Unmotivated Students at Berkeley High

Parent Q&A

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  • How does a parent work a strong-willed child (not academically strong) who goes off task when they're supposed to be doing schoolwork using the laptop? He can't be forced to do things.  Power struggles are unhelpful.  Intrinsic motivation and persistence skills aren't currently strong. I'd like him to not fall between the cracks at Berkeley High (he'll start 9th grade soon). His dad doesn't truly care if he doesn't graduate high school.  Welcome any ideas and advice. 

    I'm surprised you got no replies! I would assume many parents have struggled with these things. So you asked 3 questions 

    Q:How do I get my son to stay focused on schoolwork while on the laptop? 

    A: Have him do his homework somewhere other than the bedroom. Kitchen table maybe? Check in with him while he's working. Have him set a timer. Break large assignments down and work in smaller increments of time.30 minutes of uninterrupted work, then take a 10-minute break. Snack, walk around the block, talk to a friend then work for another set period of time. My kid has ADHD and this is what he does to get through difficult assignments. 

    Q: How do you motivate a kid who is resistant? 

    A: What does he care about? What makes him tick? Is there an external motivation that might encourage him to work harder? Set a few simple academic goals together and let your kid work toward earning a reward. Use positive motivation vs punishment. Praise the small improvements. Deep down, our kids really do want to make us proud, even if their stubborn 13-year-old self won't admit it!  Ex. If 70% of his assignments are turned in by Friday, he earns whatever reward you decided on. Stay positive, let him know you don't expect all A's but you do expect effort and work turned in. Not everyone is an academic genius, but everyone can pass a class by showing up and putting in the work.

    Encourage your son to get involved in an activity outside of school. My kid isn't academically inclined either but he's passionate about sports and that's where he gets his confidence boost. He's motivated to keep his grades up because he needs a 3.0 to play sports. Another thought, is it possible your son has a learning difference that hasn't been addressed? He may be struggling with attention or executive functioning deficits. Sometimes kids quit trying when they're struggling to keep up with the workload.  Set up a meeting with your son's teachers for guidance & support.  

    Q: How do I keep him on track at BHS?

    A: Honestly, I would be very hesitant to send a kid who's already disengaged and academically unmotivated to BHS. Sorry to say but these are the kids that can easily "fall through the cracks".   I know there are several charter high schools in Oakland and Richmond that may offer a smaller, more structured environment. Of course, there are also plenty of private schools to look into if you can afford that. 

    You mention your son's father doesn't care whether he graduates but how does your son feel? Talk to your kid about what career he might want in the future and show him the very limited options he would have without at minimum a high school diploma or GED. Talk to him about your own values regarding education and your dreams for his bright future. Wising you the best. Whoever said the terrible twos was the toughest time to be a parent clearly never had a teen:/

    Echoing 2boys2dogs on Berkeley High -- the school is great for motivated kids. But for a kid who doesn't have that intrinsic motivation, they're not going to fall through the cracks so much as fall hard for cannabis and potentially more (lean is a codeine + sprite conction that seems to be widely available; LSD and Psilocyben are pretty available; percocet and adderall are easy to get; alcohol is also very much present on campus). I would look for a way to get them to a school that is a bit smaller and has more supervision, for any kid who isn't already driven. If they're driven by sports or arts or academics, BHS seems pretty amazing. But if they're not, and they're not strong academically? They're going to bottom out fast.

    But also, I would try to find somethings he really likes. Prioritize that?

    I agree, re working in the kitchen, too. It is very reasonable to say "Sorry, but working in your room is a privilege." or "I want to support you in staying on task." Have him work in small blocks and get a lot of intermittent rewards. They don't have to be huge, they can just be small treats. But something to work towards helps a ton.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Our BHS sophomore is floundering academically

