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We have two kindergartners in Prospect Sierra, and so far, have been thrilled with everything. Because we have twins, we are able to see both of the two classes, and the teachers and curriculum seem just right to us. We liked the philosophy of the school, which is neither strict-academic-stress-them-early nor the more free-form-let-them-do-what-they-want-at-their-own-pace type school. Seems like a good solid middle ground between the two. There is no homework for kindergarten, but this changes in first grade. Volunteering in the classroom is welcomed (we do in both). There is a bus from many sites around Berkeley and Claremont, and a quite good after-school program on the campus of the school. They have had interesting parent education evenings ...a recent on on the K-3 Math Curriculum. Each week, the kids go to Art , the Music, have P.E. and get time at the library. The older grades also have Science class/elective. We also applied to Windrush (which to us felt very similar to Prospect Sierra, with some subtle differences) and Park Day in Oakland. We got into P.S., and have been very pleased so far with our choice. Cam
I have 2 children in Prospect-Sierra, a son in Kindergarten, and a daughter in Third grade. We were previously Prospect parents. The first year of the combined school has been one of tremendous adjustments. Most of the complaints of the school could be directly associated with a change from an earlier approach to a new approach, i.e. from a contrast between old and new. I would hazard a guess that new parents of the school are much happier than continuing parents.
The joint school has much of the special qualities we had sought out, except for the size. The fact that there are 3 classes per grade in grades 1 through 6 makes it a bit like public school. The newly combined school has only 2 classes per grade at K this year, which will continue through 5th grade as that class ages. I am highly in favor of the 2 class per grade size school. I believe that the students entering K or 1st next year will find the school a more harmonious environment, with kids that have had no prior experience with the previous schools. Plus the fact that the size of the school will be more manageable.
The Kindergarten teachers are top notch, I have heard nothing negative from any of the current K parents. In fact our son is having such a wonderful year in K that we wouldn't dream of moving him from the school. Last year our son was in our local public school in El Sobrante and it was quite different. He was picked on by his peers, he was seen as very distracted by his teacher, and he felt inadequate or dumb. Now he is repeating K, but it is perfect. He is attentive, respected, engaged, and connected. He is a completely different boy, he's happy.
My daughter is in Third grade and we are happy with her teacher, although it has taken some getting used to. Our teacher had some extra demands on her time though, due to the lack of an assistant teacher for 2 months. Now that she has a new assistant, the class is definitely back on it's feet, and moving at a good pace. They are working on all the right subjects and at all the right levels in comparison with other 3rd grade parents I know outside of school. The nice part is that the kids are actively involved in the process. They are learning because they are ready and they want to. The teachers are experts at coaching, but they do not force feed them information. If nothing else, my daughter has a love for learning. But in addition to that, she has pride in her abilities, and in spite of the fact that she is sensitive and shy, her self esteem is growing.
I expect that the school is still going through some growing pains and readjustments, and yet, the goals and methods of teaching are still the same. I hope to be able to continue to afford sending my children to Prospect-Sierra.
My son, David, attended Sierra for K and 1st grade (then we moved and he now attends a public school). He had a marvelous time at Sierra--the small classes, informal atmosphere, and educational philosophy were an excellent match for his personality and interests. The classrooms are full of interesting things to do and the speciality classes (art, science, music, p.e., computers, language) are wonderful. His K experience was less successful than 1st grade, but I believe that the teacher in question has changed from teaching K to a higher grade level (which would better suit her, I think). Anyway, I highly recommend the school, although I don't know how the merger with Prospect has affected things.
My daughter went to Sierra School from kindergarten through 6th grade and loved it. Sierra has a well balanced, integrated, imaginative, rich curriculum taught by teachers who care. At the time I was looking at private schools, Sierra and Prospect seemed to offer the most well balanced programs--imagination without flakiness, sturdy academics without force feeding. Sierra is "sneakily academic"--the kids learn a lot, but in a way that is such fun that they don't realize how hard they are working. It also has an exceptionally good arts program and high degree of parent involvement. In my daughter's class (class of '95), about 50% of Sierra graduates went on to private middle schools (mostly Head Royce, Athenian, Windrush and St. Paul's) and 50% to Berkeley public schools (mostly King). We chose Athenian--in part because the Middle School headmistress there is the original founder of Sierra School and what we liked about Sierra we now find at Athenian.
