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B-Tech Academy Students Get to View College Life On Tour of South

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday November 24, 2006

It’s not often that Berkeley Technology Academy students get a chance to fly, but last week was different. 

On Nov. 15, a group of 16 seniors and juniors from the school, formerly known as Berkeley Alternative High School, got the opportunity to travel to Atlanta, Ga., to participate in the four-day 18th Annual Fall Black College Tour. 

Made possible through funds collected from bake sales, car washes, raffles and a $6,500 grant from the Berkeley Public Education Foundation among others, the tour aimed at turning the possibility of attending college for these students into a reality.  

“It’s hard to find examples where the school board agrees, the parents agree, the staff and the administration agree for a continuation school to go on any tour at all,” said B-Tech principal Victor Diaz, under whose administration the school has witnessed an all-time high in attendance. 

“It changes the expectations of everyone involved with the school,” he said. “Parents, teachers and administrators start having higher expectations and students start setting higher standards for themselves. In this case, we are not just telling the kids to attend college, we are putting them in the environment.” 

Many of the students were excited about their first plane-ride or their first out-of-state trip, and the possibility of attending college in the South next year made them ecstatic. 

“It opened up a whole new world for us, a better world,” said Brianna Williams, a senior who plans to major in Mass Media Arts at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Ga., and host her own TV show one day. “I felt like I was at home. For once people were not looking at us like we were robbers and drug addicts. They walked up to us and welcomed us.” 

Clark Atlanta University, Moorehouse College in Atlants, Ga., and Alabama A&M University in Normal, Al., topped the list of college choices for the majority of students who attended the tour. 

“I want to apply to A&M because they opened up the whole campus to us,” said John Howard Sr., who took his SATs two weeks ago. “I will also try for Clark because they have a strong psychology and business department. There is something about the southern hospitality that makes me want to go back there.” 

The youngest of five children in his family, John will become the first among his siblings to attend college. 

“It helped us realize that college ain’t no game,” said Ashandra Singleton, who plans to major in Computer Science at Alabama A&M. “We got to work hard and stay on top if we want to make it big. I would encourage my juniors to go on this trip if they get a chance. Believe me, it will change your life. I wasn’t even thinking of going to college, but after visiting Alabama A&M, I know that’s where I want to be.” 

Parent volunteer Nancy Williams, who helped organize the trip along with Della Tours, said that the trip had been planned to provide encouragement to students applying for college. 

“These kids have never been considered to be college material,” she said, adding that she would like to make the tour into an annual event. “They have always been stereotyped as the bad kids and told not to dream or to dream small. But with the proper support, they too can aim high and build a career.” 

While some students found motivation in the rich cultural history of the South, others were inspired by the successes of their piers or the schools’ alumni. 

“Spike Lee went to Clarke,” said Brianna. “So did a whole bunch of people from BET. I always wanted to go to Clarke but the visit assured me that this was definitely where I want to be.” 

“It was great to see people of my skin color and people with similar experiences succeed in school,” said Kashay Striplin, another senior. “It made me realize that if they could do it, so could we.” 

She continued: “These students were dressed in business suits and talking about classes, textbooks, G.P.As and internships. There was none of that talk about guns, drugs and fights. None of that hostility you see in the Bay Area toward blacks. People were walking up to us and talking to us.” 

Derrick Underwood, a junior from B-Tech who said he recently had a policeman point a gun at him in a case of mistaken identity, added that the visits to the slave cemeteries and plantations had helped him get in touch with his roots. 

“We have never seen anything like that in the Bay Area,” he said. “It made us realize that there was more to black history than selling drugs and worrying about making money. It has given us back our confidence, our will to do something worthwhile.”