CTE classes unite to build haunted house, escape room for students


In the courtyard attached to room G112, Berkeley High School’s (BHS) mechatronics, sound design, art, carpentry, and CAD (Computer Assisted Design) classes have come together in time for Halloween to create an interdisciplinary summative project: a combonation haunted house and escape room envisioned, built, and presented by students and staff alone. “It’s become more interdisciplinary than we originally thought it was going to be,” said Cordelia Millerwhite, the instructional specialist attached at BHS’s workshop. 

In creating the haunted house and escape room, each class got to shine in their own way. “The whole thing was a big team effort,” said Dante Thomas, a senior in both the CAD Studio and Carpentry classes that are helping with the project. The idea for the escape room originated in his CAD class, which voted on creating an immersive experience themed around a spooky interpretation of Walgreens store. Thomas’s role has been a general one. “I worked on one of the puzzles… framing and wall install(ation) … I’ve contributed in the brainstorming and the execution phase,” he said. 

To give the haunted house a creepy atmosphere, students from the sound design class have created sound effects interspersed through the build. Studio art classes have been more involved with creating visual horror decorations. 

“(They’ve been) adding on… extra stuff here; making monster fingers and things to come out of the walls. And they made some kind of… floating eyeball that 

(is) great,” said Millerwhite. Mechatronics classes also contributed to the technical and moving aspects of the build. The whole set of the buildings are also being created from the ground up, built by the carpentry class from repurposed wood. 

Getting all the pieces of the project together was difficult for Thomas’ classes: “I know that it isn’t perfect. We had been lacking excess wood and we had been trying to scavenge materials by salvaging other things,” he said. The showcase aims to be as sustainable as possible. “Everything… will be recycled and reused,” said Wyn Skels, Career Technical Education (CTE) supervisor for the Berkeley Unified School District. “It’s quite an expenditure of resources and materials … (but) all this work (is) to be reused for other projects in the future.” The CTE classes, trying to put together the project in a short time span, operated under a 5-6 week production schedule. Their project has been impeded both by a lack of material and a lack of space, with the A Building under construction, CTE classes have had to make do with a more confined construction space, and the area occupied by the  Sawmill haunted house and Walgreens escape room encroaches on the construction classroom. “It’s been a little bit challenging to work … in the shops (which are) extra crowded, because we don’t have all this outdoor space to just kind of use freely anymore,” said Millerwhite.

What they produce was planned to be treated like a museum exhibit, according to Skels. “(There are) things in here that we’re making that  can be easily broken,” he said. However, the CTE classes also worked with Digital Photography to film a walkthrough video. “We hope to figure out a way that some teachers or some classes might sign up the way you might sign them up for any other exhibit on this campus,” Skels said. 

This interdisciplinary project is potentially the first of many. “I would love to see more projects like this; I think students seem to be very interested in doing larger-scale things,” Millerwhite said. They see the buildings as the beginning of something bigger, where the creative talent of CTE students is recognized by the school and used to improve BHS. In the future, they think that CTE programs could integrate with other areas on campus and even the City of Berkeley. Computer science and stagecraft are not assisting the build, but future projects could include them as well.

For Thomas, one of the students spearheading construction, “Having these big projects is really fun,” he said. “I’ve been sensing a lot of positive reactions to this project and I think it contributes to school spirit … (by) encourag(ing) collaboration.”