BHS: Academic Choice (AC)

Parent Reviews

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.

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 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.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

May 2015

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

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

Oct 2014

Re: IB vs. AC vs. CAS at Berkeley High

Our child is a sophmore in AC. We chose that over IB for her mostly because she is a math/science kid and we wanted her to have time to take more science. IB's program is so proscribed that there is not much time for any electives. We also wanted her to be able to choose electives other than extra science. We also heard about the heavy workload in IB, and have found the homework load in AC to be very manageable (other than AP Chem). AC has such a broad range of kids that I don't think it is by any means for math/sci kids only. I think it does appeal to kids who want freedom for academic or other interests. So far her teachers have been solid, a few have been very good, one was not good.

2010 - 2012 Discussions

March 2011 Parent Review of AC

March 2011


RE: Starting BHS next year - which small school?


My kid is starting Berk. High next year & we want to hear about your experience w/ Academic Choice, BHIS & Communication Arts & Science. He is into computers more than anything but also loves math & has a knack for reading. Writing is a forte but he gets writer's block & has hard time starting, so too many papers prove problematic. Kids from BHIS gave a great presentation at recent open house so son was interested but BHIS has less elective than AC. How much homework do these schools give? Any opinions on the teachers? How are the advanced placement courses? BHS Students reading this, feel free to answer so we can hear from the horse's mouth! need more info

I will just state, as a very ''satisfied customer'' parent of an AC senior, that AC has been an excellent choice for my kid. AC has the only schedule that allows a kid with particular interests to really explore a field. The computer whiz kid who designed the Jacket website (and won national awards,) was able to take computer classes for three years because he's in AC. There is at least one AP Scholar of Distinction in AC. There are kids who took 8 AP classes, kids who took two and kids who took none, but still learned a lot. It's built to be flexible for a kid's abilities and interests and we needed that. My kid took four alltogether and did fine. From brilliant to medium, all the kids I know did great and are glad they got AC. Kids who want a huge challenge can take more AP classes, it's that simple.

There are good teachers and a few bad ones all over BHS, but for a kid who is academically motivated, willing to work but who wants a life, AC was a great choice, because the work is challenging but not overwhelming and the kids are taught to pace themselves, learn to manage their time, and have the experience of being in a large diverse high school with many kids like them, and unlike them. Really diverse experience. Kids still have personal relationships with their teachers and with each other. We'll be sad to say good bye to BHS and AC was a perfect fit for us - and so many others - and my kid already got into his first choice colleges. New principal is making everything better there too. Oh - read the websites. they tell you a lot. parent of a senior

2007 - 2009 Discussions

Berkeley High- Academic Choice or AHA?

March 2007


Our daughter will be starting ninth grade at Berkeley High next year. Can anyone comment on the ''Academic Choice'' program, compared to AHA (Arts and Humanities Academy)? Our daughter is very academic, but is also artistically inclined. Somehow, it often seems like programs that cater to one of these is quite weak the other.
Looking forward to high school

Both of my sons have been in academic choice. The oldest is now in college and the youngest is just finishing his freshman year. Although they differ in their interests and skills, both found stimulation, focus, and friends through the Academic Choice program. The oldest got very involved in history, politics and power, and the orchestra with the encouragement of some exceptional teachers. Since the small schools advent, AC offers a wider choice of math, science and technology classes for my youngest son, as well as more AP opportunities, than the more constrained small schools. I think an academically oriented student that enjoys challenge and exploration across the broad range of curriculum can do very well in AC. nicki

Academic Choice is a humanities program that offers only English and social studies classes at BHS; AC students choose from comprehensive school offerings for their science, math, language and arts elective classes. AC is consequently the most flexible program available at Berkeley High, as well as the largest small learning community, with a student population of approximately 800 students. Students are expected to complete all a-g UC course requirements prior to graduation, and are encouraged, but not required, to take Advanced Placement courses in their junior and senior years.

As Parent Coordinator for the AC Program at BHS I am available to answer specific questions from interested parents and students about our small learning community. However, our website,, is both current and comprehensive. It lists all AC teachers and all AC classes for the 2006-2007 academic year, as well tutoring resources, minutes of our advisory meetings, a description of our program as well as a downloadable copy of our 2005 board approved program proposal.

Please feel free to contact me via email if you have any additional questions about Academic Choice after visiting our website.

Thank you for your interest! Jessica Seaton

Editor note: Responses about AHA were also received.

2004 - 2006 Discussions

How do I apply for the Academic Choice program?