 March 2016

Our sophomore at BHS is floundering academically. Chemistry is very difficult, she says the teacher is terrible, and there's no good (quiet, helpful) on-site tutoring at school. She has a twice-weekly private algebra tutor. But she forgets to turn in work. A lot. She loves the social part of high school, but is uninspired by most of her teachers. Last week she had an A, a B, and 4 D's. We're at our wit's end, and are worrying about college. She's ambivalent about it. Not sure what she wants to do after high school, just says, ''college, I guess, because that's all anyone ever talks about.'' She's smart. She's a good writer and critical thinker. But we think she might be in the wrong school...we don't get much help from BHS. There's very little connection between parents and staff. They want the child to do all the advocating for themselves, but ours is not doing that...
Suggestions please!
Worried Mom

My daughter went to Maybeck after her 9th grade at BHS. She had done very well academically at BHS but it was overwhelming and unresponsive in a number of ways. Maybeck is a wonderful, creative, caring school, with high ( but not lethal) academic standards. Classes are small and engaging so kids cannot get lost in the back of a room. It is pretty much an antithetical experience to BHS. It is a small school for better and for worse. No competitive sports teams; few if any AP classes (though some students take AP tests). Socially, can feel too small by the end. But it is warm and friendly, and diverse. My daughter and I were both happy to see (after BHS) that the girls actually wear casual, 'appropriate' clothing to school. There are whole-school camping trips to start and end the year. Special programs for two weeks each spring (this year including Bay Area Hikes, Zen Buddhism, trips to the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii, and scuba certification.) The Administration, faculty and staff will know and care about your daughter - and all the other students - and help her make the most of her years at Maybeck. The college advisor is also outstanding and kids and families are in great hands going through the college process. I encourage you and your daughter to visit Maybeck to see if she would be happier and more successful there. Mom of a thriving Maybeck student

Check out Tilden Prep. I have heard that people will sign their kids up for H.S. courses at Tilden because their kids don't get the help they need from their own teachers. Their child gets more individualized attention, learns more and can better manage their schedules. I believe your child can do one or two courses as needed or take up to a full load and make that their whole H.S. experience. They can also do it for a semester or a year and return to their school once you get they get their legs up under them. I've got it earmarked for my own daughter who's in 9th grade now (in Piedmont) in case she needs it in the future. Always Open to Options

This was our experience, too. BHS is great for very self-directed kids, but my stepson wasn't and he nearly flunked out by the end of sophomore year. He switched to El Cerrito High and got straight As for the last two years of high school. But you're right, this does impact college: as a sophomore he said he didn't care, but when he was applying to colleges he was gutted to realize how he had short-changed himself. Even after explaining the issues that distracted him and pointing out the radical shift in his grades, he couldn't get into a UC school. My opinion? Get her the hell out of there.

Big RED Flag: smart but forgets to turn in work, ''a lot.'' This sounds like ADD or ADHD. Get her evaluated stat. anon

I can't say whether another school might be a better fit for your child but I wanted to let you & other parents know about a Support group for parents at Berkeley high, led by BHS parents for kids who may have or do have Learning differences. BHS does not assist parents in determining whether their child has learning issues unless the parent initiates an inquiry into their child's poor academic performance. Even once a parent begins an inquiry there are numerous obstacles to sorting this out and helping your child.

The group meets once a month, on the 2nd Monday from 6:30-8:30 in the College & Career Center. More information below: BOLD (Berkeley High Families Owning Learning Differences) is a support group for parents of children with Learning Differences. This group, formed in 2013 by Berkeley High parents, meets on the 1st Monday of the month at Berkeley High in the College and Career Center. BOLD is dedicated to finding ways to support, empower and educate students with learning disabilities and their families by fostering understanding and advocating for effective intervention. email: bhsboldcontact [at] gmail.com
BHS parent

We have a freshman at BHS who has Inattentive ADD which means even with meds he doesn't have enough focus to finish a test during class. He does really well on tests as long as he has enough time to finish them, and he has a 504 plan that lets him turn in work late and have longer to finish tests. All of his teachers know about his 504 and are on board with it. But it requires a grown-up to plan the How and the When, because he has no ability to be proactive or plan. Some of his teachers are great about setting up a time with him to finish tests, and he has As and Bs in those classes. But some teachers leave it up to him, which means it never happens, and he has F's in those classes until we parents notice it on Powerschool, email the teacher, arrange for a time for him to come in, and make sure he shows up. Then his grades come back up in those classes. Repeat every few weeks. It's exhausting.

