovation which is held down in the current structure. Sincerely Rick Ayers CAS, Berkeley High School


Dear anonymous who wrote in about not being able to get their child into CAS. Your complaint about not enough choices and possibilites at BHS are well taken. My advice, to you, and others, is to lobby all School Board Members about the need to immediately proceed to a process to create more options for students at BHS. Right now the process is stalled and the same difficult situation may continue to exist next year unless we move ahead swiftly. I believe it is very possible to develop many more small schools at BHS, some may eventually be like the existing small schools, but there are also some tremendous other possibilities already in existence at other High Schools across this nation. AND, this does in no way preclude having traditional models as well. Get involved and help BHS meet the needs of more of it's students than it now does. Terry Doran - Berkeley School Board Member
I'm shedding my anonymity in light of your replies to my email. The main point of my initial email was to alert other parents who had written in that CAS is NOT available to everyone, and that people who are not given a space end up with few options. The feelings of rejection from the kids when CAS doesn't accept them is clear from others who have subsequently written in. I do think CAS is a great program; I wish there were more of them, but that is a struggle that you both know is still being tackled. It's going to take a lot of time, effort and money for other such programs to become available and for them to succeed.

I could only address my own personal concerns, in re: my son's falling through the cracks as a way of showing how the "system" as it were works for some, and not for others. Obviously, if there were more CAS-like programs, many more children would have the wonderful opportunities that only a few do at this time. My son tried Common Ground, but for many reasons it simply didn't work out. The field-trip problems, i.e. the Yosemite trip, the confusion over the grading system, the disruption in the classrooms from students over-politicizing anything being taught, etcetera, made the whole experience a resounding failure for my child. One teacher told me that because he was student himself he didn't have "time" to contact me when my son was having trouble in the class, and ended up giving out an F, much to me and my son's surprise.

I was lucky enough to get my son in Independent Studies this year, and though it is difficult, he is really enjoying it. No violence, no rowdy's in the classroom, one on one attention, and a flexible daily schedule make this program really neat for those kids who can manage it. However, they currently have a waiting list of 56 kids who are eithering still suffering at BHS, or may have chosen to drop out of school.

While I am happy for those kids who do get into CAS, and succeed there, I do not want parents of incoming high schoolers to think it's a shoo-in. It's not. As for other small community schools -- unless Rick is willing to spearhead more of them, given Common Ground's miserable performance, I'm leery of supporting breaking up BHS into a bunch of tiny schools, where kids continue to "disappear." And yes, Terry, I do intend to be more involved with the School Board. One of these days, I might even run! Thanks for your feedback! Heather


Discussions about CAS from 1999

Nov 1999

I am interested in learning more about the Communications and Arts program at BHS as my son is in eighth grade and I am concerned about his getting lost in such a huge school. Also if anyone knows more about the Computer Academy... Thanks.


Dec 1999

As the parent of an eighth grade girl at The Crowden School, I'm trying to get information about the Communication Arts and Sciences Program at Berkeley High. It sounds very appealing but we would like to find out about the curriculum, the philosophy, the teaching staff, how and when students are admitted to the program, and more generally, the pros and cons.
Vicki


April 2000

I am a parent of a freshman in Berkeley High who is in the CAS program. For those of you who do not know what it is, it is a Small School Program or an Academy within Berkeley High. It is a Humanities-based program which emphasizes media-literacy in a context of social justice. For those of you who are concerned with education in areas other than math and science, which Berkeley High seems to emphasize, this is a program you and your child may want to consider. It also is a way of making Berkeley High smaller. There are only 60 kids in each grade level.

The objectives of CAS are:

  • to encourage intellectual and personal growth through the communication arts
  • to develop a sense of community among students, teachers and families
  • to work for social justice

    In this innovative program they work to:

  • incorporate real world experiences into your high school education-plan not only for college but for life
  • make Berkeley High smaller and more personal
  • create a community between your teachers and your classmates

    The student takes English and History in the morning with other CAS students. Each year there is a required CAS elective. In the Freshman year it is Introduction to Communication Technology, where they learn how to make a video and analyze how media influences us. In the other years there are advanced video courses along with Writing for Communication.

    In the Senior year there is an Internship or Senior project where the student interns either in a community organization or a media-related business during school time which they then have to make a presentation about to their class.

    The teachers are highly motivated as they volunteer for the program.

    The curriculum is theme-based. For example here is the first paragraph from a letter to the CAS freshman from the English teacher Rick Ayers outlining the curriculum for the first semester:

    "Do you ever wonder why the world is so messed up? Do you ever think to yourself what kind of society you would create if you could just start over? Plenty of people have tried just that, either in writing stories or in actually remaking governments. this year, we are going to spend a long time considering our society and many alternatives. We will always be looking to answer the question: What are the characteristics of a just society?"
    He goes on to explain that they will read The Tempest, Lord of the Flies, Galileo by Bertolt Brecht, Brave New World. At the same time in history they studied some ideas of the western political philosphers Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau examining the transformation of the French Revolution. They covered the Industrial Revolution, Imperialism and Colonialism and ended with the Holocaust. During this semester they saw a production of the Tempest and Galileo and they visited the Holocaust museum in Los Angeles. Writing assignments are given throughout the semester on related topics.

