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New Classes Offer Career Skills to Students

Photograph by Allyn Suzuki

Starting this fall, new classes are being added to Berkeley High School’s (BHS) curriculum, many of which are categorized as Career Technical Education (CTE).

These courses include engineering and design classes, robotics, public health, as well as shop and stagecraft, according to a presentation by Wyn Skeels, the CTE program coordinator, to the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) School Board.

According to Skeels, there were many reasons that each of the individual courses were chosen, though all were in an effort to give students opportunities for “high wage and high growth” jobs at local organizations and companies. “We want our students to be able to afford to stay in the area,” Skeels said.

Many of the courses were developed in conjunction with Bay Area organizations. “The new CTE classes were added through a partnership with local trade unions, local utilities, the city of Berkeley and the state of California’s office on CTE,” said Dirk Wright, BHS teacher for some of the new classes. Matthew Wolpe, who will be teaching the shop class, said that local carpenters will be working with students in his class. According to Skeels, East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) has also helped with some of the electronic tech programs. One of the hopes for these classes is that they would provide opportunities and the ability for students to join the local workforce when, and if, they choose to do so, said Skeels. He added, though, that all of the new CTE classes provide students with a range of options for their future. “Any kid can go right into a four year college or they can go right into the workforce should they choose to,” he said.

For some classes the location of BHS is particularly important. Skeels said that when choosing classes, they were surprised that despite being connected with University of California (UC) Berkeley, there were no engineering classes at BHS. To help remedy this, a few engineering and engineering-based classes were added. Now, Wright will be teaching a Mechatronics Engineering – mechanical and electrical engineering class – for BHS students once a week, with support from the UC system. Wright is also teaching new, and some more advanced, robotics classes after their popularity last year.

“As far as I know, this is the first shop class at BHS for quite a while, so it’s a new offering for students that are interested in design and architecture, and also students who are thinking about a career in the building trades after graduating,” Wolp said. The new shop class, that will be housed in G-112, will hopefully provide students with new options for learning, he added.

Like robotics, some of these new classes were based on student interest, while others are a continuation of learning done at the three BUSD middle schools, such as the Public and Community Health class. Skeels said that he’d noticed that there were many middle school programs that focused on health, like King Middle School’s edible schoolyard. “It all came together, everyone learning about cooking and food, and nutrition… all through middle school, then there’s no place to put that when [students] get to BHS,” Skeels said.

According to Skeels and Nick Lee, the new teacher for Public and Community Health, the class should help to resolve this, and will provide more learning on nutrition and health. “The course is a joint effort of BUSD CTE, BUSD Cooking and Gardening Program, and The Edible Schoolyard. School Board member Ty Alper is a strong supporter of [these programs] and recommended that representatives from each program come together to see how we could bring edible education to the high school level,” said Lee. The class will be piloted as a part of the Academy of Medicine and Public Service (AMPS), as its goals align strongly with theirs, according to Lee and Skeels.

In order to support these courses and improve existing CTE classes, there have been construction and renovations on some classrooms at BHS. Many of these renovations were student driven, as students’ skills progressed beyond the equipment previously available to them. Classroom G-112 has been renovated to provide more technology and equipment for shop classes, biotechnology classroom G-309 is being updated for new equipment, and the rooms previously used for Berkeley Community Media are being revamped to house the new and continuing robotics classes.

Additionally, updates are in progress for sound, lighting and projection equipment at the BHS Florence Schwimley Little Theater. One use for this new equipment will be for stagecraft classes. Skeels said that he hopes the new lighting equipment and sound will give those involved in the tech for school performances more choices to enhance productions. “The sets are going to be exponentially greater and the ability of the director to make choices on lights and sound will be exponentially greater,” said Skeels. Updates are set to be complete by September 21.

On Back-to-School night there will be a grand opening to present these new classrooms and renovations to students and parents. BUSD Superintendent Donald Evans will be attending, and tours for the renovations will be available that evening.