It takes a village to raise a child, and that was the thinking behind the new Universal 9th grade (U9) at Berkeley High where a “Redesign Team” spent the past three years researching and designing proverbial villages or “hives” as the new model for 9th grade.
Starting in the 2018-19 school year, entering 9th grade students were placed into hives of 120 students instead of immediately joining a “small school” at Berkeley High. This year there are seven hives at Berkeley High, each with four core subject teachers (Math, English, Science and Ethnic Studies/Social Living). Having 120 students with the same four core subject teachers allows teachers to communicate regularly about the academic and social well-being of students across their classes, resulting in more meaningful and personalized instruction and support.
The explicit purpose for the U9 was to improve academic outcomes for all students and to close the persistent achievement gap at Berkeley High School. In each hive, one of the core teachers leads a fifth class for students who have been identified as needing more academic, social, and/or emotional support as they transition to high school. Additionally, there’s collaboration between all of the staff that’s germane to the U9: the intervention team, the Dean of Culture and Climate, Social Justice Coordinator, Academic counselors, the Activities Director, and librarians to name a few.
Another intention was to change the way that students experience school at Berkeley High. Hasmig Minassian, teacher and U9 Redesign leader, explains, “One of the most essential pieces of the Universal 9th grade is to eliminate the anonymity that so many students currently feel at BHS. We know that students will do better when they are known well by their classmates and the teachers/adults that work with them daily. The impact of these relationships will go beyond the freshman year.”
The Berkeley Public Schools Fund supported the U9 Redesign committee work over three years starting with the 2015-16 school year. In addition, the Schools Fund paid for 5 days of summer training for the U9 core teaching team to prepare for the 2018-19 school year. The team of 28 teachers spent 5 days at Point Bonita in the Marin Headlands to collaborate on the curriculum as well as build community. Minassian says, “Already the teacher collaboration has been fantastic because the teachers have built relationships with each other over the summer. We can go right into productive work and collaboration because we are familiar with working with one another which makes a big difference for the start of the year. Students are smart and they know where the cracks are. So when you create a sealed relationship between adults, the students already feel safe in that.”
This inaugural year of U9 will be monitored with pre and post assessments in Math and English as well as college eligibility rates collected at each quarter. With the results, the U9 staff will be able to offer timely and meaningful support for students. The Schools Fund is excited and proud to be part of a collective effort of having every student feel like they’re being set up for success in their high school experience.