UC Berkeley News
Press Release

UC Berkeley Press Release

CAL Prep charter school CAL Prep charter school in North Oakland will prepare students to succeed in college. (Photo by Bonnie Azab Powell / UC Berkeley NewsCenter)

'CAL Prep' opens to East Bay 6th, 7th graders

– Briana, age 12, hopes to become an architect someday. Daron, 11, dreams of attending Duke University and pursuing a professional basketball career. "My backup plan is to be an engineer," said the Oakland sixth-grader.

At a time when researchers report that only about half of the 2005 high school graduates have sufficient reading skills for success in college and less than that are ready for college-level math and science, Briana, her 6th-grade sister and Daron are among about 90 middle-school students enrolled at "CAL Prep," where they will prepare for success in college.

CAL Prep is a new charter school collaborative between the University of California, Berkeley, and Aspire Public Schools, a leading not-for profit charter management organization. It is designed to immerse students in a culture of high academic expectations, improve their preparation for college, and develop a model teaching curricula for college readiness.

The UC Berkeley design efforts were guided by a multi-disciplinary committee of faculty, staff, graduate students and local educators, including Professor Genaro M. Padilla, vice chancellor for student affairs, and Professor P. David Pearson, dean of the Graduate School of Education.

The North Oakland school located just off busy San Pablo Avenue opens its doors for the fall term today (Wednesday, Aug. 24) to East Bay 6th and 7th graders, most of whom will be the first in their families to attend college and come from low-income families. Some have grown up in non-English speaking households.

"We're in one of the most diverse areas in the United States, and have many students who face tremendous challenges and are not prepared for college," said Frank Worrell, a UC Berkeley associate professor in the Graduate School of Education who researches youths' attitudes and approaches to academic learning.

"It will be tremendous if we can succeed in developing an excellent educational model that prepares students for success in college," said Worrell, co-liaison for research and development at CAL Prep and the first in his own family to attend college.

Don Shalvey, chief executive officer of Aspire, which has built and is operating 14 public charter schools in the Bay Area, Central Valley, Sacramento and Los Angeles, said the CAL Prep collaboration "fits the needs of the community and offers students a clear path to becoming lifelong learners and leaders."

That college preparation promise is what persuaded Daron and his mother to choose CAL Prep, Daron said during a break from a two-week, voluntary summer program at the school that drew 52 kids.

Dwayne, 11, of East Oakland, also attended the summer school. He said he wants someday to go to Stanford University, and that his mother advised him that working hard at CAL Prep will help make that happen.

Amber, 11, of Oakland, said she attended a charter school last year, but it didn't emphasize college readiness. "It wasn't the right school for me," she said. "Plus my mother loves this school and she wants me to go to college."

"The parents of our students are really looking for a challenging, safe place," said Principal Michael Prada. "They're looking for a change and almost all of them are interested in a college-prep curriculum. They understand the stakes are high."

He said that "8 a.m. to 3 p.m. just won't cut it. These are students who need personalized attention in the classroom." That's why UC Berkeley and Aspire decided to have a longer school year and an extended day at CAL Prep. They start at 8 a.m. officially, although a school breakfast program, free for eligible students, opens at 7:30 a.m. Students can stay until 5 p.m., thanks to after-school programs such as targeted tutoring, study halls and homework clubs.

For the first two years of CAL Prep, Prada said, students will have a schedule designed to dramatically improve their skills in math and literacy, including double periods of English and language arts, double periods of math, one period of physical education and one of social studies and science. He said that subjects such as art and music will be integrated into the after-school program.

Preliminary data indicates that this past year, all 10 Aspire schools recorded an average growth of 49 points on the state's annual standardized tests. Each school reported improvements of at least four times its state targets, underscoring Aspire's positive impact on students, communities and the charter school movement, Shalvey said.

Prada comes from a career in Catholic education, always teaching or serving as an administrator in impoverished, underserved communities. "Everything we know about students of color and from low-income families is that from the moment you say, 'Go,' they're at a disadvantage," he said. "But these students are just as talented and just as able; they just need a little extra time and a little extra help."

Some of that help will come from Worrell and Rhona Weinstein, a UC Berkeley psychology professor and author of an award-winning book: "Reaching Higher: The Power of Expectations in Schooling." She is the other liaison for research and development at CAL Prep and along with Worrell, will meet frequently Prada and the school's three teachers.

"We come from an early intervention approach," Worrell said, "looking at where the student is and how to work with the teacher and the family on improving educational and psychosocial competence."

Prada said he is relying on UC Berkeley professors to help the new school develop a sense of community and a culture that nurtures the students while making tough academic demands and sending the message that "failure is not an option."

Parent involvement is an essential component of success, said Shalvey, and one part of that will include their attending several Saturday sessions to learn more about what their children are learning in school and how to better support them. In addition, all Aspire schools take advantage of student data to enable personalized instruction, which is further complemented by engaged parents and dedicated teachers, he said.

Undergraduate students from UC Berkeley will provide afternoon tutoring for the CAL Prep students. An intern from UC San Francisco's family therapy counseling program also will be at the school two days a week to talk with students, teachers and parents.

CAL Prep saw an outpouring of support from a variety of sources over the summer, as preparations to open the school got underway in earnest. Efforts include the contribution of surplus furniture by the Graduate School of Education and National Writing Project, arrangement by the Lawrence Hall of Science for free science instruction kits as well as teacher training and coaching, community service projects organized by UC Berkeley faculty members to spruce up the 1928 building, and Americorp's "Destination College" students signing up to work with CAL Prep students as mentors and role models and to help build a college-bound culture.

The new school is primarily drawing students from its surrounding neighborhood and other Oakland communities. Some students are coming from the nearby communities of Berkeley, Emeryville and San Pablo. Some students are coming from communities further away, such as Richmond, Antioch, San Leandro and Hayward.

Several children in the two 6th grade classes and one 7th grade class are the offspring of UC Berkeley student families and staff.

A dedication ceremony is planned at the school, 6200 San Pablo Ave., at 10 a.m., Monday, Nov. 14, with faculty, community leaders and UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau to attend. Since coming to UC Berkeley in 2004, Birgeneau has repeatedly expressed his commitment to improving access to public higher education.

CAL Prep is expected to serve about 420 students in grades 6-12 by 2010, requiring college preparatory classes for all students and helping them sign up for college courses while they are still in high school.

Funding for planning and some programming for CAL Prep came from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation through the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. CAL Prep receives state, local and federal funds at the same level per pupil as do non-charter public schools.

For more information about Aspire, one of the first non-for-profit charter management operations in the United States, see: http://www.aspirepublicschools.org/about/faqs.html.