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Alternative Schools & Independent Study
My 14 year old HATES school. She does well in school, is very responsible, but
just hates it. She starts getting depressed at the beginning of August, thinking
about school starting in the fall. She is basically depressed until June. She
hates it all: the homework, the cliques, teachers assigning assignments that
seemingly go nowhere (that is, she cannot see a goal or a reason for the
assignments), dislikes most teachers and only tolerates other students.... She
is friendly enough, but goes through the day in a sort of non-committed way,
resenting the whole institution. Part of me wants to shout, ''Suck it up! The
rest of us do!'' But the other part of me wants her to be happy, value education
and learning, enjoy her day, feel stimulated and engaged....
Is there such a school? A school where she does not have to sit and be bored six
hours a day? She goes through all the motions, gets A's, but is so depressed that
I am worried about her. She has three more years of high school. This seems to
be a SCHOOL issue, as she is not depressed in other areas of her life. She is
active in sports, has hobbies that she enjoys, is funny and sweet. But she
hates, hates, hates school and it is a dark cloud in her life (and mine, by
Any ideas of alternative schools that will not treat her like a robot?
Can't fathom three more years of this
One alternative I highly recommend is Tilden Preparatory School (on Solano Ave in
Albany, also a branch in downtown Walnut Creek) for middle through high schoolers. My
child was there for middle school last year due to a chronic illness and it was a
godsend. Students there may be Olympic athlete hopefuls, musical prodigies, have
chronic illnesses or learning disabilities, or just in need of a more
intellectually-engaging environment --- but each student's classes are tailored to
him/her and to his/her schedule. My child took algebra, history, science, english and
latin one-on-one with fabulous and stimulating teachers, all with advanced graduate
degrees! Wow! It went from a potentially completely wasted year to a year of
stimulation and learning, accomplished at his own pace (which was very fast once he
was finally feeling better, and I credit sending him to Tilden Prep as part of what
finally led to his complete and full recovery). There are full time as well as
part-time students, electives like photography, and some academic group classes, as
well as optional club meetings and discussion groups at lunchtime. It might just be
the stimulating alternative your child could thrive in.
Thankful Tilden Prep parent
I really encourage you to meet with the Directors of Tilden Preparatory School on
Solano in Albany.
If it wasn't for this school, I'm not sure my son would have finished high school.
They truly understand the issues we face with our kids and get why they have lost
faith in education.
My son had an amazing one on one teacher named Myles, who connected with him in a very
special way. My son says he will never forget him and will always hold him in high
regard. I am eternally grateful to Myles and to this school.
I wish you luck as you navigate this difficult time. I wish I had found Tilden
earlier than I did
A supportive parent
Check out Maybeck High School in Berkeley. Very academically stimulating and has a
personal touch. Classes are very small and taught seminar style. More like college
than a traditional high school.
Happy Maybeck Parent
My heart goes out to your girl. My kid, just starting middle school, found school
torturous for many of the same reasons. We opted to homeschool and now have her
enrolled at Tilden College Prep, which is also serves high school kids. It is an
alternative school in Albany & Walnut Creek that basically one on one tutoring with
group electives and clubs. The teachers customize curriculum to meet your child's
interests while also meeting standards. They even have AP class options for high
schoolers. It is not cheap, but neither is private school, that still has
unpredictable social dynamics and hit or miss curriculum. If your daughter is as
smart as she seems, she can have less hours with the teacher and work more
independently to get through the coursework. They have open enrollment as long as
they have teacher availability. Also, you may want to check out support from Jade
Rivera. She is a huge advocate for girls that are gifted and are struggle in
traditional schools. I believe she has a scholarship option - 4 free sessions - to
counsel, support, and commiserate with your daughter. If not, she has a sliding scale
for those that need it. I encourage you to check her out: http://jadeannrivera.com
Maybeck High School in Berkeley is the most respectful one I know. The faculty
actually treat the students like people who can be responsible for themselves and
their own learning - and student representatives are part of the disciplinary system
for those who have trouble with that. The classes are rigorous and engaging, the
student body is inclusive and diverse, and the students end up feeling both confident
in their own sense of self as well as well-prepared for college.
Maybeck Mom of 3 Alumni
Not sure if private school is an option or not. I went to Maybeck in the early 1990s
and loved it.
