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Berkeley Independent Study Program (Berkeley, CA)

Berkeley Parents Network > Reviews > K-12 Schools > Berkeley Public Schools > Berkeley Independent Study Program


Berkeley Independent Study (BIS) is a program for K-8 (home school) and 9-12 (independent study.)
May 2014

I have three children and they all attend the Berkeley Independent Studies program. When we moved to the Bay area three years ago, my children were elementary and middle school aged. By that time, we had moved quite a lot and our kids had experienced a variety of school settings – homeschool, public school, private school, and a virtual online public school pilot program. As children of educators and the fact that our kids are avid readers and learners, they thrived in all of these environments. Moving to Berkeley, though, we were searching for the right fit for their educational environment. We heard about a lot of the great schools and were introduced to the variety of homeschool and charter options, but Berkeley Independent Studies caught our eye.

The program is unique. Where else can you get the flexibility of homeschooling with the curriculum, guidance and support of the public school system? Independent Study has fantastic teachers who my kids now consider more like family because they care about each student as a whole person. When I explain the program to others, the reaction is often: "Is that a charter school?" or "Oh, you just homeschool?" It is a hidden treasure in the Berkeley Unified School District. BIS does not get a lot of advertising, but it is an amazing gem right under our noses. Berkeley Independent Studies has a campus with its own garden. It has math teachers, K-8 teachers, high school teachers in every subject, an art teacher, and a full time tutor.

How it works, K-8:

If your child is in grades Kindergarten through 8th grade, you meet in conference with your child's teacher and your child once a week for 1.5 hours on campus. In that time, the teacher works with you and your child to assign homework, reading, and projects for English, Math, Social Studies, Science and P.E. It is your job as the parent to work with your child through the week to make sure he/she gets the work done. An art class is offered separately once per week for an hour. The garden class is twice per week and is considered part of the science homework. Gardening is a great place for your child to meet other students of different ages in a non-threatening environment, work outside, learn nutrition, cook and enjoy some amazing smoothies! Ms. Joy, the amazing garden teacher, is always sensitive to student's dietary restrictions. The garden is one of my kids' favorite aspects of Independent Studies!

How it works: Middle school:

For middle schoolers it is similar to the K-8 program, but now the student has art and math class separate from the core subjects taught with the main teacher. So the meeting with the teacher becomes a one hour meeting each week (with parent and student) covering English, Social Studies, Science and P.E. The student meets with the math teacher at a different time (may be a different day of the week) for ½ an hour per week. Art is still one hour, once per week.

How it works: High school

The program changes for a student in the high school program. Independent Studies lives up to its name. On a quarter system, the student, parent and principal sit down together before the start of classes to lay out what classes the student needs to take to graduate. There are opportunities for electives and the student has full participation in the decision-making process. A regular load is 3 classes per quarter. Courses are 5 credits each. Four quarters means 60 credits in the year. Students are also eligible to take classes at Berkeley High School that are not offered at Independent Studies. So, one of my children takes a language class that is not offered at BIS. This means he takes 4 classes all year long. Regarding the classes -- the student meets with the instructor without mom or dad. The student is responsible for meeting 1/2 hour each week with the instructor to get the assignment, turn in assignments due and discuss the subject matter. When an instructor has more than one student, their time can be added together. For example, 2 students in the same course and time would have 1 hour with the teacher, 3 students would have a 1.5 hour class with the teacher. This is conducive to small group discussion as you can imagine. Independent Study really prepares students for college on so many levels – they have to get in and set their meeting times with the teacher at the beginning of the quarter (register early to get the meeting day and time they prefer), time management - the student is expected to work 10 hours per week on each class (consider they only meet the teacher for 1/2 hour per week), and communication. It is really up to the students to work with (or not) the teacher. Keep in mind, missing one meeting with the teacher is like missing a week of class! This is not a lightweight program. A lot is expected for each class. Students are expected to pull their weight and step up to the plate to get their stuff done. To that end, a student can sign up with a capable tutor for occasional help or regular, weekly tutoring sessions. The teachers are experienced, accessible and patient.

Our kids have attended Berkeley Independent Studies for three years now. Our family has experienced the elementary, middle school and high school aspects of Independent Studies. Students choose BIS for a variety of reasons - they need a flexible schedule for work, sports, extracurricular programs, illness, pregnancy, etc. Some students are there because it just works for them. I consider my kids to be in the latter category. We have moved residences twice in the area in the past three years, both times out of the city of Berkeley, but we chose to keep our kids in this public school program because it works for our kids.

