New thoughts on CAS vs AC?

Hi - I'd love to start a discussion on the small learning communities at BHS.  The last post regarding CAS was 2015, before the "new" math.  Don't get me started on common core - but, it is what it is.  My question to the Berkeley Parents community is - how do you think CAS is these days compared to AC?  I have a daughter that started in AC, now in independent study, because her priority is now music, and she needs the time to practice.  Independent study -  BTW - has been a lifesaver, allowing her to do what she needs to do, and still get an excellent preparation for college.

My younger daughter does not have any learning differences, but she is interested in a smaller learning community.  She is in universal 9th grade, and much choose a SLC soon.  My main questions:  are the students in CAS as "college bound", so to speak, as AC and BIHS kids?  Are the teachers as rigorous for those that are focused?  On paper, and on back-to-school night, CAS sounds great.  I would love to hear what it's really like.  Thank you so much!  Hive 5 mom.

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RE: New thoughts on CAS vs AC? ()

Hi, there. My observation is that CAS kids have a high college-bound rate, and a very dedicated roster of teachers. There are two main concerns, really: 1), that CAS takes a very limited number of students, and must accept at least 50% of kids who are considered "at risk"; this is a requirement for the structure of all three very small learning communities. Every year there are many disappointed families who hoped for one of the smaller SLCs. And 2) that the only learning community which really offers lots of options is AC; AC offers full access to all of the electives, including all the cool new career technical options. All of the others have proscribed courses which severely limit access to electives.

Rumors tend to proliferate among both parents and students around which SLCs are truly "rigorous" and which ones are the most attractive to college admission folks, and those rumors tend not to be based on fact. If CAS is attractive to your child, I would say by all means apply and hope for the best!

RE: New thoughts on CAS vs AC? ()

I can't attest to CAS now, but my college freshman was in CAS her 9th grade year.  For her, just being in a small learning community (as opposed to BIHS or AC) was far too confining, socially.  She needed a much bigger pool of classmates, and hated seeing the same 60 peers much of the day.  She switched to BIHS the next year and was much happier.  I think the quality of learning is much the same across the entire school.  

RE: New thoughts on CAS vs AC? ()

My son is a CAS upperclassman so I can share some of his experience with CAS, though I don't know anything about AC. 

He chose CAS with a lot of deliberation-- he wanted a smaller community where he could get to know people better, where he could form relationships with teachers, where there would be interesting discussions about topics of importance (he's very interested in social justice issues), and where he could learn from other students with diverse perspectives. He also wanted academic rigor because he loves to learn and challenge himself. 

Overall he has been very happy with CAS though has some frustrations. He has enjoyed getting to know a smaller group of kids better and has greatly appreciated most of his teachers. A few of them have been truly amazing, to the extent that he talks at the dinner table about what they have learned (one evening he was eager to explain the course of the French Revolution to us; another evening he outlined in detail the aspects of his science teacher which made him so good at getting across the material to the students) or discussions they had in class or about personal conversations he has had with one teacher or another. He feels like the teachers really care about the students and this has been very supportive for him. 

He does sometimes gets frustrated with the extent of off track conversation which can occur in the classroom-- a side effect perhaps of the students' comfort with each other and their teachers. This varies somewhat by teacher, subject, and class composition. This doesn't bother him as much as it might bother another student as he is pretty focused himself and not shy about speaking up himself. He does take advanced math which has many students from IB and AC and notes that the feel of that classroom is quite different-- much quieter and focused on work. However he enjoys both kinds of classrooms and is really glad he has the chance for such a broad experience. 

The other possible downside of CAS is that his choice of electives has been somewhat restricted due to the required CAS electives. He enjoys learning about video, photography, etc, but if these electives were not required, he'd probably choose different courses. 

I asked my son to review what I had written above and if he had anything to add-- this is what he wrote:

Overall a great response. You also might want to mention that the classes can sometimes be quite unbalanced in the workloads they give us, and that some classes are far too easy, while a few are quite hard (but in my opinion in a good way). Also, it can be very, very frustrating how often kids talk out of turn, though I've heard that it is especially a problem in our grade and might not affect the incoming 10th graders as much. Also worth noting that in my opinion CAS classes + advanced math is enough work; CAS certainly does give homework, it's just all from a few specific classes. And electives are a good point.

Good luck with your decision!