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Re: Highly gifted ADHD student - which high school?
My daughter was in BISP for most of high school. It worked out well for her, although we worried that she was isolating herself socially, which was probably more a personality issue than a result of working independently. She learned how to study and write papers, she was able to take classes at Berkeley High that she wanted to take, and she is now a college freshman at an institution that values individuality and intellectual rigor. This is not to say that it was an easy road for her or us - she wouldn't consider private school, and BISP was her choice - but she was successful in school, however you measure that, and we're all pleased with where it has taken her so far. former IS parent
My son is a 9th grader in the AHA program at BHS. We really like the AHA teachers and the school. However, our son is having problems with all of the new freedom at BHS. He's been cutting classes on a regular basis. Mostly the ones before and after lunch. This is lowering his grades. He's been recommended for the GATE program, has very high IQ and should be getting straight A's. The problem is that he's not very interested in his education at this point. He's into hanging out with his friends and music. The work that he turns in is A's and B's, but the fact that he's not doing his homework and continues to skip class is hurting him. We are contacting his teachers on a weekly basis for missed homework, etc... All of the ''micro-managing'' is driving us nuts. Of course, he doesn't want to be interrogated about his homework on a daily basis, so it's stressful for all of us. We've tried grounding, taking away privileges and now weekly progress reports. It seems as though none of this is working. He's claims the temptation to cut is too much for him and he feels he would do better if we were to enroll him in Independent Study. My husband and I feel that Ind. Study is a last resort. It seems as though the 9th grade is too soon to be at that point. On the other hand, we want him to graduate and take responsibility for his education. It's a very frustrating situation. We'd appreciate any advice and information regarding the Independent Study program at BHS. anon
We have been considering Berkeley High independent study for our soon-to-be 9th grader next year. However, when I called them recently, I discovered that the previous director, Mary-Louise Newling, who had been so highly spoken of, is no longer with the program! Does anyone know why she left, and what the state of the program is now? Should we be reconsidering our decision? Thanks for any info, positive or negative. anxious parent
I was a parent member of the team that hired Ms. Newling, and she was stellar. We were worried because her predecessor had been so well liked, but were were fortunate. I heard she was leaving, and the Independent Study community worried once again, but again they have been very fortunate. I have met the new administrator and was extremely encouraged and impressed.
I strongly recommend this program. I have seen it do large and small miracles over the years. Personally, I consider it the jewel in the crown of the Berkeley Unified School District. Don't think of it as a last resort (although it may be exactly that). Think of it as the answer to a prayer, because, when it works, that's what it truly is (even if you personally don't pray!)
It is definitely worth your time to check it out. Be warned that they sometimes haved a waiting list, so you may need to be both patient and persistent.
Good luck. Concerned Parent
My fifteen year old son is a 9th grader at BHS. He is a very good student, but has always been someone who didn't like big crowds, and is non-competitive, particularly physically. He's made comments about fights, etc on and off campus, and out-of-control classes, including one in which the teacher seems to have left on stress leave from his chaotic class that he could not manage.
My son wants to try independent study next year to ''work more on my own, do more music.''. He has good study habits, and when he has a project, will work long and hard to get it all done well. BUt Independent study - seems a little young to be doing this, and that it could be potentially isolating. I worry about structure (and structurelessness). He could take 2 classes at school and the rest would be independent work, as I understand it.
We have been blessed with the ability to go to public or private HS, and had all chosen BHS for a number of good reasons. WHen I brought up perhaps going to a smaller school where there would be smaller classes, he was very resistant - he likes the freedom aspect, and has a load of friends at BHS. ANd his strong subjects - math and science - have been very good at BHS. English and history not so much.
I would like to hear about other people's experience with the independent study system at BHS, and at what age. Or any other pertinent thoughts about this kind of situation, other schools, etc.
My sense from your message is that your son will do well there if he chooses to go. I see no reason to fear that he is too young and doubt that he will end up socially isolated. His good study habits will be a major plus, though you will want to make sure he stays on task until you are confident he is doing so reliably.