    There are also openings at each grade level so if your child is already at Berkeley High it is still an option for Sophomores, Juniors, Seniors.

    It is also a program committed to racial and cultural diversity. It is neither elitist or remedial. They are looking for students to be challenged and encouraged at all levels.

    For more information on what CAS is and how to get a brochure and apply, you can email me for a more detailed description of the program and how to get a brochure/application.

    Applications are due mid April.

    You can also access the CAS website through a link on the BHS website. at www.bhs.berkeley.k12.us

    Laura Singh


    My son transferred to BHS from private school as a sophomore and enrolled in the CAS program. We choose CAS because it provided an opportunity for participation in a small school program within the larger community of BHS, and the focus on media and public issues was intriguing. His first year was also the program's first year at BHS. In June, my son's class will be the first to graduate from the CAS program at BHS.

    All would agree that the program has had its ups and downs, although, many more of the former than ther latter. Most importantly, it has been created by teachers and STUDENTS and the students are invested in its success. CAS exposes students to rich cultural experiences through literature and theater, teaches critical thinking and examination of public media , and encourages student community action and debate about complex issues.

    But to be honest, the greatest joy of CAS is that there is group of teachers who know and care about my son. In return, he does the work he knows he needs to do to stay in the program. For my part, I will bake and volunteer and organize for CAS. Teachers, students, parents, we are all salmon swimming upstream.

    The real kudos should go to the CAS teachers and CAS co-founder, Rick Ayers. They have created a rich program with few initial resources, a lot of resitance and a "we've got a barn, let's put on a show" brand of optimistic enthusiasm. They have sparked intellectual interest in so many students while at the same time battling an entrenched BHS department structure that deals with change in ways that could only be described as Machievelian (sp?).

    It is my deepest belief that each child should have a group of adults in school who know who he/she is, over time, who care about what happens to him/her and who encourage her/him to reach ever higher. BHS is a huge school that can be effectively humanized in the creation of more, not fewer, small schools. CAS is not elitist. It is small. One does not equal the other. The students in CAS reflect the community and the school population as a whole as reflected in Mr. Ayers recent recap of the ethnic and academic breakdown of CAS students. Instead of attacking something that is diverse, dynamic and engaging for the students (and their families), lets work to create more small school programs.

    Natalie


    Hi, I am a freshman at BHS and I am responding to the CAS (Communication Arts and Sciences) questions and concerns. I think that CAS is great. We have really interesting teachers, Mr.Pratt teaches history and Mr. Ayers teaches English. When I found out last year in 8th grade, that we as freshman were not able to take a more challenging English or History course I was kind of annoyed, however CAS offers that. Also, we go on really fun fieldtrips and have discussions weekly. Hope I helped.
    Sincerely, Yasmeen
    I have a junior and a freshman in the CAS program at BHS. In simplistic terms, the CAS program is geared toward the creation of a smaller, more personal, community of teachers and students within the larger BHS campus. The curriculum is the same basic BHS curriculum with the addition of some video/media components. The only down-side seems to be that it makes it harder for students to fit in some desired electives. The up-sides (plural) are that the teachers work together to create an interdisciplinary atmosphere - if students are studying a particular time in history, the literature component will have them reading something dealing with the same or similar time period. The assignments are lively and interesting and the students are challenged to be independent and creative thinkers at almost every turn. There is a community service element added in also. The student base is diverse and maintained at about 60 students in each grade year. This means, if your student stays in CAS all four years, s/he will have a base of 60 colleagues who have really shared some incredible experiences and thoughtful learning over four years. The biggest plus to the program is that I have never seen such dedication from teachers. The teachers spend more time and effort collaborating with each other and working to make quality education happen than any I have seen. There are more meaningful field trips and retreat-type outings, meaning that the kids are more connected on a "real" level to many of the issues they are studying, and to the CAS group. There is also a strong base of parents, in committees, who are committed to making the program better. The captain of this crew of exceptional teachers is Rick Ayers, who I believe reads this list and may answer you himself. I feel comfortable that this is an excellent place for my two children. I want them to live in the "real world" and to develop a sense of community in our random society. I wanted them challenged to think about issues and I wanted them to develop a love of learning. I think CAS will go a long way to fill the bill. This program is so superior to anything I experienced in high school, there is no comparison. Our thanks to Rick and team for conceiving of and making this program happen. I know it ain't easy!
    Barbara
    My third is now in the CAS program at BHS. It is a great program. I had a similar education when I went to college in the 60's. The students travel with the same set of kids through their four years for 3 classes a day (English, History and it varies between social living/video production, etc.). Then, they are mixed in with the regular school population for the rest of their classes -- science,math,language and extras. They have great dedicated teachers in each of their CAS classes. The mix is diverse and they don't end up in an out of control class with an inexperienced teacher. They have a small unit that they get to know better and better with each year.