I only meant to write a paragraph to give the school a plug on Berkeley Parents Network (because so few people know about BIS), but I have written a lot more! Even now, I am holding back, but I encourage people to check out the program. Ask questions. Find out more info about the program at the website that the students and teachers themselves developed this year:http://berkeleyindependentstudy.wordpress.com/ because it shows the program in a three dimensional way far better than the sorry, two dimensional description on the BUSD website!

Happy parent of students at Berkeley Independent Studies


Nov 2012

Re: Highly gifted ADHD student - which high school?

My daughter was in BISP for most of high school. It worked out well for her, although we worried that she was isolating herself socially, which was probably more a personality issue than a result of working independently. She learned how to study and write papers, she was able to take classes at Berkeley High that she wanted to take, and she is now a college freshman at an institution that values individuality and intellectual rigor. This is not to say that it was an easy road for her or us - she wouldn't consider private school, and BISP was her choice - but she was successful in school, however you measure that, and we're all pleased with where it has taken her so far. former IS parent


Thanks to all respondents. Our conclusions: [...] Berkeley Independent Studies Program: we researched it and visited many times before eventually deciding in its favor. We met several teachers, the new director Edith Smiley, and observed daily functioning. We were extremely impressed. Run by the school district, so it is free. Designed for students with professional lives (dancers, etc.), parenting obligations, and/or who are very bright but bored in Berkeley High and prefer studying on their own as fast as they wish. Concurrent enrollment with BHS and/or BCC is common and permitted. Students meet once a week with their teachers and work on assignments the rest of the week. There is a full-time tutor and although kids can study wherever they want, they can also spend their entire day at ISP, as they have computers, books, and peace and quiet. Kids who are unmotivated, need constant supervision, or thrive only in large group settings would not do well here, I don't think, as it does require a greater degree of autonomy and curiosity regarding learning. BHS and BISP counselors coordinated the transition, which was bureaucratic but pretty smooth. Our son now takes non-core classes at BHS and core ones at BISP, and is thrilled to be free of the distractions and constraints of large classrooms. I would highly recommend that parents of bright, motivated and quirky kids consider BISP. Vera

9th grader thinks he'd do better at Ind. Study

Dec 2009

My son is a 9th grader in the AHA program at BHS. We really like the AHA teachers and the school. However, our son is having problems with all of the new freedom at BHS. He's been cutting classes on a regular basis. Mostly the ones before and after lunch. This is lowering his grades. He's been recommended for the GATE program, has very high IQ and should be getting straight A's. The problem is that he's not very interested in his education at this point. He's into hanging out with his friends and music. The work that he turns in is A's and B's, but the fact that he's not doing his homework and continues to skip class is hurting him. We are contacting his teachers on a weekly basis for missed homework, etc... All of the ''micro-managing'' is driving us nuts. Of course, he doesn't want to be interrogated about his homework on a daily basis, so it's stressful for all of us. We've tried grounding, taking away privileges and now weekly progress reports. It seems as though none of this is working. He's claims the temptation to cut is too much for him and he feels he would do better if we were to enroll him in Independent Study. My husband and I feel that Ind. Study is a last resort. It seems as though the 9th grade is too soon to be at that point. On the other hand, we want him to graduate and take responsibility for his education. It's a very frustrating situation. We'd appreciate any advice and information regarding the Independent Study program at BHS. anon


Independent study would not be appropriate for a kid who's already cutting classes - it requires students to be more responsible than usual, not less. I think you're on the right track with consequences. You can also try rewards - in eighth grade we offered to get cable in the summer if my son could get straight As in every class. If he's bored in class, BHS has a huge number of outside activities that can help him burn up his mental, physical, or emotional energy. Fiona
My son was cutting class constantly at BHS and was on the verge of dropping out. I would have rathered find a way to get him to toe the line at BHS but after trying many things ended up getting him into Independant Studies for his senior year. Yes, he had way too much free time and there was not a dramatic turn around but in general he did go to his teacher meetings and did some work and the one-on-one nature of the meetings meant he had to be engaged. I think he learned more in those weekly meetings than he did attending BHS where he would zone out in class or cut and he gained some confidence in his abilities. Bottom line, he got that HS diploma and is in college. Flailing a bit, still irresponsible, but he knows he can make it in college if he tries. If he hadn't received his HS diploma his mindset would be different. I'm very glad the Independent Studies exists. grateful

Berkeley High Independent Study?

