BHS Small Schools: Academic Choice
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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
I will just state, as a very ''satisfied
customer'' parent of an AC senior, that AC has been an excellent
choice for my kid. AC has the only schedule that allows a kid
with particular interests to really explore a field. The
computer whiz kid who designed the Jacket website (and won
national awards,) was able to take computer classes for three
years because he's in AC. There is at least one AP Scholar of
Distinction in AC. There are kids who took 8 AP classes, kids
who took two and kids who took none, but still learned a lot.
It's built to be flexible for a kid's abilities and interests
and we needed that. My kid took four alltogether and did fine.
From brilliant to medium, all the kids I know did great and are
glad they got AC. Kids who want a huge challenge can take more
AP classes, it's that simple.
There are good teachers and a few bad ones all over BHS, but for
a kid who is academically motivated, willing to work but who
wants a life, AC was a great choice, because the work is
challenging but not overwhelming and the kids are taught to pace
themselves, learn to manage their time, and have the experience
of being in a large diverse high school with many kids like
them, and unlike them. Really diverse experience. Kids still
have personal relationships with their teachers and with each
other. We'll be sad to say good bye to BHS and AC was a perfect
fit for us - and so many others - and my kid already got into
his first choice colleges. New principal is making everything
better there too. Oh - read the websites. they tell you a lot.
parent of a senior
Our daughter will be starting ninth grade at Berkeley High next year. Can anyone
comment on the ''Academic Choice'' program, compared to AHA (Arts and Humanities
Academy)? Our daughter is very academic, but is also artistically inclined.
often seems like programs that cater to one of these is quite weak the other.
Looking forward to high school
Both of my sons have been in academic choice. The oldest is
now in college and the youngest is just finishing his
freshman year. Although they differ in their interests and
skills, both found stimulation, focus, and friends through
the Academic Choice program. The oldest got very involved
in history, politics and power, and the orchestra with the
encouragement of some exceptional teachers. Since the small
schools advent, AC offers a wider choice of math, science
and technology classes for my youngest son, as well as more
AP opportunities, than the more constrained small schools.
I think an academically oriented student that enjoys
challenge and exploration across the broad range of
curriculum can do very well in AC.
Academic Choice is a humanities program that offers only English and
social studies classes at BHS; AC students choose from comprehensive school
offerings for their science, math, language and arts elective classes.
AC is consequently the most flexible program available at Berkeley High, as
well as the largest small learning community, with a student population of
approximately 800 students. Students are expected to complete all a-g
UC course requirements prior to graduation, and are encouraged, but not
required, to take Advanced Placement courses in their junior and senior
As Parent Coordinator for the AC Program at BHS I am available to
answer specific questions from interested parents and students about our small
learning community. However, our website, www.bhsacademicchoice.com, is
both current and comprehensive. It lists all AC teachers and all AC
classes for the 2006-2007 academic year, as well tutoring resources, minutes
our advisory meetings, a description of our program as well as a
downloadable copy of our 2005 board approved program proposal.
Please feel free to contact me via email if you have any additional
questions about Academic Choice after visiting our website.
Thank you for your interest!
Editor note: Responses about AHA were also received.
Does anyone have experience applying to the Academic Choice programs at
Berkeley High? We live in Berkeley but I'm not sure how to best proceed in order
to try and get my 8th grade daughter into a small school program at BHS. I'm
not sure I even understand how they work. Has anyone done this? Is there
someone at BHS who can advise about it? Are there deadlines? I don't know
where to begin. Help and advice is appreciated. Thanks.
I'm sure you'll get lots of input on this, but here goes
anyway. Academic Choice is not a small school, but a
program within the main large school. In addition, there
are small school programs where kids will mostly be with
the same classmates and teachers for the four years. My
daughter thought that sounded terrible so she opted for the
main school. The Academic Choice teachers are mostly very
very good, but as with everywhere there are some duds. My
daughter had a frustrating sophomore year, with only six
months of one highly inspiring teacher, surrounded by a
ridiculous collection of not-very-good student teachers
(for four out of her six classes at one point). She wasn't
in Academic Choice at the time. As a contrast, this year
she's ecstatically happy with the choice and quality of
classes she has as a senior. The AP classes no longer
require any sort of testing to get into, I believe, but
they are a great deal of work and do require emotional and
practical support. At a minimum that means an extra study
guide and a study group, for many also a tutor. They do
learn a lot, though. And it's like boot camp - something
for them to look back on later with relief.
