Parents' Comments about Berkeley High
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Parents' Comments about Berkeley High
I'm hoping to hear something current about the school. My son, who had
attended Orinda public schools since the third grade, may be attending Berkeley
High because our inter-district transfer into Acalanes Union High School
District has been denied. We have appealed and are awaiting a decision.
Meanwhile, what advice would you have for my soon-to-be 9th-grader if he will
need to attend Berkeley High? What is your opinion of the school: students,
faculty, administration, curriculum, safety, etc? Thanks in advance!
My opinion of BHS as the mother of a senior, is very high. We came from
a small private school and BHS seemed huge, chaotic and overwhelming.
But it is a good school and there are some wonderful, dedicated
teachers. There are some funky teachers as well, like anywhere. The
different schools and programs (AP, IB) offer kids a more contained
environment and a way to connect with others. IB has been VERY
impressive. It is an urban-based school with the same kinds of issues
that all schools in this country are dealing with---drugs, weapons---but
the new principal is fabulous and on top of safety. I encourage you to
volunteer for something at the school if your son goes there so that you
get a better sense of how things work and who's who. He will learn a
lot. I can understand your concerns but he'll be fine.
My daughter graduated from BHS in 2010 and my son will be a Sophomore
this year. Both chose Academic Choice as their school. They are very
different kids. My daughter is a student that never had to be pushed to
do her best; my son, who is just as capable as she is, ''gets by''.
Both have always been very sociable and I think this has worked in their
favor in being in a big academic setting. BHS, like any school, works
best when a student can find their niche. While I can't get my son all
that interested in academics, he does theatre and music outside of
school and did a sport last year and will one again this year. While
there is plenty to do at BHS, some kids drop through the cracks.
Engaged parents make a big difference. The small schools help students
focus on what their strengths are.
What BHS has going for it is plenty of diversity, lots to get involved
in and many wonderful and dedicated teachers. My kids have had a
couple of bad ones as well, and getting the school to respond to
complaints is time-consuming and often frustrating for parents and
students. And yes, the administration knows who these teachers are but
their hands are tied in terms of dealing with them, so it falls on the
parents to be persistent with meetings and timely follow-up. In terms
of safety issues, despite the gunshot incident last spring, my kids told
me they felt safe at BHS and that the open campus is not one that they
would want to give up in favor of tighter security. In short, with any
school, it has a lot to do with who your child is. My daughter ended up
at a very good college and she felt BHS prepared her extremely well.
I feel that BHS will be a very good vibrant high school for my student
and I know that many other parents with current or former BHS students
feel the same way.
Regarding the learning communities within BHS, each student is required
to be inone of the learning communities whether one of the smaller ones
or the larger BIHS or AC. Requiring students to be in learning
communities has, from what I understand, made a big difference and
students feel more a part of a group. I also understand that at BHS is
it s key to be involved in an activity (club, music or a sport). So if
you student is lucky enough to go to BHS, require them to be involved in
some activity. BHS is not something to be scared of, but an opportunity
to take advantage of.
And for the anti-theft refresher course.....as with any urban school (or
urban transit system!), be aware. Do not use your electronics before,
during or after school out in the open or they may get yanked out of
your hands. Find out what areas around school to avoid. Don't hang out
in the adjacent park after school. Put any electronics and your wallet
deep in your backpack or in your front pocket. Valuables left just
inside the zipper of your backpack may get pick-pocketed in a crowded
hallway at class passing time. Do not leave your backpack unattended.
If any thing gets stolen or you are hassled, report it.
Berkeley High grads who apply themselves get a great education and leave
the school very ready for the world.
Our daughter attended Berkeley High as a freshman, but we transferred to a
smaller private school her sophomore year because of the safety/violence
problems there. IMO, the school is too big, with over 3,000 students,
along with a number of kids from other districts who just happen to be on
campus during school hours. There are many students who disrupt the
classes on a regular basis. The small schools format does not change
that. The small schools are merely ''on-paper'' assignments to a
particular curriculum. We also did not like the fact that Berkeley High
students wander around downtown Berkeley on their lunch hour. Eating
lunch in the cafeteria is not a real option, as I'm sure you already know.
Yes, there are some very good teachers there, although there are also some
not-so-good ones. There are kids who do well at Berkeley High. But since
we have lived in south Berkeley for years, we did not need the
multicultural ''experience'' of Berkeley High. We needed a school where
our daughter could concentrate on her classes.
BHS has some fantastic teachers and some who should not be teaching (or
counseling students). It's a great school for kids who are high achievers
and who are independent students. Not so great for those who aren't on a
high academic track or who have mild disabilities like ADD or social
difficulties. Those kids can get lost in the vastness of the place and
it's a constant struggle to get a certain counselor to do his job and a
struggle to get some teachers to make any changes to their way of
teaching. Some of my friends' kids did great--being involved in a sport or
activity is very helpful--but mine, despite lots of help at home, did not.