Nov 2007

We have been considering Berkeley High independent study for our soon-to-be 9th grader next year. However, when I called them recently, I discovered that the previous director, Mary-Louise Newling, who had been so highly spoken of, is no longer with the program! Does anyone know why she left, and what the state of the program is now? Should we be reconsidering our decision? Thanks for any info, positive or negative. anxious parent


I am responding to your question about Berkeley High Independent Study. I have had two children go through the district (both graduated now), and volunteered and participated in many events and committees since 1990. I am also an educator myself. I have had experience with the Independent Study part of Berkeley High since 1999. This means I have seen Directors come and go.

I was a parent member of the team that hired Ms. Newling, and she was stellar. We were worried because her predecessor had been so well liked, but were were fortunate. I heard she was leaving, and the Independent Study community worried once again, but again they have been very fortunate. I have met the new administrator and was extremely encouraged and impressed.

I strongly recommend this program. I have seen it do large and small miracles over the years. Personally, I consider it the jewel in the crown of the Berkeley Unified School District. Don't think of it as a last resort (although it may be exactly that). Think of it as the answer to a prayer, because, when it works, that's what it truly is (even if you personally don't pray!)

It is definitely worth your time to check it out. Be warned that they sometimes haved a waiting list, so you may need to be both patient and persistent.

Good luck. Concerned Parent


9th grade son wants to try Independent Study

May 2006

My fifteen year old son is a 9th grader at BHS. He is a very good student, but has always been someone who didn't like big crowds, and is non-competitive, particularly physically. He's made comments about fights, etc on and off campus, and out-of-control classes, including one in which the teacher seems to have left on stress leave from his chaotic class that he could not manage.

My son wants to try independent study next year to ''work more on my own, do more music.''. He has good study habits, and when he has a project, will work long and hard to get it all done well. BUt Independent study - seems a little young to be doing this, and that it could be potentially isolating. I worry about structure (and structurelessness). He could take 2 classes at school and the rest would be independent work, as I understand it.

We have been blessed with the ability to go to public or private HS, and had all chosen BHS for a number of good reasons. WHen I brought up perhaps going to a smaller school where there would be smaller classes, he was very resistant - he likes the freedom aspect, and has a load of friends at BHS. ANd his strong subjects - math and science - have been very good at BHS. English and history not so much.

I would like to hear about other people's experience with the independent study system at BHS, and at what age. Or any other pertinent thoughts about this kind of situation, other schools, etc.


I've had kids in the ISP program for several years. It is actually a K-12 program, with about 160 HS students and 20-30 in elementary and middle school.

My sense from your message is that your son will do well there if he chooses to go. I see no reason to fear that he is too young and doubt that he will end up socially isolated. His good study habits will be a major plus, though you will want to make sure he stays on task until you are confident he is doing so reliably.

The program requires that students get their work done between weekly meetings with teachers. In high school a student meets with each subject teacher for 1/2 hour a week; sometimes these ''slots'' are combined into meetings of 3 or 4 students, allowing a longer lecture period.

Classes are conducted on an accelerated basis. This means that a student completes one year's work in a semester. Math is an exception -- courses run at the usual yearly rate but can go faster if a student is particularly interested in or gifted in that area. The trade-off for acceleration is taking fewer courses at any given time -- three is the minimum, equivalent to 5 or 6 BHS courses. Some kids are much better off when they can learn in this more concentrated way, and it doesn't seem to bother any of the ones I've met there. Attrition from the program seems to come primarily from two sources: a desire to have a larger social environment, and inability to keep up with the work on one's own.

Every one of my childrens' teachers have been excellent. There is a heavily used tutor (a Cal student) on campus, and the tutoring program is due to be substantially increased next year by directing more of ISP's BSEP funds to that use.

One teacher formerly associated with the program (now retired) remarked to my wife that after 30 years in Berkeley middle schools she had rediscovered why she went into teaching when she went to the Independent Study program. 1/2 hour per week may not seem like much teaching time, but compare that to a BHS class of, generously, 30 students. 5 days times 55 minutes works out to 275 minutes a week; divided by 30, that is 8.5 minutes per student. Plainly that is only a rough basis for comparison. But the instructional method works and develops independent learners, which should be the goal of ''education'' in all of our schools.

