At first blush, Berkeley Alternative High School seems more like place of business than a school.
The courtyard is so quiet you could hear a Bic pen drop.
Students are more likely to be found moving in pairs than in the clusters of five or more that are such a familiar part of the Berkeley High School landscape.
Even the staff seems to speak in long, luxurious sentences to one another — as if there really were enough minutes in the day.
After all, the three-acre campus only has to hold 120 students, as compared to the 3,300 crammed onto Berkeley High’s 17-acre campus.
And there’s the equivalent of two full-time guidance counselors to stay on top of students and help them get through the week with a minimum of panic or stress. That’s compared to seven such counselors at Berkeley High.
Mercedes Sanders, today the alternative school’s full-time guidance counselor, let out a sigh when she recalled what it was like working at Berkeley High in the early 1990s, when there were only 325 students per guidance counselor (today it’s closer to 500).
“It was an impossible job at that time, and it’s gotten much worse,” Sanders said one day last week. “I know all of my students here. I know what their issues are. At Berkeley High, it was crisis intervention that we did mostly.”
Until last year, Berkeley Alternative High School was “continuation” program — a school to which Berkeley High students with academic, attendance or discipline problems were unceremoniously transferred so they would, in effect, be out of the way.
But at a time when “small