    When they go out in the regular population, they seem to fair very well with teachers and classmates because they are placed by computers in like minded groupings or some such. I don't know why but it has happened that way for my student. CAS teachers know each other and work well with each other and mentor the kids along, taking them to college campuses for visits and working to get internships to help them grasp and tackle their future. Because of the unity and teaching, the students produce great work (often much better than compariable classes on the "outside"). These are the mighty pluses.

    The down side of CAS is that they travel in a small group - 60 - for all four years to their major English and History, etc. classes and that can lead to some stagnation and bonding that promotes a general malaise in some students. But, that is the trade off for a stable, enriched learning environment that does not dissolve into overhead projector throwing by instructors (true) or students!


    As the parent of a current junior who entered Berkeley High through CAS, I have some thoughts on what was written in the March 24th newsletter about CAS. I am totally supportive of the concept of Small Schools/Schools Within Schools. I have read accounts of high schools being successfully transformed by incorporating these concepts into action. Through using innovative, community-based, student-oriented curriculum, these schools have raised the academic achievement levels and graduation rate by many percentage points.

    Since my son left CAS after his freshmen year, I don't have first hand experience of how the program is now. I do, however, have first hand information on what he, being biracial, identified African-American, had to say about being a student of color in the program. First of all, he saw that there were very few students of color in the program, and even less teachers of color. It is important developmentally for children to see themselves reflected in the people around them, people who look like them, have values that are not extremely opposed to what they value, be informed and aware of what they do value, adults who reflect back to them how wonderful and intelligent they are, teachers who believe in them, keep track of them, and challenge them to be the best they can be.

    Due to the above, I believe it is in CAS's best interest to strive for the most balanced racial, cultural, widely diverse student and teacher body to reflect the greater community. I know there are attempts to do this. Since this is often challenging to get the diversity, it is even more critical to commit to a curriculum that is truly multicultural, hence a socially just curriculum within which to learn about social justice. If you teach it they will come. If the teaching staff are more racially and culturally diverse, if not in body, at least in mind and action, and if the curriculum is also, there is a far greater chance of attracting and keeping the student body you profess to want. Regarding the curriculum for CAS (above) ...

    What I noticed is that all of the above curriculum is totally European and European-American based. This does not reflect the mission of being "committed to racial and cultural diversity." There is much literature on what makes a just society, and speaks of ways to do this, written by many authors, educators, philosophers, political and social activists who are people of color, gay, women, from different religious backgrounds. What about readings from James Baldwin, Paul Robeson, Alice Walker, Ghandi, Paulo Freire, bell hooks, Angela Davis and the Critical Resistance Movement on the Prison Industrial Complex that is changing our society in significant ways that most of us are not aware of but that touches poor and working class communities of color everyday, as well as everyone else indirectly. There are many more I have not mentioned.

    I know that teachers have to teach from their knowledge and experience. At the same time, there is so much material out there, it's important to use what is current also, in a much broader and more diverse terrain built on top of, and related to, the old and usual European history and philosophy. I think what happens is that there is so much time spent on the old knowledge that there isn't enough time to get to the new and current and vital education. And this will attract and hold the more diverse population, as well as keeping student interest, and giving them a podium from which to express and contribute their ideas because the current knowledge is relevant to them.

    I welcome discussion of this subject. Lisa (4/00)


    I appreciate Lisa Carey's perspective on CAS and her interest and commitment to positive role models and diverse curriculum. However she is misled about the curriculum content. They study European history for the first half of the year, and for the second half they study Africa, Latin American, and I believe Asia. It's a lot of the world to cram into a half year, but what I've seen and read has been very impressive. My daughter has been discussing the colonization of Africa by Europeans and is learning of the economic exploitation that has taken place there. In her English class she is also exposed to the richness of African culture and clashes within families which develop with changes in modern conditions there. Unlike other ninth grade classes, the CAS faculty have managed to integrate English and History curriculum so they study African History while reading a novel (Things Fall Apart) from Nigeria. Their assignments integrate the two studies which so far seems very successful.

    I do not know the exact racial distribution of students in CAS, but understand the faculty are committed to choosing a representative group of students and that the program is at least fairly close to being representative. You raise a valid point about the teachers since many, but not all the teachers are white "in body" as you phrased it. It would be great to have a more diverse group of teachers. However, the quality of the current teachers, and the depth of their commitment to teach a multiracial perspective is really impressive and I think they go far in preparing students from all backgrounds to understand the dynamics in society. It appears to me that CAS is one of the institutions at BHS that is a very successful model and an inspiration. Personally, I think teachers that are regularly absent, (as described above in this newsletter) are unprepared for class, fail to correct and grade homework etc are more problematic than anything I've seen at CAS. It would be my hope that other teachers would try to work together--really communicating about the students and the curriculum in the way that the CAS teachers have. Hopefully many of these teams will reflect the diversity of the student body in spirit as well as flesh. Anne


    This is just to clarify what CAS freshman have been/are studying in both English and History this year. Since the freshman year is World History, they completed the European/European American segment through WWII. It is my expectation that there will be significant diversity in next year's exploration of American History. So far this semester they have completed Africa (reading "Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe). They had Luisa Teisch, an African American story-teller, visit the class.

