Which Small School for the most Science Classes?

My daughter will be starting at Berkeley High next year and is pondering "small school" choices. She wants to choose the school that will allow her to take the most science classes, as she is currently passionate about becoming a surgeon (but she's 13, so who knows if that'll stick ;). So far, she likes what she's read/heard about the social justice focus of CAS and the academic rigor and international focus at BIHS. They seem like pretty different programs, but if they'd both give her equal opportunity to choose advanced and interesting science courses, she'd probably prefer the social atmosphere of CAS.

As a parent, my concern is that she hasn't always been very engaged and challenged in her classes in middle school, so I am hoping for a more focused and challenging learning environment for her in high school. She's been annoyed by behavior issues that have distracted from learning in many of her classes at King, and has developed a somewhat jaded attitude about the quality of her school as a result.

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My daughter is finishing up at BHS and has loved some of the advanced science courses that she's been able to take (especially AP Chemistry).  She's now planning to be a STEM major.  

Unfortunately, what I've heard is that if she had been in one of the small schools she wouldn't have been able to take those classes - or at least not at the pace that she did. So you have to be careful about the implications of the lottery choice you make (I really wish they would do away with that 9th grade lottery system as they've been discussing!). I believe that one option is to take classes at the local community college, but that could be difficult for a high school sophomore or junior. That said, I should also say that my daughter thinks that CAS is a wonderful school with a very supportive cohort of kids and teachers, based on what she's heard from her friends.

My daughter chose BIHS, and while the international focus and many good teachers has been nice, it's been very difficult to meet all the requirements, and she wishes that her high school years had been less stressful. Segregation is also a major issue at Berkeley High, and BIHS has many more white kids than the general school population, which is alienating for many students of color and anyone who is seeking to learn in a diverse environment. If we had to do it over again we would probably chose AC.

I have an 11th grader at BHS who just switched from BIHS to independent study.  Although she was in BIHS, she took AP science classes her sophomore year (chemistry) and her junior year (physics).  They have been plenty challenging, even for very strong students.  I also recently heard good things about AP biology, which she plans to take next year.  Ninth-grade biology was a bust (rotating cast of substitutes), but once she got into the AP science classes, they've been good.

My child was in AMPS. If your daughter was annoyed by behavioral issues at King and wants to become a surgeon, she should most definitely avoid the small schools (AHA, AMPS, CAS). Their academic standards are significantly lower and their behavioral problems more extreme than anything you'll find at King. The vast majority of small school students are below grade level in math and until BHS figures out a way to address that issue, there is no way these classes will be able to prepare kids for university level math or science classes. The math proficiency level at King is about 70%. In the BHS small schools it is in the 2% - 7% range. CAS can be a very welcoming and accepting place for kids with a combination of on-going substance abuse problems and learning disabilities of the behavioral sort who need an alternative to a regular high-school education -- but if your daughter wants a focused and academic environment, do not consider a small school. Please don't be fooled by BHS's literature and presentations about the small schools - it bears no resemblance to what happens in the classroom. Instead, go and visit the CAS math and science classes (if BHS will allow you to) and form your own opinion. Also consider asking the teenagers at the park across from Berkeley High which ones are enrolled in CAS and get their feedback on the academics. 

My son is a sophomore in AC, and his limited experience has been quite good so far. He's not a super motivated student, but he does like science. Freshman biology was outstanding for him; he had Glenn Wolkenfeld, a science lead for AC, and my son loved him. He has Matt Bissell for standard Chem this year, and it's a lot harder, mostly due to the many labs they do each week, and the amount of paperwork associated with each lab. It's a lot of work, and not as interesting as bio was for him. But my son likes Mr. Bissell a lot -- he thinks he's fair and moderately engaging. And he's very interested in taking AP Bio next year, which is supposed to be excellent [and really hard...]. As for the other classes and the other small schools, it's probably like anywhere: some teachers will be great and some won't - you can't really control that. But it's likely the case that any AP class will be a challenge and mostly full of motivated students, and since there are a lot of AP Sciences, your daughter may really enjoy herself. I don't think CAS opens up AP science options until senior year though, whereas both AC and BIHS start with AP Chem for sophomores, so keep that in mind.

I have a current Junior at BHS and one who graduated in 2016.  They both chose AC.  It has the most flexibility in terms of being able to choose what courses you take.  For science, AC students take Advanced Biology in 9th grade and Chemistry or AP Chemistry in 10th grade.  In 11th and 12th grade there are more choices:  Honors Anatomy & Physiology, AP Environmental Science, AP Biology, Biotechnology (a two year program), Physics, or AP Physics.

There are also Computer Science electives available for everyone.

The other learning communities have various requirements that take up some of the course slots, so if your daughter wants to take more than 4 science classes, AC would probably be the best choice.  If she will be happy with one science class per year, CAS or BIHS would probably be fine.

My son is in BIHS. He had a great freshman biology teacher (until his wife had a baby and he was stressed and spacey all the time, which is understandable given BHS teaching loads). He also has Matt Bissell for chemistry. His experience so far has been that the tests are not always representative of what was taught, especially the free response, and that the grading is very hard. He appreciates the opportunities for extra credit and uses all of them and thus has a strong grade. He wonders if taking AP chemistry would have been better (since he puts the work in anyway), however, at the parent meeting the BIHS staff strongly discouraged having our kids sign up for it. He is really looking forward to AP anatomy and AP Environmental studies next year.

I would recommend Academic Choice for your daughter, as that would allow her the most flexibility in her schedule to take as many science classes as she desires, especially at the AP level. BIHS, while academically rigorous and expansive, doesn't allow as much room in a student's schedule for multiple science electives outside the IB curriculum. As for the small schools...My experience is that while the teachers are equally capable and dedicated, the classes themselves are not as rigorous as BIHS, and you'll find a mix of passionate, motivated students, and students who just don't care about doing the work or showing up for class.

With the new school redesign, it look as though BIHS will not be the same program that is currently being offered by the time your daughter enters BHS, so you might want to look into that.

If she wants to go into the medical field, especially in California, your daughter should also consider taking Spanish (if she doesn't already speak the language).

Disclosure--I have/had two children attend(ing) BHS, one in BIHS and one in a BHS small school.

My son is a freshman in CAS, which was his first choice bcs he is very interested in social justice and wanted a smaller school with chance of getting to know his classmates and teachers more. He is also very academically inclined (BIHS was his second choice). He's really enjoying CAS greatly, finds all of his teachers to be quite good (except perhaps the non-CAS teacher of one of his electives), and especially loves his science class with Mr. Douglas. He says it is the best science class he has ever had and feels like he is learning tons (eg. recently did a lab looking at antibiotic resistance). He has never been that interested in science before, but now he's really fascinated with it. I think he feels pretty challenged overall, and is also happy to have time left over for other activities besides homework. He says there are indeed some kids in his class who do not seem as interested in learning and sometimes disruptive, but this doesn't seem to bother him at all. I think he likes the diversity of students and less pressure overall. He is also taking advanced math with lots of non-small school students which he also enjoys, but he has no regrets about choosing CAS. My son also went to King, which he liked overall, but he says he is enjoying Berkeley High much more.