by George J Elbaum
Albany High School (AHS) has approximately 1200 students in grades 9 – 12, and a highly diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural population: 37% White, 30% Asian/Pacific Islander, 5% African-American, 17% Hispanic/Latino, and 11% multi-ethnic. Of these, 9% are English Learners, 25% are fluent-English proficient, and 19% qualify for the Free/Reduced Price Lunch Program. Because of its strong emphasis on academics, AHS is ranked a California Gold Ribbon School, also California Distinguish School, and its high school rankings for 2018 are an impressive #660 in National Rankings and #114 in California. The school’s SAT College Readiness rate is 82% vs. California state average of 48%. With a strong emphasis on STEM, AHS has many STEM teams competing in Science Bowl, National Ocean Science Bowl, and the Science Olympiad. AHS is also known for its excellent music programs which include 2 concert bands, 2 jazz bands, and a string orchestra.
The reason for AHS diversity is due in part to the fact that UC Berkeley’s family housing complex is located within Albany Unified School District. Thus 31% of Albany residents are foreign born, and 74% have completed a bachelor’s or graduate degree. Many families are attracted to Albany because of its strong support for education.
My presentation to the entire AHS student body was part of the school’s effort to raise all students’ awareness of the importance of social justice, tolerance and equality vs. racial, religious, or ethnic intolerance and the resulting hatred and violence. On entering the school’s main lobby I was impressed by a prominently-displayed poster: “IN THIS SCHOOL WE BELIEVE: BLACK LIVES MATTER – WOMEN’S RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS – NO HUMAN IS ILLEGAL – SCIENCE IS REAL – LOVE IS LOVE – KINDNESS IS EVERYTHING.” I was also impressed by a display of dozens of self-portraits drawn by the students themselves (see photos.)
Because it took some time for the entire student body (1200) to fill the bleachers on both sides of the gym, my talk started late and there was no time for the Q&A, my favorite part for interacting with the students. However, quite a few of them remained in the gym, as usually happens after my talks, to thank me personally and shake my hand, and two of the students made this talk very memorable for me. One of the students thanked me for coming, paused, and quietly reached out and hugged me, while the other student added one phrase that I will always remember: “Thank you for living!”
My presentation was organized by teacher Hannah Edber, who is also the advisor to the school’s student Leadership Council. Arriving at AHS I was met by its Principal, Alexia Ritchie, from whom I learned about the school’s current focus and progress, and I sensed from her a very hands-on approach to problem solving, something that has been invaluable throughout my life. Attending my talk were also faculty, support staff, mental health and college counselors, and administrators.
My visit was arranged by Nikki Bambauer, Program Coordinator of the Jewish Family and Children’s Services Holocaust Center.