Going to BHS after Private School

Parent Q&A

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  • Berkeley High School. Did we make a mistake?

    (12 replies)

    My kid is enrolling as a freshman at Berkeley High.  He previously attended a small private school and I was initially very excited for him to have public school experience.  I like the idea of all kinds of kids in one place and happy about the diversity.  But then I tried to enroll him.  And seriously everything that could go wrong did.  Every step of the way the school did not do what they were supposed to do.  And now he has no schedule.  And apparently they haven't even hired his counselor yet?  Which is super scary because we are new and I don't want someone new as his counselor.  The school is terrible with providing information in a timely manner.  And it is so much stress.  I went to public school and I know not every school is this bad.  Can someone who is there now in post-Covid times tell me, should I rethink my options?  If they are this bad so far I can't imagine going through several years of this with multiple children.  I'm really getting cold feet.  

    Berkeley High can certainly be a bit unorganized and there are people who come and go. But one thing you’ll both learn is how to advocate and bypass the system haha. I would give it a chance. Your kid may love it! Lots of clubs and different people to get to know.

    For your current issue, look at the website and email the assistant principal of the universal 9th grade. VPs can get this game done!

    Welcome to BHS. Nothing is ever smooth with administration at this school. I have only ever found two administrators to be responsive (and we've been at BHS for 5 years). Counselors are a total revolving door there, so don't expect much from them. My son will be a junior and I believe he has already had three or four counselors. I actually don't even know who his counselor is right now. Classes for the first week are still being shuffled around. Things don't really get going until the 2nd or 3rd week, especially for freshmen. I wouldn't worry too much as I do believe it will get sorted. It is a good school, but it is enormous. There are pros and cons. My college aged daughter looks back at her time at BHS with fondness. It prepared her for the real world in many ways. 

    As you can imagine with such a big school, and strong feelings about children’s education, there are many different opinions about Berkeley High. I’ll say this — we went through it and we wouldn’t do it again. The difficulties that you state are not unique and while there are many opportunities an incredible classes at Berkeley High, it can be a very stressful place administratively, for teachers, and for students. The children do develop a level of maturity and street smarts that children in smaller, suburban public schools may not, however, there may be a trade-off in terms of these types of challenges. There are also missed opportunities because of administrative challenges (students literally wait in long lines to try to get into classes, depending on one’s counselor, students repeatedly receive no response, even when trying to complete their college applications, etc). I also went through public schools, but my school didn’t have the budget, administrative and societal stressors that Berkeley High faces. On the other hand, Berkeley High kids can be some of the most mature when it comes to being inclusive, and challenging, systemic oppression, racism, etc. and if your child thrives, it won’t be because it was all handed to them but because they worked hard, stayed focused, overcame hurdles and took advantage of the opportunities in a relatively stressful school environment. It’s not for everyone.

    I suspect you'll hear from both defenders and detractors of BHS here. What is the alternative? Either you stick it out at BHS or, if you can afford to continue private education, go that direction. FWIW my kid had an amazing HS experience at St. Mary's College High School - excellent communication, excellent counselors, excellent administration and teachers, everything we could have asked for. Just putting in a plug for SMCHS in case BHS does not work out for your family. Good luck!

    There is a mix of good and bad at Berkeley High (my kid will be a senior there this Fall so I have three years of experience with it). Whether or not you should leave depends on what your priorities are. It's a very diverse school with a huge student population which means your kid will have nearly unlimited opportunities to mix with different kinds of students. There is also an enormous number of clubs and extra-curricular activities which makes it very easy for a kid trying to find his "people." There are a lot of AP classes and a great IB program if that is important to you.

    I have not found the school to be disorganized or terrible at providing information. In fact, the amount of information they send nearly every single day about every little thing kind of drives me crazy. I'm sorry you've had a bad administrative experience so far but I wouldn't expect that to be the norm. As is true in all of BHS seemingly every class and teacher and administrator is dedicated to teaching social justice in every possible venue. This is great or not depending on your point of view.

    The bad news is that if your kid is not very academically motivated it is easy to fall through the cracks. The school is huge, the classes are huge and the students (90% of them at least) are on their phones during every class every day.  There are great teachers here but they don't have the time or the inclination to push a kid to learn who is not motivated. 

    The English classes, even the advanced ones, have been very disappointing. By the end of Junior year they have still not read more than three actual books. All of the lessons are just excerpts of books or essays. The science classes have been outstanding. Math classes are a mixed bag: some great, some terrible.

    If you have the money and your kid is super academic I would advise you to stay away. College Prep or similar is a better choice. If he's an average kid who is okay at academics, reasonably motivated, and wants the big high school experience BHS will provide that.

    We have one graduate and one incoming senior, and you have to roll with some punches but overall it's been good. It's not the curated private school experience - especially over the summer they're understaffed, and for new students there are a lot of unanswered questions - it's easier once you're in the system already. And once you see people like counselors in person they're knowledgeable and helpful. Freshman year has pretty few choices anyway, then once you're there working out the small school and future classes is easier. It works for most kids in Berkeley, so you're not alone!

    Welcome to Berkeley high. Your experience  is not unusual to hear & tolerating the chaos is not for everyone. Your kid could learn resilience & self advocacy & executive functioning. If they’re already compromised in these areas- BHS might not be the right fit. Worked for my daughter/not for my son.

    BHS has its share of challenges, but overall people are well-meaning and problems will get sorted out. Patience and calm are helpful. My kid, who also has the as-yet-unhired counselor, got put into two sections of the same class; within 24 hours of filling out the online form, the problem was solved. Socially, I think it’s really helpful for your kid to find a strong “home” within the large school— it could be the jazz program, dance, robotics, the cross-country or crew or mountain biking teams, etc— these will make a large place feel more welcoming. I believe there are advantages in learning to navigate a place like BHS, but of course only you and your kid can decide what’s best for them right now. Good luck.

