School board discusses student wellness


On Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023, the Berkeley Unified School District School Board convened, discussing the upcoming Wellness Center at Berkeley High School (BHS), the impact on students from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the upcoming modernization of Sylvia Mendez Elementary.

The BHS Wellness Center is set to have its grand opening on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, according to Doreen Bracamontes, the Vice President of School Climate and Student Wellness. The Wellness Center aims to be a safe space where all students can reset, recharge, and make connections. 

Peer educators and trained staff  will be available to students at the Wellness Center for general support. Support includes, but isn’t limited to, mental health services, consent education, and two-way referrals with the BHS Health Center.

BHS health peer educators  spoke during public comment at the beginning of the meeting about their experiences with mental health at BHS and their goals for the program.

 “Our main goal for this year is to advocate and bring awareness about mental health in our school,” said one of the peer educators.

During public comment,  several family members of BUSD students, as well as several students and Berkeley residents, addressed their concerns about the current events in Israel and Palestine and the effect on students. Speakers held different views on what was happening, but a repeated issue throughout the meeting was the intolerance of hate speech against Jewish, Muslim, and Arab students. 

Multiple parents spoke about how their students have experienced antisemitism at school and have had fear about openly saying or showing that they are Jewish at school. 

“We together stand against all forms of hate, including antisemitism and islamophobia,” said Enikia Ford Morthel, the Berkeley Unified School District superintendent. 

Another topic of discussion at the meeting concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the content of BUSD’s current ethnic studies curriculum. Several people commented about how they feel the curriculum doesn’t adequately cover Middle Eastern history.

During the discussion portion of the meeting, participants discussed the planning of the Sylvia Mendez Elementary School modernization, which will include upgraded classrooms and a new playground. Some voiced concern about completing the project with minimal disruption to students. 

Sylvia Mendez plans to move some classes to several portables during construction. The South Wing of the school will remain open while the North Wing is undergoing renovation. Construction is planned to start during the summer of 2024.

The campus will be impacted for two years by this construction. To address student safety concerns, the district has plans for filtration and dust mitigation protocols on site. The disrict will test materials before removing them to avoid dust from hazardous materials, and they will have a full-time hygienist to ensure safe conditions.