Moving to Berkeley & Enrolling at Berkeley High

Archived Q&A and Reviews


BHS questions (Moving from New England)

July 2013

My daughter will be a 9th grader at BHS this fall. I was very happy with our tour, but I am concerned she has missed the lottery deadlines for program choice. Has anyone experienced this, and what program is most likely to have room at this time? I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by the sheer size of the school, although we are not new to urban living. My daughter loved the school and what she saw. She is very excited.

If experienced BHS parents can chime in with any comforting words or suggestions in helping us acclimate, I would appreciate them. We are not considering a private high school, so please don't tell me to run away (which is what our new dentist said to do ;)). Basic safety experiences are good, but I am not quite ready for any horror stories. I thought the school itself was beautiful, the guides and office staff, very kind. We were in the school long enough to watch students switch classes and the kids seemed great and orderly. I was also impressed with the cleanliness of the school.

I'm interested in little things as well...backpacks, lunch sacks, daughter and I didn't think to look closely. Are floral LL Bean backpacks fine, or are messenger bags more common? I am assuming her skinny jeans and t shirts are also common? She plans on biking. If your child bikes to school, what are your tips? We are going to buy a new bike, with a good lock, but not a bike so nice it screams ''Steal me.'' Thoughts on brands? We are going to Mike's the minute we arrive in August. BHS newbie

Hi there, We're new to Berkeley and BHS too. We came from a nearby suburb which is only 35 minutes away but culturally it's pretty different. Our son entered BHS in 9th grade last year. He lived with my mom in Berkeley while we were still in our previous home preparing to buy a home in Berkeley and sell our house. I have a mixed review of BHS but my son and husband have almost all positive things to say about it. My son is BHS mostly because of the band program. He is a great musician and that is the reason he went to BHS in the first place. (We moved for that reason and because my husband wanted a shorter commute to SF). It's is a top notch jazz band, with a top notch director and the city supports it with huge generosity that I have not experienced before. I'm so happy to see him in a arts' supporting environment....but.... in his first week he saw 2 drug deals in the bathrooms. Spirit week was a week of seemingly endless lectures in every class about not coming to school high or drunk. I believe it has been cancelled for next year because of the rowdiness of this year. His very expensive headphones were stolen which caused a week of turmoil that scared me a lot because of how my son handled it which included trying to entrap the person he ''thought'' took them. We put a stop to that asap and told him it was ridiculous of him to bring such expensive items to school. There was also a huge 2 day fight that carried over on to the surrounding streets and involved many police cars. I was a little surprised by the Condom Club....but came to understand that it's a ''reality based'' program and better that then ignoring teens and sex.

On the other hand, I have no complaints about his classes and the content. Much better and more diverse subjects are taught at BHS than our previous school. I really like his friends and their parents. His senior friends are going to excellent colleges...Ivies, top 10 schools, some with full rides. Really excellent colleges. I like the administration and campus. The city supports the school system, and the school board makes sure to honor achievement. There are many many very smart and directed kids at BHS. As I said, it's really a mixed bag for me. But he loves it and we're going to stay here. My daughter is entering 4th grade in the fall at a Berkeley elementary school. I will be watching very closely to see if BHS is a good fit for her. If not, we'll figure out something else. I'm sorry if this is too scary for you. But I thought you might like my insight as a newbie to Berkeley and BHS. Enjoy and be flexible and you'll be fine, imo. An adjusting mom

I could do hours on BHS but I will simply say this:

1. BHS is remarkably free of the girl fashionista police. My own daughter thinks this is because there is no lunch room with tables where ''the cool kids'' sit. She can wear what she likes, carry what pack she likes, but she better hang onto it, never leave her pack or her phone sitting around just anywhere or they will be gone fast.

2. Many parents and students feel that the small schools offer a far less rigorous education academically. Small school proponents disagree, but can offer no reasons why the small school kids seem to have so little homework and such high GPAs. Trying to transfer out of a small school is very difficult because they are less in demand. So if your daughter is academically strong, request AC or BIHS. Then if she does not get in, she has at least documented her preference if she tries to transfer later. AC & BIHS are different but equally rigorous. BIHS is harder junior year and has more required subjects by far. AC is great for kids who have a specialty (strength, special interest) or a weakness (e.g. OK for AP English, but no to AP science, or vice versa, etc.)

