Berkeley High School (BHS) held its annual Open House virtually this year, allowing students and parents to interact with teachers and giving current freshmen the opportunity to learn about BHS’s small schools for next school year.
During the first half of the evening event, families were separately invited to watch an asynchronous video presentation detailing the advantages and disadvantages of each of BHS’s five small schools. Students from each small school shared their experiences and discussed the personal bonds they formed during their time in the small schools.
For Basilio Mendoza Juachon, a senior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS) on its advisory committee, the Open House provided an opportunity to help a new generation of incoming sophomores see BIHS in a more diverse, positive light.
“The past couple of years, the BIHS teachers have been wanting to shift the perspectives of what BIHS is,” they said. “Traditionally, [it has been] a really rigorous, strict, white school.”
Through Juachon’s and others’ presentations in the video, BIHS is working to make itself more approachable and less segregated.
In the second half of the Open House, teachers presented their classes to parents of current and prospective students. The presentations, which lasted thirty minutes each, covered the general information about the class or classes, and were attended by around twenty people each.
“It’s valuable for other students and parents to hear the experiences of other students so they can know what they’re going into,” said Anya Draves, a senior in Academic Choice (AC), who presented at the Advanced Math Open House with other seniors about their experiences in the program.
During this part of the program, teachers were able to communicate with parents in a way normally inaccessible to them. They took questions from the crowd, addressing concerns and discussing what the remainder of the year had in store.
“[It’s] always nice to talk to the parents, because we never get a chance to connect with them [otherwise],” said Matt Albinson, a BIHS computer science teacher who organized the Zoom directory for the event.
Before the pandemic, Open House was an in-person event with it its own benefits and challenges.
“Going to the different classes and periods was pretty fun,” Juachon said. “It’s a lot better for parents to walk around the school and see what it’s like and get an idea of what their kids are doing.”
Albinson said there was a lot of pressure placed on the technology to withstand a substantial load. During Back to School Night earlier this school year, the webpage crashed when too many parents visited it at once.
“We wanted to make sure that wouldn’t happen again,” he said.
Philip Halpern, a co-lead for Communication Arts and Sciences (CAS) and video production teacher, said one benefit of having a virtual Open House for the teachers was increased time to give presentations. Whereas they previously only had 10 minutes per group, the teachers now had 30 minutes to present.
“[In-person], you do a high-energy eight or nine minutes, then a quick Q&A, and then you’re done,” said Halpern. “A few surface-level statements and then it’s over.”
However, Halpern questioned whether Open House is fulfilling its intended purpose.
“I’ve long felt that Open House, as we used to know it, needed an update, and COVID-19 forced us to make changes,” he said. “A long-standing concern of mine is that the parents we really want to meet with are the parents that are unable to come.”
Halpern envisions a restructuring of Open House in the form of “an equity measure.” This would promote one-on-one conversations, where teachers and parents would work to develop solutions.
“[This new Open House] would have teachers in conference with the parents of struggling students,” he said. “I think the school district should spend these substantial resources on connecting teachers with the parents of kids [who] are not succeeding.”