The new director of Independent Study is especially important to any description of the program. The previous director (also very good) left at the end of last school year to teach at an ''American school'' in Budapest. The new director, Mary-Louise Newling, has 30 years of experience in alternative education. She returned here after some years as an administrator in San Bernardino County running programs for troubled populations, because she wanted to get back into a hands-on school setting working directly with students. She hails from Trinidad and was educated in the British tradition through college there, later earned a degree from Oxford and then studied in Spain. After coming to California where she began her career, she earned a Ph.D. from USF and/or St. Mary's, where she also taught extensively. She has tremendous presence, vast energy, great leadership qualities, high standards, consistent expectations, and is utterly no-nonsense. At the same time, she is warm, compassionate and understanding -- if a kid is willing to work at learning, she is more than willing to help. Many administrators talk about a passion for education. Ms. Newling doesn't...she just lives it. What else can I say? She interviews all incoming students and parents, so you'll meet her.

Drawbacks: There's a standard science program at ISP but to take lab classes students must go to BHS. I know that students take AP classes, but am not sure where -- probably also at BHS. French and Spanish are offered at ISP; other foreign languages not. Students can take up to 2 courses a semester at BHS if they want more choices, or simply want to be there part of the time.

That said, I must caution that BHS has made it difficult for returning ISP students to get scheduled for BHS classes at the beginning of the year, due to its frequent (pervasive?) administrative ineptitude, inertia and ''overwhelm.'' Overcoming this has required aggressive advocacy to avoid your child finding themselves two or three weeks behind when they finally get into the class. Ms. Newling intends to fix this and, knowing her, I'm confident that she will have made vast improvements for the coming year. If your son transfers in at the beginning of the fall semester after getting a BHS schedule this may be less of a problem for you anyway.

However, ISP has a district-imposed cap of 200 students and does fill up, so apply now for the fall. And ''apply'' is the operative word -- ISP does not have to accept students deemed inappropriate for the program. On that score, however, in general the approach is to give anyone who wishes the opportunity to succeed or fail rather than to exclude them up front. And the director is very committed to alternative education as a way to provide all kinds of kids with an opportunity to learn.

As for social isolation, my view is that ISP doesn't lead to this but rather that it provides a place where all kinds of kids -- social or retiring -- feel safe and comfortable. Your son will retain his ''outside'' friends to the extent that he wants to, and this will be even easier if he takes one or more classes at BHS. My children see their friends outside of school anyway. Independent Study is a somewhat fragmented social community due to the class scheduling, which can easily lead to friends being at the school at times that don't overlap. On the other hand, some kids spend a significant amount of time hanging around and/or studying there, and are always most welcome so long as they are not disruptive. Efforts are underway to improve the sense of community among the parent body. There is a wonderful chess program.

Finally, a word on diversity: many parts of the Berkeley community are deeply prejudiced against ISP on the ground that it is an elitist school for high-performing white kids from the hills. That is anything but true. The students are very diverse and reflect the Berkeley population in every way. There are only two major differences from BHS: disruptive behavior is not tolerated, and students are held accountable for their work. Failure to turn in three weeks' assignments, or skipping teacher meetings, is grounds for dismissal from the program. These expectations are enforced, though with reason and compassion. Personally I am heartened by the students' good manners, friendliness towards each other and adults, and seriousness about learning.

I'll close with an example. Recently I ran into a kid whom I met in previous years at ISP -- we became acquainted because he shares the same given name as my younger son. He was a quiet, average student who might well have been distracted from his education at BHS due to its craziness and sometimes unhealthy social pressures. He graduated thorough ISP last year and now has a full time job at a local business. This might well not have happened had he not attended ISP. He is on his way to a successful life, and quite likely to college in due time. For me, this story -- which I've seen with all kinds of kids there, be they ''average'', ''skaters'', Lenny Bruce fans, dancers or budding film directors -- is the highest recommendation for, and greatest accomplishment of, the Independent Study Program.

-- Tim


Feb 2006

Re: Under challenged daughter at BHS
My bright, creative daughter attended Berkeley High School's Independent Study program for two years and LOVED it! Most of the teachers are attentive, intelligent, respectful, and committed to their unique students. The academic rigor was challenging as was taking charge of what she did when and how much effort she was willing to expend. Some of the courses are one on one with the teachers, some are taught with small groups of kids. There are tutorials, field trips, a sweet little campus; and some kids feel a real sense of community with other Independent Study students and the staff. Even arts (e.g. ceramics) and creative writing classes are offered, though not chemistry and other lab classes (except for the fabulous biology course which used an innovative computer program to satisfy the barbaric dissection requirements). She took some of her courses at Vista College and at Laney, and even completed some requirements online via community colleges during the summer. Her lofty goal was to finish high school in 3 years (plus the college classes in the summers) and she succeeded with flying colors, graduating early and being admitted to the University of British Columbia where she has been a happy, independent, self-motivated first year university student since September 1st.