The program requires that students get their work done between weekly meetings with teachers. In high school a student meets with each subject teacher for 1/2 hour a week; sometimes these ''slots'' are combined into meetings of 3 or 4 students, allowing a longer lecture period.
Classes are conducted on an accelerated basis. This means that a student completes one year's work in a semester. Math is an exception -- courses run at the usual yearly rate but can go faster if a student is particularly interested in or gifted in that area. The trade-off for acceleration is taking fewer courses at any given time -- three is the minimum, equivalent to 5 or 6 BHS courses. Some kids are much better off when they can learn in this more concentrated way, and it doesn't seem to bother any of the ones I've met there. Attrition from the program seems to come primarily from two sources: a desire to have a larger social environment, and inability to keep up with the work on one's own.
Every one of my childrens' teachers have been excellent. There is a heavily used tutor (a Cal student) on campus, and the tutoring program is due to be substantially increased next year by directing more of ISP's BSEP funds to that use.
One teacher formerly associated with the program (now retired) remarked to my wife that after 30 years in Berkeley middle schools she had rediscovered why she went into teaching when she went to the Independent Study program. 1/2 hour per week may not seem like much teaching time, but compare that to a BHS class of, generously, 30 students. 5 days times 55 minutes works out to 275 minutes a week; divided by 30, that is 8.5 minutes per student. Plainly that is only a rough basis for comparison. But the instructional method works and develops independent learners, which should be the goal of ''education'' in all of our schools.
The new director of Independent Study is especially important to any description of the program. The previous director (also very good) left at the end of last school year to teach at an ''American school'' in Budapest. The new director, Mary-Louise Newling, has 30 years of experience in alternative education. She returned here after some years as an administrator in San Bernardino County running programs for troubled populations, because she wanted to get back into a hands-on school setting working directly with students. She hails from Trinidad and was educated in the British tradition through college there, later earned a degree from Oxford and then studied in Spain. After coming to California where she began her career, she earned a Ph.D. from USF and/or St. Mary's, where she also taught extensively. She has tremendous presence, vast energy, great leadership qualities, high standards, consistent expectations, and is utterly no-nonsense. At the same time, she is warm, compassionate and understanding -- if a kid is willing to work at learning, she is more than willing to help. Many administrators talk about a passion for education. Ms. Newling doesn't...she just lives it. What else can I say? She interviews all incoming students and parents, so you'll meet her.
Drawbacks: There's a standard science program at ISP but to take lab classes students must go to BHS. I know that students take AP classes, but am not sure where -- probably also at BHS. French and Spanish are offered at ISP; other foreign languages not. Students can take up to 2 courses a semester at BHS if they want more choices, or simply want to be there part of the time.
That said, I must caution that BHS has made it difficult for returning ISP students to get scheduled for BHS classes at the beginning of the year, due to its frequent (pervasive?) administrative ineptitude, inertia and ''overwhelm.'' Overcoming this has required aggressive advocacy to avoid your child finding themselves two or three weeks behind when they finally get into the class. Ms. Newling intends to fix this and, knowing her, I'm confident that she will have made vast improvements for the coming year. If your son transfers in at the beginning of the fall semester after getting a BHS schedule this may be less of a problem for you anyway.
However, ISP has a district-imposed cap of 200 students and does fill up, so apply now for the fall. And ''apply'' is the operative word -- ISP does not have to accept students deemed inappropriate for the program. On that score, however, in general the approach is to give anyone who wishes the opportunity to succeed or fail rather than to exclude them up front. And the director is very committed to alternative education as a way to provide all kinds of kids with an opportunity to learn.
As for social isolation, my view is that ISP doesn't lead to this but rather that it provides a place where all kinds of kids -- social or retiring -- feel safe and comfortable. Your son will retain his ''outside'' friends to the extent that he wants to, and this will be even easier if he takes one or more classes at BHS. My children see their friends outside of school anyway. Independent Study is a somewhat fragmented social community due to the class scheduling, which can easily lead to friends being at the school at times that don't overlap. On the other hand, some kids spend a significant amount of time hanging around and/or studying there, and are always most welcome so long as they are not disruptive. Efforts are underway to improve the sense of community among the parent body. There is a wonderful chess program.
