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Via Nova Children's School (Berkeley, CA)
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The reviews of Via Nova Preschool are all over two years old, and I understand they've had some transitions in leadership/program over the last few years. Anyone have more recent feedback? How much time do the kids spend outdoors, and how are the current teachers? A parent in an old review says that the parent participation was burdensome for them, has that been your experience? Caitlin
As for the new director, Franca stepped right in and made the transition remarkably smooth. The only big change we noticed was a dramatic increase in communication, which was quite welcome.
I think any complaints people had about the volunteer hours were actually less about the number of hours (they weren't too many, and I always appreciated having the connection with the school) and more about getting the opportunities to fulfill the hours. In my opinion, this was a communication failure. And seeing how Franca has been an excellent communicator, I would guess that this has been resolved.
Good luck with your preschool search! Sofia
In terms of volunteer hours - the # hours vary (~ 16 hours/year for 1 kid and 2 adult family), but you can work the hours however it works for you (grilling at annual camping trip, helping at yard sale, helping out in other ways based on your strengths/interests). Highly recommend! Please feel free to email me for questions. There may be space for a girl in the fall. Check out the new website for lots of info: http://www.vianovapreschool.com/. Liz
The school has changed hands in the last year and though people miss the prior director's style, I would say that overall I think the school is better organized. Some might feel that it has lost lost some of it's ''co-op'' identity in the transition. I still feel it is a great community of diverse like-minded families. The volunteering requirement is 18 hrs per year for a 2 parent family. We don't find it too burdensome and enjoy the involvement.
We have had a great experience at Via Nova, and though we are off to K in the fall, I plan on sending my second daughter to VN in a couple of years as well. happy Via Nova parent
I will say that the new Director, Franca, was the best thing that could have happened to Via Nova during this transitional period, and the school and children are thriving as a result. As for the volunteering, I don't want to minimize anyone else's experience around this, but, for me, the sense of community I felt from working closely with other families at the school these last years also helped my family to get through some challenging times in our own lives as well, and I don't know that we would have felt that support had we not all volunteered in school activities together.
Basically, I encourage you to contact me, contact the school, go on a tour - I hope you'll fall in love with it as I have. My son has been well cared for, and I've always felt him to be in the best hands at Via Nova. Tanner
Hello - I wanted to send along a glowing recommendation for Via Nova Children's School in south berkeley (across from Ashby BART). The school has a fall opening for a 3 year old girl. If interested, contact the director, Franca, at: firstname.lastname@example.org. As a current & past present (my 3 year old daughter goes there & my six year old son now in K went there), I have nothing but positive things to say - loving teachers (that speak a lot of spanish with the kids), fabulous south berkeley/north oakland families, child-led curriculum with a strong focus on getting messy, art projects & learning about conflict resolution, lots of time playing outdoors in a big back yard, fabulous director, inquisitive & happy kids that launch off into the world of elementary school very well prepared. Liz
Re: Preschool for 3 yo with ASD PDD-NOS in East Bay
My son was diagnosed at 18 months with PDD-NOS. He is currently enrolled at Via Nova Children's School in Berkeley and is thriving. I can't say enough how incredible Ticia and the entire Via Nova staff have been - to embracing him wholeheartedly and what's needed to support his success, to integrating him into the larger class and supporting his relationships with peers, to being flexible to the therapy services that are performed on-site (and seeing them as an opportunity for staff development). We feel incredibly lucky. anon
We visited Via Nova today and I'm wondering if anyone has any recent experiences with this school. It seems like a friendly place. The location and cost is great for us, but wanted to hear some recent reviews (good, bad, or otherwise). curious about Via Nova
There were also some downsides; the administration was disorganized but I believe that is fairly typical of most preschools. The community of parents and families was great but I found it hard to keep up with the demands of parent participation being a single mom. There was an overriding sense that you had be a part of this community when the reality (for me) was that I had NO time with multiple kids and a full-time job. It always made me feel a bit guilty and the ''community'' thing is a big deal for Via Nova.