Independent Study may not be a good fit for some students, but for mine it was perfect! As a therapist who works with teens and the cofounder of a middle school, I am always asking questions and observing the evolution of adolescents, and, for some students, Independent Study has been a crucial step on the path toward a successful academic and psychological future. You might talk to the head of the program (she's new, so I don't know her) and even go in for an interview or visit with your daughter. Independent Study is an option and an excellent one. And, she can always enroll in classes, attend events, join clubs on the main campus and take advantage of whatever is available at Berkeley High! You can call Independent Study at (510) 644-8592. Sorry to go on and on but Independent Study is special and lots of parents and kids don't really know about it.

GOOD LUCK to you and your daughter
Laurie


Very social but unmotivated sophomore wants to switch to Independent Study

Nov 2005

My daughter, now a sophomore at Berkeley High, is talking about switching to independent study next semester. She is only a fair student (bright, but not very well disciplined or terribly motivated) and is extremely social. I work, and I'm worried what she's going to be doing all day if she's not actually in classes. Is this a prescription for trouble? Should I insist she have some structured plan for her time? Should I let her give it a try and see what happens? I know some kids have done well with independent study. Have they had other activities going thatused some of that free time? I'm interested in other peoples' experience.


One of our sons was an Ind Study student his senior year, and it was a lost year in most respects. We've known many kids who've gone this route, and those kids who thrived were passionate about other interests, and benefited from the time to pursue them. Some had to work due to family circumstances. But it doesn't sound as if your daughter fits either description? You asked if there are other activities, and you'd really have to take initiative to find organized activities during the day (maybe comm. college classes, or a job). I'd worry about her making this shift so early in high school, and wonder if she's having issues with BHS that could be addressed in another way or by a transfer to a different school. You're very right to worry - there is so little contact time at Ind Studies, and our son spent a lot of his 'school time' sleeping, smoking weed, having friends over etc. while we were at work, or fighting with his parents about those behaviors. Been there
My son spent his sophmore year in independent studies-the teachers were great and he liked it but he wasn't self-disciplined enough to succeed at it. He also spent his free, unsupervised time getting high rather than doing his schoolwork. He's now at Arrowsmith and doing much better. I know of other families whose kids are doing well in IS- though, one friend has said that her son, now a freshman at UCD, complains about having classes everyday. I suspect IS does give kids an unrealistic expectation about what adult life will be like-working or going to school. mom
My son was wallowing at Berkeley High through his freshman and sophomore years, and we finally gave IS a chance more out of desperation than anything. He claimed that the environment at Berkeley High was just too chaotic for him to focus. My ex-wife suggested the IS route, and while at first I was dead set against it--in large part due to my own failed attempt to do an independent study course in high school--after visiting and talking to the principal and a couple of teachers I decided it was worth a try.

It worked wonders for him. While it's true he tended to sleep in much more, he became interested in the subjects, challenged to do good work, and it helped him finish high school with decent grades. Did he smoke pot and hang out with good-for-nothing friends? Yes, but no more than he did before, and as he matured through the process of taking more personal responsibility he became less and less enchanted with that scene. I think it also helped prepare him for college because he got used to the idea that he, and only he, was responsible for getting his work done. He is now going to a very challenging college and has had some trouble adjusting again to lots of class time, but he's also working very hard and doing very well, and I think this is at least to some degree a result of the study habits he learned by going to IS.

I don't think IS is for every kid, and the reasons it worked so well for my son are fairly unique to his personality. He is easily distracted and a bit on the spacey side, plus he has some relatively mild learning disabilities that either add to or are the cause of these qualities. So the chaos of some Berkeley High classrooms was understandably particularly hard for him. In addition, one-to-one relationships are very important to him, and at IS he was confronted with being much more directly responsible to his teachers, and he responded to that. For some high school kids that direct and intense relationship with several adult teachers might be intimidating and/or off-putting, but for him it was the perfect thing. I can't say that I foresaw this going into IS, but it played out that way and not only helped him get something good out of high school, but also taught him and me something about what really matters to him.