    We moved to Berkeley the summer before my kid’s Sophomore year, and the registration process was slow. He didn’t have a schedule until the day school started. But, everything worked out in the end and he has had a great two years there. I think once you are in the system, information is easier to access. Definitely subscribe to the BHS etree emails, they are really helpful. 

    Take a breath, and think of this as practice for your student's experience when they enroll in a UC. Luckily the ninth grade schedule is pretty fixed, so there are only a couple of places where your child's schedule will be individualized. Be persistent, and friendly, as your student works out the schedule. My student went to BHS, from a Berkeley Middle School, so the scheduling was simpler. In the long run, the school provided good preparation for negotiating college, and they were accepted by a highly competitive college with minimal parental help along the way.

    I'm so sorry this is your (and your son's) experience of starting high school! I wanted to share that both my kids have had really good experiences at Berkeley High. They both also came from small private schools (though they attended public elementary schools). There have been times when I've been frustrated with lack of information (though I've never gone through anything as bad as what you've had to.) The school has also been affected by the overall shortage in educators post-pandemic, so the lack of a counselor is unfortunately not surprising. But my younger son, who was a 9th grader last year, had a great freshman year. He liked his teachers a lot, as did I, and the U9 structure allowed him to really connect with some kids quickly. He's excited about 3 different clubs he's in, and like you alluded to, he's been a member of a very diverse student body which has been a really positive experience. My older son graduated last year and is heading to college. He too found clubs and activities that he really enjoyed, and was able to explore lots of divergent interests. He found Berkeley High very freeing socially after being at a small middle school, and I was impressed with the way he learned to take responsibility for his own path in high school. In my experience Berkeley High is very much worth giving a try, but I'm one parent of many.

    OP Here.  Just a big thank you for all the responses.  Hearing a variety of perspectives and experiences helps.  We are on the other side now.  Many of the administrative issues have disappeared and my son is very pleased with his classes.  It is quite an eye opener as a Berkeley resident and taxpayer how poorly organized administration of this very important resource really is.  But I'm very relieved that once the kid is in there is a lot of good.  

Parent Reviews

Our daughter left her private school after 8th grade for Berkeley high and is now a sophomore in college. Our son just did the same. For our daughter it was a great experience. Not in terms of academics (I think it would be hard to compare small classes with non-harried teachers at the private high school to public school) but in terms of life. There's more to adolescence and growing up than academics. At BHS, Our daughter learned about gratefulness, empathy, working with people very different from you, about challenges other people face, about speaking up, advocating for herself and how to stay away from trouble. Those skills wouldn't have been as needed in private school and maybe not possible there. We hope our son- a very different kid- learns these skills too.

Hi there,

we did exactly as you are doing.  Our two younger kids moved from BUSD to Black Pine Circle for middle school.  They had a wonderful experience there ....socially and academically.  It was small but had plenty of opportunity to make friends.  My younger is now a senior at BHS.  Both girls transferred back into BUSD for high school.   Here is something they each said to me going back into the public system for high school :  The found  it more difficult in HS socially as many of the peer groups/friend groups get solidified in middle school.  They made friends n high school but they mostly hung out with other private school kids entering into the public system.  My older daughter told me she regretted going to private school for those years even though we though it would serve her better that staying in BUSD.  I dont know if we did the right thing.  It certainly was not something we thought bout or considered when we were making that decision.  We thought since she continued with soccer and other outside activities that connected her with her public school peers, she would have those relationships already in place.  We were not exactly correct in that.  

Archived Q&A and Reviews


How does Berkeley High Work for Shy Girls?

April 2010

Hello, I'd very much appreciate up-to-date information about Berkeley High and how it might work out for my shy daughter who has been in a private school. For example,

1. How are budget cuts impacting the quality of education at Berkeley High? What is the prospect over the next few years?

2. How does the small school concept work today? Students express their top choices and then they get into each small school by lottery? There were some postings a while back about how kids from the wealthy part of Berkeley tend not to get into Academic Choice. Is that still true? (We are not wealthy; we are just curious...)

3. Is the school safe? How prevalent are bullying, theft, harassing, other violent acts? Is Freshman Friday egg throwing still happening? Do kids get to spend most of their school hours concentrating on learning and not avoiding potential physical or emotional harms?

4. How is the quality of teaching during the first 2 years, which we believe to be most important in establishing good learning foundation? What is the average class size?

5. How are student advisors? Are they normally available when needed?

6. We don't live in Berkeley, but are thinking if it might be worth it to rent in Berkeley so our daughter can go to Berkeley High (legitimately). We also think of St. Mary's as a (gentler, kinder) option. If you have compared these 2 high schools in terms of academics and safety and college opportunitiesn and general happiness for your child, we'd very much appreciate hearing from you. Thank you! Worried Mom

My shy daughter is finishing her first year at BHS in AC after coming from private school. There are a lot of myths out there about how wonderful as well as how scary/dismal BHS is. It's all true and it's all highly dependent on your child and the teachers they get and the peer group they find.

1. How are budget cuts impacting the quality of education at Berkeley High? Class sizes have been quite large - the school does not publish accurate numbers. My daughter has over 30 students in 5/6 classes. Given the state's problems, it will likely get worse.

