New to Berkeley High School (BHS), the Black Scholars Center (BSC) provides a space for students to do their homework, eat snacks, make friends, and work with others. They meet twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays in room M104 from 3:30 to 5:00 PM, and there are a variety of students and teachers who attend.
“We’ve already seen strong consistency of students coming because they feel like it’s a space where they feel comfortable, but also pushed to do academic work as well,” said Spencer Pritchard, a co-chair of the African American (AFAM) Studies department at Berkeley High School (BHS) and co-founder of the BSC.
Pritchard and his colleague Dawn Williams came up with the idea towards the beginning of the school year. They were granted funds to start their new program, but not given access to those funds until more recently.
Pritchard said that unforeseen obstacles and bureaucratic processes slowed the initial creation of the BSC, which occurred back in August 2021.
Tatyana Martinez, a student who attends the BSC, mentioned that they initially did not go to the meetings — as it was out of their comfort zone — but later decided to try going because “it seemed like a good opportunity and it’s something different.”
BHS student Skypeyton Bolden said the BSC is newer to BHS, so therefore there have been few opportunities to publicize the program. Most students learn about the program through friends and teachers, who encourage them to join.
She said she wants to be part of a community and meet new people, while also getting her academic work done.
“I want to get out of my comfort zone, because I have anxiety, so it’s hard for me to talk to people if I’m not comfortable with it,” Bolden said.
Pritchard and Williams hope that the BSC will become a place for Black students to be part of an academic and social community at school.
“[We] wanted a space for them to feel like they could fully be themselves while also pushing students to get tutoring and have after school support,” Pritchard said.
Known by many of her students as “Doc W,” Williams is the African Diaspora Dance teacher at BHS, and someone who helped create the BSC with Pritchard. According to Williams, one of the important things of the BSC is that it is a safe space in which students feel comfortable to ask for help.
“It’s a little more comfortable when you’re in an affinity group and you feel a sense of connection with the people in the space,” Williams said.
Williams said that the BSC is not just a place to learn but also a community and a place to make friends. She said it is a safe space for students to relate to one another and a place where they can thrive.
Currently, around 10 to 15 students attend the BSC, and Pritchard said that the program would like to reach between 20 to 25 students. He hopes that they can offer tutoring and other resources such as help with doing college applications, as well as finding internships and job opportunities.
According to Pritchard, students in years past have advocated for having some type of resource center for Black students.
Pritchard said establishing a community for Black students — particularly on campus — has been a consistent issue, and Black students don’t have the tools to receive substantial tutoring without resources like the BSC.
“We push them to do work and support them,” Pritchard said. “I think we’ll really start seeing an impact on students’ grades as we’re able to host this [BSC] for a longer period of time.”