As to the specific questions asked by the person who wrote in for advice, I do think some additional structured activity is helpful. My son had done a sport his freshman & sophomore years, but quit it for his junior year and the unstructured time was a constant challenge and worry that year. He returned to the sport his senior year and that helped a lot (not just in structure but in his being more exhausted when he wasn't scheduled...). I would also be concerned about your daughter being very social and how she'd do there. My son's one complaint was how hard it was for him to connect with friends, and he did at one point want to return to the main school for his senior year for this reason. Unlike your daughter, while he's social, he also has always wanted his time alone, so if this was an issue for him I can imagine it would be a very big one for your daughter. He did often go to Berkeley High at lunchtime and after school to meet friends, but it just wasn't as good for him as the constant informal contact one gets through the school day. Patrick


Unmotivated teen wants to try independent study

Nov 2004

My unmotivated teen has been talking about wanting to be in independent study. My problem is that if he isn't currently doing homework when he has a class every day, why would I think he would do homework when he only has to talk to someone once a week? And if we give it a try and it's a disaster, say after one month, he will be too far behind to transfer back into regular classes. Do the people who suggested independent study have kids who were getting Ds and Fs because they weren't going their homework?


You don't say how old your teen is or what grade you are talking about but I too had a teen who was habitually truant, got D's and F's for failing to do homework and the school insisted that she go to continuation school for independent study. This however did not happen until her senior year and she was almost 18 years old. I too was very skeptical, saying exactly what you are now saying. A kid who never does homework will now be asked to do ONLY homework, yeah right! I had a long talk with the principal at the continuation school and she said that they see this situation a lot and when the child is made the "owner" of the schoolwork issue they often times rise to the occasion. I was shocked the first day of independent study, when I came home from work and found my daughter doing homework! She then went on to complete all that was asked of her and she graduated on time. It turned out that she actually preferred working on her own without the distractions of peers and high school student dramas. Good luck to you and your child. Naomi
My unmotivated son, failing Berkeley High School, insisted that independant studies was the right place for him. Wrong. His grades went from bad to the worst possible. I.S. is very good for motivated people, but it's very loosely structured and it's very easy for you, the parent, to lose track of what your kid is supposed to be doing. Also, they have a LOT of potential free time, so they think they can let everything slide until it's too late. My son did so poorly we eventually opted for him to take the GED as he was so far behind he would have been held back at least a year. anon
My son ''went to'' 9th grade in the main high school, (I wanted to revise that bumper sticker to read, ''My kid (attends) -cuts class at- a Berkeley Public School'') Things did not go well. The next year he went to Independent Study. It was still iffy, but way better. Now he's in his 2nd year at I.S. and is really making it work. He knows that its up to him and that helps him want to bother. He is proud and happy. Its not for everyone, its easy to get pretty laid back about studying. I've seen a couple of kids go down, though I actually don't think that's because of the program. The teachers and staff are excellent. There is much more connection with teachers than in the big classes at the main high school.
My son is a sophmore in Independent Studies at Berkeley High. He is also someone who has had problems getting his homework done (leading to an expensive 6mos at Maybeck with c's and d's) He wanted to try Independent Studies b/c he had a friend in it who was doing well. After asking around I found a suprising number of parents who let their kids try it and were very pleased with how well their children did. My son's first report card was a's and b's. He seems to be handling the amount of work well- that is his teachers told us that he was completing most of his work. It may be too soon to tell how the year will unfold, but for now, it seems to be working for our son. anon
Hello, My teen was making D's and not doing her homework at BHS. She just hated the place, she is an individual and the stress there wasn't for her. We did, I must mention this here to be fair, homeschool her for 3 years prior to her one year at BHS. She transferred to IDS this year and does ALL her homework on her own and is getting B's. She has a LOT of free time so this means she sleeps in, healthy for a teen who needs this, and she has more leisure to roam around town. Now for any parents who have issues with this kind of schedule you should think in advance what you might require of her teen to do during those hours. She came up a study group of friends 2 to 3 times a week and goes to the Y the same amount of time, however it is in the evenings so the roaming is the same. Since I trust her and she is mature and has been roaming no matter where she is I am comfortable with it. Best of luck. Lucinda
My low motivation son went to Ind. Study after an all-F freshman year at BHS followed by a year of private school, where he still didn't do homework *and* was more noticibly deficient in the smaller group. He started Ind. Study as a junior. I won't say that things were magically better - he eventually became discouraged and dropped out midway thru his senior year to take the equivalency exam. But I will say that 1) he became academically engaged for the first time since the 3rd grade because of the one-on-one and the dedicated staff there 2) it eased a LOT of pressure on me - he set his own schedule so I didn't have to nag, nag, nag about bedtimes, schedules, homework, etc. Fast forward two years later, he is taking classes at Laney and is enjoying them, and keeping up better than I would have expected. He likes to learn, and this is something he got from Ind. Studies. So overall, it was a good decision. Anon