2. How does the small school concept work today? You set your choices. If you only want the big schools - AC and IB, don't put any small choices in your lottery setting. Small schools get disproportionate amount of resources (smaller class sizes, more counselors) but have not done any evaluation of outcomes of program. The standardized test results are dismal for students in the small schools, but it works for some students exceptionally well. It's just not well studied. Out of the 20 families we knew from private high schools, only 1 chose a small school - AHA - because of the art program.

3. Is the school safe? It's been mostly fine. Freshman hazing is institutionalized and accepted- pretty disgusting. My daughter avoided it as did most of her friends, but it scared them for months.

4. How is the quality of teaching during the first 2 years? Very mixed. 3 good teachers this year out of 6. 1 horrible that no one has done anything about. Teaching may be better, but expectations are very low. The school has well intentioned, but poorly conceptualized reform ideas. They consistently change seats on the titanic.

5. How are student advisors? My daughter's advisor has over 800 students. It took 2.5 months to get a returned call after several emails. She got to see him once after waiting for awhile to sign a form and then his office lost it. Took awhile to track it down. ugh

6. Is St. Mary's (gentler, kinder). True - much less variance in highs and lows. When we looked at it, the academic program looked really skills/drills and traditional discipline, etc, but the facilities and student body and activities are much more controlled and ''high school'' like. More diversity in the higher courses than at BHS, though, which can get pretty segregated by the AP years.

Good luck! bhs mom

Transfering to Berkeley High as a Junior

Feb 2010

My 16 yr. old son went to a private school in Oakland for 9 yrs. He has been at a private 300-student high school for his freshman and sophmore years. He is very studious and gets good grades. He has decided he hates the culture of his school. He wants a lot more diversity and he wants a bigger school. He spends his weekends w/ friends he knows from his K-8 school who go to Berkeley High.

I'm wanting to find out what it might be like for him to go to Berkeley High for his junior and senior years. How do you get into one of the small schools when you come in as a third year student? Do you need to? How difficult is it to get AP classes if you aren't currently enrolled? Has anyone had a child enter BHS as a junior?

Any helpful thoughts appreciated.

There are a lot of students who tranfer in to BHS and do fine. If he knows others there already, that's a plus. Getting access to the right classes I can't comment on - should be fine. The main thing is to choose a couple of activities that put him in contact with like-minded students - a sport, drama, Jacket, chorus, whatever interests him. He should probably try a few to see what he likes. That way he'll build a posse and not feel adrift. Fiona

Our daughter transferred to Berkeley High as a junior this year, coming from a private high school of 300+ in Oakland, and it's gone extremely well. She's in AC, as she wanted the greater flexibility in course offerings, the possibility of some AP classes, and was also hoping to have a class or two with old friends who happen to be in AC.

Some things you should know: You MUST enroll him in the district immediately if you haven't already done so - March 1 or 2 is your last opportunity before the lottery. See instructions here: http://www.berkeley.net/index.php?page=high-school

As to getting into one of the small schools as a junior, it's possible, but there tend to be fewer spaces available. And for the smaller schools and BIHS, there is the issue of having a more set curriculum, some of which he will have missed coming in as a junior. So unless he has a particular passion for the curriculum of one of the small schools, it may be easier to come in to AC.

You asked about AP classes - he doesn't have to test in, but does need to have completed course requirements, particularly for the sciences. He would need to test in to honors math, and that happens in March, I think. The AP Humanities are essentially a matter of preference.

One issue with transferring in, is that it's possible to fall through the cracks when it comes to the lottery and course sign-ups, so stay on top of that - sign up for the BHS e-tree (send a blank email to bhs- request [at] lmi.net with the single word SUBSCRIBE in the subject line), and keep checking with the school as to when you son should come in to sign up. We were diligent about this, and nevertheless found that our daughter was put through the lottery without ever having been given the requisite school/course request form. Fortunately we were able to sort it out.

Little-known fact: while the form gives space for all 6 small schools/programs, if you want only a large program (AC/BIHS) you need only list those. There is NO requirement to list a small school.

My daughter has really enjoyed the world of Berkeley High after what for her was a too small & homogeneous private high school. She's been fortunate to have some really good teachers at BHS, and has enjoyed reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. A sports team and clubs have also been part of what facilitated her entry into the ''big pool'' after swimming in a fishbowl! Natasha

Two of my friends had kids at CPS who wanted to transfer to BHS as sophomores for basically the same reasons (to be closer to long- standing friends and cultural diversity). Both were excellent students but for one child - the more organized and methodical of the two - the transfer was a good idea (she's now in law school at UCLA), but for the other, it was a disaster. His family's decision to transfer came too late for him to get the AP classes he needed, his old friends didn't welcome him back as he expected they would, and the whole family was basically in crisis for a good year before things stabilized. So my advice is to be very strategic in your planning and your timing, and expect the need to stay close to your high schooler during what might be a rocky transition. Good luck to you! Berkeley Mom

Considering BHS for private school 8th grader

Nov 2009

I have an 8th grade student in private school and we are considering BHS for her next year. We had a teen son who was very unhappy there for his freshman year, now happy in a small private school. I am hoping to avoid the same mistakes as last time and wanted to ask for some''pearls'' of advice from parents of kids who feel like they have some tips to share. My daughter is bright and motivated but not overwhelmed by ''pop culture'', kinda of a nerd (self described) Give me your tips!! thanks, trying to get my nerve up to give it another go

My son is a Freshman at Berkeley High , the IB program and he came from a private school. I have to tell you that we have been pleasantly surprised, it is a big school but the teachers know my child, the classroom size is small, 20 to 25. The teachers are young and enthusiastic. I am glad i don't have a to pay a huge amount of money for it... anonymous