My daughter is very bright and has a "slow to warm" (shy) temperment. She is currently in the first grade at PS and has blossomed both academically and socially at the school. Last year her wonderful kindergarten teachers, Deborah and Robin, created an incredibly loving, nurturing, stimulating and fun experience for the children. Deborah who was the lead teacher (and one of the current kindergarten teachers) is a truly gifted educator. She is extremely intelligent, creative, and emotionally available. From day one, she taught the students about respect and about what it meant to be a member of a community. Deborah, who is a published children's author and illustrator, also told the children from the very beginning that they were all writers and readers. This message instilled in my daughter an early love for reading and writing.
One of my fears about having a smart, quiet, well-behaved child is that she will be "invisible" in groups (i.e. her needs will go unnoticed). This was definitely not the case in kindergarten. Her teachers paid close attention to her, always generous with support, kind words and hugs. And they were very available to me (the anxious mom!) for informal and formal check-ins and conferences.
My daughter is also loving her first grade teachers and classmates. She looks forward to school every day, and begs to go even when she is very ill. In the fall, she almost never raised her hand during circle time. Now, because the teachers have created a consistently safe and comfortable classroom environment, my daughter is volunteering a lot in the large group setting.
Regarding the merger, my husband and I were sad about losing the "smallness" of the old Prospect School; however, we were thrilled with the addition of a middle school. My daughter has made several new friends from the old Sierra School and has had no problems adjusting to the changes brought about by the merger. - Anon (3/98)
Part of the reason that we moved her was because of the merger with Prospect. We didn't want a larger school, and the merger was not handled very well by the Sierra headmaster and board of trustees. Parents' concerns were not addressed until fairly late (shortly before contracts were due) in the process. I felt that members of the board of trustees were initially pretty arrogant in their attitude toward parents who wanted more information AND wanted to have some input into how the merger would turn out. At last there was a (poorly worded) questionnaire, followed months later by meetings with parents, but I was really turned off. The philosophy of the school (at least for the students) is supposed to be one of "inclusiveness", but I didn't feel that the board of trustees respected that philosophy in their drive toward the merger.
On another front... there are some really wonderful people there (Phil, the science teacher; Maddie, the music teacher; and Jay, the art teacher), but I felt for kindergarten, that the school was not a very nurturing place to be. It was kind of like, okay, you're in kindergarten now, get with the program. Several times I witnessed physical fights between children where the teachers kind of looked on, and after one kid was down, would offer comments to the victor like, "Help him up." My daughter, who was not as aggressive or social adept as others in her class ended up being stabbed with a pencil by another child. This is after I had twice stated my concern about my daughter's relationship with that child. (The teachers told me that they hadn't observe any problem between the two.)
Also my daughter's kindergarten class had some "discipline" problems. I worked in the classroom for part of the year, and circle time was extremely painful. A lot of time was spent in getting the group settled down, sending children out of the circle, etc. The teachers' usual techniques for modifying behavior simply didn't work with the group that they had, but they didn't seem to be willing or innovative enough to try a different approach.
That was kindergarten. In first grade my daughter had an extremely bright teacher, but you got the feeling that her heart really wasn't in teaching. Her assistant was a sweet woman with no experience teaching.
I also worked in the classroom for part of that year. One child _consistently_ answered 30% of all questions. The teacher never reined him in or worked with him to be a part of the class. He was simply allowed to dominate the class. This was very discouraging to my daughter, who raised her hand and quietly waited her turn. One day she came home from school and told me that she wasn't going to raise her hand any more because there was no point to doing so. (Yes, I let the teacher know what my daughter said.)
In my daughter's first grade class, the class (of about 24) was divided into three groups for the morning's activities. Two groups would be with the two teachers, and the third group with a parent volunteer. Every 20 minutes, the groups would rotate to the next activity. This approach doesn't work for all children, so I'd encourage parents looking at P-S to look carefully at how children move through the mornings' academic activities to see whether there is a good match with your perception of how your child experiences and learns new material. (I don't know that all first grade classrooms at P-S use this approach.)
So I would suggest to any parents looking at Prospect-Sierra to ask yourself whether you are looking for a "nurturing" kindergarten experience or whether you want your child thrown into the "real" world of aggressive, competitive behavior at age five. Secondly, spend some time with the headmaster(s) and then ask yourself whether you think they would be helpful to you if you have a problem with the school or a teacher, etc. If you have a really, really bright and aggressive child, then P-S may be just the school for him/her. But if your child is not brilliant and aggressive, then your child may not fit in well and just may fall through the cracks.
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