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Academic vs. Non-Academic Schools
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Academic vs. Non-Academic Schools
We have a son who is in 3rd grade. He is at grade level for
writing and reading but is below grade level for math. He
has some learning differences (not dyslexic) and is a well
liked and very kind boy.
It has been suggested to us that we start looking for
another school next year because the curriculum at our
school is geared for kids who are at or above grade level
and would be too stressful for our son.
Can anyone recommend a private school that is middle of the
road - not one that is trying to prove itself academically
and where it is okay for kids to not have to excel at
everything? Our son will likely always be at or below grade
level. Is there a kind, loving and accepting private school
out there in the East Bay for a kid like this?
Take a look at East Bay Waldorf School. Kids progress at
their own pace, with lots of gentle creative and outdoor time.
it worked for us
There are lots of schools in the East Bay that fit the
description of ''a private school that is ... not trying to
prove itself academically.'' In fact there are only a
handful that are! But I can personally
recommend taking a look at Walden School in Berkeley. We are
starting there for 4th grade in September after realizing we mis-judged
our previous private school, which turned out not to be a good place for our kid.
We are very pleased with the decision. Our nephew went to Walden and is now in
high school. He was very well prepared academically, though
he was difficult as a young kid, and I think he would not
have succeeded in other schools. He LOVED Walden. In my opinion, Walden is a
small enough school that every child can be met at her/his
own level, but at the same time the bar is very high, and
the teachers, most of them long-term, seem to be
outstanding. Plus, the emphasis on arts makes school fun and
challenging for kids. Check it out!
Consider Walden Center and School for your son. At Walden
academics are important, but they are part of a wider
curriculum that is developmental and high individualized,
because, well, academics aren't enough. The emphasis at
Walden is on helping kids love to learn and helping them
The curriculum is both rich and deep, and fully integrates
the arts, helping kids find the ways they learn best. Walden
kids are confident, self-expressive, and respectful of
diverse ways of being. They go out into the world and become
passionate, compassionate, and accomplished adults. Walden
graduates are an incredibly diverse bunch of people and
include foresters, theater directors, teachers, engineers,
carpenters, entrepreneurs, midwives, musicians, professors,
and yes, Harvard alumni, to name a few. At Walden
achievement goes beyond academics.
Our daughter is thriving there and we are very happy. Walden
is small, so all the teachers and students know her. She is
part of a learning community that values diversity, respect,
and creativity. At Walden you'll find a wide range of
learning styles and levels because Walden reflects the world
in all its diverse glory. Feel free to contact me if you
There is a very interesting myth on the west coast it
seems that private schools in general are (too) academic.
I found that when we went looking for a private elementary
school for my sons that few really were too academic. I
found there were at least a half dozen great schools that
balance academics and social development in very creative
ways. The trick was in HOW they taught academics -for all
kinds of minds? for the kids? for the scores?... Kids
coming into private schools, like any schools, bring a mix
of abilities and interests. So you might look to see
which of the privates you'd consider are able to keep the
ones struggling in any topic engaged, progressing and
confident while the 'advanced' ones are also engaged,
progressing at their level and confident to take risks for
the next level. We chose Redwood Day for a ton of reasons
but also I think you'd find 'differentiated learning' at
Park Day and St. Pauls, Prospect Sierra, etc. (so many
Hi, I'd recommend that you look at Crestmont School in the
Richmond hills. crestmontschool.org -- It is a very
community oriented school with a multi-age format. It is a
parent-owned co-op but the staff are credentialed teachers.
It is the only cooperative elementary school K-5 in the East
Bay and the children are taught to be and actually model
being loving, responsible, and accepting members of their
community. The multi-age format of the school can support
kids who are struggling in some areas and are at or above
grade-level in others. The school also has a learning
specialist who works with kids who need extra help in some
subjects, in small groups during the school day. The
curriculum is based on an integrative model in which a
subject is examined through many lenses reading, research,
math, science, and art. It can provide deep linkages among
the academic disciplines and help open up kids to doing
things like math without even realizing it. There is great
attention to the whole child. My son has been there for
three years and it has been a satisfying choice for us. A
bonus to the co-op is that the school is about half the
price of other private schools in the EBISA network. The
workload as a parent in the co-op is honestly about what my
sister-in-law commits to the public school where her
children attend. Good luck in your search.