Finally, a word on diversity: many parts of the Berkeley community are deeply prejudiced against ISP on the ground that it is an elitist school for high-performing white kids from the hills. That is anything but true. The students are very diverse and reflect the Berkeley population in every way. There are only two major differences from BHS: disruptive behavior is not tolerated, and students are held accountable for their work. Failure to turn in three weeks' assignments, or skipping teacher meetings, is grounds for dismissal from the program. These expectations are enforced, though with reason and compassion. Personally I am heartened by the students' good manners, friendliness towards each other and adults, and seriousness about learning.
I'll close with an example. Recently I ran into a kid whom I met in previous years at ISP -- we became acquainted because he shares the same given name as my younger son. He was a quiet, average student who might well have been distracted from his education at BHS due to its craziness and sometimes unhealthy social pressures. He graduated thorough ISP last year and now has a full time job at a local business. This might well not have happened had he not attended ISP. He is on his way to a successful life, and quite likely to college in due time. For me, this story -- which I've seen with all kinds of kids there, be they ''average'', ''skaters'', Lenny Bruce fans, dancers or budding film directors -- is the highest recommendation for, and greatest accomplishment of, the Independent Study Program.
Re: Under challenged daughter at BHS
My bright, creative daughter attended Berkeley High School's Independent Study program for two years and LOVED it! Most of the teachers are attentive, intelligent, respectful, and committed to their unique students. The academic rigor was challenging as was taking charge of what she did when and how much effort she was willing to expend. Some of the courses are one on one with the teachers, some are taught with small groups of kids. There are tutorials, field trips, a sweet little campus; and some kids feel a real sense of community with other Independent Study students and the staff. Even arts (e.g. ceramics) and creative writing classes are offered, though not chemistry and other lab classes (except for the fabulous biology course which used an innovative computer program to satisfy the barbaric dissection requirements). She took some of her courses at Vista College and at Laney, and even completed some requirements online via community colleges during the summer. Her lofty goal was to finish high school in 3 years (plus the college classes in the summers) and she succeeded with flying colors, graduating early and being admitted to the University of British Columbia where she has been a happy, independent, self-motivated first year university student since September 1st.
Independent Study may not be a good fit for some students, but for mine it was perfect! As a therapist who works with teens and the cofounder of a middle school, I am always asking questions and observing the evolution of adolescents, and, for some students, Independent Study has been a crucial step on the path toward a successful academic and psychological future. You might talk to the head of the program (she's new, so I don't know her) and even go in for an interview or visit with your daughter. Independent Study is an option and an excellent one. And, she can always enroll in classes, attend events, join clubs on the main campus and take advantage of whatever is available at Berkeley High! You can call Independent Study at (510) 644-8592. Sorry to go on and on but Independent Study is special and lots of parents and kids don't really know about it.
GOOD LUCK to you and your daughter
My daughter, now a sophomore at Berkeley High, is talking about switching to independent study next semester. She is only a fair student (bright, but not very well disciplined or terribly motivated) and is extremely social. I work, and I'm worried what she's going to be doing all day if she's not actually in classes. Is this a prescription for trouble? Should I insist she have some structured plan for her time? Should I let her give it a try and see what happens? I know some kids have done well with independent study. Have they had other activities going thatused some of that free time? I'm interested in other peoples' experience.
It worked wonders for him. While it's true he tended to sleep in much more, he became interested in the subjects, challenged to do good work, and it helped him finish high school with decent grades. Did he smoke pot and hang out with good-for-nothing friends? Yes, but no more than he did before, and as he matured through the process of taking more personal responsibility he became less and less enchanted with that scene. I think it also helped prepare him for college because he got used to the idea that he, and only he, was responsible for getting his work done. He is now going to a very challenging college and has had some trouble adjusting again to lots of class time, but he's also working very hard and doing very well, and I think this is at least to some degree a result of the study habits he learned by going to IS.