Changing to BHS mid-year from private school

Sept 2008

My daughter is very unhappy at her current independent high school, and we're seriously considering a switch to Berkeley High. She's interested in either Academic Choice or Independent Study. Is one program easier or harder to get into than the other? I looked at the BUSD website but it wasn't clear how available either of these programs is. Also, does anyone have any experience with helping a teen transition mid-year? This would be a big change and we want to do what we can to make this as smooth as possible. If anyone has any advice or experience with this I'd love to hear it. Between Here and There

My daughter switched into Berkeley High from a private high school in November of her freshman year (2 years ago). At that time only one small school had an opening for our neighborhood ''zone''. Which program or small school is available to your daughter will depend on the current enrollment in each and your neighborhood. The best way to find out what would happen if she enrolls now is to go into the school and talk to a counselor. Academic Choice and BIHS tend to be full by now, but the counselor can tell you for sure. There are also four small schools that operate very differently from AC and IB in terms of the classes available to the students. Although the expectation of the small schools is that students take all of their classes within the small school, exceptions are made, particularly for math, science and foreign language.

Although the first few weeks of the transition were challenging for her, she never felt like she made the wrong decision to leave her private school, and overall she is thrilled to be at Berkeley High. A lot of her first reactions had to do with the level of rigor in some of her classes - it was less than what she was used to. The school worked with her to get into a more challenging math class, and she was allowed to take French 5/6 based on having 4 years of prior French experience; the small school she was enrolled in only offered Spanish. Now that she's in the BIHS program, and a Junior, the level of rigor is no longer a problem.

The best way to get integrated into Berkeley High is to join a club or a sports team. BHS has innumerable clubs to join and she is likely to find something that matches her interest. Fall sports are already underway, so the next opportunity will be with winter sports.

Hope this helps
Happy with transfer

BHS vs private high school: how 2 compare apples & oranges?

Jan 2008

We have a freshman who is currently attending a very academically rigorous private high school who is having mid-year second thoughts about whether life might have been easier at Berkeley High, where many friends went after (private) middle school.

We found it hard last year to compare apples and oranges, as we could tour the private schools, our child could sit in on classes, whereas at Berkeley High we could only walk through corridors with a guide but neither parent nor child could speak with a teacher or sit in on a class. Ultimately a fabulous visit day at a private high school tipped the balance that way. But now, as our child compares homework loads with friends at Berkeley High, where most of them have very light loads (they ''do their homework in class''???) and she misses her old friends, she wants to rethink the decision for next year.

I guess we're wishing there was some neutral ''expert'' out there to whom we could talk, who could explain to parent and student the way things work at BHS - if you get into Academic Choice, or International School, or whatever, here are the range of classes you can take (or not take), here's how PE and athletics works, if you want to take a language not offered at BHS here's how you do it, the smallest classes have 20 kids, the largest have 45, teachers answer their email or they don't, there are counselors available or there aren't, the worst case scenario is...whatever...that would really help. We've read the website and handouts from BHS but are still left in the dark about many essentials such as these. And someone who's counseled kids from CPS, Head Royce, Athenian, Marin Academy and BHS, for example, so has an overview of the cultures of each school, would be a boon.

Is there anyone out there who can help us? =signed: an apple in one hand, an orange (behind a screen) in another?

My daughter is a Jr at BHS in the Academic Choice program and I think it's been a crap shoot as far as how rigorous it all is. The teaching is spotty overall. I think there is definetly more work done in the Honors and AP classes. AP doesn't start until Jr year. If your child is not in one of those classes then the bar is set very low most of the time. That said, I think the math classes (not honors or AP) overall have been the most challenging (and my daughter is good at math). The english has been fairly dismal (again not AP). Homework: there is some for most classes, but there are also times that it can be done in school. I highly recommend the AP classes as they are going to be more interesting, but at the same time will have more work. The classes that they take are layed out ahead of time until Jr. year where they have a little more freedom to choose an AP version of a class. Electives are free choice from freshman year all the way through. There is a BHS newspaper class that kids can take as an elective, as is dance production, and band or orchestra.

Athletics are great at BHS, but your child will have to learn to fit in homework as most teams practice for several hours everyday after school. If you child is on a team and participates fully, then that counts for PE credit. There are tryouts for most teams. Some teams miss the last one or two periods of the day to play games or go to meets and your child has to learn to negotiate with those teachers as to how to make up work (that was a problem the first year).

It's a huge school and your child will feel lost at first, and is also expected to take control of their school lives early on. Hopefully, she will connect with friends who are on the right path and not cutting school to go and get stoned and/or drunk somewhere in Berkeley (UC campus included). Lunchtime is a madhouse! 3,200 kids are set loose in Downtown Berkeley for 45 minutes of freedom. The counselors that I have contacted are mostly available, the vice-pricipals are sometimes available. As a parent you have to be very pushy to get anything changed/done for your kid. It's an enormous bureacracy. There are some very thoughtful, caring, and helpful teachers and staff working there. I call them ''angels''. If you run into one you will know it.

I hope this helps a little. Berkeley High mom

You didn't mention where your daughter goes to school, but I wanted to suggest that you look into what happens after the freshman year at that school. My son attends CPS and he had what seemed like a tremendous amount of homework freshman year, but now as a junior he finds the workload much more manageable and he can often get much of it done during his free periods. My impression is that he's figured out how to be more efficient at getting it done. At CPS the kids say the freshman year is the hardest and then it gets easier starting in sophomore year. He still has more homework than his BHS friends, other than that I can't speak to BHS. CPS Parent

I have posted about this before, but its that time of year again. I'm going to throw a banana in with the apples and oranges. Please consider a charter high school. They are small, classes are small and teachers will know who your daughter is, and you won't have to pay upwards of $30,000 a year to get that environment. Charter schools are public schools. My daughter goes to Envision Academy in downtown Oakland. The curriculum is rigorous and expectations are high. In addition, the staff knows that some of the kids are coming into the school without the skills needed to succeed, so there are many different traps to catch any kids who may have fallen through the cracks at a larger school.