Good luck! Tell your daughter that there are many 9th graders who enter BHS knowing few other kids so she will have the opportunity to meet kids in sports, classes, dance/theatre/music etc. and at lunch time. I'm not telling you to run at all. Have fun. former BHS parent

Berkeley High has been a great experience for my daughter and stepkids. I've heard it compared to living in NYC: everything is on offer, good and bad. That includes more AP classes than any private school in the East Bay, the International Baccalaureate program, dance performances that will knock your socks off, a club for every interest under the sun... as well as the disruptions you would expect from an urban high school with 3400 students. My crew has witnessed a few fights (more dramatic than serious) and a couple of lockdowns due to police activity near campus. Four years ago there were a couple of incidents with guns on or next to campus, but the school leadership has put a lot of effort into student safety since then -- especially in keeping non-students off campus -- with good results. Theft can be an issue -- my stepson had his iPhone stolen out of his backpack while he was wearing it -- so your daughter should be very careful with valuables and electronics. As far as ''the look''... she'll see floral backpacks, messenger bags, and pretty much everything. Certainly a lot of skinny jeans and t-shirts. If she wants to adjust her style, Crossroads on Shattuck is a fun after-school outing.

I highly recommend signing up for weekly grade and attendance emails from Powerschool. It gives you peace of mind if your kid is on track, and lets you start a conversation right away if you see something that concerns you. As for the bike, pretty much any bike can get stolen in Berkeley, so the style and brand of lock will make more difference than the brand of bike. Any reputable bike store can give you good advice, but the key is to get something that allows your daughter to easily lock both wheels and the frame to a solid object. If she's not comfortable removing the front wheel, either get a cable or an anti-theft wheel skewer. Then use the lock, every single time. My only recommendation for the bike is to get something with gears unless she never plans to go up or down a hill. A bike shop will also be able to recommend reflective gear that isn't too dorky (like anklets and arm bands that stash easily in a backpack). BHS mom (and former bike shop employee)

Welcome! I'm betting your daughter will enjoy Berkeley High. I'm guessing your daughter will end up in one of the large programs - Academic Choice or BIHS, and either would be fine. As for fashion, yes to skinny jeans and t-shirts. A lot of girls will wear shorts and sandals at the beginning of the year when it's hot. When it gets cooler, jeans with boots, sneakers or flats are popular. Lots of girls shop at Thrift Stores and put together cute outfits - BHS girls don't seem to be terribly brand conscious. As for the backback, the bright, floral backpack may stand out a bit. A lot of girls seem to use large bags/purses as opposed to messenger bags or backpacks. A lot of kids arrange lunch dates with different friends on different days - bringing lunch some days and eating out around town on other days. Encourage her to reach out to people, join clubs, sports, etc. Don't worry, she should be fine! Mom of two BHS girls

My daughter will be a junior at IB this Fall. She has been absolutely fine the last two years. I've always taught her to just ignore nasty taunts etc., and she says she has not experienced any. She has done martial arts for the last few years, that helps, but i have not heard anything bad from any of her friends either. The Principal, Pasquali, has been EXTREMELY pro-active and forthcoming about any dangers, incl. a Berkeley high student who got in a fight in Oakland, etc. Yes, skinny jeans and T-shirts are fine. Rally days are great (second week of the year), kids dress wild in red and gold, incl. paint etc. There is some 'egging' of freshman, the First Fridays, but very discouraged by admin. Happy

From my BHS daughters:

Most kids carry Jansport black or dark blue backpacks- basically nothing that stands out. A lot of girls carry large purses instead of backpacks, but that might not work with biking.

Bikes are locked up on campus, and should be brought in on Allston. (There are stairs from MLK.) Don't get a ''cruiser'' style bike- that would stand out and be too heavy to ride around Berkeley.

If kids bring lunch, they usually eat in the park across the street. A ton of kids also eat at quick take-out places in downtown Berkeley. All 3200+ students have the same 40 minute lunch period, so it gets a little crazy.

There's a pretty big range of clothing at BHS- from skirts and heels to pajama pants. Her skinny jeans will fit in the middle just fine.

Welcome to Berkeley! BHS parent

Greetings, It can be strsessful moving but you found the right place to answer your question , no doubt you will geT many answers. I too have a incoming freshman and a rising senior. The lottery is over but I encourage trying to get into either of the bigger learning communities either IB or AC. I also suggest seeking out clubs that she can join based on her interests. She will find out much at orientation regarding this. Does she play sports? There are many things about navigating this school. Shoshana


Moving to Berkeley, have questions about Berkeley High

April 2012


Hi! We are moving from Brooklyn to the East Bay this summer, and with a 5 and 3 year old, schools are weighing heavily. I've done a fair amount of research and spoken to parents about elementary and middle in BUSD/OUSD/Piedmont, but have questions about Berkeley High. Having no direct relationships with current families there, I thought I would ask this forum. Any advice or experiences with and about BH would be great! I know it's a huge school, and I have 2 boys, one of whom is much more of a ''follower.'' Have your sons been able to navigate BHS and not just be a number? I know we have a chunk of time until high school, but I really don't want to move again and private isn't an option. Thanks in advance! -K

We bought a home in berkeley for the schools way before we had kids. We are glad to be here. In case you didn't know, Many private school families in berkeley switch to public school in 9th grade.