This note is in response to Susan S's request for
informatation about how to get into the Academic Choice
program, listed in the last newsletter under the title ''Info
about Berkeley High School''
The process is simple, you apply when you register for
classes, and kids are chosen by lottery.
However, the odds of you getting into Academic Choice depend
entirely on where you live. If you live in Southwest
Berkeley, you'll get in. If you live in the hills, the odds
are 5-to-1 against you. Last year, 80% of the applicants
from the hills were rejected and none of the applicants from
SW Berkeley were rejected.
This bias is a matter of policy. The powers that be have
declared that the ''socioeconomic balance'' of AC must match
that of the school as a whole, and since many kids from
''underadvantaged'' families simply don't want to do AC, the
size of the program is effectively limited.
Last year's lottery results (which contain a link to the
actual demographic information) are discussed in the PTA
All of my attempts to talk to anyone at BHS about this
situation have been met with stonewalling.
By way of consolation if your son or daughter does not get
into Academic Choice: My son is in 9th grade AC. His
teachers (English and History) are not better than the non-
AC teachers. One is in her first year and inexperienced,
the other has taught since 1967 and my son finds his class
extremely boring. His class is full of disruptive kids
(the same kids stay together for both English and history,
albeit with different teachers), to the point of being out-
of-control. The teachers don't know how to handle the
situation. As far as academics go, 9th grade history
is ''ethnic studies'' and the kids don't learn any history
but spend time on projects like observing the ethnic mix
on Shattuck avenue. In English my son has not had any
homework whatsoever. This seems on par with the non-AC
classes. On top of that, AC classes are supposed to have a
room parent, and distribute the names and phone nbs of the
class so parents can be in touch to discuss school issues;
this has not happened. In brief, AC is a lot of hot air.
I have heard some comments from parents who have been
dissapointed that their children did not get into the
academic choice program that have caused me great concern.
It is not apparent to people that I am a latina from West
Berkeley unless I am with my children so I have found
myself in situations with people who are venting their
dissatisfaction in ways they would not if they knew who I
was (I hope..or..I think I hope). Some of these things have
been said with enough anger and bitterness as to make me
feel uncomfortable about revealing my true identity as a
resident of one of ''those zip codes'' who did not apply for
academic choice for her child. I quote:
''they (meaning people in south and west berkeley'' don't
want their kids in academic choice, why shouldn't we get
''just because they (meaning people in south and west
berkeley) don't want their kids to go to college, our kids
can't get the education they deserve''
''they (people opposed to academic choice) think being
academic is being elitist so they want to dumb down the
whole school, now my kid has to go to dumbed down classes''
''the better behaved kids self select into academic choice''
I know why I didn't apply to academic choice, but not a
soul has asked me. Not even those people to whom I did
reveal myself in light of their comments. I know that
having my son go to college is one of my life's most
cherished desires, one that I cannot take for granted. I
know my son behaves in class (almost every teacher
comments ''pleasure to have in class''). I know my son is
not ''dumb''. I know that for a very brief moment I wanted my
son to get into academic choice, and I was made to feel
very, very unwelcome (way before it was time to apply). I
know he would never have self-selected into academic choice-
as well behaved and smart as he is. I know that there is a
great racial divide that becomes very difficult to straddle
the older they get. I believe that academic choice has that
divide going right through the middle of its best
intentions. I believe that no program which is sure to have
an impact on resources available to the general school
population can be allowed to benefit only one segment of
the school population. Particularly if that segment can be
characterized by race and/or socio-economic priviledge.
I have only one suggestion: stop blaming the people who
were born holding the short end of the stick, the ones who
never have to make the nerve-wracking desicion of whether
to send their children to private or public school. Reach
out to them instead. There are thousands of children,
smart, beautiful, creative children in ''those zip codes''
with parents who work two jobs and have little time or
money for leisure or pleasure much less enriching their
child's academic life, buying them a computer, or sending
them to SAT classes, who want more than anything, to go to
Do you believe that Academic Choice will enhance your
child's chance of getting into college? Then do something
to make that chance available to someone else. (Something
other than having a check-box on an application that is -
recruiting? Teacher recommendations in 8th grade? You know,
that kind of thing). It is a win win situation. Get one
of ''them'' in and you can get another one of ''us'' in.
