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Berkeley High vs. Other High Schools
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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?
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
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.
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
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.
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 programSteve 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)
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