My takeaway is that BHS has the expectation that kids will advocate for themselves. The problem is there are lots of kids who just can't do that, for whatever reason. They are at a big disadvantage at BHS, even with heavy parent involvement and a 504 Plan, and not all of them have that. We are worn out, our kid has been teased for being ''dumb'' and for slowing down his group (BHS is big on group work, which is fatal for our ADD kid) so we have applied to Bayhill HS for next year. They specifically support ADD kids, know how to teach to them and what kind of structure and support they need.

Regarding Realm, my son has a couple of friends who go there, and the big advantage there is it's much smaller and not as academically demanding as BHS. So you might visit it and see if your daughter likes it. Maybeck is a great school, but may not be a good fit for a student who is not especially enthusiastic about academic topics. You might take a look at Holden too. It's walkable from the Orinda BART and we liked it, but it didn't quite fit for our kid.

Good luck. It's hard! Don't give up hope though! My older son flunked out of BHS as a freshman, then was asked to leave a private HS, then dropped out of BHS Independent Study, and then flunked the HS equivalency exam. After a few years he did the CC route and is now finishing up at UCSC with nothing but A's in all his classes! mom of 3

Have you looked at The Mentoring Academy? A lot of the kids there are bright, academically oriented and talented who found that their high schools didn't work for them. Students have come from Maybeck, Oakland Tech, Berkeley High School and others. We have seen our kid thrive at Mentoring. We've been in two highly rated school districts where he would test great but still struggle academically. We're thrilled with his progress at Mentoring. http://www.mentoringacademy.org

Happy MA Parent 

Unmotivated & lost, but smart, at BHS...

May 2015

My BHS freshman has had a tough year, first in a small school where classroom management was greatly lacking. She was depressed and anxiety-filled because the disruptions prevented her from learning. Switched to Independent Study mid-year, where she can do the work well, academically, but is too disorganized to manage her time, so I'm having to be very hands-on with her learning... We just found out she's reassigned to IB next fall. She's nervous because friends have said it's ''too hard'' and she will have no electives except a language (When do IB kids satisfy their PE requirements???) Our kid has always loved school (been in Berkeley her whole life, and BUSD since K), the scene, her friends, and has had some wonderful teachers... up until this year.

High school is supposed to be a bit of a challenge, but also fun! Any suggestions for how to change her attitude and be excited to get back into school next year? She's hesitant because she's grown away from many friends, physically separated from them much of this year. Outside of school, she does many hours of her favorite team sport, works as a successful part-time babysitter, and is generally a happy, outgoing, kind kid. We've considered private school or transferring to a different district, but she loves Berkeley, and feels like she belongs here, despite feeling displaced this year.
Lost in the BHS Machine 

If possible, I'd recommend a transfer to the Academic Choice program. There are fewer requirements in AC and more opportunities for electives. My daughter was able to take full year courses in drawing and ceramics, both of which she enjoyed very much, as well as finish all the required courses for college admission. Good luck! msf22 

Sounds like your daughter has a lot of positives in her life, and a challenging first year of high school. You ask how to change her attitude, but it sounds like a normal reaction to her first year. Why not let her sort through her feelings and concerns, and then know that you cannot predict how next year will go for her. All you can do is let her know what strengths and support she has, and then see what happens. It is good practice for her adult life. Anon 

My son, also smart and active in sports, became lost after attending Oakland public schools since K. There are so many reasons high school is challenging for teens. We felt he needed a smaller school environment and Holden Alternative High School in Orinda came highly recommended. There he found his love of learning again; in a very individualized, nurturing environment; and discovered his passion for life after high school. Worth checking out, Holden could be a good fit. Parent of now happy and independent high school graduate 

