Berkeley High School tackles ethnic disparities on campus

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Recently released data about Berkeley High School’s racial demographic makeup in 2015 showed ethnic disparities in class enrollments and suspension rates.  

The data showed that white students made up 39.5 percent of the school’s enrollment — the highest of any group — and white students also made up the majority of the school’s reported “Gifted and Talented” enrollment. Data collected on suspensions showed that 40 percent of in-school suspensions were received by Latinx students, while 38.9 percent of out-of-school suspensions were received by Black students.

“When issues arise over ethnic or racial concerns, the high school is quick to address them,” said Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson Charles Burress in an email.

The campus has focused on addressing campus segregation through redesign plans. The campus created a new position for an African American Success Program manager starting this fall, according to Burress, and has emphasized recruiting teachers of color.

BHS recently implemented a restorative justice program to help reduce suspension rates, according to BUSD Board of Education Vice President Judy Appel. Appel added that while the program has been successful in reducing the suspension rates as a whole, it will continue to work on addressing the disproportions in the suspension rates among different ethnicities.

Appel also said the school would be implementing the “Universal 9th Grade” program for the 2018-19 school year, which would also help dismantle segregation on campus. The new program, estimated to cost between $500,000 and $600,000, would separate ninth-grade students into “hives” of 120 students with four shared teachers. Students would be offered basic classes in math, English and physics, in addition to an ethnic studies seminar and two electives.

“Kids can build friendships and build communities in ninth grade instead of 10th,” Appel said. She added that Universal 9th Grade would give students opportunities to engage in different programs and “get rid of the assumption of who is not going to take those classes.”

BHS’s population of more than 3,000 students is currently split into five learning communities, each meant to provide its own focus and curriculum. This unique breakup within the high school has recently faced fire for causing implicit segregation, resulting in student learning communities with separated concentrations of white students and students of color.

In the 2014-15 academic year, the two largest communities, Academic Choice and Berkeley International High School, or BIHS, were 44 percent white and 45 percent white, respectively, according to the school’s Western Association of Schools and Colleges report.

“Our BIHS program is an incredible academic experience,” Appel said. “It has also historically been more successful for white and Asian kids. We’re taking some real steps to (figure out) why that is and what we could do for that culture to make it a vibrant learning community for all students.”

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