    They are now starting on Latin America (reading "Esperanza's Box of Saints" - I believe Marma Amparo Escandsn, author will be coming to speak with them soon). As Rick Ayers stated in his weekly email update, "Now, in the social question, the nature of a just society, we are using the Latin America unit to develop another theme. Resistance. History is not all about conquest and empire, terror and repression. It is also about resistance and vision, hope and creativity. While we could investigate such an ideal anywhere, we have rich ways to develop it in Latin America.

    "In history, students will be examining case studies of resistance in Guatemala and Mexico. They will learn to use a 'quality of life indicators' tool to evaluate societies in ways other than GNP and material wealth. They will learn of the multiple ways indigenous and local communities have resisted and built new directions over the centuries. We will be doing a Socratic Seminar, probably using one of the pieces by Eduardo Galeano. And, we plan to organize a mural tour of the Mission district during this unit." Included in the unit in English will also be poetry by Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral.

    When the Latin America unit is completed, students will move on to China/Asia to complete this semester. I don't have handy the name of the book they will be reading or some of the activities but I do recall there will be some exploration into Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism.

    Joan, parent of a CAS freshman


    I would like to share my opinion on the CAS program and the "small school structure" at Berkeley High. I do not believe that CAS is a benefit to most of the student body at Berkeley High, and in fact I even see it as a disadvantage. What CAS does is that it takes a small group of students, isolates them from the rest of the student body, and forms a sort of "elitist" group.

    I am not arguing that CAS does not benifit these students, but everyone should be aware that CAS does negatively effect everyone else, for a number of reasons: (1) CAS takes a group of students (who most often tend to be upper-level, higher than average achieving stundent) and lets them basicly do whatever they want. The entire school would be much better served if these students were instead integrated into the rest of the student body so they could share their skills and knowledge, and help work towards solving the much larger problems at Berkeley High: achievement gaps between minority and non-minority students, and lowering the D and F rate. (2) The CAS program creates its own curriculum. This curriculum very different than the general curriculum of the rest of the student body and is also not subject to the same standards as the general curriculem. CAS creates classes that give the same credit towards graduation, but often requires a different amount of work than a normal class. This work is often less, or taught in an environment that is not comperable to the general curriculum of the rest of the school. This is extremely unfair to non-CAS students who are working towards the same goal of graduation. (3) Not everyone can be in CAS. You have to apply to be in the CAS program, and naturally this creates problems with students who get to be in CAS and students who don't.

    From what I've read in the past few months, it seems like the subscribers of this newsletter in general really like the CAS program and my opposition to it might surprise them a bit. I've thought about this a lot and I think it's because most of the parents probably have kids in CAS and don't see the other side of it. From what my son has told me and what I've learned, there are serious issues regarding what CAS does to the rest of the student body. I encourage all the parents of CAS students to look at things from a different perspective.

    From what I have found out, I believe there are a lot of students who also are a bit unhappy with the CAS program. Many of them are probably upset that they are not getting the advantages that CAS students have available to them.

    With the "success" of the CAS program, I understand that next year an Ecology-Acadamy program will begin. I seriously question the formation of small schools at Berkeley High. If Berkeley High were to decide to break up the entire student body into small schools, that would be a good idea because every student would be able to be a part of a program that is beneficial to them. But until then, small schools like CAS only divide the student body even more and leave the majority of students with fewer opportunities. Russell


    Rick Ayers responds:

    April 5, 2000

    We welcome the input of Lisa Carey concerning CAS and diversity. We are always working on curriculum, on recruiting staff, and on strengthening our service to all students. I have communicated further with Lisa about curriculum issues and would be glad to forward more materials on CAS and BHS curriculum if you are interested. Below are a few points excerpted from a recent CAS letter to principal Theresa Saunders concerning the issue of student diversity in CAS. It is important to keep these discussions open and productive - to avoid finger-pointing. We are all just working hard to develop the best educational possibilities for our students.

    I have attached the ethnic breakdown of CAS because it demonstrates some things about the strengths and the weaknesses of the CAS project to date. Again, I think we should regard a program like CAS as a work in project, something we are trying, something we are learning from, something we are improving. If we are going to settle on blanket assignations, like "CAS is not diverse," I'd prefer to fold the program right now.

    The numbers show that CAS has not managed to hit the numbers directly. These numbers I understand to be approximately 40% white, 40% African American, 10% Chicano Latino, and 10% Asian. The overall count shows us to be "under" on African American students and "over" on Latino students. Of course, these racial designations are problematic, especially at Berkeley High where a large number of students are "mixed race." And I'm certain that, as a strong and successful program, we attract many families of color who are middle class or have some agency. But we are by no means a white program or an elite academy.

    In fact, we take way more than our share of special education students, from 504 designations to students with severe disabilities. We also just got over the accusations of last year that we had too many thuggish kids, that it was CAS students who started the fire in the history book room, CAS kids who got suspended for fighting, and CAS freshmen, mostly African-American, who were so difficult they drove a freshman English teacher to quit a class and almost the school. And we certainly experience the same split that BHS has, with a group of students very strong academically and other students who are way behind.

