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Local Official Spotlight: Vasudeo Talks COVID-19 and Inclusion

“My top goal is to help our students and teachers recover from this pandemic,” said Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) Board Director Ana Vasudeo. Despite the uncertainties and inequities created by COVID-19, Berkeley High School (BHS) continues to strive for inclusion, a platform for student activism, as well as a supportive environment for its diverse student body. For Vasudeo, recently elected to the BUSD School Board, ensuring students have access to those opportunities even during the pandemic is of utmost importance. 

“My priority is trying to help navigate some of the issues that will make reopening possible for the high school,” Vasudeo explained. Along with returning to in-person learning, Vasudeo sees the importance of addressing the social emotional needs of the student body. 

“The 2021-22 school year will be an important year to address social emotional learning, and I think we need to start thinking about the trauma caused by the pandemic. Social emotional learning needs to start in the classroom, but also with our families,” Vasudeo said. For her, this process looks like implementing spaces for peer-to-peer counseling within the school day and a wider curriculum. 

Growing up in San Francisco and attending a public middle school in the Sunset District, Vasudeo understands the importance of accessible transportation. Her experiences with the Muni bus system as a child cultivated her appreciation for inexpensive transportation. 

“It was the first time in my life where I could make somewhat independent travel decisions, which is why I’m passionate about making sure that all students can get to school safely and sustainably,” Vasudeo said. 

In preparation for the return to in-person learning, Vasudeo plans to focus on expanding access to programs like the Student Transit Pass Program. “I believe that your school day starts the second you walk out the door, and that we should work hard to make sure that … we are providing affordable transportation options to our students,” said Vasudeo. 

An AC Transit bus leaves a stop outside BHS.

An AC Transit bus leaves a stop outside BHS.

Jonas Nykamp

Equity and inclusion are at the heart of Vasudeo’s platform. According to the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress reports from the 2018-19 school year, only 40 percent of Black students at BHS reached grade level standards in English, compared to 92 percent of white students. The difference is even more prominent in math, where 78 percent of white students reached or exceeded grade level standards, but only 22 percent of Black students. 

When asked about the racial achievement gap, Vasudeo said, “It starts much earlier than high school — it manifests itself and becomes more pronounced at [BHS]. We don’t do enough early intervention in BUSD — especially at the preschool level.” 

The BUSD School Board recently funded early math intervention for lower grades and Vasudeo wants to take it even further. For the students already in high school, Vasudeo plans on strengthening the Response to Intervention program, which introduces targeted teaching to students that are falling behind grade level standards.

Vasudeo also plans to strengthen the English Language Learner (ELL) Master Plan, so that Latinx and Hispanic students have access to bilingual education throughout their experience at BUSD.

As a child of Nicaraguan immigrants, Vasudeo enjoyed learning about Afro-Cuban heritage and the Haitian immigrant experience alongside classmates from all over Latin America and the Caribbean. She said, “I’m proud that we have a very diverse student body at Berkeley and [I] will work hard to ensure … all our students can have similar experiences based on their own backgrounds.”

As a result of her own experience, Vasudeo recognizes the importance of culturally affirming education in helping connect classmates and teachers with similar cultural experiences. She suggests building a more robust ethnic studies curriculum that follows all students through their journeys at BHS.

Vasudeo emphasized that she is dedicated to including students and families from historically marginalized communities in district-wide conversations. She sees the increased presence of board members at student meetings as one way to promote more engagement. 

Whether it be through Youth and Government meetings or student clubs at BHS, Vasudeo is passionate about advocating for youth. She welcomes student affinity groups to contact her at anavasudeo@berkeley.net and voice their opinions about board decisions.

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