September 2005

Does anyone have experience applying to the Academic Choice programs at Berkeley High? We live in Berkeley but I'm not sure how to best proceed in order to try and get my 8th grade daughter into a small school program at BHS. I'm not sure I even understand how they work. Has anyone done this? Is there someone at BHS who can advise about it? Are there deadlines? I don't know where to begin. Help and advice is appreciated. Thanks. Susan

Berkeley High schedules a series of information meetings in the spring both at BHS and the three BUSD middle schools for incoming 9th graders and their families which include information on the small schools, the math sequence, PE requirements, electives, how to register, etc. The dates for these meetings have not yet been set. For families not yet enrolled in the district or contemplating private schools, an earlier meeting has been scheduled for November 15, 2005 in the Community Theater at 7 p.m. If you are interested in visiting the school, parent led tours will start following the November 15 meeting. Tours, by appointment only, leave the front office at 9:45 a.m. on most days. To sign up for a tour, please contact Janet Huseby, the BHS volunteer coordinator, at jhuseby [at] These tours are not geared towards students though students are welcome IF accompanied by a parent or guardian. Janet Huseby

I'm sure you'll get lots of input on this, but here goes anyway. Academic Choice is not a small school, but a program within the main large school. In addition, there are small school programs where kids will mostly be with the same classmates and teachers for the four years. My daughter thought that sounded terrible so she opted for the main school. The Academic Choice teachers are mostly very very good, but as with everywhere there are some duds. My daughter had a frustrating sophomore year, with only six months of one highly inspiring teacher, surrounded by a ridiculous collection of not-very-good student teachers (for four out of her six classes at one point). She wasn't in Academic Choice at the time. As a contrast, this year she's ecstatically happy with the choice and quality of classes she has as a senior. The AP classes no longer require any sort of testing to get into, I believe, but they are a great deal of work and do require emotional and practical support. At a minimum that means an extra study guide and a study group, for many also a tutor. They do learn a lot, though. And it's like boot camp - something for them to look back on later with relief. Fiona

This note is in response to Susan S's request for informatation about how to get into the Academic Choice program, listed in the last newsletter under the title ''Info about Berkeley High School''

The process is simple, you apply when you register for classes, and kids are chosen by lottery.

However, the odds of you getting into Academic Choice depend entirely on where you live. If you live in Southwest Berkeley, you'll get in. If you live in the hills, the odds are 5-to-1 against you. Last year, 80% of the applicants from the hills were rejected and none of the applicants from SW Berkeley were rejected.

This bias is a matter of policy. The powers that be have declared that the ''socioeconomic balance'' of AC must match that of the school as a whole, and since many kids from ''underadvantaged'' families simply don't want to do AC, the size of the program is effectively limited.

Last year's lottery results (which contain a link to the actual demographic information) are discussed in the PTA newsletter at

All of my attempts to talk to anyone at BHS about this situation have been met with stonewalling. anon

By way of consolation if your son or daughter does not get into Academic Choice: My son is in 9th grade AC. His teachers (English and History) are not better than the non- AC teachers. One is in her first year and inexperienced, the other has taught since 1967 and my son finds his class extremely boring. His class is full of disruptive kids (the same kids stay together for both English and history, albeit with different teachers), to the point of being out- of-control. The teachers don't know how to handle the situation. As far as academics go, 9th grade history is ''ethnic studies'' and the kids don't learn any history but spend time on projects like observing the ethnic mix on Shattuck avenue. In English my son has not had any homework whatsoever. This seems on par with the non-AC classes. On top of that, AC classes are supposed to have a room parent, and distribute the names and phone nbs of the class so parents can be in touch to discuss school issues; this has not happened. In brief, AC is a lot of hot air. Daniele

I have heard some comments from parents who have been dissapointed that their children did not get into the academic choice program that have caused me great concern. It is not apparent to people that I am a latina from West Berkeley unless I am with my children so I have found myself in situations with people who are venting their dissatisfaction in ways they would not if they knew who I was (I hope..or..I think I hope). Some of these things have been said with enough anger and bitterness as to make me feel uncomfortable about revealing my true identity as a resident of one of ''those zip codes'' who did not apply for academic choice for her child. I quote:

  ''they (meaning people in south and west berkeley'' don't want their kids in academic choice, why shouldn't we get those slots''  ''just because they (meaning people in south and west berkeley) don't want their kids to go to college, our kids can't get the education they deserve''  ''they (people opposed to academic choice) think being academic is being elitist so they want to dumb down the whole school, now my kid has to go to dumbed down classes''  ''the better behaved kids self select into academic choice'' 

I know why I didn't apply to academic choice, but not a soul has asked me. Not even those people to whom I did reveal myself in light of their comments. I know that having my son go to college is one of my life's most cherished desires, one that I cannot take for granted. I know my son behaves in class (almost every teacher comments ''pleasure to have in class''). I know my son is not ''dumb''. I know that for a very brief moment I wanted my son to get into academic choice, and I was made to feel very, very unwelcome (way before it was time to apply). I know he would never have self-selected into academic choice- as well behaved and smart as he is. I know that there is a great racial divide that becomes very difficult to straddle the older they get. I believe that academic choice has that divide going right through the middle of its best intentions. I believe that no program which is sure to have an impact on resources available to the general school population can be allowed to benefit only one segment of the school population. Particularly if that segment can be characterized by race and/or socio-economic priviledge.