I am not sure what you mean by ''not too academic,'' but I
assume you mean that learning should be fun and should
foster a love of learning rather than just concentrating on
rote memorization and fact-gathering. If you are looking for
a school that can foster inquiry and curiosity, as well as
establish a solid foundation for your child to be able to
formulate questions, understand and process information, and
apply those skills to their daily living and long-term
learning, then you may want to look at The Berkeley School.
TBS offers a visionary education where each child is truly
known, and can go on to succeed at the high school of their
choice. For me personally, it's refreshing to be at one of
the independent schools that teaches students the importance
of how to think for themselves.
East Bay Waldorf School, though it is academic, recognizes
that children learn in different ways, so we teach to all
different types of learning styles be it auditory
processors, visual processors, kinesthetic processors. We
also relate the curriculum to the human being, so nothing,
even complex mathematics processes, seem arbitrary to a
child. Our human centered approach creates interest in the
child. We also work very hard to develop a child's ability
to form inner, imaginative pictures. This ability to form
inner pictures enables a student to picture complex
mathematics, physical, and chemical processes as they move
through the curriculum. One more unique quality about the
Waldorf approach is that a teacher moves with his or her
students for as many years as possible through the grades,
which allows a teacher to really know a child including
their individual learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses.
Because the curriculum is so rich -- academics, music,
foreign language, fine art, drama, practical arts, movement
-- every child has the potential to find their place and be
celebrated for who they are as an individual. I have a
feeling your son is very bright and talented, maybe he just
needs to be in the right environment to grow into the
amazing human being he surely is?
Best wishes in your search, Jodi Casey (Admissions East Bay
Waldorf School and Parent of 3 Waldorf High Schoolers)
I hope I'm not too late to reply to your post...your son
sounds like a perfect fit for Archway School. Please come
visit! My son has been there since kindergarten and is now
in 3rd grade. We are diverse, welcoming, small, and we have
outstanding, caring teachers that are the heart of the
school. My son has learned SO MUCH in his time there, but it
has never felt like a pressure-filled hyper academic
environment. So much learning by doing and critical thinking
goes on--and the kids seem to relish the opportunities they
get to take charge of their own environment (student
government in 3rd grade, camping trip planning and
execution, conflict resolution, cross-grade buddies for
reading). I am so confident that my son will be ready for
high school when he leaves Archway, but it won't be because
he has competed or has been tested to death, but because of
the richness of the curriculum and the amazing teachers he
has had. Full disclosure--had my son tested this fall for
suspected learning issues, and he has some, not big ones but
they have been particularly evident the last two years
(processing speed and associated anxiety). Great help from
teachers and specialists.
As a parent (and ex-teacher) with two happy school kids,
I would suggest that you consider Archway School. I think
you might find that it offers just the right balance of
being academic without the stress and competitive
nonsense. The small class sizes, hands on approach to
learning, and rich curriculum keep kids engaged and makes
learning fun. You can contact Archway School at 510-547-
4747 or 510-849-4747. Good luck.
happy archway parent
Aurora School in the Oakland hills is a small, progressive
K-5 school that focuses on each child's learning style and
needs, with great attention and kindness. My now-fourth
grader began there in third grade. I am very happy with
the welcome he received and the continuing support he gets
from the Aurora community.
I would encourage you to visit Archway School. The small
class size, emphasis on experiential learning and
commitment to meeting the needs of each child make it a
supportive and safe environment. At Archway, being kind
and supportive of each other is every bit as important as
academics. Children are taught to love learning for it's
on sake and all efforts are supported.
In the last five years I have seen many children who
struggled in other schools thrive at Archway School.
Teachers work closely with students and families to
support learning at all levels. They also build
relationships with students that encourage curiosity,
participation and best efforts.