I get the impression the school is less ''alternative'' now than it was- more
''college prep'' (even though the academics were amazing when I was there from a
But anyway I think people still like it and it definitely instilled a love of school
in me- would still be in school but for $$ - JD and LLM later...
Class of '93
I'm sorry your daughter's having such a tough time. Check out Maybeck High School in
Berkeley. My jock-ish son is a sophomore there and he loves it. I've long been
impressed with the strong sense of community and tolerance for every sort of kid;
there are goths, geeks, genderflexible, mainstream, foreign exchange students, punks,
even an evolution-denying Christian. And they all get along! Amazing, I know.
Tolerance is taught and expected. Community is built from the get go with the
beginning of the year all-school camping trip (where there are workshops and summer
reading is discussed), and the year end camping trip. All students are expected to
contribute, from participating in workshops to washing dishes.
My son struggled with time management his freshman year - he's involved with a
competitive sport six days a week - and his grades were flagging. Towards the end of
the year, he finally realized that his teachers were on his side; wanting him to be
successful, and that their availability at lunch and email updates to me were to help
him be successful. What a breakthrough!
And then there are the Special Programs. Every Spring, approximately seven different
programs are offered for a two week period. The teachers design and lead the
programs. Last year's included a trip to Ashland for the Shakespeare Festival (they
went to plays, met the actors, made fake blood, etc), caving in Belize, and more
locally, mural making, a photography course (lots of field trips and learning
photoshop). The cost of the programs varies quite a bit, but there is financial aid so
that every student gets to be a part of an international trip. At the end of Special
Programs, the community gets together for ''Slide Night'' - to share learning and
experiences and reconnect.
After a year of being a Maybeck parent, I attended the graduation, along with much of
the entire school community, and, again, I was floored: Each graduate gave a speech -
some short, some long, but everyone was heard and celebrated. There was so much love,
and so many amazing, thoughtful, funny, and grateful things were said. This event
cemented my respect and affection for Maybeck.
Wishing you the best in finding the right school/community for your daughter.
You might try exploring the vibrant homeschooling world. There are many of us who
homeschool our kids for just these reasons and therefore can allow our children to
pursue passions and love learning. You might look at http://www.quantumcamp.com/
which has an east bay campus. She may also be a great candidate for junior college
classes. poking around Hoagies might also help,
letting them fly
My 15 year old recently left high school due to acute anxiety and
depression. I am now looking for an independent study program so that
he can complete high school at home. I cannot afford private
independent study programs. Does anyone have experience with this
situation, or know anything about alternative ways to educate a high
I have tried Berkeley High independent study program but they are not
Mom at a loss
The California Virtual Academy is an accredited independent free public school program.
They have a curriculum as well as a teacher who will meet with the student on a regular
basis. Here's the link to their website to get you started: http://www.k12.com/cava/.
even offer special services, such as speech-language therapy, when needed. Good luck in
finding the right match for your son.
If you're looking for public school options, there are two home study
charter schools that go through high school, Connecting Waters and
Basis. I haven't used them so I don't know any details, but I do know
that they both offer a curriculum of subjects you work through at
home, with periodic teacher meetings.
My older daughter attended 10th through 12th grades at Venture in
San Ramon, it is an independent study public school that took us as
transfers from Contra Costa county. She had an excellent experience
there and is now a college sophmore at a UC. My younger daughter is
currently enrolled at Vista, which is an independent study public
school in San Pablo. You could check them both out and see if
either would work for you.
my kids couldn't stand high school either
There's a terrific book that can help guide you in analyzing your child's needs and
searching for alternative education methods. It's ''The Picky Parent Guide: Choose Your
Child's School with Confidence'' by Bryan Hassel and Emily Ayscue Hassel. A treasure trove
of information, it's available from pickyparent.com. We decided not to go the independent
study route and finally found the perfect school for our 9th grader, who loathed
school: Envision Academy in Oakland. Search this BPN site for previous postings on this
school. Best of luck--your child is lucky to have you as an advocate.