My student is now at Berkeley High, and came up through berkeley public schools. I know a bunch of kids there with a range of personalities. The great thing about a big school like Berkeley High is that you can find other kids like you, in a club or a sport or music or theater or in the classroom, so you won't feel alone. The shy kids I know at Berkeley High are learning so much from the energetic environment and are finding friends with stuff in common.

The division into school communities help the staff stay in touch with the kids, but the community of parents and other kids may be even more important. By the time your kid is in high school you will likely have a great network of friends who know your kid and care about them, AND will tell you if they are worried about them (in a good way).

Not all kids have an easy time at any high school. It seems that Berkeley High's huge range of diversity tends to make kids more accepting of differences: physical, ethnic, racial, religious, lgbtq, learning disability, physical disability -- ok but maybe not as accepting of republicans! So it is comforting to know whoever your kid is at 15, they will find a nitch.

Regarding the school administration, at present principal Scuderi is great. A wonderful and responsive communicator, and keeps a sharp eye on the students. The kids know the rules, and the consequences are provided as promised when needed. The school feels safe, yet you still will develop street smarts if you keep your wallet too accessible in your backpack in the hallway, or don't pay attention with your smartphone earbuds in, wandering in the wrong part of the adjacent park at the wrong time of day. It is basic urban street smarts at an urban school. It is not a perfect community, but then i am bringing my kids up here because I am not interested in Stepford.

Who knows what it will be like in 10 yrs, but I know the community will stay involved in making it the best it can be, and you will be welcome to join in. Hope you do come to Berkeley.

(Berkeley High web site catalogue page will show you info on the school groups. -Busd parent


Moving to Berkeley with a high school junior

Nov 2011


Hi all, I am thinking of moving to the Berkeley area from Santa Fe. I have a son who will be going into his junior year at high school. Can someone give me some advice on Berkeley High? Is it a good school? Are there other schools in Berkeley or the surrounding areas in the East Bay that are better?

He is athletic, playing mostly soccer and basketball. He has been in private school all of high school thus far. He excels in all academics. I am sure that I will not be able to afford private schooling for him in Northern California so I am looking at other options. Any advice is appreciated. Many thanks in advance

Berkeley High is a large urban school with a very diverse student body. Diverse in academics, income, interests, cultures and pretty much every way you can imagine. As such, it is complex and exciting. The basketball and soccer teams are pretty competitive, and the academics range from easy to very challenging. Some teachers are amazing, others not so much. Some students are highly motivated, others not so much. There is an open campus (students may leave at lunch) and there are many, many distractions -- downtown Berkeley and Telegraph Avenue are only a few blocks away.

BHS is an AMAZING school for the right student. Any kid who is curious about the world and other people, who is motivated and can stay focused, avoid distractions and temptations, is good at advocating for themselves, and can get along with others who are different, will get a perspective on the world that is not available in most other schools public or private. They will not only get a sound academic eduation, they will get a life education.

Kids I know who came from small private schools describe BHS as being like New York City compared to a small town. If this sounds terrifying to you, it is probably not the right place. If it sounds exciting, you should schedule a visit. --Happy BHS parent and grateful BHS graduate


How do I enroll my nephew from Norway?

Feb 2011


My nephew is eager to come to Berkeley High from Norway and live with us (in Berkeley) for the academic year 2011-2012. He wants to take a pretty heavy academic load. From what I have learned from the high school and the admissions office on Allston, we can not enroll him until he actually arrives in Berkeley in August. Therefore, he will not be able to take part of the lottery that happens next month. My question is how do exchange students handle getting classes that they want? Is there some organization that helps the children of visiting professors? Any help understanding how to navigate would be much appreciated. Trying to be a helpful aunt

Roughly 200 new students register for classes at Berkeley High in late August. You will enroll your student at the district (1835 Allston Way) and then register at Berkeley High. After an English language test (if the student speaks a language other than English at home) your student will have an appointment with a counselor to select classes. It is a four step process and it does take a few weeks so as soon as your nephew arrives you should start. Don't worry, it will work out and he will have many good classes. Janet Huseby

Hello, Your nephew will find he is one of many exchange students who enjoy a semester or a year at Berkeley High, and it's great that you're willing to host him for the year. It is, however, likely to be true that you cannot pre-enroll him this February/March, when most incoming students engage in the registration process, as the students themselves need to be present for the registration (but not for pre-enrollment, which you do with your paperwork). So he is likely to go into the lottery once he arrives in August, and that does mean that he is less likely to have his first choice of the six learning communities, and that may affect what classes he has access to. You didn't mention what grade he is going into, could be that if he's going into an upper grade, there might be space available in programs that don't have as much space for freshmen....hard to say.