More advice about Berkeley Independent Study

July 2006

Re: Best BUSD Middle School?
Hello, There is a 4th public middle school alternative in Berkeley -- Berkeley Independent Studies, located next to the Alternative High School on Derby/MLK. We enrolled my son, last year for his 6th grade and it has been a good experience for him. I highly recommend the K-8th grade teachers there. The child(and a parent) meet once a week with his/her primary teacher, and one half hour a week with his/her math teacher. They also helped to sponsor a program called Odyssey of the Mind which helped with socialization and they also connected my son to the Berkeley Public Library middle school book group, which was excellent. My son will be giving it a try again for next year, 7th grade, and will probably be enrolling in band at Longfellow. Some electives such as music and art and other subjects can be taken at the regular middle schools. The difficult part is that there needs to be a parent at home to help with instruction, and for us, the first 6th weeks were a bit trying. After that, however, it became easier, as we all were learning and settling into a routine. I have even been able to continue my ''other work'' from home. Overall, this alternative has been a good fit for our son, (for now!)
Diana


Jan 2003

My son has been in Independant studies this past semester because he was sick of the violence and other ''diversions'' at BHS. We both think I.S. is a great program as it offers a lot of freedom, individuality and and makes it possibile for those seriously into music, art, acting, or other activities to commit to both their high school education and their extracurricular activity. Each kid meets with each of their teachers 1 time a week for 1/2 an hour, plus there are labs, art classes, etc. that take up some additional time. They also have well thought out field trips, such as to movies and theater. It's in a nice, quiet building where the kids can stay and study, use computers, get tutoring and other assistance. I.S. offers a warm, supportive community with dedicated teachers who are there because they want to be -- not because they have to. Unfortuantely, my son is doing very, very poorly. Why? because no matter what me or his teachers do, he doesn't get his work done. He procrastinates, skirts the truth when he fails to do an assignment, skips classes when he's behind (a big no-no when you only go once a week!) The teachers (bless them) have gone over and beyond their duty to try to help, but my son simply won't cooperate and now has completely given up because he's ashamed. He just can't get it together to be organized and stop procrastinating. My advice? If your child is mature and motivated, go for it. It can be a stellar experience. If you're seeking alternatives because you are at a loss of what to do with your child's high school performance, find something with more structure and less freedom. h


My daughter enrolled in Independent Study for her Senior Year at Berkeley High School. It was a good choice for her, as she was burned out on school and likely would have cut a lot. Instead, she actually got excited about her academics, as the teachers are involved and inspiring. Having an engaged and intelligent adult to consult with once a week was really great. She spent the rest of her time reading, reading, reading (History and English classes) and had a job. Many of her friends enrolled in Independent Study for one or more years of High School. They are all doing well in college, so it seems like it was a good choice. The scary part, in contemplating whether to choose Independent Study, is wondering what your kid will be doing with the rest of her time. I guess it helps to be honest and admit you don't really know what your kid is doing when they're supposedly 'at school' either. It's a good idea to have an adult at home occasionally during the day, either way. Dale
November 2002

Re: Common Ground at BHS
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. Heather


October 2002

Re: Finding the right tutor
I have some experience with tutors and my advice is: finding the right tutor for your kid is a lot like finding the right catfood for your cat. The cat won't touch the first 8 brands you try but you just keep trying new brands and eventually you will find one he'll eat. Maybe it will be one of the expensive brands you have to get from the vet or maybe it will be the cheapo brand you can get at Safeway. You never know till you have tried them all. My teen has gone through 4 different schools and 5 different tutors in the past 8 years. I am not talking about getting help for AP classes - I am talking about just getting him through high school without flunking out. He is smart, and he is creative, but he's very resistant to authority figures telling him what to do. So school is just a disaster. He doesn't do homework just because someone says he should. To him, school is boring, teachers are stupid, and he doesn't need a %$*# tutor! He is right about not needing a tutor - what he needs is someone standing over him with a whip making sure he does the homework. Even he agrees with this. He now goes to Berkeley High Independent Studies because this way he has minimal contact with teachers and the ''Establishment''. This has been a godsend. But I also had to find a tutor to make sure he keeps up with assignments. After many trials I have found just the right person, a teacher from BIS that he especially liked last year. We call it ''homework coaching'' rather than ''tutoring'' and they meet 3 times a week. Sometimes the sessions are more philosophical discussions than homework coaching. They talk about politics, world events, movies, and music. The teacher clearly appreciates the kind of kid my son is, and the mutual regard they have for each other is what has made the tutor relationship work. I think my son has experienced a lot of intellectual growth this year because of the discussions he's had with this teacher, and also has for the first time a non-negative view of school. My son goes to class, and he turns in assignments. Through this tutor, my son has a connection with a teacher and by extension with the school. There have been few times when he has felt connected to school. It is very gratifying. So, try different things, and don't give up. That's my advice. a Mom