My high school sophomore is at odds with his high-pressure
Lamorinda high school environment - he's extremely bright,
but not engaged with classes/teachers. He manages decent
grades but is working under capacity. He is quiet, seriously
into computers and somewhat socially isolated, and had some
depression last year which has improved with treatment. I
wish we could find a place where he'd get more attention,
have less pressure and could allow himself to catch fire
with his classes. We might be able to handle a private
school for a year or two, or would consider letting him try
DVC. Looking for good advice from others who have been here.
Also looking for comments on the School for Independent
Learners or options such as Bentley in this area. Thanks in
Consider Orinda Academy
for your teen. Small class size with a lot of
individual attention, responsive teachers, nice kids, accepting
community. My son is a sophomore there, and is thriving.
My son, too, struggled with similar problems-- wasn't engaged with his high school classes,
spent way too much time on the computer playing video games, and was not very social. He
also struggled with anxiety. I took him out of his too large and too hectic high school and
is doing much better at the
School for Independent Learners
in Albany. The directors, Shary
and Karen, are fantastic, and so are the teachers. I wish I'd known about this school when
my son first began high school. It is wonderful to see him excited about learning.
If you believe your son is capable of working independently, you
might want to consider enrolling him at Venture
(http://www.venture.srvusd.k12.ca.us/), an independent study school
which is part of the San Ramon Valley public school system. My
daughter hated high school and started at Venture the end of 10th
grade, graduated last spring and is now a freshman at UC Santa Cruz.
If you would like to know more about our experience at Venture feel
free to email me.
My son went to Miramonte in Orinda for his freshmen year and became
very depressed. The kids were cliquish and cruel. He did like his
English class because the teacher, Mr. Lytton, was creative and
inspired, but my son was not impressed by his other teachers.
We are sending him to Bentley this
year and he has a lot of respect for all of his teachers. Also, he is
a guitarist and he is thrilled with the music program. Socially
things are OK - not great - but the Bentley administration and faculty
take the well-being of the students very seriously. Intolerance and
the kind of teasing that goes on at Miramonte is not allowed. It may
be a better place for your son - I don't know - it is so hard to know
what to do when your child is depressed. I hope things work out for you.
Dear Lamorinda Mom,
go for private school. Your sophmore sounds like the perfect candidate.
I have Three kids, all different, and I have had to research all kinds of school. I would be
happy to speak to you and pass on anything information I can. Feel free to email and I will
give you my phone no.
My son has had great success at Holden High School
in Orinda. The
staff is supportive, understanding and dedicated. The class sizes
are small so the students get more attention and are less
distracted. There is also a counseling component built into the
program. Found to be very helpful for teens. A great sense of
community and acceptance is felt between staff, students and
families. Check it out at www.holdenhigh.org. It is the East Bay's
best kept secret in our opinion. Best of luck to you and your son.
I have a 14 y.o. boy who hust started high school in
Albany.He's smart but has a bad track record with motivation
and doing work. He states school really bores him and the high
school is no exception. If he straightens up with his
responsibilities and does okay this year I promised him We'd
get him into Berkeley High or maybe Bekeley's independant
program. I've heard of ''intern schools'' where the student goes
to class 3x a week and then sits in on some college classes 2x
a week.I haven't had any luck finding any.So...can anyone tell
me of their recommendations,experiences about any of these
modes of learning? I would ideally like a combination of
independant and classroom work. I don't think I could handle an
intense or exclusively home based program.Thanx in advance
You might want to consider Venture H.S., which is an
independent study high school, part of the San Ramon School
District. My daughter also hated high school, and at
Venture she can work independently under the supervision of
a teacher, and take community college classes also. Their
website is http://www.venture.srvusd.k12.ca.us/default.asp
Check out Urban Renaissance on
Stanford near the Oakland/Berkeley border ... (click for full review)
Just a second on Urban Renaissance in Oakland. My older
daughter attended a similar school in Napa ...
I am a Co-Director at Holden High School, a small private
school in Orinda. We work with students like your son who
are bright, but have not enjoyed or have been bored by
school. Our school schedule is such that students have
flexibility to take community college classes:we have a
fairly short school day, and we have a requirement that
students take at least 1 community college class. If you
would like more information, please feel free to email me,
call the school to have a brochure sent, or check out our
web-site at www.holdenhigh.org. It may not be the right fit,
but might be worth checking out. Good luck in your search!
Co-Director at Holden High School
this page was last updated: Aug 30, 2014
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