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Switching Schools as High School Junior

Oct 2009

I would really value this community's feedback on the following issue: how to evalute the benefits of switching from a big public school to a small private school beginning junior year? Our daughter is now a sophomore at BHS's International School. She finds BHS generally overwhelming, has had a hard time making friends, and - of equal or greater importance - is finding herself bored in class and frustrated with the pace. She is worried, for the first time, that she won't do well because her motivation to stay engaged is diminishing. I know the first course of action is to talk to the teachers and support staff, and we are doing that. She is great student, very academic, takes her work seriously and wants to go to a great college. And I write this with great respect for the educators at BHS; I know they are doing their very best with big classes and limited resources and bring a lot of talent and commitment to their work. The question: in the absence of knowing that things will get qualitatively better next year, is it the right thing to switch our daughter to a small private school? For a host of logistical and financial reasons, we chose the public school path, but I can tell this is not a great fit for our daughter and I think she would thrive in a different setting with smaller, more demanding classes and a different peer group. Is it too much to ask of her to cope with such a big change, just when she's working hard to get into college? Is it better to switch and take a big gamble on a better situation? I really want to support her love of school, which is just not happening this year at BIHS. Will kids be welcoming? Will she get integrated at this late date? Do kids switch as juniors? I don't want her to go through the whole enrollment process if this is a bad idea from the get-go, but I know high school can be different (better) than this. What to do?


Sounds like two more years at BHS is not in your child's best interest. HS is such an important time on many fronts. My child went to St. Mary's HS and had the best 4 years I could have asked for. There were students who transferred in as juniors and were welcomed into the community. Since St. Mary's is a small school, newcomers are welcomed easily and add to the student body. You might want to consider looking at the school. It is a Catholic education (I am not Catholic) but it is also an education that is more global in reflection than in religion. parent of St. Mary's grad
I know a couple of former students who left BHS mid-stream; both went to Maybeck in Berkeley and had a wonderful experience. It is highly academic but suits students who may not thrive in the sometimes overwhelming atmosphere at BHS. Both students went on to very good colleges and lots of their students end up at Ivies. My daughter is at BHS and is doing very well, but it is not for everyone. Not one size fits all
I can't comment on whether your daughter should switch schools as a Junior, although it seems like a tough time to switch. But I wonder whether she's talked with any of this year's Seniors in the BIHS Program, so she can know what to expect over the Junior and Senior year. If she pursues the IB Diploma she will have an incredibly challenging course load, which at the same time, is fantastically engaging, provided she's intersted in an international point of view. I'm sure many of the current Seniors would be happy to talk with her about how things progress. Ninth and 10th grade in BIHS are preparatory for the IB curriculum. International standards restrict the actual IB curriculum to 11th and 12th grade.

When my daughter, and I visited colleges last Spring when she was a BIHS Junior, nearly every admissions officer we talked with commented that achieving the IB Diploma represents completing the most challenging high school curriculum available. She's now doing the work to qualify for the Diploma, and finds it both really challenging and engaging.

I'm sure the counselors in the IB program can make arrangements for your daughter to talk to other students who are pursuing the Diploma. That may be a good first step before going down the path of switching schools. S.


I am not sure that switching schools is necessarily the best strategy.

I have a daughter who graduated from BHS a couple years ago. She was rarely challenged by the classes offered at BHS even though she finished with 10 or 11 AP classes. She was accepted into a small prestigious private university and is in college with people from the ''top'' small prep schools in the country. She is still not particularly challenged. She knows students at her university from some of the east bay small privates and she is definitely doing better than they are and really not very challenged.

My husband and I decided early on to look beyond the classroom to stimulate our daughter. Our strategy was lots of activities, community service, travel and work along with an expectation of excellent grades. BHS offers those opportunities much better than a small school could - there are tons of sports, music, drama and extracurriculars to keep students of all academic levels engaged. We always had her at least participating in both sports and arts. On top of that we had to do a lot of active parenting - lots of engaged conversations about life and what was happening in her life, why she was bored and what to do about it.

And in the end she is really happy that she went to BHS instead of one of the local private schools, she was exposed to a lot of culture and had some life altering experiences (not all good) that would not have happened at a small school.