Yesterday was ''Success Day'' where the kids have all the time they need to complete the work they may have missed during the quarter. It is also a time for the kids to get help on things they still don't understand.

The goal of Envision is that EVERY person attending will graduate with the requirements and grades that will get them into a UC. The 10th grade class begins visiting colleges this month.

There are other charter high schools in the area with similar programs and goals. Please consider visiting one or more before making your decision. Every high school child should be in a small school environment. The studies have proven it. I wish BHS would do more to emulate these small schools. Jenny

Should we send her to Berkeley High?

April 2007

I have some questions about east bay private high school. I have been reading the reviews on BPN and they all sound wonderful. Our daughter will start looking at possible high schools this year and any input from parents of kids at area schools would be great. ... Or should we just bite the bullet and send her to Berkeley High? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks to all. berkeleymomanddad (See Private high school for N.Berkeley kids? for the full question and all replies)

Check out Berkeley High. After all, BHS has the most number of AP and Honors classes than any school in the area, the largest/most varied athletic program of any high school west of the Mississippi, and an incredibly visual and especially performing arts program (the jazz band of course is nationally ranked). In addition, BHS offers more languages than many colleges (Spanish, French, Latin, Swahili, German, and starting next year Mandarin Chinese). With this year's implementation of the new International High program, every student has the opportunity to be in a community-based setting. In addition to the IH program (where students will be able to choose to receive an international baccalaureate degree), there is Academic Choice (traditional, college prep), and the small schools: Communications/Arts/Science (CAS), Community Partnership Academy, Social Justice, and Arts/Humanity (AHA), themed and/or somewhat non-traditional college prep. Not to mention the amazing number of clubs, associations, and other student activities. Yes, Berkeley High can be intimidating for some students and for some, the independence and freedom at BHS can be too much to handle but I truly believe that NO PRIVATE HIGH SCHOOL IN THE BAY AREA provides more overall than BHS in terms of academic opportunity, academic rigor, and more importantly life experiences. Karen

We investigated private high schools, went through the whole application process and enrolled our daughter in a private school for ninth grade. (She was accepted at multiple schools.) She ultimately decided to attend a school in Marin, and the commute was awful even though the school provided a bus from N. Berkeley, upwards of three hours per day. She also found that she really needed to be in a larger school environment, having attended private school for K-8. We finally agreed to let her transfer half way through her first semester to Berkeley High, despite already having committed to the tuition at the private school, and the experience has been great for her.

Because she came in mid-year she didn't get a choice of program or classes, but the school worked with her to get her into the right level of classes, and she is certain she made the right decision. She is the only Freshman in several of her classes. So, my advice is, look into Berkeley High as a positive option, not a last resort. Many people outside of the city find ways to enroll their children in BHS because it is a vibrant community with excellent academic options. The right school for your child depends on their personality and interests. Happy BHS parent

Can BHS work for a small, disorganized boy in private school?

April 2005

I am the mother of an small 7th grade boy. He has organizational issues, and so is not good at navigating beaurocratic mazes. He's been at small independent schools so far. He's intimidated by the idea of so many students, and by the idea of having to find his way around the campus. He's not good at advocating for himself. He doesn't do well in chaotic environments. We are attracted by some of what Berkeley High has to offer as far as programs and ''life experience'', but we wonder whether it is realistic to expect this kind of kid to succeed there. I'd love to hear comments about this, as well as what it's like to advocate for your child there (tutoring, class choices); what's the likelyhood of getting into one of the small schools of your choice? How are small schools, and the academics in general? Thanks,
torn mom

Torn Mom, As a ninth Grader, I came to BHS feeling nervous abouyt the large enviroment and all the beuracy there. I have organizational difficulties and I survived there for all four years and am present At UCB. AT lunch and after school there's often tutoring in Math and the sciences .Whatever your son's interests there will be class for him. If you select a small school ,there's a high probaly that he would get in to the small school As a former Academic Choice student, I would recommend either AC or CPA, In the large school , Academics are very IFFY. If you want more specific info on BHS, conevt me off-list. '04 grad anon

Dear Mom who is worried about the disorganized 7th grader going to BHS. I understand your concerns, but want to reassure you. They've expanding the number of small schools, and your son should have no problem getting into one of them, even if it's not your first choice. The academics in the small schools are good, and the students benefit from smaller class sizes in many cases. And last, but not least, I'm willing to bet that you'll be amazed how much your 7th grader matures before he has to start the 9th grade at BHS, some 16 months from now. I know I was. As long as he has a group of friends from his middle school that are also going to BHS he should do fine. Even if they're not in the same small school he is, it's good to have friends to hang out with at lunch time. Dianna

Dear Torn Mom,
Your letter describes my son to the letter. He is now completing his 2nd year in the small school CAS at Berkeley High School. Unfortunately, as a public school teacher, parent and advocate it pains me to say that he will not be returning next year. The classes are too big, his teachers over worked and he is lost. I believe Berkeley High is a great school for some kids but they are not able to serve all kids (yet). We are leaving it for a small school (10-12 kids ) in each class with a learning center and homework hotline built in. There are some great resources at Berkeley High but they weren't enough for my son. I wish you luck in your decision. Good Luck

