Every year, students from private middle schools and neighboring school districts face a decision to either continue their education in their current school district or private school, or transfer to a different district that would better fit their needs. Many students transfer in hopes of finding a larger and more diverse school.
“The thing that was most attractive to me about (Berkeley High School) was the diversity and the size of the school,” said Lenka Simon, a sophomore. “My previous school, Black Pine Circle, was not as diverse or large in any way. And so I was looking to break out of that and try something new.”
Sophomore Tyler Banks similarly said the “diversity, new people, and freedom of choices,” were what made her want to go to BHS. Banks said in her nine years at School of the Madeleine, a private Catholic school, she never had a very diverse class. This made the increased diversity at BHS the most appealing factor when transferring.
Until high school, sophomore Charlotte Livermore attended Oakland Unified School District schools. But her closest high school was McClymonds High School, which, according to Livermore, had many fights, an issue with lead poisoning, and was “just not a good school.” Livermore said she and her brother tried to get into Oakland Technical High School, but were placed somewhere in the 200s on the waiting list. “So, my parents made the decision to look at other districts, which were really only Piedmont and Berkeley.”
“I think that it’s a great school for the right person and I have so many great experiences from it, but at the time, a lot was new in my life. It was my first year of high school and I was doing it in a city that was all new to me,” said Lea Williamson, a sophomore who used to attend Drew School, a private school in San Francisco. “I didn’t know anyone and didn’t feel supported enough, and I feel like this time in most teens’ lives is where they need the most support.”
Williamson said that not being wealthy or from San Francisco made her feel isolated. “I couldn’t relate to the kids that went to their other house in Oregon every other weekend. Being Black was a completely different topic,” said Williamson. “Being one of the three Black girls in my grade always made me feel like an outsider. My mom experienced this with the parents as well.”
Banks said she never had good relationships with her classmates at her previous school. “To be honest, I never really liked the people I went to school with. Most of my classmates only had something racist or homophobic to say. I had a terrible experience where one of my ‘friends’ called my skin dirty,” said Banks. “Additionally, I noticed how little we learned about current issues or even past issues like slavery. We had a very quick unit then moved right back onto religion.”
When students transfer to BHS, their experiences are very different from when they went to private or schools in other districts.
For Livermore, BHS has been more community focused than the schools she previously attended. The Universal Ninth Grade hive system, as well as the small school learning communities allowed her to feel like she was “able to have a smaller school while in BHS.”
Williamson explained that there are no expectations for her at BHS. “Berkeley is huge. There isn’t just one type of person. This leaves so much more space for me to explore myself and room to make mistakes,” they said. “At Drew there is this set standard that you have to be good at school and rich,” while BHS is much more diverse, with “kids with so many different experiences and backgrounds.”
“If I went straight from one private school to another, I felt like I would just have one way of thinking or one view of the world,” Simon said. “I wanted to really experience different environments.”