I have two kids in IB, and I have heard from MANY others that the small schools have too many unmotivated kids (I have seen it first hand to when a Writer's coach at the old Green Academy). Your child has gone through a hard stretch of the small school and then independent study, but IB is great!! I have this feeling she may really love it, once she is adjusted in there. If your kid does okay in school, IB is really, really not that hard (I have a Senior and Sophomore in it). Junior year can be tough, but that's really the only one. Thanks. Happy

Junior is failing at Berkeley High

Feb 2013

We need advice on a new high school environment for our 16 1/2 yo son at Berkeley High. He has ADD, has been on and off meds, did OK in middle school, and passed most classes in his 1st 2 years of high school with C's and D's. For junior year he lost all motivation and failed the 1st semester of all 4 core classes. He is bright, but has trouble focusing unless he is interested. He is in AHA, but still seems to be able to check out and not do the classwork and isn't motivated to do homework. Now we are dealing with regular marijuana use and are in a recovery program for that.

We are seriously thinking of another alternative school environment. We are going to look at Holden High in Orinda, but I heard recently that there might be a big marijuana problem there. Can anyone confirm or refute this? Also looking at Mentoring Academy in Rockridge which is very new (they only have 9 students total) and possibly Bayhill in Oakland. The things that I think would help my son in school (besides getting off marijuana) are engaging him in things of interest to him, no busywork, not sitting in a classroom all day, hands-on learning and making new friends (he is very social and a sweet kid). He feels most things he is learning now are of no relevance to his life, which is probably a common feeling among teens.

Any information or suggestions would be appreciated. Worried Parents

You and your son may want to check out the Alameda Community Learning Center (ACLC) in Alameda, CA. (www.alamedaclc.org) ACLC is a small (300), dynamic, community-oriented public (tuition-free) charter school serving grades 6-12. They are hosting a student/parent High School Information Night on Monday, Feb 25, from 7:30 - 8:30 pm, and a High School School Tour on Tuesday, Feb 26, from 11:15 am -12:15 pm.

ACLC provides an innovative, hands-on, project-based curriculum that emphasizes student engagement in a democratic society through leadership, independence, self-direction and personal exploration. Learners participate in unique educational experiences including internships, community projects, and college classes at the nearby College of Alameda.

ACLC has been recognized by U.S. News and World Report as one of the Best High Schools in the United States for the past four years. It is consistently ranked as one of Alameda's top middle and high schools with an API of 827, and a statewide rank of 9. The ACLC curriculum meets all University of California-approved A - G college prep courses, and over 90% of ACLC graduates are admitted to four year universities. Parent of 12th-grader and 8th-grader

My story may help you: My brilliant son was failing at BHS because he had no respect for his teachers, (unfortunately, with good reason), and didn't see the point in putting in any effort. We looked into Independent Study, Tilden Academy, and other school possibilities, none of which seemed like they would be any better. Finally, he took the CHSPE and tested out. The following year, he took trade-type classes in community college, no pressure, no homework, just time to figure out what he wants for himself. He took a few academic community college courses the following year and applied to the college that had the program he was interested in. He's now a freshman at that college making mostly A's and is very happy. Our role in all this was to be supportive and let him be who he was. High school is not for everyone, and there are many paths to adulthood. Been there

We have an ADHD son who attends MetWest High School in Oakland. It is an Oakland public school but very different from any other Oakland school. It's mantra is ''real world learning.'' All students work at an internship of their choosing every Tuesday and Thursday. They attend school on M-W-Fri. It is a very small school - 2 classes per grade, each class no more than 20 students. Enlish and social studies are taught as an integrated block by an Advisor. The Advisor knows every kid and stays on top of each and every one of them. The Advisor stays with the same group of kids for two years. Reading and writing demands are heavy and were very worrisome to us because writing was our son's greatest weaknesses. He does have a private tutor who along with his motivation to be at this school - because he loves his internship - has greatly helped him develop as a writer. Each quarter, each student must demonstrate their learning through an exhibition, which is an oral presentation accompanied by some type of visual presentation, based on very specific guidelines. Parents are required to attend 2 of the 4 exhibitions each year. The next exhibitions are the week of March 4 - 8. You would be welcome to attend if you made arrangements in advance. They do have space for and are looking for more juniors. A number of kids left last year due to a very bad teacher, who is no longer there. The school is very much a college prep program and teaches the kids a lot about how to apply to college and for financial aid. The school's phone number is 510 451 5902. Check out these links: http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/education=7475688 OR http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/23/met-west/ OR http://oaklandlocal.com/article/oaklands-midwest-high-school-students-learn-through-internships Write back if you want more info and we can arrange to talk. momofjesse

