Tag Archives: Berkeley Unified School District

Blondies’ coming-of-age album addresses sexual assault

The Blondies lead singer Simon Lunche and lead guitarist Isaac Roth. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
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Bay Area rock band The Blondies have grown up together, working their way up from summer camp stages to venues like the Stork Club in Oakland and Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco. The members, some freshly graduated from high school, are navigating the adult world, and it’s reflected in their music.

The Blondies released “Just Another Evening,” a self-described “coming of age album,” earlier this month. The title track is a comment on rape culture and the pervasiveness of sexual assault and harassment.

“Unfortunately, I see that kind of stuff going on around me all the time and I was really fed up with it,” said lead singer and songwriter Simon Lunche, who graduated from Berkeley High School this month.

The band members who are already in college were disturbed by the level of sexual assault and harassment on their campuses as well. The five members of The Blondies, all male, felt compelled to make a statement about it. … Continue reading »

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Schools

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 alum embarks on abortion bill documentary

Berkeley director Maya Cueva (courtesy)
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“As a filmmaker, you have this unspoken responsibility to inform your audience,” says director and Berkeley High alum Maya Cueva. “You have to let people know what is happening in the world around them. Sometimes that’s good news, and sometimes it’s bad.”

Only two documentaries into her directing career, Cueva is on a mission to inform the masses. Her latest project, Undue Burden, is a six-part series highlighting the potential effects of the Texas abortion bill known as HB2. The bill is currently being assessed by the U.S. Supreme Court, but with only eight justices on the bench, the possibility of a tie doesn’t seem too far out of reach. As Texas and the rest of nation await a verdict, people for and against abortion are using this time to make cases for their positions.

Cueva, who is 22, was born and raised in Berkeley. She credits her high school teacher, Dharini Rasiah, for awakening her interest in film during media classes in Berkeley High’s small school, CAS [Communications Arts and Sciences]. Cueva said she discovered her passion for film while working with Rasiah, who encouraged her to apply to Ithaca College in New York. After receiving a scholarship to Ithaca, Cueva enrolled in its documentary studies program. She graduated with a bachelor’s in documentary studies in 2015 and, since then, has been living in Berkeley and working on her newest film.

See more from Berkeleyside’s “One to watch” series.

After winning a College Emmy for her first short documentary The Providerthe idea for Undue Burden followed. Cueva and her team started production in February, and they hope to return to Texas to finish the series once the Supreme Court makes its decision. … 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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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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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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From Cuba with love: Berkeley High Jazz at the UC Theatre

Berkeley High Jazz in Cuba. Photo by Bill Kinder.
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In jazz, timing is critical, and the Berkeley High jazz program has long demonstrated a gift for landing on just the right beat. When Fourth Street merchants decided to end its annual Jazz on Fourth event, a cornerstone of the jazz program’s annual fundraising efforts, the Berkeley Music Group’s newly opened The UC Theatre stepped into the breach. On Friday, the Berkeley High Jazz Ensemble plays an opening set at the UC Theatre for the Pacific Mambo Orchestra, which shocked the Latin music scene in 2014 by winning the Grammy Award for Best Latin Tropical Album.

“The Fourth Street merchants felt like shutting down the street was too disruptive,” said trombonist Sarah Cline, who’s finishing her fifth year as director of Berkeley High’s jazz program. “We so grateful for their support. They did Jazz on Fourth for 20 years, raised more than $200,000 over that time, and they’re still supporting us. Abrams/Millikan is one of the corporate sponsors of the UC Theatre concert, and we’re looking for more.” … Continue reading »

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Crime

Man held to answer in Berkeley murder, carjacking case

A 2011 photograph of Kamau Berlin. Source: Facebook
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A 20-year-old man accused of murder with special circumstances was ordered Wednesday morning by an Alameda County Superior Court judge to face nearly all of the charges filed against him as the case moves ahead to trial.

 dismissed one count and one special circumstance related to rape allegations, and said the prosecution had not presented sufficient evidence to support those charges.

Kamau Berlin, who was a student at Berkeley Technology Academy at the time of his arrest, was ordered to return to court May 18 for arraignment as the case proceeds. He will continue to be held without bail, Burgess said.

Berlin told his mother he had just needed a ride home the day he was arrested near the car where 72-year-old Nancy McClellan was found bleeding from the neck due to a stab wound. Police testified that, when his mother insisted during a jailhouse interview that he tell her the truth of what had happened, he said he had seen a woman in a car, started hitting her to get her out of the car, and then threw her into the backseat.

He also mentioned to his mother having used brass knuckles during the attack, which ultimately helped police track down the murder weapon in the days after Berlin’s arrest.

At the time of his arrest, in September 2014, he told police a red substance on him that looked like blood was actually “fake blood for Halloween.” … Continue reading »

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One to watch: Berkeley drummer James Small

Drummer James Small

Photo Courtesy of: Andrea Kash
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At only 23 years old, James Small is about as seasoned a drummer as they come. He’s been a member of over 10 bands, opened a nationwide tour for a Grammy-winning artist, and attended one of the nation’s top music colleges. Yet Small’s journey hasn’t always been filled with success and achievement. The drummer has experienced his fair share of hardships and struggles along the way.

Small left school to chase a dream, experienced the rise and fall of a band, and, at one point, found himself teaching kindergarten at a performing arts school in Ohio. Through it all, he remains confident in his ability and excited about his future, however.

“It has all been worth it,” he said, smiling.

Now, as the drummer in four bands and working as an after-school program counselor at Emerson Elementary School, Small is intent on not only becoming the best drummer he can be, but the best person as well. … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: Berkeley, testing, testing, 1-2-3… is this thing on?

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BUSD is preparing for standardized testing next week. Meanwhile, across the rest of the country, there’s a strong, vocal tide that’s swelled into what has become the largest revolt against high-stakes testing in U.S. history.

I have been surprised by the silence in Berkeley.

Public school advocates throughout the US are voicing opposition to modern school “reform” practices that civil rights icon, James Meredith calls “catastrophically misguided and ineffective”.

It’s time to break the silence.

This community has … Continue reading »

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