    We are graduating a most diverse class which is 38% African American (two points below the goal) and 33% white (seven points below the goal) and sending them to college. I estimate that about 10 of these seniors, students of color, would not be at BHS right now if it were not for CAS.

    We have done extensive assessment of our own program, held it up to a level of accountability not found in the rest of the school. We have had observers in class, have done focus groups, and we are working with Diversity Project to develop SASI data on the performance of students in CAS. One interesting finding is that when the Diversity Project looks for students of color to shadow in the Class of 2000 Study, they keep coming up with students of Computer Academy and CAS. These are the ones who made it to the senior year. Two years ago, BHS as a whole graduated 18 African American males. This year, CAS is graduating 9 African American males. And this is not done by just skimming off those who are most successful. More than half of these students are ones who needed extensive help when we started with them two years ago.

    Indeed many, many parents from the hills, from the private schools, from the networks of insider information on BHS, are clamoring to get into CAS. And indeed we have had difficulties in our outreach to Middle Schools. We do this alone, teachers and students and parents, on our own time. We have needed to strengthen contacts with middle school teachers and counselors in order to get the word out well. And certainly students who are more "connected" manage to get the applications, get them back to us, follow through to get on the admission list. We have worked to make a more accessible track for all students while assuring that students are coming to the program by choice.

    Last year, with the freshmen, we accepted white students up to a quota number of 40% by June. We worked all summer to fill out the applicant pool, going to summer bridge classes, working with our parents. But we were told repeatedly by Charleen Calvert that we needed the names in, all students in place, for our 60 freshmen. In order to fill the classes, we let 10% more white kids in. We also, by the way, accepted three students who were brought to us by Rise on the first day of classes. We will be working with Rise this year to be able to provide the program to more of the students of color they work with.

    This year, we have already had, in addition to middle school visits, two home meetings with 8th grade parents, predominantly African American. And we have a parent meeting set at St. Joseph the Worker's Church for April 4, which will be conduced entirely in Spanish. There is no question that parents of color, when the learn of the program and when they join and experience it, find CAS to serve their student very well.

    We also experience a phenomenon which is well known in school research literature. That is that when school reform efforts are successful, when programs are strong, the empowered parents tend to find those programs and even to appropriate those resources. This is something we don't want to indulge or ignore. But it is something that is a marker that CAS is indeed a successful program. Of course these parents practice "teacher hunting" more than program support. They have found that strong and effective teachers are attracted to CAS and want to position their kids with them. So they are clamoring to get into CAS. The administration even uses CAS this way, pointing to it when private school parents come in worrying about BHS. I was at a middle school presentation at Longfellow, where the freshman dean was discussing the 9th grade program, when a typically self-centered parent said, "that's all fine for the struggling students. What about my kid, the strong academic student. What does BHS have for her?" The dean immediately described CAS. That was not our presentation, or anything we would have done. That came from the school.

    What should we do about this clamor to get into CAS? Well, I would not regard it as a count against CAS. And, instead of 250 parents being cut throat about getting into CAS, we should have more such programs. But instead of being embarrassed that these parents get in, we should be able to count it as a sign that we are doing something right.

    Now, I'm not trying to propose a color-blind approach to program formation or instruction. While I don't think each small school has to be precisely integrated with the percentages of the school, I think we have to engineer them to be a good mix. We have to be aware all the time of teaching strategies, and support, which reaches all students. The important thing about CAS is not that we teach one or another way (in fact, the range of teaching styles is very wide in CAS) but that we have a small enough community that students don't slip through the cracks, that we worry about problems with colleagues and students, that we keep working on a problem until we get something done.

    The students at Berkeley High are of course highly aware, racially. One of the interesting findings of the CAS program is the pattern of attrition. While our attrition numbers are pretty low (5 to 10 students in a class in a year changeover), there are still observations we can make on them. In the classes which are too heavy on the white numbers compared to the whole school, the African Americans feel out of their comfort zone and leave in greater numbers. In the classes, like the sophomore class, which are higher in Latino and African American numbers, more white kids leave the program. So there is a tendency of a program or a class to drift towards one racial identity or another. Is this a reason to abandon small schools? No more than the same phenomenon on the courtyard and in classes is a reason to abandon the large school. But it shows how racial patterns work and how we can use student interest, comfort, and even willingness to have new experiences, to strengthen their education.

    Of course, it we do decide that integration is a good thing for education, we know that it takes more than putting a black kid and a white kid in the same room. It takes teaching strategies, social awareness, and institutional support to make it work. The following anecdote, from my report to the CAS Advisory Board last Fall, demonstrates I think how we have made progress through this small school program:

    "My first realization that we were in a new period came when I attended part of the retreat that the seniors held at the Marin Headlands hostel. It included organized activities, buddy walks, free time, and group sharing in a circle. During this evening circle, I heard students come forward with insights and epiphanies about themselves and their futures - and again and again their maturing vision had come from their CAS experience. Senior Terry Harris said, 'I have been so worried about college admissions and whether I would succeed. But now I see that the admissions officers will do what they will do, but I am in control of my future; whatever decisions they make, I am clear where I am going.' Shaniqua Johnson added, 'You know, I spent hours with Jane and realized, hey, that girl has a lot going on. All these years we've been in class and we've never talked. Man, we were choppin' it up. She is so cool.'