As a current parent at Holden High School I am not aware of any big problem there and I'm pretty confident I would know. I think it is very important to remember that at any high school public or private certain kids are going to be drawn to trying and or using drugs and/or alcohol. In my son's previous private high school they brought in/bring in drug sniffing dogs. I do understand the concerns you have with what is currently going on with your son. I'm just not sure that you will find any perfect place.

I would encourage you to look at the significant strengths of Holden High School as it relates to the needs of your son. We have been very pleased with the support and guidance ours receives there. The staff are utterly amazing with teens. They understand their psyche in a way that you won't see elsewhere. They tackle issues head on and in a way that allows the kids to learn and grow. Ultimately they work with them to succeed in school and life while helping them consider their next steps after graduation.

Each student is matched up with a skilled counselor who is enrolled in or has graduated from an accredited Master's program. They meet with them once a week. Holden also includes 8 family counseling sessions as part of the tuition.

If you want to speak to current parents there, the school has a list they can give you. Best of luck in your decision. An understanding parent



Sophomore son is doing poorly academically at BHS

February 2006

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. anon

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

Son's negative experience at Berkeley High

April 2002

My son is a senior and about to graduate from BHS - but in hind site I consider the last three years very detrimental and think we should have removed him - if only to take the high school equivalency exam and move on. He has been cutting class (significantly) since his sophomore year - and no one gives a damn. He has been very depressed and has received an unbelievably poor education. In his first two years of English - they read maybe six books (one of the small schools).

Through monumental efforts on our (the parents) part he is going to a private four year university, but considering his negative experience and what he has learned at BHS (you don't have to do anything - and who cares) we have no idea how he will manage.

If we could do it again - we would have removed him from BHS - at least to independent study (where he is completing his senior year).

My advice is - if your kid is struggling, unhappy, truant or depressed - get him out of BHS. I do think Michele Lawrence will turn things around given time - but having a healthy, happy and confident kid should come first - even before high school.

sign me anonymous

Advise to BHS parents - My son wanted to attend Berkeley and I was quite happy to give it a try. He started off good, but as time went by his grades dropped from A's to C's and D's. He played truant, locked himself in his bedroom and refused to come out. In the beginning like most parents we thought it was his teenage mood swings, but then it became obvious something was really wrong when he began to slash his wrists.

He hated the B.High culture and claimed school was a waste of his time as far as getting an education. The depression went on - we sought counseling - like many parents we thought what the hell can I do. I can't afford a private high school on my salary.

Then one day - our relationship with B.High was over - my son was asked by a group of three males for a 'pocket check' that is 'empty your pockets' he said and 'no' and consequently got beaten up pretty bad. Clothes torn, black eye etc. Might I add that it didn't help the fact that he got so depressed he stopped hanging out with his group of friends and was alone while this took place. Nevertheless, I cried, how could I let my son go to a school where his physical safety was at risk.

Cut a long story short - I somehow found the money to send him to Bishop O'Dowd. As much as it is a hardship for us to find the extra cash - I can honestly say in the three months that my son has been there I have a totally different child. He has gone from failing and falling through the cracks to being an up beat motivated kid that loves school. His grades this semester are four A's one B and a C - such a miraculous improvement over B.High.

What is the difference - lower class size - strong values for respect for each other - child held accountable by the school - text books (which we have to buy of course) - closed campus - high levels of professional security - more counselors per child and the obvious no government budget cuts.

What more can I say those stories you here are true and there is no denying that there is something terribly wrong with our school system - that is not to say that all kids are miserable and physically threatened at B.High.

Bottom line - I think you just have to listen to your kid and find some way to get them out of B.High if you have to. Anon