If you have the time to dedicate to the school your child and family will get more out of it. Also, keep in mind that they are a play based school so there is not much taught in the way of letters and numbers unless your child specifically asks for it. My child didn't care much about the letters or numbers but it was a problem when she was the only kid in her K class that didn't know how to read. I should have been working with her at home more often but enrolling her in a preschool that offered a bit more K prep would have been a wiser choice for our family. Via Nova is a good school and, if you have the time to dedicate to it, your child will flourish. Good luck with your choice. anon
The main pros are - teachers are really nice, my son seems very happy there. Main con I would say is all the staff are female and I really feel that energy there - my other friends talk about their kids having supervised wrestling at their pre-schools - I could be wrong but don't think that would fly there. I also saw someone post about the community aspect - I can assure you as a current parent that is definitely voluntary. While it is expected plenty of parents do not partake in this so if you want that great but I wouldn't rule the school out of you don't have time for it.
Can a parent who has (or had) a child enrolled at Via Nova give advice about how to contact staff about the enrollment/application process?
I've heard wonderful things about the school (via BPN), it seems like a wonderful fit for us in many ways, and it's even in our neighborhood (a big deal, since we don't have a car).
But, I can't get a call back. I've called about 6 times, each time, in a friendly way noting that I've been calling since mid-December. I've also emailed. I really don't want to be a stalker. I can't imagine how much effort it is to run a successful school and manage a ton of calls at the same time. Does anyone know if they are accepting any applications at all?
Should I give up? Very interested in Via Nova!
I can't say whether or not you should give up. But if you're still interested, here's what I'd try: when you call, let them know that you live in the neighborhood. Be clear about how old your child is and when you're interested in coming. And ask everyone you know to find out if you know anyone with a child there. From what I can tell that's the surest way to at least get a call.
Good luck! VN parent
My son is, currently, attending a preschool in Oakland and we'd really like to have him closer to home now that we've moved to Berkeley... I have heard lots of good things about Via Nova (including many positive reviews in the BPN archives) and went to check it out, but felt really underwhelmed by the upstairs environment (chipping paint everywhere and no artwork on the stark walls). Downstairs seemed warm and lively, on the other hand. Do you have any opinions about Via Nova that are specific to the program for four-year-olds? Did anyone start their child at a later age and did that work well for your child? How strict is the school about requiring a rest period in which the child must remain still and quiet (and, presumably prone) on a mat? Thanks for your comments! MG
Also, regarding nap times; the upstairs gang is not strict about them--they're also trying to support them get ready for kindergarten when they won't be taking naps. Some kids sleep, some rest, some go outside. Actually when Rory was downstairs and finishing her Lion Cub year, she was not into sleeping and was into keeping others awake. The teachers got her ''helping'' the little kids take their nap--she loved being a helper. My daughter's in 1st grade now. I'm very happy we sent her to Via Nova. They've got an excellent group of teachers there now and Ticia is a great director. Good luck on your search. Arl
One of the other strengths I've seen in the older group (in no way limited to Siloni)is a true sense of the children's creativity being harnessed and nurtured. If there was no art or projects on the wall when you went, then maybe it was in an in-between stage. Last year, over about half of the school year, the children did an elaborate series of projects on cars and transportation that combined elements of art(drawings and paintings), science(how cars work, maps and map-making), social understanding(rules of the road), presentations by ''experts'' (parents, a mechanic, a 12 yr old boy who presented on radio controlled cars, a parent who showed them how to change a tire!), math(counting the cars that went by the school and then sorting them into groups by type), etc etc and that was driven by the kids themselves. The kids deceided what they wanted to learn about and then the teachers followed. That was pretty amazing! As a former teacher of more than a decade, I can tell you a lot of schools talk about child-directed and experiential learning but few have made it happen. This to me is the great success of VN. They know their stuff and they have framed their work environment to make it possible.
I've found their art curriculum to be accepting and expansive, much in the way an adult would want to do art. No focus on rote craft projects but a truly supportive and expressive art experience where the children are not focused on everyone doing the same thing and bringing home matching art. At the end of the year there is always an Art show in the vein of a gallery opening, complete with cheese crackers and faux champagne as any opening worth it's salt has. The art is treated with the same respect and veneration as something you'd see at the MOMA. It is really cool.