I don't think IS is for every kid, and the reasons it worked so well for my son are fairly unique to his personality. He is easily distracted and a bit on the spacey side, plus he has some relatively mild learning disabilities that either add to or are the cause of these qualities. So the chaos of some Berkeley High classrooms was understandably particularly hard for him. In addition, one-to-one relationships are very important to him, and at IS he was confronted with being much more directly responsible to his teachers, and he responded to that. For some high school kids that direct and intense relationship with several adult teachers might be intimidating and/or off-putting, but for him it was the perfect thing. I can't say that I foresaw this going into IS, but it played out that way and not only helped him get something good out of high school, but also taught him and me something about what really matters to him.
As to the specific questions asked by the person who wrote in for advice, I do think some additional structured activity is helpful. My son had done a sport his freshman & sophomore years, but quit it for his junior year and the unstructured time was a constant challenge and worry that year. He returned to the sport his senior year and that helped a lot (not just in structure but in his being more exhausted when he wasn't scheduled...). I would also be concerned about your daughter being very social and how she'd do there. My son's one complaint was how hard it was for him to connect with friends, and he did at one point want to return to the main school for his senior year for this reason. Unlike your daughter, while he's social, he also has always wanted his time alone, so if this was an issue for him I can imagine it would be a very big one for your daughter. He did often go to Berkeley High at lunchtime and after school to meet friends, but it just wasn't as good for him as the constant informal contact one gets through the school day. Patrick
My unmotivated teen has been talking about wanting to be in independent study. My problem is that if he isn't currently doing homework when he has a class every day, why would I think he would do homework when he only has to talk to someone once a week? And if we give it a try and it's a disaster, say after one month, he will be too far behind to transfer back into regular classes. Do the people who suggested independent study have kids who were getting Ds and Fs because they weren't going their homework?
Re: Best BUSD Middle School?
Hello, There is a 4th public middle school alternative in Berkeley -- Berkeley Independent Studies, located next to the Alternative High School on Derby/MLK. We enrolled my son, last year for his 6th grade and it has been a good experience for him. I highly recommend the K-8th grade teachers there. The child(and a parent) meet once a week with his/her primary teacher, and one half hour a week with his/her math teacher. They also helped to sponsor a program called Odyssey of the Mind which helped with socialization and they also connected my son to the Berkeley Public Library middle school book group, which was excellent. My son will be giving it a try again for next year, 7th grade, and will probably be enrolling in band at Longfellow. Some electives such as music and art and other subjects can be taken at the regular middle schools. The difficult part is that there needs to be a parent at home to help with instruction, and for us, the first 6th weeks were a bit trying. After that, however, it became easier, as we all were learning and settling into a routine. I have even been able to continue my ''other work'' from home. Overall, this alternative has been a good fit for our son, (for now!)
My son has been in Independant studies this past semester because he was sick of the violence and other ''diversions'' at BHS. We both think I.S. is a great program as it offers a lot of freedom, individuality and and makes it possibile for those seriously into music, art, acting, or other activities to commit to both their high school education and their extracurricular activity. Each kid meets with each of their teachers 1 time a week for 1/2 an hour, plus there are labs, art classes, etc. that take up some additional time. They also have well thought out field trips, such as to movies and theater. It's in a nice, quiet building where the kids can stay and study, use computers, get tutoring and other assistance. I.S. offers a warm, supportive community with dedicated teachers who are there because they want to be -- not because they have to. Unfortuantely, my son is doing very, very poorly. Why? because no matter what me or his teachers do, he doesn't get his work done. He procrastinates, skirts the truth when he fails to do an assignment, skips classes when he's behind (a big no-no when you only go once a week!) The teachers (bless them) have gone over and beyond their duty to try to help, but my son simply won't cooperate and now has completely given up because he's ashamed. He just can't get it together to be organized and stop procrastinating. My advice? If your child is mature and motivated, go for it. It can be a stellar experience. If you're seeking alternatives because you are at a loss of what to do with your child's high school performance, find something with more structure and less freedom. h
Re: Common Ground at BHS