I have only one suggestion: stop blaming the people who were born holding the short end of the stick, the ones who never have to make the nerve-wracking desicion of whether to send their children to private or public school. Reach out to them instead. There are thousands of children, smart, beautiful, creative children in ''those zip codes'' with parents who work two jobs and have little time or money for leisure or pleasure much less enriching their child's academic life, buying them a computer, or sending them to SAT classes, who want more than anything, to go to college.

Do you believe that Academic Choice will enhance your child's chance of getting into college? Then do something to make that chance available to someone else. (Something other than having a check-box on an application that is - recruiting? Teacher recommendations in 8th grade? You know, that kind of thing). It is a win win situation. Get one of ''them'' in and you can get another one of ''us'' in.

If you are feeling bitter and disapointed because you were ''denied'' access to AC and it is beyond your control to change, think for a minute that what you are feeling is similar to what people feel when they have been denied access to nice tree lined traffic free streets, and peaceful neighborhoods due to their zip codes (guess which zip codes get all the commuter traffic and guess which ones did not get the nice little traffic circles in the intersections). They don't have access to nice summer camps, private schools, food, decent housing, etc. all because of socio-economic factors they cannot change.

I love my child as much as you do.

I felt a need to respond to, and on behalf of, the "Latina from West Berkeley" who has heard comments from parents who feel personally cheated because their child didn't get into Academic Choice and feel the zip codes are "skewered" (even if skewered, it was a lottery, so don't take it so personally). However unfair it seems to parents in zip codes "cheated" out of their supposed "entitlement" to AC, perspective is an important thing to teach your child and for parents to learn in adjusting to circumstances that are not perfectly ideal for them. Realize that living a good life should come, not easily, but with thought and caring for your family's needs, and realize also that as entitled as you feel you and your child are to the best that life has to offer, you're no more entitled than the person who lives in the flats, or in a homeless shelter--you just got lucky. Think of it--you live in Berkeley, close to a great public university, amongst a diverse population, and all you can think of is that your child should be in Academic Choice? Of course, there are other choices besides AC--it's called diversity of interests and intellect. You commit only one semester to a small school and then you can transfer out, or you can try and transfer into AC or another small school, or the school at-large. Your child's future is not going down the tubes because s/he's in a "dumbed down" class, nor is s/he going to become wildly successful because s/he only attended intellectually challenging schools and classes, scored 1600 on the SATs, etc. Behind the facade of "living in the hills" and "tree-lined streets", as seen recently in the news that has come out of the upper middle-class enclave called Lafayette, there is the danger of being too smug about who you are, what you're about, and what you think your child is entitled to. There are more paths than AC, and by varying degrees your child will develop his or her own intellect, but certainly not within the first few months of the school year. I'd like to listen to what my child really wants, not what I want for my child. I'm not sure if I can, but I'll try it. --Anon

Thank you for putting it so bluntly and truthfully. I too am a person of color and I cannot tell you how often people of privilege say these kinds of ridiculous and uninformed comments -full well knowing that I am Latina (it's obvious). Racism is alive and thriving - even in Berkeley. We all want the same things for our children - the best. Take a step back and look objectively at who has more access. We all work hard and do our best, but some people are born into privilege, benefitting from the legacy of hundreds of years of inequality in this country.

Dear Mom who wrote about Acamedic Choice at Berkeley High and the feeling that kids from certain zip codes were resented for getting into Academic Choice: I could feel the pain you experience from your posting. I am a white parent, and, although I do not have a child at Berkeley High (she's at another public school), I hear similar comments and am depressed by them. Although Berkeley is considered to be a mecca of acceptance, I find that it only goes as far as lip service most of the time. Parents talk about ''diversity,'' and equal opportunity, but then make choices for their kids that isolate them from kids from other backgrounds/zip codes. There appears to be alot of resentment among parents who think their kids are entitled to preferences because they live in expensive neighborhoods. My advice: stay away from the parents who resent equal opportunity so you don't have to listen to the remarks and do what is best for your son. another mom

The issue surrounding Academic Choice seems to be that not enough parents in South and West Berkeley applied to Academic Choice on behalf of their children and that, because of Principal Slemp's rule that all small school programs must have the same ethnic ratios as the entire student body, not all the families in North and East Berkeley who wanted their children in Academic Choice were able to get them in. Many parents are said to be unhappy, but my response is that parents are over-reacting.

