Photo I.D.s, brand-new textbooks and lots of good advice marked Tuesday’s freshman orientation at Berkeley High for the Class of 2010.
The air was thick with anticipation as the students trooped into the community theater, some excited, others nervous.
“I have been here for only 30 minutes but I can already vouch for the fact that it’s going to be a great school year,” said Alex Niemeyer, 14, incoming freshman. “I am really looking forward to joining the rugby team.”
Thaxter Ransom, who was entering Berkeley High from Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, listened as Dean of Students Alejandro Ramos informed students about the school’s cell phone policy.
“Students can use cell phones before and after school and during their break,” Ramos told them. “If we find students talking on their phones during class hours then their cell phones will be taken away.”
Cell phone use in Berkeley schools had been the topic of an earlier debate at the Berkeley school board, according to BUSD spokesperson Mark Coplan. A lot of parents feel students should be allowed to use cell phones during school hours.
Ramos also advised students not to use iPods on the school premises since it was possible to lose them.
Long registration lines were a thing of the past at this year’s freshman orientation, thanks to the student volunteers who helped the incoming students register quickly.
Ivory McKnight, director of student activities, said this has been one of the smoothest registrations she has seen in years.
“We have had more volunteers than ever before,” she said. “The kids have been just great.”
Besides registering, students also had their freshman pictures taken and received their schedules, new textbooks, I.D.s, badges and organizers.
“We used to do this on the first day of school,” said district spokesman Mark Coplan. “But after Principal Jim Slemp took over he did not want students to waste three precious hours on the first day itself. So we get done with all this on orientation day, which works out just fine.”
The freshmen were also taken on a tour of the classrooms, food court, football field, gym, library and other sections of the campus.
“We got to know all the different letters of the buildings,” said Rachel Cherwick. “Our seniors pointed out all the good bathrooms to us.”
Cherwich, who comes to Berkeley High from Prospect Sierra middle school in El Cerrito, said she is excited about attending a public school. “I wanted a change from my private school. Berkeley High is one of the top public schools in the country and I am glad I came here.”
Rachel Chazin-Gray, who had also attended Prospect Sierra with her, echoed her thoughts. “I wanted to be part of something bigger. I am excited that I have, like, 800 classmates. It was awesome meeting them all today. I can’t wait to start school on August 30,” she said.
Caprice Haverty, mother of an incoming Berkeley High freshman, said she was proud to be a Berkeley High parent.
“She’s my first child in the Berkeley public school system and I think it’s a wonderful opportunity,” Haverty said. “She will get to learn new social skills and navigate the different complex systems. I feel that this is part of the education that she was missing out on in a private school ... We want to be part of the system and participate in it. The BUSD Is like a city within a city and we want to support it, not break it down.”
Mateo Aceves, Berkeley High’s new student school board director, encouraged the freshmen to take part in student activities.
“I love Berkeley High,” he said. “What is so great about being in a public school is that if you want to do something, be it debating, dramatics or even student government, it’s all there for you. Students should make the most of the great jazz club we have here and take advantage of our excellent arts and sports facilities. If you sit back and let Berkeley High happen to you then you are going to miss out on a lot. It’s important to seize the moment.”
Mateo, a senior, also talked about some of the issues he wanted to take up as the student representative on the school board. “I want to discuss campus security, student accessibility and freedom of mobility.”
Currently the policy at Berkeley High requires students to be either in the classroom or in the library, a counselor’s office or a specific area when not in class. Students are not allowed to hang around in public areas when they have no classes.
Mateo said he also wants more gates to remain open during school hours.
“Right now only the front gate on Allston and Milvia remains open after school starts in the morning,” he said. “More gates staying open would help in better mobility and allow students to enter from other directions as well.”
Vincent Malmrose poses for his freshman class picture in the Berkeley High gym on Tuesday afternoon. Photo by Riya Bhattacharjee.