BHS: Hanging out at the Park

June 1999

I think it is critical for concerned Berkeley residents and BHS parents to get active about the "park problem" mentioned in the article [in the East Bay Express]. According to the article Pedro Noguero has been aware of the problem and has tried to address it, but nothing has actually been done. I've lost my son to the park culture for the last 2 years and many parents of successful students who are now over 18 or 20 have said the problem has existed for years and the only solution was to remove their child from BHS or use other major changes to intercede for their child. The school acknowledges the problem but says it's outside their jurisdiction and police acknowledge the problem but say the school should do something.

What is going on? Students are expected and encouraged to leave campus for lunch. Many don't return. The park is where most go because it's across from the school. There is often a cop at the park, but that doesn't seem a deterrent. No police or school security staff are involved in returning truant students to school. Many different drugs are used in the park. My son took pictures of them being used. My son took pictures of multiple bottles of wine going around a circle of teens. My son says you can get anything there, even if you have no money. Kids as young as 10 or 11 join these groups. My son has said he's usually under the influence with a partner in similar condition when he has sex. He often doesn't remember the details.

My son became enamored of the "gutter punks" he said hang in the park, many of whom are runaways. They have glamorized street life for him, showing him how much freedom they have, how to "spange" for spare change, and how to commit several crimes without being caught. He learned where you can sleep when you're afraid to go home while under the influence and he learned where the police never go.

Possible solutions? There is very little teens can legally do for fun in Berkeley in their free time, other than "hang out" or shop. We should develop safe and sane sites that would offer cool & interesting activities (dance, dj for a day, art, video production, sports, etc.). Truancy should not be tolerated at any grade level-both the School District and the Police Department should commit to this and follow up on it. We should not be so casual about Berkeley's kids-where they can go, what they can do, etc. They still need boundaries and guidance. We all have to get involved to find solutions. The whole community develops these kids and should act responsibly.

I hate to tell folks this, but very similar activity (to what's going on in the park at Berkeley High) is happening in Memorial Park at Albany High. There's drinking and pot-smoking going on in full view. The cops know and say it's the school's or the parents' problem. The situation's probably worse since the school was torn down and there's basically "no place to go but the park." (6/99)

I really want to second what was said about the Park - Provo. It is a great meeting place for all groups, so hanging out there should not be universally condemned. My son and his group are fine as were my two daughters before him. But as a sub at Berkeley high, I have seen kids coming back "smashed" to class after lunch if they come back at all. I am not surprised by what this person has said. I have heard and seen similar stories for years about problems at Berkeley High.

I know and speak with parent's regularly whose children are "falling off track". It's a dread illness that you hope you all survive. We need to have a group for those parents and children who are feeling isolated by the stigma this type of behavior creates. We have parents who have "successfully" survived the "park" or rather their child's teenage years. These parents could be very helpful in guiding the rest of us through these years.

Some kids get caught into this "place". It should be "cleaned up." Why are these homeless people allowed to hang out there, especially during school hours? The park is not the problem, but rather part of the problem. The larger problem is how Berkeley is aiding it's children. We are a fractionalized society. We don't have a unified community spirit. Other towns are having their own problems - look at Littleton. I think we need to start meeting to discuss what needs to be done. Our elementary school system is in shambles. The district has bought out the older, experienced teachers by giving them early retirement packages so they don't have to pay their higher salaries.

They have brought in "new, younger" teachers to bring in new blood to the schools. In some cases, it works but for the most part, these people have no clue how to address an inter-city, racially diverse population. Our own teachers who have come up through the system and gotten principal qualifications have not been hired, rather outsiders have come in who have not a clue of what needs to be done. Our superintendent (I have never seen him during the day in any classroom) got the award for being the best principal in the state - I am told for bring students back into the public school system. Our city is second behind Beverly Hills in the number of private schools. But the kids coming back are not from private schools, they are coming from Richmond, Oakland, etc. and many are adding to our own problems which we have been unable to solve. Excuse me for getting off on this "jag." You can see there is a lot to be discussed. We need to unify and come together as a community and discuss what needs to be done. The city's recreation department was virtually dismantled under Prop. 13. The parks were wonderful for the teenagers before with dances and sport and craft programs. Now the city hires only part-time workers, so there is no incentive to get qualified people with vision into the system. Our High School needs to find some way to come down hard on students who intimidate the other students and teachers. Why can't our children have shop classes? Things to involve them other than straight academics? Why can't they attend an assembly with a special guest speaker and hear him speak because an irritating group of students are talking too loud for the rest to hear? Why can't our children use the restrooms at school without being intimidated? These are just a few questions that need answers. I know no one wants to go to another meeting and this is so big it will be a vacuum we step into, but it needs to be a special task force set up by the city to address these issues and we need everyone's continued support and I don't just mean money, I mean time.

About the park. The kids could be physically removed. Not recommended. Or someone could provide something more fun at school. Unlikely. I think kids are going to be at the park no matter what is done.

I have to respond to this comment: >Why are these homeless people allowed to hang out there, especially during school hours?

Because it's a public place, and they're members of the public, like you and me. They don't lose their rights along with their homes.

The problem is not that kids are going to the park. The problem is that they're using illegal drugs and coming back to class unfit to learn, if at all. Add to that the buck-passing going on between the school district and the police, and the inattention of too many parents, and you see why nothing gets done. And more questions may come to mind: Why are we even thinking of having the police or the school district herd our kids out of the park and back into class? Aren't they our kids? Shouldn't we be herding them? How can a teacher see that a kid is "smashed" in class and not report it to the kid's parents?

Berkeley High has, as they say, "a Harvard track and a San Quentin track." There's more than one reason for this; some of them have to do with the school's size and structure, and I am glad Theresa Saunders is working to address them; but I think the biggest reason is parents' involvement, or lack thereof, in their own kids' development. -- John (6/99)

July 1999
-- in answer to why didn't I tell the parent that their child was smashed - the parent already knew. And, about the homeless. I was not speaking about the homeless as a group, but only about the ones who fight and drink in public and are violent. I regret that I did not clarify that. Thank you for pointing that out. - Linda

In response to the responses to the article in the Express re: BHS. Who expects and encourages students to leave campus at lunch? This is the first time my daughter and I have heard of it. Although she admits that it would be very crowded on campus if everyone stayed.

About the lack of enforcement of drug/alcohol laws at the Civic Center Park, I heard a dismaying opinion from a retired Berkeley Police officer at a family camp two weeks ago. He said that the police have carefully calculated which crimes involve more paperwork than they are worth to the local police force and have chosen to turn their backs the other way. I didn't really understand the criteria for worth. But, this does strike me as a big problem and I think we should demand that our children's safety and well-being be a priority for our police.

Nita (7/99)