As far as sleep goes, the state requires a certain amount of rest time a day in schools but as the year rolls on, more and more kids at this age don't nap. What my son did between 4 1/2 and 5 1/2 there was to have quiet time laying down with a book for an hour a day and there were always a couple kids just lollygagging around on mats while the rest slept and it never seemed to be an issue (and rest time in the PRONE position is required I think at all full day programs at this age). If you have any questions please feel free to contact me directly. Rebecca
I thought the upstairs teacher Siloni who should still be upstairs was warm, kind, graceful and very engaged with the children. Best - I thought the two teachers were always respectful and kind. What I loved most about Via Nova is Ticia the director - she keeps involved yet allows the teachers to really own their class and so they really seem to enjoy and be fully engaged and take ownership of what they do. Ticia also seemed to be open to learning new things, getting educated regularly and seemed very compassionate. She seems to really love the children in her care. She also listens very well to the parents.
The children seemed very happy. My son loved it although he was there only three days a week. My understanding was that children that napped went to sleep first while the others played outside. The others then came in a bit later to lie down and have some quiet time, reading a book or just lying quietly. I believe some also could stay outside if they were non-resters but I am not sure about that. No-one was forced to sleep. I thought the upstairs teachers were very respectful. I also felt the teachers needs were considered - they had breaks and time to do their errands and so on. No-one seemed bored or simply non-present as I've seen in a few places.
The teachers combined have varied backgrounds and interests and a good educational mix. Some are from other nations. They bring their diverse interests to their teaching. A few teachers have their own child there (not in their class) - a wonderful way to bring their hearts fully to the school...it actually seems to work at Via Nova due to the structures they have in place.
I thought they do interesting projects and plenty of creative thinking. Parents can meet with the teachers and class parents as a group every other month or so and contribute to the ideas for class activities. There is a work requirement that allows you to stay involved and a few events a year.
They teach a form of conflict resolution to the children. The older children and younger get to interact during breaks and lunch and at days end.
I found it to be a very inclusive school - I saw single parents, co-parents, single-by-choice mums, gay dads, lesbian moms, multi- ethnic families all feel quite at home there. Shy kids and outgoing kids seemed to do fine there. It is wheel chair accessible. It felt like an eclectic all-are-welcome 'Berkeley' kind of school...
I highly recommend it - it worked for us after a long search for the 'right' pre-school...this seemed to fit my values and needs best and had a space when we needed it. It's kinda like trying on shoes...If it doesn't fit your values and your family please do find a school that does - what is unacceptable for one family may be fabulous for another. Best wishes. happy via nova alumni
Hello, I'm looking for some recent reviews of Via Nova preschool (the reviews in the archives are about 2 years old). We're looking for a preschool for this fall when our son will be 2.9. Are there any current Via Nova families who can tell me about the school? Do you like the program, do you feel it is stimulating enough for your child? What is the application process like, and do you have tips for getting someone to return calls? We have heard a lot of good general things about Via Nova, but have not had any success in getting a call back. Thanks in advance for your help. cachien
We plan to send our young children there when they are old enough - Via Nova starts with 2-year-olds (Belugas), has a three-year-old room (Lion Cubs) and then the older kids (Dinosaurs). Kids don't have to be potty trained. The teachers are very involved, interested and work with the children to help them negotiate their world. There are lots of field trips, enrichment classes (such as music, sign language, dance - covered by the regular tuition) and trainings for staff to keep them up on child development and learning.
The school is ethnically diverse and has queer families, single moms, involved dads, and families with adopted children. And the parents all serve the school in some way through volunteer time - spent on committees, or doing activities best suited to their skills.
You will always hear that the communication could be better - between the staff and the parents, but this is not something that should dissuade you from checking out this wonderful, enlivening school. Also, there's a fairly active email list for the Via Nova community which helps everyone at the school stay informed. Keep calling until you get a call back. It's worth it. Via Nova Fan
You asked about getting a call back. Unfortunately, you've hit upon the one big drawback of Via Nova. The director is a wonderful person in many ways, and overall I think she does a great job, but administrative stuff is not her forte, and she's notoriously bad about returning phone calls. Fortunately, this has been less of an issue since my son started at the school, because Ticia is there nearly every day, so I can just talk to her when I see her.
I don't know what to recommend other than persistence. The next time you call and leave a message, I recommend saying ''This is the xth time I've called, and I'm hoping you'll be able to call me back SOON''. That should get Ticia's attention. Or, just show up at the school and follow a parent in -- Ticia is generally there by 9:30.
