Alternative and Independent Study Students Must Share BHS Resources, Privileges By HANS BARNUM Commentary
Kudos to Superintendent Michele Lawrence, Shirley Issel and Terry Doran of the Berkeley School Board, and City Councilmember Darryl Moore for attending the packed Berkeley Alternative High School Meeting Jan. 10, where they heard touching stories of seniors who have overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles in their young lives to make it to their last year of high school. Worried parents, passionate students, and some outraged adults gave much heartfelt testimony to a sympathetic Michele Lawrence about their very real concerns.
Alternative High School and Independent Study students, who share a campus a few blocks from Berkeley High School, have worked hard to survive and thrive in school, expecting to graduate at the Greek Theatre graduation ceremony, attend junior and senior prom, have access to needed services on BHS campus, and be welcomed to attend rallies, games and have other opportunities that are available to their peers at BHS.
When one senior told of his heartbreaking path, from being abandoned, homeless, and escaping from foster “care” (not) to live with his elderly and ill grandmother, to becoming a straight-A student at AHS, expecting to graduate on the Greek Theatre stage even though he’d never seen it, there were few dry eyes among the listeners who could feel the pain this courageous young man was projecting. There are about 30 2005 graduating seniors at AHS, each with a moving and triumphant story of courage, and determination to complete high school in spite of any odds against their success. There are many more students coming down this long, hard road who should not in the future face barriers to educational opportunities and social intercourse with peers.
We must not allow any group of students to again be segregated and isolated from opportunities available to their peers, as has happened recently when AHS students were not allowed to attend a function they should have been able to participate in at BHS. It is not fair to come to AHS, or IS, asking for gifted students to contribute to successes in our community and at BHS, such as at sports or music, while telling them they cannot have treatment equal to that given to BHS students.
We need to make sure that all assets and opportunities for any students of BHS are available to all students of AHS and IS. There should be no discrimination, isolation, or prejudiced treatment of any group of students, regardless of their economic status, or any other criteria. The audience heard that some students of AHS and IS actually attend some classes at BHS but are not welcomed there in many ways because of their official status of enrollment at AHS or IS.
No specific group should be singled out as undeserving of sharing in the opportunities, resources, and recognition that BHS students have. We all have a responsibility to see that all children in Berkeley have every possible chance to succeed, and are equally rewarded for their hard earned achievements.
When we pay taxes in Berkeley that go to the school district there is no box that we check that says to be sure to disregard youth that are not in the upper socio-economic strata; no box to check that says if you are having a rough time in life we want our tax dollars used to kick you when you are down and desperately trying to climb up to a better life. As adults we have a responsibility to see that every student gets every chance, every reward, and every opportunity that they have worked so very hard for, and deserve. No student should be left out.
There must not be segregation of Alternative High Students, Independent Study students, and Berkeley High students, from each other, or from the resources and assets of the community that should be helping all of our high school students. We need to equally share all resources among all of our children—who must depend on the good judgment of adults to ensure they are fairly treated. Not separate but equal. Not segregated. Not discriminated against. But integrated and having equal opportunity to be educated and succeed.
Hans Barnum is a Berkeley Youth Commissioner and an Independent Study student.