Race and the Berkeley public schools

Race has been a vexing question in the U.S.’s entire history, and continues to influence public policy and private interactions.

Berkeley was one of the first school districts to integrate and it continues to try and break down barriers between different ethnic groups.

To that end, the school district and the Berkeley Public Education Foundation are paying for Berkeley public school families to visit an exhibit on race at the Lawrence Hall of Science.

On April 28 or 29 from 6 to 8:30 pm, admission will be free to “Race: Are We So Different?” An automated phone call inviting people to the event went out to all public school families last week.


The exhibit aims to show people that “skin color does not equal race.”

“This exhibit provides an opportunity to understand race from a biological, cultural, and historical perspective through engaging, hands-on science experiences; real artifacts; and videos that present people’s unique stories,” according to the Hall’s website.

This family field trip is just one of the ways in which the Berkeley Public Education Foundation assists schools. This year, the foundation has already donated $162,000 in classroom grants around the district, according to Molly Fraker, the executive director. The funds have been used in a variety of ways. Some money has paid for field trips, like an overnight to Marin Headlands, concerts at Cal Performances, or a visit to the coast to look at tide pools. Other funds helped Oxford Elementary and John Muir Elementary put on some plays.

The funds are also supporting the district’s new initiative to move away from a one-book-fits-all approach to teaching reading, said Fraker. The foundation has helped buy thousands of books for classrooms so kids can have a wide choice of what to read. Instead of using a single textbook, teachers now can tailor reading to a student’s specific reading level, she said.

The foundation has also given away an additional $10,000 this year to bring members of the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra into the schools. Musicians played for students, and students played for musicians, said Fraker.

The foundation will hold its annual fundraising lunch on May 14. It will be held at His Lordships Restaurant at the Berkeley Marina and will honor four people who have improved literacy.