Regarding the Principal, Mr. Scuderi is an excellent communicator, and
seems to be well liked by the staff. He seems to have a good rapport with
students and with the BUSD administration. He appears to be accomplishing
a challenging job with grace.
I would like to add a different point view to your question. I
actually like BHS as a high school and feel that it gave my recent
graduate a superb education. My child has ADD and the coping
skills and academics learned from BHS were invaluable for getting
into a good college and for coping with college bureaucracy and the
Yes, it is bigger than most high schools and perhaps, if you have a
child with disabilities or other challenges, you as a parent might
have to be a little more on top of tracking homework and
communicating with teachers than in a smaller school. However,
Powerschool makes it easy to keep on top of grades, homework
assignments and it is fairly easy to communicate with most teachers
and administration who I found to be caring, competent,and open to
working with parents.
The Parent-Teacher community is inviting and I found that while
some teachers were better than others, most teachers were good or
great. The best part is that there is a place at BHS for every
type of student with sports, clubs, or more studious pursuits.
BHS divides the student population into smaller learning
communities (SLC) - the smaller ones are between 300-500 students
and the larger ones between 900-1350. The larger SLC are not any
bigger than most other high schools.
I am impressed with the recent posts coming out from administration
about enhanced security and attendance oversight.
Good luck with your decision.
Mom of recent BHS graduate
Of course Berkeley High is not for everyone. Berkeley itself
isn't. If you are fortunate enough to be able to afford a private
high school, congratulations. If not, or you think the BHS
experience would be valuable for your child's development as a
caring, intelligent and happy member of society, get involved and
stay in touch with your kids and their teachers and you can make
the school work. Even if you don't have time, the school and
community have set up programs to provide all kinds of suport to
students who seek it out. Encourage your child to use them. There
are activities for just about any type of young person. There are
temptations and children who are headed for trouble all around--no
doubt. However, suggesting that the students are constantly
threatened and that physical danger lurks around every corner
reflects more a parent's anxiety than reality. The statistics do
not support this fear. Anecdotes do not prove much. Everyone has
their own opinion of BHS. Stop by the front desk, get a tour, talk
to kids, sit in on a class. Attend meetings. Volunteer as a tutor.
Don't believe what you read on the internet. Find out for
The small schools are not merely ''on paper.'' I can't disagree
with all of the things that have been said about BHS here, but it's
worth saying that many of the generalizations about the school are
just that. For what it's worth, CAS has given my child a strong
sense of community--being part of a group--in the midst of the much
larger, looser entity of BHS. He has had some good teachers and
some not so good, as in any other part of the school. He rejected
the world of private schools after the experience of a private
middle school, and really likes being part of BHS, especially CAS.
a CAS Mom
Can people share their experiences about Berkeley High School,
specifically with regards to the large size of the school? How easy is it
for a child to get ''lost'' academically and socially? What type of
children tend to thrive and which don't at Berkeley HS?
-Exploring Berkeley Schools
For my child the size has worked well, allowing her to meet people with
similar interests. In 9th grade my impression is that the students are
very open to making new friends. I think it is a good school for
relatively well-organized, self-directed, bright students who have
interests (i.e. sports, music, drama, art, clubs), and a very good school
for students who are gifted in their area of interest, or academically
gifted (especially in the junior/senior year with many AP and IB SL/HL
classes.) Most teachers are interested in pushing the strong students to
do better, and to think more analytically. For example, my student who
writes well and easily has been learning to write critical essays in
English, and not been allowed to slide by with just a fluid and
entertaining writing style. I think it is probably a hard place to be
''middle-of-the-road'' and not have some kind of passionate interest.
Students have to be relatively self-directed to solve glitches that come
up (probably more than ideal with complex paperwork like P.E. waivers for
students in BIHS, and other programs without time for electives.) It is
also big enough so that students who want to find trouble can do so,
though from what I've heard from friends with students in other high
schools, trouble/drugs are pretty available most places.
Hi - as the mom of a ninth grader at Berkeley High, we're
just learning the ropes and I have a few questions about
how to help my daughter navigate a few areas at school:
1. Clubs: How does one encourage one's kid to get
involved in clubs? My kid seems a bit lost and overwhelmed
and the clubs seem like a perfect way to take a more
manageable bite out of things. I'm still looking for a
complete list but would love advice on how other kids put
a toe in the club waters.
2. Absences: Our daughter was sick with a bad cold for
three days about three weeks ago. It seems to have cost
her a lot of momentum. She seems to be spending a lot of
energy catching up and just a brief absence seems costly.