Over and over I have seen a child arrive in the morning to
shadow a class looking scared and uncertain. At the end of
the day that same child is laughing, playing and eager to
Could parents of College Preparatory School (CPS)
students please share with us which middle
school your child attended? Do you feel that the middle school did
a good job preparing your child to succeed at CPS (succeeding with
one sport and one musical instrument commitment)? How does the CPS
homework load compared to that particular middle school homework
load? Are there any academic areas that your child felt he/she
wasn't well prepared for CPS? Did the middle school prepare your
child for study skills needed at CPS (or any high school for that
We're not sure we are a fit for CPS but would like to keep our
You asked ''which middle school your child attended?''
''Do you feel that the middle school did a good job preparing your
child to succeed at CPS?'' Yes, but I think it was more her than
anything about Bentley. ''How does the CPS homework load compared to
that particular middle school homework load?'' She felt the workload
was actually a lot less her freshman and sophomore years than she'd
been used to at Bentley; then it ramped up. ''Are there any academic
areas that your child felt he/she wasn't well prepared for CPS?'' No.
Did the middle school prepare your child for study skills needed at
CPS (or any high school for that matter)?'' Absolutely.
FYI, for my own amusement, I used to keep a tally of which middle
schools the incoming CPS freshman came from. Last time I did this was
for the class of 2011 (this year's juniors). There were 40 different
schools represented that year. Bentley, Head Royce, Ecole Bilingue,
Dorris Eaton, Black Pine Circle, St. Paul's, Redwood Day and the like
tend to be well-represented every year (and were that year), but well
over half the class of 2011 came from other middle schools. I'd worry
more about whether the middle school is a good fit right now.
My daughter just graduated from CPS and loved it. It is, however,
not for everyone. Most of the kids are very bright and academics are
everything. My daugher attended the Academy for middle school and
they, at the time, did an adequate job preparing her (she is in
college now). My son now attends The Academy and it is much better
now than it was five years ago. They have beefed up the science and
math programs tremendously, as well as French. They have also hired
a teacher to come in exclusively to help with writing(one area that
has been a bit of a concern to parents). I would highly recommend
the Academy. CPS, in my opinion, is the best of the private schools
in the area and one of the best in the country.
Short answer: I have a freshman at CPS who went to
St. Paul's. He
says he has to stretch intellectually much more than in middle school
but is very happy and enjoying the academic rigor. He summed up:
Success at CPS is more about motivation than academic preparation. I
am happy to talk specifics if you want to contact me directly.
Students come to Prep from a wide variety of middle schools--private,
public, charter, alternative, parochial, homeschool. As the parent of
two current Prep students, I would say that the main factor in success
at Prep is not a specific middle school as much as the characteristics
of an individual student. Prep is a great fit for energetic teens
excited about learning in all its many guises. Some children, notably
those from very academic schools, do come better prepared in the
mechanics of grammar and mathematics as well as in time management.
Yet, in terms of overall happiness, intellectual engagement,
extracurricular involvement, social interaction, and connection with
faculty and staff, most students seem very successful no matter where
they went to middle school. Even if ''success'' is defined strictly by
grades, students from every type of school background have the chance
to do well at Prep.
The homework load can be challenging at first for students who did not
attend a highly academic middle school. My two students, who attended
an arts-based alternative school, needed to refine their time
management skills--they both play sports and musical instruments and
had to figure out how to incorporate homework into the mix. That
said, their homework is generally very engaging and even exciting. My
kids will often say how much they enjoy what they are studying, even
if it takes longer than anticipated to complete assignments.
If your child is enthusiastic about learning, Prep can be a great
place no matter where s/he is at school presently.
Berkwood Hedge School
Black Pine Circle
Montessori Family School
Park Day School
We are considering moving to Berkeley and I am looking for a
private school (elementary) for my son. I would like a school
where the academic program is strong and the
atmosphere/families of the kids attending tend more to the
liberal side. I do not want a place where people are too
conservative and the kids talk a lot about money or the moms
look like Barbie dolls. I am not sure I am explaining myself
well...:)) Any input? Thanks in advance.