As to his wanting to take a heavy load, if you mean that he needs specific classes in order to match his requirements back home in Norway, I suppose that could be one way that perhaps the administration might be persuaded to allow him into a specific learning community (probably Academic Choice) which would give him more latitude in terms of choosing classes. But there's no guarantee. Another option might be for him to take some classes at Berkeley High, and some through Berkeley City College, if the class he wants isn't available in his learning community. You might ask Kristen Glenchur, the VP who was in charge of the lottery last year (don't know if she is this year). Be patient while waiting for an answer - she has a huge work load.

There is a ''newcomer'' group at Berkeley High, but it's meant for English learners, and I doubt your nephew needs that kind of assistance. Otherwise, the PTSA, the volunteer coordinator, the parent resource center are there to help you...and for your nephew, be sure he gets the list of BHS clubs and sports in case some pique his interest - joining a club, team, or other interest group is the best way to quickly make friends at Berkeley High! Natasha Beery, Berkeley High PTSA President


Moving to Berkeley from out of town and starting BHS

September 2006


We are considering moving to Berkeley from out of town next summer. Our sons will enter grades 9&10 in 2007. They are a bit shy but friendly and good students. Is it socially difficult for kids entering BHS at grade 10 to make friends? How accepting are the kids there to newcomers? Do the high school kids have well established peer groups or is it more fluid? Our 10th grader will likely be in jazz band. The younger boy will be active in basketball.

Extra-curriculars are a great way to get to know other students at Berkeley High. It is a really big school, so there is room for all different kinds of kids and no single group dominates the school. Some students have known each other since elementary school, but there are kids from all over the Bay Area (and the world!) so there are lots of ''newcomers.'' If your guys are confident and open-minded they could have a truly unique and wonderful experience at BHS.
--- BHS booster

Just wanted to second the advice about extracurricular activities. I think one of the great things about Berkeley High is that there seems to be something for everyone. Getting involved in a sport or a club is an excellent way for your sons to get to know a smaller group of people with whom they share at least one interest. Make sure you subscribe to the BHS e-tree, and you'll see many announcements about meetings/activities of the various clubs and athletic teams.
happy BHS parent

You'll get lots of feedback on this question from folks who both love and hate the High School. Remember, your results may vary... As described, your boys are likely to do very well at Berkeley High, and make the most of whatever program they end up in. Small School assignment has been reworked to guarantee each includes the full range of Berkeley (and Oakland) kids. What program your sons get into will be controlled by factors including the average income, educaiton and race of the people in your new neighborhood. I'd recommend asking for any program that sounds interesting, but not getting your hopes up. Lots of interesting things are happening outside the Small Schools, too.

Berkeley High is an amazing place for motivated, talented, self-directed kids. It also has great resources and support for kids coming in with economic or educational disadvantages. Its a good fit for a kid in either of those populations. My own kids fall into a large underserved population somewhere in the middle and have had a tougher time of it --- but still are doing fine.

The Jazz Band is famous. Video classes and internships are possible, both at the HS and in the community. I don't know anything about the Basketball team, but would urge your sons to consider rowing Crew instead. The Crew team and the Jazz Band have both won national awards in the last year. With Latin they make up the three most memorable programs at Berkeley High. Participating in any one of the three increases the likelyhood of loving your time at BHS. But, each one takes enough time that doing more than one is probably not a good idea.
Crew Parent in Recovery

I have my grandson at BHS and we are quite happy with the school. The last five years he was in a small private school and he thought it would be fun to be with a larger group. There doesn't seem to be much violence, the teachers are good, classes challenging, and there are plenty of potential friends. With the new set-up of ''small schools'' within BHS, you have the comfort of knowing your child is known by his/her teacher, as in a small school, but the child has the chance to enjoy the excitement of a big city school. The teachers are very good about communicating through e-mail, and the principal, Mr. Slemp, seems to be a great administrator. I don't know anything about the basketball culture. Hope this helps. barbh