BHS Students Skip Class for Day of Action

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday May 04, 2007

Berkeley High School (BHS) students skipped class Tuesday to attend the Immigration Day rally in San Francisco as many of them did last year, but this time they had permission from their teachers. 

About 60 ninth-graders from the Communication Arts & Sciences School (CAS) at BHS took BART to the historic Mission District to participate in a field trip for their Freshman Seminar class. 

“It was a nice way to cap off the unit,” said Biko Eisen-Martin, who teaches history at CAS. “We were learning about what’s going on at the borders with respect to immigration and I thought this would give the kids a more historic perspective about what they were studying. As a tenured teacher I am not allowed to take students on political trips, but this was more of an educational and cultural experience.” 

An email about Immigration Day rallies prompted Eisen-Martin take the matter up with CAS’s Spanish teacher Alexander Klose. 

“It’s an important part of their total education,” said BHS principal Jim Slemp, who added that it was entirely up to the students and teachers about whether they wanted to make this an annual event. Slemp told the Planet that there had been fewer student absences this May 1 than last year. 

15-year-old Micah Muhr—one of Eisen-Martin’s students—said that he had missed school last year to go see the May 1 rallies.  

“This is a much nicer way to do it,” he said. “It’s more interesting to go with your teachers because they explain things better. We learned a lot about the historic murals in the Mission instead of wondering what they were all about.” 

After spending some time with the murals and at the Women’s Building in the Mission District, the group went to the rally at Dolores Park. 

“Some of the kids actually ended up taking part in the protest, but they had permission from their parents,” said Eisen-Martin. “We made it very clear that this was not a walk-out. This was a field trip. There has to be a connection with the class they are taking. I told my students that they shouldn’t be going to a march just because everyone else is. Last year, when I asked them to give me a page on why they don’t like the Bush regime, most of them couldn’t. This is why you need to be really connected about what’s going on around you, and this is where experience like this counts.” 

Students were assigned to pick their favorite mural and research it along with the pamphlets and flyers they had acquired. 

“My favorite was definitely the Wall of Women in the Mission,” said Malikah Wilson, who added that the immigration rally had been her first big march. “It represented women of different ethnicities and told stories we don’t often hear about.” 

Danielle Escobar’s half-page report was about a mural about immigration. “It was colorful and stood out,” she wrote. “It also had a very powerful message about an immigrant husband who missed his wife and child and was struggling to get money for his family to survive. It just seemed so real to me.” 

Matt Rose-Stark, who had left school to participate in the Immigration Day marches in Oakland last year, said that he had joined his classmates on Tuesday because he did not want to miss school anymore. 

“I think it’s unjust what our government is doing to immigrants,” he said. “Our country is built of immigrants. So why would we oppose immigration? I think it’s disrespectful to call people aliens. Aliens are little green things from Mars. They are not people. We should give everyone the respect and freedom they deserve.”