If you are feeling bitter and disapointed because you
were ''denied'' access to AC and it is beyond your control to
change, think for a minute that what you are feeling is
similar to what people feel when they have been denied
access to nice tree lined traffic free streets, and
peaceful neighborhoods due to their zip codes (guess which
zip codes get all the commuter traffic and guess which ones
did not get the nice little traffic circles in the
intersections). They don't have access to nice summer
camps, private schools, food, decent housing, etc. all
because of socio-economic factors they cannot change.
I love my child as much as you do.
I felt a need to respond to, and on behalf of, the "Latina from West
Berkeley" who has heard comments from parents who feel personally cheated
because their child didn't get into Academic Choice and feel the zip codes
are "skewered" (even if skewered, it was a lottery, so don't take it so
personally). However unfair it seems to parents in zip codes "cheated" out
of their supposed "entitlement" to AC, perspective is an important thing to
teach your child and for parents to learn in adjusting to circumstances
that are not perfectly ideal for them. Realize that living a good life
should come, not easily, but with thought and caring for your family's
needs, and realize also that as entitled as you feel you and your child are
to the best that life has to offer, you're no more entitled than the person
who lives in the flats, or in a homeless shelter--you just got
lucky. Think of it--you live in Berkeley, close to a great public
university, amongst a diverse population, and all you can think of is that
your child should be in Academic Choice? Of course, there are other
choices besides AC--it's called diversity of interests and intellect. You
commit only one semester to a small school and then you can transfer out,
or you can try and transfer into AC or another small school, or the school
at-large. Your child's future is not going down the tubes because s/he's
in a "dumbed down" class, nor is s/he going to become wildly successful
because s/he only attended intellectually challenging schools and classes,
scored 1600 on the SATs, etc. Behind the facade of "living in the hills"
and "tree-lined streets", as seen recently in the news that has come out of
the upper middle-class enclave called Lafayette, there is the danger of
being too smug about who you are, what you're about, and what you think
your child is entitled to. There are more paths than AC, and by varying
degrees your child will develop his or her own intellect, but certainly not
within the first few months of the school year. I'd like to listen to what
my child really wants, not what I want for my child. I'm not sure if I
can, but I'll try it.
Thank you for putting it so bluntly and truthfully. I too
am a person of color and I cannot tell you how often
people of privilege say these kinds of ridiculous and
uninformed comments -full well knowing that I am Latina
(it's obvious). Racism is alive and thriving - even in
Berkeley. We all want the same things for our children -
the best. Take a step back and look objectively at who has
more access. We all work hard and do our best, but some
people are born into privilege, benefitting from the
legacy of hundreds of years of inequality in this country.
Dear Mom who wrote about Acamedic Choice at Berkeley High
and the feeling that kids from certain zip codes were
resented for getting into Academic Choice:
I could feel the pain you experience from your posting. I
am a white parent, and, although I do not have a child at
Berkeley High (she's at another public school), I hear
similar comments and am depressed by them. Although
Berkeley is considered to be a mecca of acceptance, I find
that it only goes as far as lip service most of the time.
Parents talk about ''diversity,'' and equal opportunity, but
then make choices for their kids that isolate them from
kids from other backgrounds/zip codes. There appears to be
alot of resentment among parents who think their kids are
entitled to preferences because they live in expensive
My advice: stay away from the parents who resent equal
opportunity so you don't have to listen to the remarks and
do what is best for your son.
The issue surrounding Academic Choice seems to be that
not enough parents in South and West Berkeley applied
to Academic Choice on behalf of their children and
that, because of Principal Slemp's rule that all small
school programs must have the same ethnic ratios as
the entire student body, not all the families in North
and East Berkeley who wanted their children in
Academic Choice were able to get them in. Many parents
are said to be unhappy, but my response is that
parents are over-reacting.
If the parents are looking for their children to be
challenged, there are other ways to challenge their
children that may be just as or even more effective
than Academic Choice--such as A.P. classes.
While most colleges are unaware of what Academic
Choice is, they are very aware of A.P. classes and
hold them in high regard. Although Academic Choice
sometimes has stronger teachers, not ! all of the
courses are equally rigorous. A.P. classes usually
offer excellent teachers and must be rigorous because
the A.P. test holds them to a certain standard.
