Students balance long commute times with a BHS education

For several students at Berkeley High School, getting to school looks a little different than a short bike, walk, or the typical 10-to-20 minute bus or car ride.


For several students at Berkeley High School, getting to school looks a little different than a short bike, walk, or the typical 10-to-20 minute bus or car ride. Most students with long commutes to BHS, which resides in Alameda County, live in the neighboring Contra Costa and Solano County. In fact, about 15 percent of all residents in the Bay Area spend over an hour traveling to work or school each day. 

Some students come to BHS in search of a better education compared to what is offered in the school districts where they live. “Schools in Vallejo are known for being bad, and I had family who went to schools in Berkeley, so my parents decided that we should come out here,” said Laniya Kirkwood, a BHS senior who has been in Berkeley Unified School District throughout their  entire academic career. According to data released by the state of California, Vallejo City Unified School District students scored 80.8 points below the standard for English and 110 points below the standard for math on the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, a test given to juniors each year. 

This issue isn’t just present in Vallejo. When junior Dominic Lyon, who lives in El Sobrante, entered the ninth grade, his parents decided to put him into a private school because they felt the public schools in the area weren’t very good. However, when the school closed down just a year later, he found himself going to a public high school. “(Other high schools didn’t) care about the students as much as Berkeley schools do, so my parents and I figured it would be a better spot for me to be here, (at BHS),” Lyon said. 

The long commutes for Kirkwood and Lyon mean that their mornings look a little different than other students. “I just wake up very early and sleep on the car ride, and get to school early,” Kirkwood said. On the other hand, Lyon first catches a ride with his dad, who works near El Cerrito Plaza BART. From there, Lyon rides the train two stops to BHS. However, coordinating his arrival with the arrival of his BART train to get to school on time can be challenging, he explained, especially when BART messes up. 

In addition, Lyon is a track athlete, which makes things even more difficult to balance. Where he used to take BART to his dad’s work and get a ride back home with him, he now has to stay after school for track practice, which begins at 5pm. “(Now) I go to practice and then I give him a call, then he picks me up from the nearest BART station to our house,” Lyon said. “I have a lot less time to do homework at home but all that really does is push me to do the homework whenever I have a free moment … When I get home I want to destress; I want to do home things. I don’t want to worry about school.”

Students also choose to enroll at BHS despite the long commute because of the variety of classes the school offers. Cole Kahn, a sophomore at BHS who also lives in El Sobrante, said that the music program is what excited him about BHS. “Berkeley High (School) has a very good jazz program, so I’ve always wanted to join them, so I did … also the people are very fun here,” Kahn said. 

As someone who wants to pursue a career in the film field, Lyon also likes the opportunities BHS provides. He enjoys being able to take classes like film video production by choosing Communication Arts and Sciences (CAS)as his small school. “(The) teacher sets deadlines and has requirements that we would find in a real filming atmosphere,” Lyon said. “It just gives you that real-world experience. I can just translate that to life outside of school.”