Need help deciding whether to choose Berkeley High

June 2001

I have been watching this newsletter for a year and a half - and have put out "tactful queries" in the past about the tough decision we face about whether our son should leave private school to go to Berkeley high. No responses have been forthcoming. He just finnished 7th grade and is quite interested in changing to BHS, but has only social reasons ( which have some merit). The more I read at this site - and talk with parents - I am perplexed as to why would I choose to give up great teachers, access to great courses, lots of sports and resources and support - for BHS - which, among other things, is now eliminating history in the Freshman curriculum. All tact now aside - my kid has a strong sense of social justice, and is not in an ivory tower. He doesn't need BHS to get a taste of the "real world" _ So what is the draw, if we can afford to do otherwise. My son is not a "self-starter" who will jumpt to take advantage of what BHS has to offer academically - and is not likely to "fight" to get a few good classes" He will slide and have "fun". Lately - however, I feel like I am the only one left that doesn't see the attraction of BHS. So please - I could use some read benchmarks on which to base this decision. Thanks - Anon parent of 8th grader in fall.

Both my kids went through Berkeley High-- my second will graduate in June 2002 and I would likely make the same decision again. BHS is not without it's frustrations and limitations, it's bureaucracies and it's share of mediocre teachers. However, it is most importantly an exciting, vibrant, creative school with dedicated teachers and every possible color and shape and inclination of kid. We as parents have seen both our kids collectively participate in Lit Mag, Soccer, Cross Country, Jazz Ensemble, the truly exceptional Latin program, Orchestra, senior streak, proms. They've made movies, learned photography, served on committees. We recently had the pleasure to attend the performance of Grease and the final Dance Performances, both of which were fun and wonderfully done. The spirit of these kids and the camaraderie among the performers and the pride coming from the audience put me in touch with all that's the best in this school community.

Academically there are highs mediums and lows -- I'm sure you've heard testimony regarding all three. Much what you hear is true, some of what you hear is tainted by parental experience with their particular child and his or her struggles and strengths. I've heard parents who are considering BHS over private schools think that allowing their child to follow their desire to go to Berkeley is tantamount to dropping them into a garbage dump. Despite it's rough exterior (literally) and the complexity of running a huge school in an ethnically and socio-economically diverse community I find that there's so much life and a good deal of excellence there that I am pleased to have given my children an opportunity to be a part of it. Wfred

In response to the parent wondering why he or she doesn't see the benefits of Berkeley High but continues to think that he or she is missing something: If you don't see any benefits to Berkeley High for your child, don't send him there. It sounds like the school he's in is fine, he's not a self-starter and might float too much in a big school. He may not want to take advantage of all the opportunities there. That's okay. So leave him where he is, feel good about it and stop worrying. Berkeley High already has more than enough students. If yours is happy elsewhere, that's great!

I'm sorry that no one responded to your question. I'm happy to share my opinion- but you raise some good questions. If your son is happy, thriving, and in a positive environment, and the cost of private school is not crushing you and your family why move him? We have had a very positive experience with BHS. It is definitely a complicated place with the bad and the good mixed in. My daughter would often say she hates it, but my observation is that she is thriving. She is definitely a go getter, and is becoming more so as she is at BHS. She is challenged taking AP science and honors math classes. History and English were okay this year, great last year. She gets a real world experience which I think is important. It is making her savvy, cynical, jaded, less idealistic, angry, more practical, able to fight for what she needs for herself.....what else can I say? It's part of growing up. As I watch her move in the world I like who she is becoming, and I think her experiences at BHS have a lot to do with that. The fact that race and class so often run along the same lines is a complex thing for all of us to deal with, and I think being at BHS brings her face to face with the injustice of our educational system for some. Grappling with these issues makes her a more thoughtful person. Educationally, I think she gets enough of high quality that she will do okay long term--but she may learn to write in college, since it is not happening in high school. I'm not sure what you should do, I can only offer a description of our experience. I am hoping we can pull together enough money that my daughter can go to a smaller private college and get more individualized attention. It seems like it would be a reward for wading through the complexity of BHS. Maybe a great private high school, then a state university does the same thing in terms of teaching kids to function well in different learning environments. There are so many right ways to do this. Hope this is helpful.

My children, nieces and nephews have all gone to Berkeley High. Our family adult peers are all college graduates as well as our parents/ their grandparents. The girls all did well. The boys flunked out, went to alternative, private schools or just barely graduated. I think to succeed at BHS, you have to be well disciplined and involved in extra-curricular activities. If your child is already having trouble at school, they will not get the extra help and support they need to graduate. The open campus and the loose attendance policies of the past have made it more fun to not come back from lunch and to stay in the park with friends and wander off.

I think the students at BHS are incredibly talented, vocal and multi-faceted. BHS is like a junior college. It doesn't have the same sort of "school spirit" that other high schools have. The students who graduate can articulate their experiences and social relationships in a way that most adults have trouble . Students have great teachers, the courses are of the highest quality for college bound youth. Kids who aren't going on to college or don't have the drive, interest, skills are left behind quickly. If your child joins a sports team, or club, that will help pull them along. But extra tutoring is often necessary.

If your child wants to go to BHS and you can afford a private school and you think they have the motivation to succeed. Then I would send them to BHS and monitor the situation. If they start to fail, pull them out and send them to a private school.

First time reply on my part; our daughter just finished freshman year at Berkeley high and had what I would consider a great experience. Most of it is based in the fact that she joined the womens crew team and had an intense experience (virtually yearlong workouts some of which are at 6am at Lake Merrit). Also she has a huge group of great friends (30 or so on the team). BHS is huge, no denying it, and if you feel your child can benefit from a larger school than do it. If where he is is great then why change. BHS is great for us. I just never see other people say this in this newsletter.

