Friday, February 18, 2011

Robots and Computers: A Preview of Berkeley's First Charter School

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
Bay Area News Group East Bay
Berkeley's first charter school drew about 80 kids and parents Saturday Feb. 12 to a hands-on robot building event to preview its curriculum and boost enrollment.
Realm Charter School, set to open next fall, will start with one sixth grade class and one ninth grade class, said Director Victor Diaz.
The Robotics for Fun event, which gave kids an overview of how to build and program simple robots, was billed as a way parents and potential students could see what a typical day at Realm will be like when it starts in the fall.
Knowledge Weaver, 11, of Berkeley, operates a robot that pops balloons with the help of Yujen Lo, during an event at Classroom Mattes in Berkeley on Feb. 12 showcasing curriculum at Realm Charter School, which will open in Berkeley in the fall. (Photo by Doug Oakley)

Yujen Lo, right, operates a robot at Classroom Matters in Berkeley on Feb. 12 to showcase curriculum at Realm Charter School which will open in the city in the fall. (Photo by Doug Oakley)
A second event called Math Propulsion Workshop is slated for 10 a.m. Feb. 26 at Classroom Matters, 2436 Sacramento St.
Diaz, who quit at the end of January as principal of a Berkeley alternative public high school called Berkeley Technology Academy, said he has about 60 students signed up in each grade so far. He hopes to get 100 for each by the start of the school year.
The school, which will get about $2.5 million in public funds, has not settled on a site for the classes. The Berkeley Unified School District has offered free classroom space for the ninth grade at its West Campus site, which has been closed for years. The site has classrooms, a working pool run by the city of Berkeley, a gymnasium and a large outdoor area.
The school district is obligated by law to provide free space. If Realm gets 70 students enrolled in the ninth grade it will do so, said district spokesman Mark Coplan.
Diaz however, said the West Campus classrooms are "incredibly insufficient." School district spokesman Mark Coplan said the West Campus site "is the preferred location" for the school district, but the two continue to negotiate.
"They could throw us a curve ball and end up at Willard Middle School," Coplan said. "But that's far away from the neighborhood they want to be in."
For the sixth grade, Diaz said he has been negotiating a rental agreement for a site at Eighth and Addison streets in Berkeley. for the sixth grade class.
Diaz said the school will hire about 12 new teachers for the school. It already has received five to seven applications for each position and the school has not even advertised the positions, he said.
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at

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