In all my years in Academic Choice, not once have I
felt any hostility or racist attitudes from my fellow
Academic Choice students. However, when I attended
?Back to School Night? with my mother, some parents
did seem to be offended by our presence. I felt as if
they were thinking: "What are you doing here? Are you
in the right room? Why are you in this class, taking
up space that my next door neighbor's child was
denied?" The fact that, in my experience, it is the
parents who have displayed hostility, not the
children, makes me think that perhaps it is the
parents who are over-reacting.
I will be happy to answer additional questions about
my personal experience in Academic Choice, and I
invite parents from all sections of Berkeley to
contact me ! through the e-tree moderator.
Latina Academic Choice student who lives in one of
"those" zip codes
I did not see the original complaint about students not
getting into academic choice because of their zip codes; I
only saw the responses to the posting . In reading these responses - I
believe that I can surmise what the original poster said and I believe
that the "resentment"
was probably misinterpreted. I can say - based on my own feelings - that I
have no resentment of children that got into AC because of their zip code -
in fact, I wish more students of color were interested in the program. My
complaint is with the new system of exclusion which is making AC unavailable
to some students simply because they live in the wrong zip code. What
seems to be missing here
is that orignally ANYONE who wanted to get into AC could. Then in
the name of diversity, it was decided that AC had to be
''balanced''. So because not enough people of certain zip
codes were interested in AC, students who were living in
zip codes that had a large percentage of students applying -
were denied access. I do not see what this has to do with
''privelege''. It is simply denying access to some groups
because other groups are not interested - again in the name
of diversity. The bottom line is that certain elements in
the Berekely schools would like to see AC gone - along with
any other program they deem ''exclusive''. In other word, any
program that promotes academic excellence. It is truly a shame.
Re: Middle school: private or public?
I just wanted to correct a common misunderstanding about
Berkeley High. Academic Choice is NOT the only college
prepatory program at the school. EVERY small school as well
as the large school (outside of AC) offers the a-g courses
needed for 4-year CA public school (and most other
colleges). EVERY small school as well as the large school
provides students the ability to take honors and/or AP
and/or college classes. Excellent teachers are to be found
throughout BHS (and yes, as in most schools - public or
private ''not so good'' teachers can be found in every
program of the school as well). While the Academic Choice
program has its merits (as do any of the small schools or
just being in the large school has relative merits as
well) - families should realize that any of the
other ''paths'' at BHS are also paths that will/can prepare
students for 4-year college - even UC and Ivy League
Regarding the anonymous parent's comment in the June 22
newsletter equating Academic Choice with the college prep
track at BHS, my son's experience suggests otherwise. As a
regular BHS student, he took AP Chemistry, AP Bio, AP
Calculus, AP English, and numerous honors courses. Many
other advanced classes were available to him, including AP
History, AP Statistics, AP Physics, and the amazing AP
Environmental Science sequence (how I wish he'd taken this
class). He was also able to participate in the journalism
program and work on the school newspaper. As a result, he
was accepted at all of the universities to which he applied
and was granted 21 units of college credits to boot. I'd
call that college prep. So parents of incoming freshmen,
don't fret over your child not getting into Academic Choice.
Instead, plan to support the dedicated and skilled teachers
who provide the college prep education available to all BHS
I do this reluctantly, but wanted to make sure that a misconception about
Berkeley High's academic program was not generated by the comments
posted in response to a parent's worries about the quality of education at
Berkeley High now that admission to Academic Choice is not automatic. The
responder characterized Academic Choice as ''the college-preparatory track,''
suggesting that this is the only way a college-prep education can be achieved
at the high school. That is not accurate. Though teaching is uneven, perfectly
good teachers outside Academic Choice, AP and Honors tracks teach at the
school, and some not so perfectly good teaching experiences can be had
within Academic Choice, AP and Honors tracks. I think you'll be amazed at the
breadth of choices in the curriculum, once past 9th grade, which is really a
time for the child to find her or his feet in the larger school, and the sense of
confidence a child gains when she or he learns to successfully navigate it.
I went to your site to check the numbers you claimed. I
read the chart quite differently than you.
The ''socioeconomic'' balance is more 50% cat 1 and 70% cat
3. I am all for complete balance in our society and while
I feel a hand up must be given to the overlooked sections
of our city's, I get offended when the priveleged are
vastly passed over to acheive this goal. I think we must
come to terms with who needs what more and I feel that BHS
did a fine job of mixing these important values.
this page was last updated: May 18, 2011
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