If the parents are looking for their children to be challenged, there are other ways to challenge their children that may be just as or even more effective than Academic Choice--such as A.P. classes.

While most colleges are unaware of what Academic Choice is, they are very aware of A.P. classes and hold them in high regard. Although Academic Choice sometimes has stronger teachers, not ! all of the courses are equally rigorous. A.P. classes usually offer excellent teachers and must be rigorous because the A.P. test holds them to a certain standard.

In all my years in Academic Choice, not once have I felt any hostility or racist attitudes from my fellow Academic Choice students. However, when I attended ?Back to School Night? with my mother, some parents did seem to be offended by our presence. I felt as if they were thinking: "What are you doing here? Are you in the right room? Why are you in this class, taking up space that my next door neighbor's child was denied?" The fact that, in my experience, it is the parents who have displayed hostility, not the children, makes me think that perhaps it is the parents who are over-reacting.

I will be happy to answer additional questions about my personal experience in Academic Choice, and I invite parents from all sections of Berkeley to contact me ! through the e-tree moderator. Signed, Latina Academic Choice student who lives in one of "those" zip codes

I did not see the original complaint about students not getting into academic choice because of their zip codes; I only saw the responses to the posting . In reading these responses - I believe that I can surmise what the original poster said and I believe that the "resentment" was probably misinterpreted. I can say - based on my own feelings - that I have no resentment of children that got into AC because of their zip code - in fact, I wish more students of color were interested in the program. My complaint is with the new system of exclusion which is making AC unavailable to some students simply because they live in the wrong zip code. What seems to be missing here is that orignally ANYONE who wanted to get into AC could. Then in the name of diversity, it was decided that AC had to be ''balanced''. So because not enough people of certain zip codes were interested in AC, students who were living in zip codes that had a large percentage of students applying - were denied access. I do not see what this has to do with ''privelege''. It is simply denying access to some groups because other groups are not interested - again in the name of diversity. The bottom line is that certain elements in the Berekely schools would like to see AC gone - along with any other program they deem ''exclusive''. In other word, any program that promotes academic excellence. It is truly a shame. anon


Is Academic Choice the College Prep program at BHS?

June 2005

Re: Middle school: private or public?
I just wanted to correct a common misunderstanding about Berkeley High. Academic Choice is NOT the only college prepatory program at the school. EVERY small school as well as the large school (outside of AC) offers the a-g courses needed for 4-year CA public school (and most other colleges). EVERY small school as well as the large school provides students the ability to take honors and/or AP and/or college classes. Excellent teachers are to be found throughout BHS (and yes, as in most schools - public or private ''not so good'' teachers can be found in every program of the school as well). While the Academic Choice program has its merits (as do any of the small schools or just being in the large school has relative merits as well) - families should realize that any of the other ''paths'' at BHS are also paths that will/can prepare students for 4-year college - even UC and Ivy League schools. Karen H.

Regarding the anonymous parent's comment in the June 22 newsletter equating Academic Choice with the college prep track at BHS, my son's experience suggests otherwise. As a regular BHS student, he took AP Chemistry, AP Bio, AP Calculus, AP English, and numerous honors courses. Many other advanced classes were available to him, including AP History, AP Statistics, AP Physics, and the amazing AP Environmental Science sequence (how I wish he'd taken this class). He was also able to participate in the journalism program and work on the school newspaper. As a result, he was accepted at all of the universities to which he applied and was granted 21 units of college credits to boot. I'd call that college prep. So parents of incoming freshmen, don't fret over your child not getting into Academic Choice. Instead, plan to support the dedicated and skilled teachers who provide the college prep education available to all BHS students. Maureen

I do this reluctantly, but wanted to make sure that a misconception about Berkeley High's academic program was not generated by the comments posted in response to a parent's worries about the quality of education at Berkeley High now that admission to Academic Choice is not automatic. The responder characterized Academic Choice as ''the college-preparatory track,'' suggesting that this is the only way a college-prep education can be achieved at the high school. That is not accurate. Though teaching is uneven, perfectly good teachers outside Academic Choice, AP and Honors tracks teach at the school, and some not so perfectly good teaching experiences can be had within Academic Choice, AP and Honors tracks. I think you'll be amazed at the breadth of choices in the curriculum, once past 9th grade, which is really a time for the child to find her or his feet in the larger school, and the sense of confidence a child gains when she or he learns to successfully navigate it. phyllis

Dear Friend, I went to your site to check the numbers you claimed. I read the chart quite differently than you. The ''socioeconomic'' balance is more 50% cat 1 and 70% cat 3. I am all for complete balance in our society and while I feel a hand up must be given to the overlooked sections of our city's, I get offended when the priveleged are vastly passed over to acheive this goal. I think we must come to terms with who needs what more and I feel that BHS did a fine job of mixing these important values. anon.