    "Then I realized something. Even in CAS, even with our attempts to set up integrated classrooms and a sense of community, the racial tensions and divides had managed to persist. There were still cliques, still separate sides of the room. Berkeley High does not achieve integration just by putting all the different students of Berkeley in the same school. In fact, the high school is truly two distinct schools and the chaos and size serves to perpetuate that reality.

    "It was only in the third year of CAS, only with these students together for three years, only with the projects, the trips, the experiences they have had together, that Shaniqua could finally reach out to Jane and see her closely - and Jane could do the same towards Shaniqua. That's how long it takes, that's how deep the contradictions are.

    "To see the diverse range of students in that senior class, to see how many were struggling and were unlikely to make it through or to go to college, to see not just their academic focus but their personal understanding of themselves and their capacities and passions, that has been one of the most satisfying developments in this teacher's professional career."

    I hope we can continue to discuss, evaluate, and improve the CAS program and other small school initiatives. I'm still convinced that they are the best way to make progress for Berkeley High.

    Sincerely,
    Rick Ayers

    Communication Arts and Sciences
    Ethnic breakdown
    November, 1999
    
     FRESHMEN:
     African American:  27%
     White:   50%
     Latino:   14%
     Asian:    8%
    
     SOPHOMORES:
     African American:  42%
     White    32%
     Latino:   13%
     Asian:   13%
    
     JUNIORS:
     African American:  24%
     White    46%
     Latino:   20%
     Asian:   11%
    
     SENIORS:
     African American:  38%
     White    33%
     Latino:   23%
     Asian:    6%
    
    Overall CAS total
     African American:  33%
     White    40%
     Latino:   18%
     Asian:    9%
     
    

    Having a hispanic (non-Mexican) daughter in CAS I can say that spending 1 semester on Europe (1 continent) and the other on Africa, Latin America and Asia - 3 very large continents with very diverse cultures and many many countries - is hardly representative. Reading "Esperanza's Box of Saints" as something representative of Latin American Culture simply appals me. That is what is being used to teach our children about Latin America? That book portrays a woman who goes from a small undeveloped little town somewhere in Mexico to the brothels of Tijuana and then the barrios of LA. In what way is this representative of the rich Latin American culture? It simply promotes the the stereotype that we are all back country hicks with little or no education that come from places where there is no electricity nor paved roads.

    It is no wonder that when people think of Latin America - we think of little pueblos and tortillas and not of the metropolitan areas like Santiago, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Sao Paolo, Concepcion with their vast, rich and diverse culture, beautiful art, cinema, music, ski resorts, cuisine (which for the most part does not include burritos), architecture, etc. etc?

    I for one am sick of being asked if I grew up with electricity, if we had TV, if we had elevators and of the general ignorance about the rest of the world besides Europe! My older daughter was not in CAS and had no better education about "The rest of the world" as my younger one.


    Hi, I'm writing in response to Rick Ayers' comments about the CAS program. I was very offended by his description of a parent who was concerned about their academically strong child as "typically self-centered." This knee-jerk reaction to anyone who is not a struggling soul does not help anyone in our community. Why doesn't he describe parents who are concerned about their under-performing children as "typically self-centered?" It is exactly this attitude that has made the Berkeley schools a very unfriendly place for middle-class families whose children are bored to tears day after day, surrounded by students who have no interest, for whatever reason, in learning. I don't think it is self-centered to hope that my children receive a modicum of teacher interest, even if they are not needy. And I am extremely tired of having them spend their days explaining to their classmates how to spell basic words and how to complete elementary arithmetic. Is this really fair to the kids who need to be challenged? By the way, I volunteer many hours a week in my childrens' classes and see the tremendous disparity in opportunities available to the students. But that is no reason to deny any child, yes, even a high-achieving child, an interesting and challenging curriculum. I was hoping to have my 8th grader apply for the CAS program, but when I read this cliched defense of the underprivileged from Mr. Ayers, I have certainly lost all interest in having my children participate. It seems to be for the best, since apparently high-achieving students are not welcome, nor are their "typically self-centered parents" who actually try to find an environment in which their children can be engaged and challenged. Anonymous
    I thought it was really interesting that CAS has been criticized as being "not diverse enough". Looking at Rick Ayers figures, I must say I don't know of many workplaces or neighborhoods in Berkeley that are anywhere near as diverse. What's not to like about CAS? Some of the criticism sounds more like jealousy than anything really substantial, at least that is how it sounds to an outsider like me who isn't familiar with the CAS program. If CAS makes other programs at BHS look less attractive, less fortunate, less good, then those other programs ought to pay attention to what CAS is doing right, and try to raise themselves up to the same level. It doesn't make any sense to instead try to bring CAS down because it is too exclusionary.
    was greatly impressed by Rick Ayers' most recent (4/6) comments in the Newsletter on the CAS program and am motivated to write in part because of the criticisms of CAS that appeared in the same issue. I applaud him and the program and hope that it continues to flourish. Our daughter, now a sophomore, did not get into CAS; she was advised not to apply because she was not really interested in video, and Rick frankly told us to look at other possibilities such as her taking Art with Sally Wolfer (since our daughter enjoys graphic arts, and Sally encourages the formation of a community feeling in her art room). Well, Naomi has had a range of experiences with teachers and classes at BHS. Each semester she has some teachers who challenge her and/or inspire her, and some who do not. Occasionally a class seems (to me) to be almost a write-off. However, she does not feel short-changed. She has met bright, interesting students -- they have not all been siphoned off to CAS -- she works very hard at the challenging courses, and, all in all, I'd say she is getting a good education at BHS. She is profoundly proud of attending a public school; she would not relinquish BHS's mix of people for anything. Our children are resilient, and there is more than one good path. Let's not tear CAS down just because it's not available to everyone, even if we would like it for ourselves/offspring. Let's be glad of it for those who are nourished by it, and pitch in trying to improve the many other areas that need improving, and have some faith.

