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Hundreds hold vigil in Berkeley to remember Efe Ustenci

Saturday's vigil for Efe Ustenci drew hundreds of people. Photo: Ted Friedman
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Several hundred community members came together at Berkeley High School on Saturday evening to remember 17-year-old Efejon Ustenci, who drowned Wednesday in Placer County less than a week after he graduated from BHS.

The theme of the vigil, said photographer Ted Friedman, who attended the event on behalf of Berkeleyside, “was to ‘live Efe’s legacy.'”

One friend told Friedman that Efejon, known to many as Efe, would be remembered as someone who was nurturing, humorous and fair-minded. Others have described him as a natural leader looked up to by many, a talented athlete, and a kind and loving young man.

A fundraiser to help collect money for burial costs has raised more than $16,000 since it was created Friday evening.

Wrote Chris Young on the memorial page, “In my work with BIHS [Berkeley International High School] I see students names a lot and meet most of them as seniors. After visiting me once, I noted that Efe carried himself with maturity and kindness. At graduation he thanked me, though I hadn’t done much to directly serve him. Efejon Ustenci! His name jumps off my list of graduates. Yes, Efejon Ustenci. That’s that humble young man who stands out as a beautiful example of strong character for his peers and teachers. Surely, he will inspire us into the future.”

Several photographs from the memorial appear below. … Continue reading »

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Fundraiser, vigil planned for drowned Berkeley student

Efe is remembered as a talented athlete. Photo: Ustenci family
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The Berkeley Unified School District has announced a vigil and fundraiser for Efe Ustenci, who drowned earlier this week in Placer County while on a trip with friends.

The fundraiser to help pay for the 17-year-old’s burial costs has already raised more than $3,600 in approximately an hour. Its goal is $10,000.

A vigil at Berkeley High School has been planned for Saturday, June 25, from 5-6-30 p.m. in the courtyard. The school district had counselors on campus Friday to help offer support.

Wrote BHS Principal Sam Pasarow in the email about the vigil and fundraiser, sent Friday at 9 p.m.: “Please join us as we mourn the loss of Efejon Ustenci, and also celebrate his life.” … Continue reading »

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Recent Berkeley High grad, 17, dies in drowning

Efe Ustenci (attribution unknown)
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Update, June 24, 10:11 p.m. Read about the vigil and fundraiser that have been set up for Efe.

Original story, June 23, 2:07 p.m. The Berkeley community is mourning the tragic death Wednesday of Efejon Ustenci, who graduated with his Berkeley High School class less than a week ago.

Placer County sheriff’s office spokeswoman Dena Erwin said the 17-year-old, who lived in Berkeley, died in Long Lake. The lake is near Soda Springs, west of Lake Tahoe. She confirmed the teenager died from an apparent drowning and said his body has been recovered, but said no other information was immediately available because the coroner’s investigation is still underway.

Berkeley Unified School District spokesman Mark Coplan said mental health counseling services will be available at Berkeley High on Friday for anyone who needs to drop in for support.

Scroll down to the bottom of the story to read BHS Principal Sam Pasarow’s message to the community.

Efe had been planning to attend Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo in the fall, according to his Facebook page.

Friends mourned Efe’s death online.

Wrote Dante Ryan on Thursday morning: “I just heard seconds ago what happened, and I am mortified. I didn’t know you as deeply as I could have, but I did know what a beautiful soul you were. I was blessed to have class with you all 4 years of high school, and your positive attitude always brought the classroom up. You were always a unifying force. A smart, kind, accepting person. Always supportive of me and my dreams as I was you and yours. This is a sad morning.”  … Continue reading »

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Berkeley High’s Ultimate Frisbee team turns out winners – and haikus

The BHS Ultimate Frisbee team playing at the USA Ultimate Western HS Championships on June 5, 2016. Photo: John King/  UltiPhotos.com.
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By Geoff Holton with Finn Collom and Elizabeth Wells

On the weekend of June 4th and 5th, Berkeley High School’s club Ultimate Frisbee team, the Berkeley High Coup, piled into vans and traveled to the USA Ultimate Western Regional Championships in Corvallis, Oregon. Conditions there were grueling — temperatures hovered near 100 degrees both afternoons – and tournament directors moved final matches on Saturday into the early evening in an unsuccessful attempt to beat the heat.