Feb 2001

My daughter is in independent studies this semester (her senior year). Overall, I think she has been fairly successful, however, the student must be very well organized and be able to plan out how she will be able to get the work done. I think it's much easier to get behind. It might seem as if it's easier than going to BHS, but I don't think this is true. Toby


Dec 1999

I would like information from anyone who has a teen doing or who has done independent study. Is the quality and level of the material up to that available at the regular school? How did your teen handle the discipline of getting the work done? How about social life? If he or she was having trouble at Berkeley High, did grades improve? I'm especially interested in experiences of getting into a good college. Miriam


In response to the inquiry about Berkeley High Independent Studies: We found this a sanity-saving alternative, with gratitude to Rory Bled who, as director, had made our transition from main campus remarkably easy.

Like anywhere else, some teachers are much, much stronger than others, but the focus on learning, the freedom to integrate outside learning opportunities, the individualized attention, and the respect accorded the students has been impressive. I'd recommend it but only for students with self-directed study habits and social life.


Nov 1999

In reply to choosing a high school, ostracism, and math issues . . .

Our two daughters, a sophomore and a senior, have chosen Independent Study, a wonderful program of BHS directed by Rory Bled, located at East Campus (soon to be all new buildings), for reasons related to all those concerns.

Both girls were educated from preschool through sixth grade at an wonderful Montessori school, with most of their elementary years in a single large classroom of 7-12 year olds. The atmosphere was small community/family, there were no grades, no homework (and therefore time to really enjoy other activities--pottery, kung fu, dance, theater, chorus, and family life). The standardized testing each year showed them both to be in the 80-90th percentiles in everything.

In the middle school years, each of them tried a traditional school (one private, one public), and each met with academic success (and boredom) and a very creepy feeling about what goes on socially in a traditional school. Cliques and ostracism (see the discussion on homophobia) are rampant in schoolchildren of middle school age. (After all, who are their models? Hundreds of other insecure children struggling with puberty and pecking order...This seems to improve somewhat in the later teen years in high school.) We decided no school at all was better than a boring academic life and a damaging social life. We found cliques and "valley girl talk" almost non-existent among homeschooled teens. We homeschooled until we discovered Independent Study.

Regarding the dreaded math . . . Neither daughter has shown much interest in math despite marvelous Montessori materials in their early education (though similarly schooled Montessori classmates have become rather "geniuses" in math). Math simply doesn't appear to capture their imaginations, though both have teen friends--girls, no less--who excel in the subject. The older daughter spent two homeschool years struggling with Algebra 1, using a CD ROM program, and a tutor she really liked. She learned it, but never really understood it. At Independent Study, she began studying Geometry with Pam Drew, and exclaimed, "Finally, math that makes sense!" She also has a friend who tutors her from time to time (when she doesn't quite get something). The subject is still not her favorite, but at least she can follow it and is not afraid of it.

The younger daughter just plugs away at Algebra and Geometry, doing it by rote and not by love, but getting A's and B's. My top recommendation is to find a tutor--age doesn't matter, but attitude does. Older, younger, peer, adult--just someone that loves math and knows how to explain it. Someone your kid doesn't mind spending time with. In our case, it was friends--one homeschooler, one from Independent Study. We paid them for their time.

To parents concerned about the above issues, I highly recommend Independent Study, for the great teachers and for the one-on-one contact with teachers and students. No cliques, no crowds, just friendly individual persons. . . It can be quite a relief after the stimulation and chaos and big classes of Berkeley High. The students earn grades and credits for graduation from BHS, have access to AP and other specialized classes, and are eligible to do any activity BHS has to offer. Talk to the Independent Study department chair at 644-8592, and go visit the campus.

Michael


I taught Independent Study chemistry for two years. If you are considering Independent Study for your son or daughter, I think you should be aware that it requires more individual initiative and more self-direction to do well and to learn something from the courses. A student who is doing poorly in regular BHS courses because he or she is not attending regularly will probably do poorly in Independent Study unless some other factor causes a change in attitude.

There is no way that Independent Study chemistry is the equivalent of the regular BHS chemistry 1-2/D classes which meet 90 minutes/day, 5 days/week. Even with the individualized instruction a student gets in independent study, the regular classes do more labs, do more practice work, and cover more material. Steve Brand (Jan 2000)


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