    Karen


    April 2000

    As a parent of a senior and having my daughter participate close to two years in the CAS Program (transferred from another school) and knowing Rick Ayers and some of the teachers of the CAS program, I am, as you will read a strong supporter of the CAS program, teachers and curriculum. I only wish that some other teachers and staff would display more respect and encouragement to students as the CAS staff overwhelming conveys to students.

    I recommend to parents thinking of CAS or even opposed to CAS to make time to visit the students in CAS program while class is in session. To form a judgement on one comment does not give anyone the opportunity to dialogue and learn about different opinions and thoughts. The CAS students have learned this well. I would recommend all parents with questions and concerns to be direct with Rick, whom I am most certain welcomes opinions, even when they are different. As to the diversity of the CAS program, Rick and staff work hard each year to encourage the board participation of all young people, I have seen them activiely recruit students of all racial & ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. Whether they, parents and youth, follow-up on this is another issue- some have issues of language, and as always parents will have other agendas with regard to what they need and what from BHS, and sometimes CAS is not for all students, or it may not fit into the class schedules students need to take. BHS has lost a tremendous amount of support from me because of what I feel is a lack of respect given to students. Time after time students receive negative attitudes and responses from administrative staff , security and personnel that are neither teachers nor counselors. This support staff seem to think and function that all students deserve to be treated like punks or potential criminals. I feel that within CAS my daughter has had at least the support and attention of teachers who know her and help her out when she needs help with the administrative bureaucracy of a high school without a negative and harsh attitude.

    If your teen has received warm and welcoming attention of support staff at BHS, I would welcome your feedback and congratulate you and your teen for this good fortune you have received.

    Beatriz


    The CAS program at BHS is an extremely important project which deserves far more support for what it has accomplished than criticism. Like EVERYTHING in life, it has its shortcomings. For those who are dissatisfied with how CAS is structured, why not offer substantive and constructive support or go create something that you'd like better? Tearing things apart is always easier (and less creative) than building something new.

    As for the parent who is appalled at the inclusion of "Esperanza's Box of Saints" as a representative piece of Latin American literature/culture: if you had come to listen to the author (Maria Amparo Escandon) when she spoke today to the entire 9th grade class of CAS students, you would have heard her describe her own life growing up in cosmopolitan Mexico City, her years as a student at the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico, the access to the latest technologies which exists in the capital, even about the subway that carries 5 million people daily, and the freeways that are congested with the traffic of a city whose population exceeds 20 million. Her story was hardly that of a "hick with little or no education that come[s] from places where there is no electricity nor paved roads" as you seem to characterize the story's protagonist.

    Typical of the innovative thinking that goes into CAS curriculum planning, she was invited by CAS faculty to come speak to the 9th graders who are currently reading her novel. She spoke with clarity, insight, and inspiration about the process of writing, about her own evolution as a writer, and about the development of her books into films--one of which won an award at the Sundance Film Festival a couple of years ago. Hardly the stereotypical representation of a Latina.

    Yes, it's important not to stereotype any culture. And yes, equal time for the continents studied this year (Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America) would be ideal. CAS is making tremendous inroads at BHS and it must be remembered that the program is a work in progress. Making assumptions about how other people interpret a particular piece of literature is risky at best. If you want your daughter and her classmates to learn more about the diversity of Latin America, why not call Rick Ayers and offer to come in and share your knowledge and experience with your daughter's class? Or volunteer for the curriculum committee and suggest other works of literature. I imagine that such offers would be more than welcome.

