RISE: Raising the Next Generation of Student Advocates

“We need to hear the learner’s perspective which will humanize our teaching.” —Adriana Betti, RISE Executive Director

How do you get and keep black and brown youth in the classroom in 2023? This is the social science research question currently under investigation by 100 RISE students at Berkeley High, thanks to a LEARNING for Equity grant from the Berkeley Public Schools Fund. This question is especially relevant today in Berkeley where the “achievement” (opportunity) gap between white students and students of color is one of the widest in the nation.

RISE stands for “Responsibility, Integrity, Strength, Empowerment” and is an academic support and college preparatory program embedded in Berkeley High. It is designed for low income “at-promise” students and provides year-round wrap-around supports to ensure their success. 


At RISE, students are no strangers to bringing a critical lens to their own education. Last year, RISE students were trained by former RISE student and San Francisco State Sociology Professor Angela Fillingim to conduct focus groups aimed at unearthing RISE students’ attitudes and experiences about what is happening in classrooms and how they feel about it. “For decades, researchers and other adults have sought to address the educational gap,” commented Fillingim. “In the case of educational inequality, we need to center the experiences and knowledge of those most affected by the systems of inequality. Then we need to understand what is and is not working, and work in solidarity to change them.”

Leslie Ambriz is a RISE student and also a member of the RISE leadership team. In her leadership role, she’s been on the inside of year 1 and now year 2 of research. When asked about last year’s findings, she described “how students are also human beings that carry emotions and problems that often don’t have any space to be dealt with in school. This makes the situation harder on the students, and that can cause problems with the classroom and teacher.”

RISE students and Professor Angela Fillingim presenting their year-long investigation and findings to a public audience at Berkeley High (May 2023).


This second year of research is a continuation of the investigation into learning what works (and doesn’t) for Black and brown students. But this year, students are turning the lens on teachers. RISE students want to know what specific teacher instructional practices help or hinder classroom success for students of color. 

This approach has deep roots in the teaching career of Adriana Betti, RISE Executive Director. “As a former Math Teacher, I always appreciated the observations of others. My students enjoyed telling me about my quirky teaching style. I learned a lot from them, which impacted my teaching and their environment to learn. All of this made me more effective as a teacher and community worker.”

Again with the support of Professor Fillingim, the RISE student leadership team developed an observation tool that will guide this year’s team assessments of Berkeley High classrooms. Students have set an ambitious goal of 15 classroom observations by March. In preparation for these visits, RISE students are engaging in a mock observation to field test and then tweak their new tool. 


Impressed by RISE’s year one research, many Berkeley High teachers have already volunteered to have their classrooms observed.I find it hard to get good feedback on my teaching,” noted veteran BHS Math Teacher Masha Albrecht. “So I was pleased to see an opportunity to get useful feedback from a group of students that was so obviously organized and thoughtful about the qualities of a healthy classroom.” 

After classroom observations, Fillingim will teach RISE teams how to crunch their data and present it in a compelling manner. This will prepare them to present findings in late spring to the entire Berkeley High faculty. “I would like to see the teachers and students look at how we can together make learning more accessible and inviting to our diverse population,” noted Betti. “We need to hear the learner’s perspective which will humanize our teaching.” 

The RISE Team from left to right: Case Manager Wardell Myles, RISE graduate and SF State Social Science Professor Dr. Angela Fillingim, Executive Director Adriana Betti, and RISE Graduate and Case Manager Javier Rebollar

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