A new bell and public address (PA) system made its debut at Berkeley High School (BHS) on December 6, 2021, to decidedly mixed reviews. While teacher and student sentiments about the new bell sound range from critical to positive, the system now makes it possible for classes to start and end at consistent times, and allows administrators to communicate over the PA system in the case of an emergency.
At the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, BHS staff realized that the bell system was malfunctioning in certain parts of the school due to the old age of the system and the speakers.
The bells were present in certain buildings, though silent in others. Within the functioning buildings, only some classes were able to hear the bells while others heard buzzing sounds. The PA system also was also not functioning.
In the wake of these issues, Berkeley Unified School District’s (BUSD) Facilities and Technology Departments came to BHS and found that the system was old and had been damaged by heavy rains. They installed a completely new digitized bell and PA system.
The new bell sounds slightly different, and garnered mixed reactions.
“[The new bells sounds] like a demented Thomas the Train,” said freshman Vivien Silas.
Other students compared the sound to an amber alert. “To me it sounds like an amber alert, which is a little weird. But I feel like there are bigger problems to address [than the bell sound],” said sophomore Linden Koshland.
Some had positive reactions. “They sound kind of cute … I’m not sure if the bells are trying to do this, but I feel like [they’re harmonizing],” said Hillary Fong, a Universal Ninth Grade (U9) Ethnic Studies teacher.
While he knows the reactions to the bell sound are mixed, BHS Principal Juan Raygoza said he thinks most students and staff appreciate that the new bell works.
“I’ve heard mixed reviews about the bell,” said Raygoza. “I’ve heard some like it, I’ve heard some don’t like it, but across the board I’ve heard them [be] appreciative of the fact that now we have bells which allow them to know which time to welcome kids into class, which times to release students. And the fact that we have a PA system makes us all safer.”
Raygoza said that the current bell sound is the default sound, and he intends to listen to all of the possible bell sounds to find the one most similar to the previous bell.
Regardless of the bell’s sound, the new bell system means that BHS can be a better functioning school.
The PA’s previous dysfunction meant that, in the case of an emergency, Raygoza or another administrator would be forced to rely on emails and phone calls to communicate with the school.
During the recent armed intruder lockdown drill, the PA system was able to broadcast to all classrooms, but some classrooms heard a muffled or distorted sound. This was one factor that prompted the district to move quickly in replacing the bell and PA system.
Raygoza said he noticed students and staff were nervous about the lack of a functional PA system.
With the new system, Raygoza said he is now able to use his computer or phone in the case of a lockdown or emergency, and immediately start a broadcast on the PA system to the whole school.
Additionally, a digitized bell system means that bell schedules can be changed easily for finals week, special schedules, and late start Mondays.
Fong said that a functioning bell system is important to start and end class on time consistently.
“I do really need the bells to work,” said Fong. “Especially because when they aren’t working, it’s really awkward because there will be kids in the hall, and then everyone will be like, ‘It’s time to leave!’ but it’s not time to leave.”
Raygoza noted that inconsistent bells can lead to a loss of instructional time, if students are leaving classes early or arriving late.
The malfunctioning PA system also inhibited the Chiefs of Publicity’s daily morning announcements. In previous years, the announcements were made over the PA system. Morning announcements are now prerecorded video announcements released every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Two of the three Chiefs of Publicities, Jack and Adam Wilan, said that video announcements were superior to PA announcements because they were visually interesting and allowed creativity, but noted that teachers don’t always play them.
“What’s great about the PA is that it goes through everyone’s classroom and everyone has to hear it … The biggest disadvantage with the videos is that not all of the teachers are playing them because, although they have 5 extra minutes to play them during second period and we send them out, a lot of teachers just don’t want to do it, or forget, or just don’t care,” Jack Wilan said.
Although the PA system is now functioning, the Chiefs of Publicity will likely continue to use video announcements. Jack Wilan said that after the PA system and bell system were fixed, the Chiefs of Publicity tried to do a PA announcement and the audio was still buzzy in classrooms, and many students expressed their preference for the videos.
Raygoza appreciated students and staff advocating for a functioning system.
“I thank students and staff for recognizing the need for a proper PA and bell system, and for advocating for it with the district,” said Raygoza.