Led by a close-knit group of 14 seniors, and standout performances across the board, the Coup persevered, and went 4-2 on the weekend, making the finals against the defending champions, Roosevelt High School of Seattle. As they have all year, the Coup played with skill, spirit and speed in the final. They brought a deep roster, a balanced attack, great coaching and a positive, pumped-up sideline presence, but eventually fell to Roosevelt 13-10 in a physical, emotional match. … Continue reading »

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Student exchange program offers new world perspectives

Chief Meehan and family and Aleo . Photo: Courtesy AFS
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“We aren’t just hosting an exchange student. We have another kid. There’s no ‘us’ and ‘him’ — we are a team, a family. That’s how it’s been from the very first day.”

Elia Alberti beams at these words from his host “father,” Berkeley Police Chief Mike Meehan, who is sitting at his family’s dining room table. It has been nearly nine months since a then-16-year-old Alberti stepped off the plane from Milan, frantically plugging “the airline lost my luggage” into Google Translate. Misplaced bags and a tenuous grasp of the English language were only the first adventures that Alberti and his host family would tackle during the year to follow.

Chief Meehan and his family were introduced to Alberti through the American Field Service, or AFS, an intercultural program that connects high-school students from all over the world with host families in other countries. The program has sent nine Berkeley High School students abroad this past year alone. Continue reading »

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Berkeley Community Fund awards scholarships to 27 Berkeley High seniors

The 27 Berkeley Community Fund High Hopes scholars. Photo: Courtesy BCF
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On Monday night the Berkeley Community Fund (BCF) honored a new cohort of seniors with High Hopes scholarships. A total of $432,000 was awarded to 27 students who will receive the funds over the course of the next four years.

The High Hopes scholarships have been awarded since 2008, and BCF College Success Coordinator Lynn Walker said the program is doing a great job of living up to its purpose — to provide students with the necessary resources to ensure they thrive not only in college, but well past graduation.

Read more on Berkeleyside about the Berkeley Community Fund.

“BCF was started with the intent of providing resources to students who needed them,” said Walker. “At BCF we understand that not everyone is born into privilege. We wanted to find a way to level the playing field. The High Hopes scholarship is a step in that direction.”

The program provides need-based scholarships worth $16,000 each to Berkeley High school students identified as being “talented and resilient.” The financial support helps close the gap between the true cost of attending college and the typical financial aid award, BCF states on its website, and the scholarships are funded through generous donations from the community. … Continue reading »

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In short film, Berkeley High students talk race, diversity

BHIS video
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Berkeley International High School (BIHS), one of Berkeley High’s small schools, held its senior graduation Friday. While the ceremony was upbeat and celebratory, some students on stage brought up sensitive issues relating to the lack of diversity within the learning community. Earlier that day, Kian Broder Wang, a junior in BIHS, submitted to Berkeleyside the short documentary below — scroll down to watch it — that covers similar ground by talking to students of color and teachers about their experience at BIHS.

The video is timely, as Berkeley High School is considering a proposal to redesign its schedule and classes with a view to addressing some of these issues. During a conversation with Berkeleyside, members of the Design Review Committee, including BHS principal Sam Pasarow, expressed concern that certain learning communities in BHS are not diverse. There are few African-American students in BIHS and few Caucasians in AMPS, the Academy of Medicine and Public Service, members of the committee said. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley High may overhaul schedule, classes to address achievement gap

Berkeley High School. Photo: Nancy Rubin
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For the past ten months, a group of Berkeley High School administrators, teachers, staff, parents and students has been spending long hours brainstorming ways to reduce the school’s achievement gap.

While African-American and Latino students have made great strides in recent years, many are still not performing at the level of their white and Asian peers, according to school officials. And often they are not getting access to the kinds of classes and opportunities that could help them excel.

Consider these statistics:

The graduation rate for African-American and Latino students at Berkeley High is markedly higher than the rates for surrounding schools and the state, according to BUSD statistics. And they are going to college in large numbers. Eighty-five percent of the African-American students who graduated in 2013 were enrolled in college within two years of graduation; the rate for Hispanic and Latino students was 83.3%, according to Sam Pasarow, the BHS principal.

Yet white students are four more times likely to be in an advanced math class than African-American students, and seven times more likely to be in an AP science class than Latino students.

“There is still a fairly profound achievement gap,” said Tamara Friedman, one of the co-facilitators of the Berkeley High Design Team. “A value that is held in the school and the city is one of social justice. We feel we could do better.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley teachers, school, honored for science teaching

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Community Resources for Science, a Berkeley-based education nonprofit that works with local schools “to bring hands-on into the classroom,” last week honored several Berkeley elementary school teachers, as well as an entire Berkeley school, for excellent science teaching.