I know people who've decided against VN because of this one problem, but the way I look at it, all preschools will have their strengths and weaknesses. At VN, at least the one weakness is not one which negatively impacts on the experience the children have at the school.
You also asked about the application process. I found that to be quite straightforward -- I sent in the application (in December for the following September) and got a call back from Ticia almost right away, letting me know that my son had been accepted. Admissions are done on a rolling, first come first served basis. I believe the classes for Sept. 06 are close to full, so if you do want to apply, I recommend doing so right away.
If you have any more questions, feel free to email me personally. Diane
I'm looking for thoughts on Via Nova preschool. We're considering it for our 4 year old son. Any comments about the present staff and the school would be much appreciated Thank you. Berkeley mom
But - the downside is in the adult realm. The administrative functions are patchy. You may find, as many have, that it takes many tries to get a return call when you call to find out about the school. This, unfortunately, can continue while you're there. If you catch the director at the school, she'll give you her full attention, but if you don't, it can be difficult. The teachers are available and knowledgeable, so it's not hard to get information about your child, but administrative/communication issues on a larger scale don't work very well at the school. That, frankly, has driven me insane at times. But I still am glad that my son has been there - I think it has been great for him. A Via Nova Mom
But, the best part, is that the teachers are SO wonderful, loving, kind and gentle. My son has been there for a year and a half and we are so pleased to have found Via Nova. Also, there are children there who have food allergies and the staff are very helpful in this area.
You can call Ticia Casanova, the director, at 848-6682 to check out the school. B Avalon
The play based approach and enthusiasm for cooperation and exploration have definitely benefitted Max now that he is in public school. All the teachers are genuinely interested in the children.
The daily activities are varied, but there is a sense of structure that little ones need. Though we left before the upstairs "older" section was finished, I felt that the staff found creative ways to engage children with age appropriate activities. The regular parent/teacher conferences are also wonderful opportunities to address concerns and create goals for the future.
They've just recently expanded, so there's a downstairs program for the 2-3 year-olds, and the upstairs for the 4-5 year-olds -- and consequently there are probably a lot of openings for two-year-olds right now. The playground is large and conducive to varied outdoors activities -- the kids can bike around, play in the sandbox or a fi-bar covered open area, or play in the "clubhouse" which has a slide and a spider-web climbing structure.
Is the program too structured for a two-year-old? I don't think so. Children have lots of options for play. When arriving in the morning, the teachers usually have some kind of art-based project for the kids. The painting easel is also set up for morning time -- so if a child doesn't want to participate in the group project, she/he can paint at the easel. There are many other play areas set up, and it's the child who decides where to go -- the puzzle/lego area, or the big block/construction kinds of play things or the dress-up area. When the weather is nice the kids play outside -- though there are times when kids can choose to play inside or outside.
Every day is supplemented with an enrichment activity that is led by a teacher who comes for just that activity. There's sign language, Spanish, music, puppetry (led by one of the moms), and movement. The enrichment teachers are well loved by the children. About once a month the kids go on field trips -- usually to the PFA for children's films.
Ticia Casanova, the director, holds quarterly meetings for the parents to discuss various issues relating to the school, as well as a different child development issues and on play-based child development. Sometimes she invites a child psychologist to lead discussion on topics like effective discipline for children. We also have parent-led committees, like the Earthquake Preparedness committee. And a monthly newsletter is issued by one of the parents, in coordination with the director. Probably the biggest challenge for the director has been in hiring teachers who are truly dedicated to the philosophy of the school and who use appropriate discipline with the children. Since we've been at the school, three teachers were hired and then asked to leave when their philosophies clashed with the school. We've appreciated Ticia's willingness to hold out for the best teachers -- I really think the current group of teachers is wonderful. Most of them have taught at preschools for years, and they're all very gentle, patient, and respectful of the children, as well as a lot of fun! There's *lots* of appreciation among the parents and children for the teachers of Via Nova. Another feature of the school, at least currently, is that there are a number of gay and lesbian families -- right now there are seven gay and lesbian families (four of the kids will be going on to Kindergarten in the fall). Via Nova provides a very supportive environment for children of gay and lesbian parents.
I'd encourage you to visit the school and talk to Ticia. If you want to talk to me more, you can call me at 643-2 Sally
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