We too have been following the discussions regarding Berkeley High for some time and share your concerns about children who are not "self-starters" who will fight their way into the "good" classes. We have decided to move to Orinda solely because we have come to believe that attending Berkeley High is not the only way to insure that our son graduates from high school with a sense of what the "real world" is all about. We are planning on sending our boys to public school in Orinda. Our son too wanted to attend BHS because "all of his friends are going" but that wasn't reason enough to sway us. We just decided we didn't want to possibly sacrifice our son's physical well-being to the political correctness gods who feel that people who choose alternatives to inner city public education don't care about their communities. Are we heartbroken to be leaving Berkeley, you better believe it. It was a tough decision but one we felt very compelled to make. Good Luck -

What would it be like to transfer to BHS from Catholic school?

Sept 2001

My daughter,10th grade, very bright in her own way, has some learning difficulties that affect memory . She is finding her Catholic School program too demanding for this reason and wants to change and go to public school.

Can anyone give me a sense of what it would be like to transfer to BHS ( If it can be done) in such a context? Are there special supports there for learning problems? My fear is that she would just be put with slow learners and get lost. She has the impression public school would be easier academically. I don't think this is so, except for those the school might have given up on altogether. What I have heard about BHS ( rightly or wrongly) is that there are a group of very bright and high performance kids who get a great education at BHS and then the rest, some of whom get very little. Perhaps this is not accurate. Also, I am concerned by the reports of violence or intimidation. My daughter is strong and street smart and has done public school before (on the East coast). I am not really worried about her getting hurt but about her getting distracted by this kind of drama. Are these incidents considered exceptional? From what I read here this does not seem to be so. Related factors: my daughter is on medication for depression and mood stabilization and is a person of color in a biracial family extremely concerned with race issues.

With this picture in mind, would anyone RECOMMEND trying to change to BHS in this case? My approach at this point is to try to work with the people at her present school and see if they can make adjustments for her. But this may not work and her stress level is very high. Does anyone have experience with other private schools, such as Maybeck, that might be helpful to consider? Any suggestions would be welcome. Many thanks

I have been through the same process now with two teenagers with very different needs. It is never easy, but the best advice I can give is to closely listen to your teen (after doing some school visits with her) and have faith that she will recognize the place where she belongs. Remember--ALL our teens are different, in their own wonderful way. It's our job to help them find a place where they know that they are accepted and valued for the unique people they are, despite their learning "differences". When you think about it, it's those "differences" that make us poets or scientists, fire fighters or ballet dancers. Find your daughter a school where she can be treasured.

After a very long journey, my daughter is now a senior at Maybeck high school. It is the absolute best place for her. She has ADD and is on antidepressants, and has decided not to take Ritalin or other stimulants because she just doesn't like "feeling weird" during the day. We moved back to the US after living in Hong Kong for five years and simply assumed that she would go to public middle school and would be fine. WRONG! Our middle school, while having an excellent reputation academically, was absolutely huge, anonymous and clearly not the right place for learning differences that weren't severe enough for special ed. One of the more harmful factors was the cruelty of the other kids to my daughter. Call it the pecking order or the pack mentality, but middle and high school kids seem to have this radar down to a science. Luckily, we have a child who was able to verbalize her upset to us and she communicated that this was just NOT the place for her.

At that time, we had not heard of Maybeck, were part-way into the semester and visited Arrowsmith. The smallness of the school, openess of the staff and students and the obvious "differences" of each person immediately appealed to my daughter, and she decided that was where she would go. It was with real trepidation that I took my 8th grader to that school each day. I think living overseas and the independence she gained there served her well--she learned more about drug addiction, street kids, racial issues, homeless people in that one year than I could ever have imagined. Luckily, she just kept talking to us quite honestly. It was a real awakening for me when she matter-of-factly asked if I could drive her friend to rehab! after school one day. I would recommend you check out Arrowsmith for comparison. It is an accepting place where many kids who would perhaps never finish high school do--and go on to lead very productive lives.

The next year, because of the good grades that my daughter received and Arrowsmith, she was accepted at Athenian. It is and excellent school, with an exceptional staff who nurtured my daughter in every way. Its only drawback was that we didn't realize just how academically demanding it would turn out to be. My daughter had not yet been diagnosed with ADD and we just couldn't figure out why such a bright girl couldn't finish her assignments. She stayed up all night working too many times to count, still with unfinished work. And finally she was diagnosed and it all made sense. The ADD struggle is still not over--we have to keep reminding ourselves, and changing our expectations--but we treasure our daughter and have no doubt that she will do something (many things) wonderful in the world.

After 2 years of loving Athenian but struggling terribly there, she was getting very depressed and starting to lie about what she had finished in terms of school work. She was put on academic probation several times--each time with the resolve to do better and tutors etc. She finally, once again looked at us and said Athenian just wasn't the place for her. She felt very badly letting her teachers, to whom she had grown very close, down. She loved that place "in theory" and all that it stands for, but looking back, she realizes that she was constantly comparing herself to the rest of the students who in majority were "superachievers".

By this time, she had a wonderful therapist who helped us regroup and suggested looking into Maybeck. (See Maybeck recommendations.)

I hope this helps you to see that there are alternatives to the public school "mill". Just look into them and remember that smaller truly can be better, especially for kids who see themselves as different. Saying that, my younger teenage boy has opted to go back to public school after a year in Catholic school because he misses the "larger" arena and the ability to meet more kids, instead of kids who may have spent their whole school career in what he calls, "sheltered" parochial schools. So you see--different needs for different kids!! It's true, we feel VERY lucky to have the financial option to help our children find the right school for them.

Now, I wonder what my newly adopted Chinese daughter will need when she gets to high school. I can confidently say that we will help her find her place every step of the way.