    Alice, CAS parent


    May 2000

    Recently a letter was sent to Parents of Teens that was critical of one of the books we had chosen for the CAS freshman literature class, Esperanza's Box of Saints. The author of this book, Maria Amparo Escandon, recently spoke to our students. She was interested in the letter about her book and asked if she could write a response. Below is what she e-mailed me, from L.A. -- Rick Ayers

    [here is original letter from "Anonymous" in the April 10 newsletter]

    Having a hispanic (non-Mexican) daughter in CAS I can say that spending 1 semester on Europe (1 continent) and the other on Africa, Latin America and Asia - 3 very large continents with very diverse cultures and many many countries - is hardly representative. Reading "Esperanza's Box of Saints" as something representative of Latin American Culture simply appals me. That is what is being used to teach our children about Latin America? That book portrays a woman who goes from a small undeveloped little town somewhere in Mexico to the brothels of Tijuana and then the barrios of LA. In what way is this representative of the rich Latin American culture? It simply promotes the the stereotype that we are all back country hicks with little or no education that come from places where there is no electricity nor paved roads.

    It is no wonder that when people think of Latin America - we think of little pueblos and tortillas and not of the metropolitan areas like Santiago, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Sao Paolo, Concepcion with their vast, rich and diverse culture, beautiful art, cinema, music, ski resorts, cuisine (which for the most part does not include burritos), architecture, etc. etc?

    I for one am sick of being asked if I grew up with electricity, if we had TV, if we had elevators and of the general ignorance about the rest of the world besides Europe! My older daughter was not in CAS and had no better education about "The rest of the world" as my younger one.

    Anonymous

    [here is the reply from the book's author]

    Dear Anonymous,
    I am the author of "Esperanza's Box of Saints" and I have read your letter to the Parents of Teens Newsletter at Berkeley High. Your point is very well taken. Indeed, Latin America is a wonderful part of our world with a "vast, rich and diverse culture, beautiful art, cinema, music, ski resorts, cuisine, architecture, etc." As a writer and a keen observer of this fascinating world, I marvel every day at all this richness and I describe in my writings what interests me most. In "Esperanza's Box of Saints" I wrote about the power of faith, a fundamental subject in Latin American culture, seen through the eyes of a very devout woman from Tlacotalpan, Veracruz (by the way, this particular town has been declared on an international level as one of the Treasures of Humanity for its spectacular architecture. The Candelaria Church featured in my novel is one of the most unique examples of its kind with over a dozen priceless XVII Century paintings, the best religious art collection in the entire area.) Even though the central theme is the power of faith, I surrounded the story with the richness of the Jarocho culture, where music is essential. In fact, our world famous bolero composer Agust in Lara (he is as adored in Mexico as Carlos Gardel is in Argentina) was born in Tlacotalpan, Veracruz, and his music has taken the beauty of this place traveling around the earth. Another element of this rich and wonderful culture is the variety and complexity of our cuisine (where, like you say, burritos are nowhere to be found.) A couple of the recipes that inspired me for the novel are featured in a Los Angeles Times Cover Story, titled "Saints in the Kitchen" published in the Food Section on March 29, 2000. They did a feature on my book and my cooking. You may want to check it out on the internet: www.latimes.com.

    And while you are on the internet, you may want to check out the website of the film based on my novel: www.santitos.com. I wrote the screenplay and the film was produced by John Sayles. In January of 1999, it won de Latin American Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival. From there, it has won 14 other awards at Festivals around the world, just last year. The book has also won awards at international book fairs. It has been translated into 13 languages, including Spanish (I wrote my own translation,) French, Italian, Portuguese, Finnish, Dutch, Swedish, Czech, Greek, and German. It is a best seller in over 60 countries, and I have traveled to present it in cities like Santiago, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, and Concepcion, where it has received standing ovations and the acclaim of the critics and the media. Other cities include Milan, Paris, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Vienna, Frankfurt, and Munich.

    I could have chosen to write about my family. My grandfather was Ramon Corral, Vice-President of Mexico for 30 years during the Porfirio Diaz dictatorship. My other grandfather owned a bank and was the largest landlord of the first half of the 20th century in Mexico, owning 14 haciendas around Mexico City (since then, they have been developed into high-end residential communities by my father and uncles). But that would have been too easy and perhaps I could not have been able to picture a culture as rich and wonderful as the one I pictured in my novel. After all, most well-to-do people in Latin America, the top of the hierarchy, the cosmopolitan and the metropolitan, the minority, deny their culture and look to Europe and the United States, adopting foreign ideas, fashion, styles, cinema and music. I know about that. I grew up there. So, as much as I love Bariloche, Esperanza couldn't have gone there skiing, because she traveled north looking for her daughter and because she couldn't afford to pay for the lift ticket. Once again, you are right, "our culture is vast and diverse." And it is precisely this what makes it so fantastic. There is room to talk about so much. Maybe one day I will write about my family. And I will include all the "other" world-class stuff our culture has. For now, I have written about humble Esperanza, surrounded by a wonderful, magical habitat, where, yes, electricity does go out during storms, just like in Miami. I understand your point. It is sickening to be asked all the time if we grew up with electricity. That's why I have decided to shed some light on the subject and educate people through literature.

    All the best,
    Maria Amparo Escandon


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