Have other parents observed your kid having the same
3. Self-esteem: Our daughter has always gotten great
grades and her academic excellence has been an important
part of her identity. Now, for the first time, it seems
unlikely that she'll pull off straight A's. I don't want
her to get discouraged or have this diminish her drive
(Latin and Geometry seem especially hard). Any words of
wisdom as to how to encourage her to continue to do her
best even though the going is tough in this new
environment would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks very much
For clubs, as well as everything else, check out the BHS etree; they send
the announcements for current BHS events. To subscribe to the etree, write
firstname.lastname@example.org with one word only in the subject line: subscribe.
You should be able to find a recent listing of clubs at the BHS etree
Moving from the smaller pond, where your daughter excelled easily, to the
bigger pond, with all the others that excelled easily, is hard. My son, also
freshman, is in the same situation. If she needs help in specific classes,
are a lot of opportunities for tutoring and advice, frequently at lunchtime.
I also have a BHS 9th grade daughter. I agree that it's
tough to miss school and keep up. I felt terrible when my
daughter didn't want to miss a day of middle school, even
when sick, because she feared getting behind. On the grades
front, my daughter is a solid student but didn't get all As
in middle school, unlike some of her friends. She said the
other day that some of these friends are having a hard time
adjusting to not getting ''all As.'' The course work is hard
and teachers aren't open to late or make-up work. When a
kid asked about turning in a late assignment, her geometry
teacher said he should go in a time machine and turn in the
work when it was supposed to be turned in. How about ''group
tests,'' where the teacher picks one page to grade....and in
one instance it was a page that one student left blank, so
all four kids got a bad grade. These are frustrating and
demoralizing situations, but that's life. Try to keep
encouraging your daughter to do her best and try not to
focus on the importance of ''all A's.''
mom of BHS kid
Re: Choosing a high school for gay son
I am the parent of a sophmore at Berkeley High School and
based on the discussions she and I have regarding gay
teens (she's heterosexual but accepting of the LBGT
community) kids are able to be themselves because there
are other kids just like them. Also there are staff
members who are lesbian and gay (and open about it) and
there are support groups for these teens and the school
has a health center that also offers counseling for kids
to have an outlet to talk to someone. For the most part
from what I've observed from being on campus is that these
kids are more welcomed opposed to being outcast. I also
would like to say my daughter has a teacher who falls in
this catergory that we absolutely adore (my daughter stops
by her class just to hang out and chat afterschool)
because she is a good educator which is all that matters.
My daughter just started at BHS for second semester sophomore year. She
moved here from an excellent school near Seattle. She is really unhappy with
the level of instruction and the teachers (and everyone involved, she says)
there. The kids in her classes don't seem to care, they are disruptive, the
Spanish teacher doesn't seem to know what she's doing and doesn't even
speak in an accent. We are desperately looking for a last minute alternative!
Is there some secret way to get her into some more advanced classes, or
another area school that is better, or anything??? She's very bright and
academically committed. I'm going to go over there tomorrow and talk to
someone about switching her into some better classes but she is sure no one
will have anything better to offer. She is not as into clubs or sports as the
rest of the school is, she just wants to learn academics. Any suggestions,
teacher names, etc?
My bright, creative daughter attended Berkeley High School's
Independent Study program for two years and LOVED it!
of the teachers are attentive, intelligent, respectful, and
committed to their unique students. The academic rigor was
(Click here for full review)
My son, a sophmore at BHS, skips as many classes as he
attends. He is doing poorly academically. I believe that
the current program is not right for him. He wanted to be
in the Arts program but was not admitted.
I've tried talking with the counselor, and I believe that
the counselor is unable to help because he seems
uninterested in my son in the first place and hostile to
me. I've requested from the deputy principal that a
different counselor be assigned and was refused.
Therefore, I am considering:
--other schools, including arts academies
--the BHS independent study program.
Anybody have a suggestion for an incredibly intelligent
young man who is not successful at BHS?
Looking for Alternatives
A while back, some parents were meeting as a 'school is not for boys' support
group, and we archived the notes and resources from those meetings at
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/schoolsnotforboys/. Hope you find
something useful there - several of the entries include other schools to
consider, including a new charter school in Oakland. The group is now
defunct, but maybe it could be resurrected with new members (and the group
might consider including parents of daughters as well). I don't know why the
group was short-lived, must be many reasons. Our situations were quite
different (family composition, finances, ethnicity, sons' ages, schools...); it's
difficult to share these stories with strangers (and perhaps the conversations
are better handled by a professional); some of us were experiencing some
success and others saw little change.... I wish we could have helped one
another more. The problems are real and need raising and addressing. Best
of luck to you.
I highly recommend the East Bay Waldorf High School. Some kids think it's too
small, but the education is excellent and the kids can't hide - which can make
all the difference - so much attention is paid to each child and I have found
my interactions with the faculty to be very informative and helpful - I know
it's not close, it's in El Sobrante - there is a bus and there are carpools from
Berkeley and other cities. There aren't lots of sports and clubs like Berkeley
High but there are some and they are working on making more. Kids can
visit the school for a few days to get a feel for it.
A Happy EBWS Parent
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