The honorees this year were Bethany Laurie at Jefferson Elementary; Debra Hill at Malcolm X Elementary; Carrie Peters and Kristine Fowler, both at Berkeley Arts Magnet; Noelle Sedor at Oxford Elementary; and Suzanne Ingley at Rosa Parks Elementary. Cragmont Elementary was honored as a whole school for excellent science education.

The CRS Science Super Star Challenge, which in its fifth year, is designed to “inspire, support, and honor teachers who bring excellent science learning experiences to their students.” … Continue reading »

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One to watch: Football player, BHS grad Cameron Fuller

Cameron Fuller
Photo: Courtesy of Travis Jensen @Travisjensen
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Although he gets paid to play football, Berkeley High graduate Cameron Fuller’s biggest talent just may be his positive outlook.

The life of a professional football player is one that is often coveted. Young men sit in the stands and dream of the fame and fortune that accompany such an occupation, hoping that, one day, they too can feel that sense of importance and attract such admiration. It will likely never come. According to the NCAA, only 1.7% of college football players play at any professional level.

When one successfully defies those odds, it’s easy to understand their sense of accomplishment. What better example than Berkeley High graduate Cameron Fuller? Despite the doubters and naysayers, failures and forks in the road, Fuller has found himself doing exactly what he always expected he would do: playing professional football. … Continue reading »

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Fire department praises Berkeley High mass casualty drill

Mass casualty drill at Berkeley High School on June 1, 2016. Photo: BUSD/Mark Coplan
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A mass casualty incident drill that took place at Berkeley High Wednesday, and in which students participated, was deemed a great success and earned praise from the Berkeley Fire Department. “In many respects we could not have achieved the same level of training without this opportunity and it strengthens the readiness of responders in our community,” BFD wrote to the school after the exercise was finished.

The drill, which began at 1:30 p.m., allowed Berkeley Fire Department recruits and Berkeley High fire-science students to practice responding to a situation in which there were a range of injuries, from cuts and bruises to casualties. One of the school’s student clubs, the Emergency Response Teens (ERT), also participated in the event which simulated the aftermath of a roof collapse in the Donahue Gym.

Thirty drama students took part, several of whom had makeup applied that simulated injuries. They were also asked to “act out their injuries” in an effort to “confuse and challenge” the firefighter recruits. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley High student saves the day after bee swarm lands on campus

Cole Huster shakes the bee swarm in order to have them drop in a bee box. Photo: Karen Kiyo
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Many Berkeley High students had their heads down concentrating on end-of-term exams when an intercom announcement from Principal Sam Pasarow broke the silence Friday afternoon. A swarm of bees had come onto the campus, he said. He asked that teachers close windows and students stay calm.

For BIHS freshman Cole Huster, the news held particular interest. Huster has been a beekeeper since he was in the 7th grade. Not only do he and his mother, Karen Lowhurst, maintain several hives in Lowhurst’s backyard, they also run an informal business, Locole North Berkeley Honey, selling the honey they harvest to friends and neighbors.

When he heard about the swarm, which had many students nervous, Huster said he thought, “Uh, I’m a beekeeper, I wonder if I can help out with this situation.”

After classes had ended, Huster made contact with BUSD maintenance engineer Akbar Shakoui who told him the district has a beekeeper on contract, and they were expecting him to deal with the situation once he could get to the campus. It turned out it wasn’t the first time a bee swarm had chosen to make Berkeley High its temporary home. Caution tape was placed around the swarm, which had settled in the branches of a tree about seven feet off the ground, according to Huster. … Continue reading »

John Muir Elementary School celebrates 100 years

John Muir Elementary School. Photo: BUSD/Mark Coplan
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By Elise Proulx

For 100 years, the small school in the mock Tudor building at the top of Claremont Avenue has educated the students of Berkeley.

Along the way, there have been a number of milestones: the school hosted the first integrated classrooms in Berkeley Unified School District in 1969, and pioneered programs for hearing impaired children in 1986. The architecturally significant Arts and Crafts schoolhouse was even slated for demolition in 1976, until the community rallied to preserve the building and the historic murals by renowned California artist Ray F. Coyle that grace the school’s library walls.

This year, John Muir Elementary School is marking the school’s remarkable centennial anniversary with two days of activities.

First up is a traditional neighborhood May Fair on Friday, May 13, from 5-8 p.m., replete with games, food trucks, obstacle courses, a cakewalk, old-fashioned field games and a raffle (with a four-pack of tickets to Disneyland as the grand prize). Entry is free but the purchase of a wristband is necessary to participate in specific activities. … Continue reading »

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