The Berkeley Unified School District Board convened on the evening of Wednesday, October 12. Topics included a STEM maker camp for rising seventh to ninth grade BUSD students, a literacy settlement to support students with reading, and the controversial bell schedule redesign process.
The public comment portion of the meeting was dominated by an equity showcase presentation on the Berkeley Maker Camp,. The camp is for seventh to ninth graders, run by the BUSD Career Technical Education (CTE) Program in partnership with the Berkeley Public Schools Fund and the City of Berkeley. The goal of the camp was to diversify the STEM career path by recruiting underrepresented students in STEM fields. They also aimed to provide a high quality summer camp experience for 150 students at no cost, and introduce BUSD middle schoolers to BHS’s CTE program.
Professional STEM fields are disproportionately white and male when compared to other careers, and the presentation aimed to demonstrate the program’s success in creating a diverse camper population. Black students made up 28 percent, Asian American or Pacific Islander students made up 13 percent, and Hispanic or Latinx students made up 36 percent. The attending body was also diverse in gender.
One parent said, “Thank you so much for this opportunity that you offer to students at BUSD. I was looking and trying to find something for my son to keep him busy during this summer. He asked for STEM, but camps are really expensive and hard to afford.”
In 2023, the CTE program wants to provide afternoon or weekend STEM opportunities during the school year to participants from that summer. They also want to run Maker Camp again, this time opening it up to rising sixth and tenth graders. Additionally, they aim to expand internship opportunities for eleventh & twelfth graders, and consider collaborations between middle school summer school and Maker Camp. Finally, they hope to open more summer job opportunities for BUSD classified staff to work in Maker Camp.
Also discussed in public comment was a Literacy Action Plan that will ensure that all BUSD students will be able to read and write before the end of second grade. Lindsey Nofelt, mother of two Berkeley students said that this was a “historic opportunity to right long-standing academic wrongs.”
“Berkeley Unified students have consistently fallen below grade level in reading (and) the core reading curriculum needs to be reviewed and reassessed now, instead of next year,” said Katy Reese, mother of two Thousand Oaks Elementary students.
BHS ninth grader Eva Levenson spoke of her experience as a dyslexic child in a BUSD elementary school. She described how her vocabulary was advanced compared to her peers, but in second grade she was embarrassed at her inability to read. Luckily, her family was able to pay for tutoring. By sixth grade, she was reading above the expected reading level.
Her mother, Rebecca Levenson, told the story of her first child, who was dyslexic, but was born at a time in her life when she could not afford the extra tutoring that her younger sister received. Eva and Rebecca Levenson requested that BUSD adopt a new system that included tutoring and help for dyslexic elementary school students similar to what Eva Levenson received.
Towards the end of the meeting, members discussed the bell schedule redesign process. BHS parent Cecilie Rose said that to ensure a bell schedule that everyone would benefit from, transparent and straightforward data was needed from the redesign committee. She explained that the redesign process needed more parent involvement, as only 242 BHS parents had been surveyed, and 66 percent of those were parents of white students, despite the fact that white students make up only 42 percent of the student body.
Seth Fleischer, a specialist in equity in learning and the workplace, said that this schedule overhaul has the opportunity to “fix chronic absenteeism, with a particular advantage for minorities”. He continued, saying that “the students, not a cost-neutral solution, should be the priority.”