Non-traditional framework courses at BHS fight to stay afloat


“I want more students to know about this class because, for whatever reason, I get very specific groups of students, mainly white male students, and I want to promote to more students of color and women,” said Digital Design and Fabrications teacher Klea Bajala. “So last semester, we built the haunted house to hopefully inspire more people to come through and see the cool things that are happening in these spaces.”

Every year, the course selection process for the following school year begins in the later part of the second semester. With new electives being offered annually, the list of classes to choose from is ever-growing. However, there is a downside to the multitude of options, as newer classes often must compete with the overwhelmingly large course list if they hope to appear in subsequent course catalogs. 

Bajala, who teaches alongside her colleague Cordelia Millerwhite, said that Digital Design was brought back to life by the need for more hands-on technical classes at BHS. She said that the curriculum taught within the class is highly relevant to today’s world of innovation, especially in the Bay Area. 

In tandem with this idea, Data Science teacher Laura Gorrin said, “We wanted to bring a class to Berkeley High that gives the kind of math that a lot of people are using in their jobs right now.” They wanted to provide a class that would not only be exciting to learn about but also beneficial in the real world.

On top of its relevance, the course’s project-based curriculum and lack of tests is meant to appeal to many students, according to Gorrin. As the class fulfills the same number of high school math credits as a traditional math class, Data Science is set up to attract students in future years. 

“I think that it will continue to be popular because it is fundamentally offering things that people are interested in and want to take,” Gorrin said.

The case was the same for this year’s new Asian American Pacific Islander Literature class, currently taught by Matthew Laurel. He spoke to the intrigue of the class for Asian students when the class debuted. “They saw how satisfying and meaningful it was to have a class, an English content class, that was by authors who came from their particular background,” he said. 

According to Gideon Goldman, another Data Science teacher, the class became tangible through the work of a Stanford professor who had created a new Data Science curriculum for high school students. The program offered alternative options for students who would usually take AP Calculus or AP Statistics, material that is less relevant in today’s job market. Comparatively, AAPI Literature was initiated by students who voiced the need for a broader range of class choices. 

“In fact a couple of students in the AAPI class right now helped get the ball rolling,” Laurel said. “They spoke up and spoke out to AC English teachers about the desire for a class like this.”

The AAPI Literature class entered the course catalog late, therefore they didn’t get as many sign-ups as anticipated, according to Laurel. However, “… the fact that we have this class existing is just amazing and is a form of resistance, of taking up space,” he said. 

One of the main struggles with new classes at BHS is spreading the word about them, especially with the current list of courses being so vast. Many of the teachers aren’t allowed to advertise their new courses to the students, so they rely on counselors and other teachers to spread the word about new and upcoming courses that students should look out for when picking their schedule. 

Classes can advertise to students through the creation of promotional videos, something Millerwhite said can be shown to potential students. “Those promotional videos have been getting shown to the junior high students who are thinking about kind of coming in and looking at some of these things,” she added.

Goldman advertised the new Data Science class by talking with his junior classes, and there were so many signups that Goldman and Gorrin had to create a waitlist for entries into the class.

“The hook in is very easy,” Goldman said, talking about how many students were drawn to the class initially because there was no denying its pertinence to students’ future careers and jobs. “Nobody’s wondering ‘what’s this for?’” He noted that since students don’t have to wonder how the course pertains to their lives, they can spend time learning.

“The fact that it fulfills a math requirement is a different position than other elective classes, and students will be looking to take a math class to have four years of math,” Gorrin said, “I think the interest will continue to be there.”