So your child is not my child, but I think it is worth exploring your child's boredom a little more carefully before switching schools. former BHS parent


SWITCH HER! You tried a big public school and it is not working out. Kids switch schools all the time. She will probably LOVE her new environment and, even better, kids in smaller schools make a bigger deal about new kids (in a good way.) p.s. don't let her know how worried you are about this whole thing. anon
Maybeck High School might be a great fit for your daughter. It is not unusual for students to transfer to Maybeck after starting high school elsewhere.(She might even be able to start mid-year.) I suggest you check the BPN postings for Maybeck, and plan a visit if it sounds like a school she would like. I cannot say enough good things about our experience at this wonderful school- strong academics, small classes taught seminar-style, plenty of intellectual stimulation, close student-teacher relationships, and students who are accepting of others. Maybeck students are extremely well prepared for college. The writing program, especially, is superb. They also offer exciting travel programs each spring- last year kids had the opportunity to go biking through Japan, surfing in Kauai, explore the Theater and Art worlds in SF and NYC, or travel through Copper Canyon in Mexico, for example. Tuition is less than at most independent private schools. And the new location at St. John's on College Ave. is beautiful!

I would say that its small size would not suit every kid. It is not for someone who wants a classic ''big high school'' experience, for example. But it may suit your daughter very well. Happy Maybeck Parent


Ironically, we went the other way, from a private school which was intense academically and not great socially, to Berkeley High (as a junior). A month into the switch, things are going quite well.

If you send her to a very demanding private school she could be in for quite a shock academically! At the same time, there does seem to be a significant ramp up at BHS in both AC and BIHS in the junior years, so it could be that she'll be okay with sticking it out. Her math and science could be plenty challenging, language should be at 3rd, 4th year level, right? So the main academic issue would be whether other classes are sufficiently engaging, and whether she can help create that challenge for herself. As happy as my daughter is, it's partly because she has two really challenging AP classes, so she is just kind of putting up 2 out of 6 classes being less interesting. And because she's in AC, she has electives which she really likes. Perhaps with next year's change to block schedule, there may be opportunities for BIHS kids to add in some more personally interesting courses.

Also, my daughter joined two clubs and a sports team which puts her with some great, interesting kids. She's a fairly introverted kid, actually, and yet she's making friends. It's odd in a way that she didn't do so in a small school - maybe she was less motivated to do so because she wasn't happy there, or maybe it was because the social environment was TOO small so she didn't have enough kids to choose from.

As far as whether the kids at a new school will be welcoming, it depends, there's usually interest in someone new in a small school. Does your daughter have a sport or other interest that would help her integrate with a group of kids at a new school? Maybe your child is less motivated to make friends through clubs and sports because she just doesn't like Berkeley High? Do you have a feeling for whether she's likely to reach out and take advantage of both the academic and social offerings of a new school? Can you encourage her to do so this year at BHS so she's happier (and so she learns that skill if she moves to a new environment?)

Best of luck. I know how hard it is when your kid isn't happy, and how scary it is to take a leap of faith that a change will make things better! =went the other way=


It sounds like your daughter might do well at Envision Academy in Oakland. It's a small charter (public) school that is pioneering a new approach to educating teens. My gifted freshman daughter goes there and is thriving. For further information, search the BPN files or call the school at 510-596-8901. Nancy

Changing school in 7th grade

April 2002

We are thinking of switching schools next year when my daughter enters 7th grade. I would like to get people's advice about changing schools in the 7th grade and whether that is a particularly rough time for a girl to change schools emotionally, socially, academically. She does have one good friend there already. Thank you.


My daughter changed schools in 7th grade. We moved with only 2 months left of 6th grade and I drove her back to her old school every day. In retrospect it would have been better to put her into the new school at the end of 6th grade. Not only would she hopefully make some friendships for the summer but would also be able to figure out how to bridge the educational gap from the old to the new school. It was rather difficult for her to get used to the fact that she was not the top student of her school anymore but rather very average. I got to understand that it is not just how smart your kid is (oh, they will do great anywhere they are smart) but what materials they were exposed to and which track they were following. Having one good friend at the new school should make the transition much easier. Don't forget though that friendships in junior high are very fickle and sometimes friends are dropped at a drop a a hat. Good luck. Yours in parenting Ksenija
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