Sarah Cline, leader of Berkeley High School’s jazz program, was one of many teachers who made the move from their temporary holding spaces to the newly refurbished A Building.
“It was like one of those home makeover shows, when the family’s coming in two hours and everyone is blitzing to get ready,” Cline said.
The renovated building presents arts teachers with a host of both opportunities and logistical issues. While the building is still an active construction site and its classrooms are not completely polished, teachers are working around the difficulties and taking advantage of their new facilities.
For Jazzy Rodriguez, BHS Guitar teacher, the new A Building was a welcome relief coming from two years in portable classrooms with thin walls and no acoustic design. “(In) the portables, you could hear everything that was going on next door … and across the street,” Rodriguez said, describing the overlapping sounds of a band class, mixed with a drama class, mixed with a dance class. By contrast, their new classroom, designed in part by professional sound engineers, comes equipped with soundproofed windows and adjustable sound blocking curtains.
“(We) can hear everything so much better,” Cline said — a feature critical for musicians trying to play accurately while still listening to the rest of the band. Her room is also on track to be furnished with a new piano, as she used the opportunity of the move to get an upgrade. “The piano we had in here just sucked … but there was no point in getting (a new one) before the new building was built,” she said. The jazz room’s new piano was donated by the family of Aiden Price, a beloved member of the BHS jazz community who graduated in 2020 and passed away a year ago. Eventually, the piano will bear his name on a plaque.
Other classroom equipment will be receiving upgrades. “It’s great to have actual music chairs and stands,” said BHS choir teacher Johnine Hansen. All the white boards in the classrooms come with music staves on them, designed to help demonstrate music theory. On the high-tech aspect of things, each room is equipped with a Promethean board, an interactive electronic board designed for teaching. It provides the powerful tool of mixing a whiteboard with a computer — once people are able to use it.
“Once we get (the new technology) running and learn how to use it, I think it’ll be a really great contribution to classes,” Rodriguez said. This early on into the transition, parts of the building are still unfamiliar, or even unfinished. “I still haven’t figured out how to operate the lights in the classroom,” they said.
The move also gives teachers greater flexibility in how they spend their class time.
“I was really busy from zero period to seventh period,” Hansen said, referring to when her classes took place in the portables. A simple luxury afforded to the arts teachers now is having their own classrooms. Hansen described rushing about at the beginning of class to convert her portable from a drama class to a choir class, and at the end of class reorganizing everything again to make the classroom suitable for math.
“My instructional time has increased dramatically … we probably have gained about six or seven minutes,” Hansen said. Not having the rooms busy all periods of the day also allows students room to ask their teachers questions after class and teachers time to prep a lesson beforehand.
Two and a half years ago, the pandemic’s full force required decades of music materials to be sorted, filed, and removed in social isolation. Cline described the move back then as having been the hardest transition.
“This part in comparison seemed super easy because we have great help from students and alumni,” Cline said. Still, transporting drum sets, vibraphones, amplifiers, and boxes stuffed with sheet music is no easy task for Cline, and remains ongoing.
“(I still) have stuff in deep storage,” Hansen said. A hurdle for teachers to clear is size — the new classrooms are smaller than the portables, and pianos, drums, and instrument storage bite sizable chunks out of available space. Some things have had to be left behind. “For aesthetics … we were asked to not move any furniture that we already owned,” Cline said. The portables’ old shelves and chairs were either donated to other schools or placed in deep storage.
Of some of the furniture that had to be stashed, Rodriguez mourned the loss of their “operation table.” “It had all my tools that I needed to fix guitars … I don’t have that space anymore to repair instruments, (and) we had to leave it behind,” they said.
The new building is in a state of excited genesis, having moved past Cline’s “blitzing” stage. Rodriguez summarized the changes between old and new, saying, “The color of everything (has changed). It’s more vibrant.”