Looking for school
We are seeking a traditional, quality, if somewhat
conservative private, education for our young child. We are
located in North Berkeley, but the location of the school isn't
as important to us as the curriculum. We are interested in a
prep environment that focuses on core subjects. What we
aren't interested in is modern approaches to subjects or
deviations in history or English, which is often the case with
public education. We welcome all suggestions and
To the person who inquired about traditional conservative
curriculums in private schools, these 3 come to mind from
our searches last year, though we were looking for
something different so I can't give personal experience
1. The Academy, I think in Berkeley, describes themselves
as a rigorous, academic traditional private school.
2. The Ecole Bilangue in Emeryville follows both strict
French and American curricula and seems on the conservative
side in terms of structure, teaching methods, etc. Your
child can attend not having had French, though they may
recommend you enroll him/ her in their preschool program in
Jan. to begin exposure to the language.
3. Athenian School, Danville may be a good fit, I'm pretty
sure they begin in Kindergarten but not certain.
It seems that in Oakland and Berkeley there are great K-5 schools (both public and
private) and there are great high schools (private), but I can't seem to find a great
middle school in this area. Where do the kids who end up at high schools such as College
Preparatory School go to middle school? I'd like to know which middle schools in Oakland
or Berkeley are doing a good job of preparing kids for a rigorous high school.
There are some great ones out there, not a dearth at all, that fully
prepare kids for the rigors of a school like College Prepatory:
Black Pine Circle, Bentley, Head-Royce, The Academy, Windrush,
Prospect-Sierra, Tehiyah, Julia Morgan, Redwood Day, St. Paul's. I'm
sure there are others I've missed. They're all having info days - check
A believer in private middle school
To the parent who wrote:
Where do the kids who end up at high schools such as College
Preparatory School go to middle school?
My son and two of his friends, all now Seniors at CPS, were well-
prepared at Black Pine Circle.
For competitive, high academics for middle school, in the
east bay, check out Prospect Sierra. Contact Lily Shih
232 4123 (510) or lily at prospectsierra.com
In response to the question: '' I'd like to know which middle schools in
Oakland or Berkeley are doing a good job of preparing kids for a
rigorous high school. '' My boys both former CPS graduates both
matriculated from the Academy. The older entered the Academy during
5th grade and the younger 4th grade.
Former CPS parent
In our family we have collectively attended Prospect Sierra
and Windrush and King. I would have to say that in terms of
''rigor,'' meaning that your kid is ahead of the game, King
has the most comprehensive English (they have something
called the Writers Room) and challenging math--a lot of the
King kids end up taking honors geometry at Berkeley high as
eighth graders early in the morning (yikes!). The private
middle schools cannot rival, I believe, what King is strong
in. Our experience, as well as a lot of close friends'
experiences, is that King is lot more challenging, likely
because they are tethered to state and national standards,
than a lot of the private middle schools. Of course,
getting into King is another story and you also have to
consider the psycho-social match of a school like King for
your child. Some kids flourish in ''big'' while other kids
One of our children also attended and left CPS, feeling that
while she was maintaining an A/A- average, she was ''insanely
overworked.'' She is now at another well thought-of
independent high school, but to quote our daughter, ''I now
have a life.'' The most rigorous is not always the best, and
CPS, while undeniably academic, requires an unnatural
commitment to schoolwork. My child's destiny is not changed
by her exodus from CPS, and she is happier.
Someone asked what schools do the best job of preparing
kids for College Prep. A lot of them, judging from last
year's entering class (88 kids). The largest contingent
came from Bentley (10), followed closely by St. Paul's (9),
Julia Morgan (5), Prospect Sierra (5), Tehiyah (5), Head
Royce (4), Dorris Eaton (4), Academy (4), and assorted
others (like Ecole Bilingue and Pacific Academy), including
about 14 kids from various public middle schools. Don't
hold me strictly to these numbers but they're definitely
close. Perhaps the administration can provide more
detailed information if it wishes, but they're obviously
looking at the kids and not the school.
this page was last updated: Aug 30, 2010
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