You can e-mail me privately it you would like. Good luck to you. Sounds as though you have a good handle on your daughter's needs--don't be afraid to let her go a little different route. Best of luck on your journey. Katie

If you suspect your student has a learning disability, you should request in writing that your public school test your child. The letter should go to the Special Ed administrator on site at the school or the principal. Keep a copy for your records. The school must respond within 15 days with an asessment plan and must test a student suspected of learning disabilities. If a student qualifies for an IEP, the IEP must be written and implemented within 50 days. If the student has a disability but does not qualify for special education, you can request a "504" plan which will allow for accomodations (more time for tests and assignments etc.) Berkeley parents have formed a parent group BSPED that provides information and support for special ed parents in BUSD. To join the BSEP etree: Julia Epstein sandstep at earthnet.com Beth

In reply to parent whose daughter wants to change to public school My daughter has not changed to BHS but when we originally considered sending her there, we thought she might be distracted and perhaps not given the attention and focus she needed. She has been at Arrowsmith and that has worked quite well for her. While the majority of her friends go to BHS she has found a balance between her social life with them and her academic and social life with her school mates.

I think it depends on how severe your daughters learning difficulties are. But the truth about BHS, or what I believe it to be is this: I don't think your daughter has to worry about violence. The school doesn't give up on students. The students give up on themselves and the parents give up on the students. At BHS there are "easy" teachers that give very little work and/or work that is not challenging. This results in getting a higher grade easier, but this also usually means that the students don't learn very much in these classes. Then there are "hard" teachers. Some of them give too much work and not enough help and it is in these classes that usually only the very highly motivated students succeed with a high grade. Some "hard" teachers give some challenging assignments but also offer enough teaching and help for most students to complete these assignments and learn a fair amount new information. There most definitely are racial issues at BHS, but since your daughter is biracial she should have the less trouble with racial issues than most other students at BHS. There is also a good chance that your daughter would find some very supportive friends, this always, I mean always helps with deppression and mood stabilization. But there is also a chance of her getting involved with some not so helpful people. There are so many people at BHS that whatever you look for you can usually find it. I am not so sure about programs to aid your daughters specific learning difficulties. But, that aside, going purely from the information you posted in the newsletter, I would recommend transferring to BHS, earlier rather than later in the year if it's going to happen. I really, really hope this helps at least a little. OM

I wanted to let the mom looking for a new school for her 10th grade daughter know that Arrowsmith Highschool in Berkeley may be an alternative. (See Arrowsmith recommendations.)

Son wants to transfer from Head Royce to BHS


While this may be a Pandora's Box - I would appreciate comments re: decision whether to send our son to Berkeley High for 9th Grade. From K-present (7th) he has been at Head Royce and has been really happy - but he is anxious to "spread his wings." He is a good student - not stellar - and not particularly self motivated, same with sports. I am worried he will get lost in the cracks at a large public high school. I am also not happy with the recent management problems I have been hearing about BHS . Also, when I was reading school board candidate statements I only heard emphasis about helping the disadvantaged (which is fine) - but with what seems like a lot of resentment toward the "advantaged" Getting rid of tracking seems to be a big concern as well. I was a public school kid, and feel sad not to support my own community school - but "exposure to the real world" is not the only good reason to change schools. Please give me your comments. Anonymous

Basically, you have to know your child. One and one-half years ago, we had serious concerns as to whether or not BHS would be the right place for our son, after 1-8 at a very small independent school.

We were concerned for his physical safety, ability to motivate himself if assigned a so-so instructor, and the possibility of being influenced by students who did not want to be in school.

After he exhibited incredible discipline in preparing for his Bar Mitzvah, we were no longer concerned about the issues requiring his focus. We decided that we would rather he face some of the rigors of BHS with us 10 minutes away, than face the extreme academic pressures of most of the college prep schools. We were very concerned about the "burn-out" factor he might face at the prep schools.

So far, everyone's experience has been good. We had no immediate scheduling problems which got things off to a good start. The added responsibility of the extra independence of riding the bus has actually made him more responsible in other areas of life at home.

He is able to be positively critical of both his "good" and "bad" teachers, and to see that his favorite teacher personality- wise, is really not delivering much materially. Conversely, he is mature enough to see that one of the teachers he doesn't like, is teaching him a great deal.

We have had enjoyable discussions about certain student issues - the latest being the issuing of tickets to jaywalkers at lunchtime.

He is not as academically challenged this semester as I would have hoped, but he is learning and working, especially in math. He also acknowledges that this will change as he enrolls in AP courses.

His attitude regarding his safety seems to be a prudent and informed one. Perhaps the transition was made easier by the fact that some of his independent school classmates, as well as religious school acquaintances and soccer teammates are also at BHS.

Hope this helps. but it all boils down to individual experience and being able to take the good with the bad.

I meant to write this before to all the parents trying to decide where to send their child. Although I pulled my hair while my daughter was at Berkeley High School, and thought that often the teachers did not expect very much from the students, and even though I dispaired what and if my daughter was learning, she did eventually get accepted at a college. In fact she was accepted at all three colleges where she applied. And even better, she is able to handle the course work at the college. She is doing very nicely even in the basic Freshman writing class (which is where I think Berkeley High is the weakest). And after attending Berkeley High she is quite able to handle the buraucratic stuff of going to college, like selecting classes, meeting with advisors, changing classes, etc. I noticed that during the orientation program, she had no difficulties, unlike many of the students. Berekely High kids are used to finding their way, tracking down the appropriate person, and so forth. So have faith that with your monitoring and assistance that your student can learn at Berkeley High School and go forward into many good choices. Miriam