I was lucky enough to get my son in Independent Studies this year, and though it is difficult, he is really enjoying it. No violence, no rowdy's in the classroom, one on one attention, and a flexible daily schedule make this program really neat for those kids who can manage it. However, they currently have a waiting list of 56 kids who are eithering still suffering at BHS, or may have chosen to drop out of school. Heather
Re: Finding the right tutor
I have some experience with tutors and my advice is: finding the right tutor for your kid is a lot like finding the right catfood for your cat. The cat won't touch the first 8 brands you try but you just keep trying new brands and eventually you will find one he'll eat. Maybe it will be one of the expensive brands you have to get from the vet or maybe it will be the cheapo brand you can get at Safeway. You never know till you have tried them all. My teen has gone through 4 different schools and 5 different tutors in the past 8 years. I am not talking about getting help for AP classes - I am talking about just getting him through high school without flunking out. He is smart, and he is creative, but he's very resistant to authority figures telling him what to do. So school is just a disaster. He doesn't do homework just because someone says he should. To him, school is boring, teachers are stupid, and he doesn't need a %$*# tutor! He is right about not needing a tutor - what he needs is someone standing over him with a whip making sure he does the homework. Even he agrees with this. He now goes to Berkeley High Independent Studies because this way he has minimal contact with teachers and the ''Establishment''. This has been a godsend. But I also had to find a tutor to make sure he keeps up with assignments. After many trials I have found just the right person, a teacher from BIS that he especially liked last year. We call it ''homework coaching'' rather than ''tutoring'' and they meet 3 times a week. Sometimes the sessions are more philosophical discussions than homework coaching. They talk about politics, world events, movies, and music. The teacher clearly appreciates the kind of kid my son is, and the mutual regard they have for each other is what has made the tutor relationship work. I think my son has experienced a lot of intellectual growth this year because of the discussions he's had with this teacher, and also has for the first time a non-negative view of school. My son goes to class, and he turns in assignments. Through this tutor, my son has a connection with a teacher and by extension with the school. There have been few times when he has felt connected to school. It is very gratifying. So, try different things, and don't give up. That's my advice. a Mom
My daughter is in independent studies this semester (her senior year). Overall, I think she has been fairly successful, however, the student must be very well organized and be able to plan out how she will be able to get the work done. I think it's much easier to get behind. It might seem as if it's easier than going to BHS, but I don't think this is true. Toby
I would like information from anyone who has a teen doing or who has done independent study. Is the quality and level of the material up to that available at the regular school? How did your teen handle the discipline of getting the work done? How about social life? If he or she was having trouble at Berkeley High, did grades improve? I'm especially interested in experiences of getting into a good college. Miriam
Like anywhere else, some teachers are much, much stronger than others, but the focus on learning, the freedom to integrate outside learning opportunities, the individualized attention, and the respect accorded the students has been impressive. I'd recommend it but only for students with self-directed study habits and social life.
In reply to choosing a high school, ostracism, and math issues . . .
Our two daughters, a sophomore and a senior, have chosen Independent Study, a wonderful program of BHS directed by Rory Bled, located at East Campus (soon to be all new buildings), for reasons related to all those concerns.
Both girls were educated from preschool through sixth grade at an wonderful Montessori school, with most of their elementary years in a single large classroom of 7-12 year olds. The atmosphere was small community/family, there were no grades, no homework (and therefore time to really enjoy other activities--pottery, kung fu, dance, theater, chorus, and family life). The standardized testing each year showed them both to be in the 80-90th percentiles in everything.
In the middle school years, each of them tried a traditional school (one private, one public), and each met with academic success (and boredom) and a very creepy feeling about what goes on socially in a traditional school. Cliques and ostracism (see the discussion on homophobia) are rampant in schoolchildren of middle school age. (After all, who are their models? Hundreds of other insecure children struggling with puberty and pecking order...This seems to improve somewhat in the later teen years in high school.) We decided no school at all was better than a boring academic life and a damaging social life. We found cliques and "valley girl talk" almost non-existent among homeschooled teens. We homeschooled until we discovered Independent Study.
Regarding the dreaded math . . . Neither daughter has shown much interest in math despite marvelous Montessori materials in their early education (though similarly schooled Montessori classmates have become rather "geniuses" in math). Math simply doesn't appear to capture their imaginations, though both have teen friends--girls, no less--who excel in the subject. The older daughter spent two homeschool years struggling with Algebra 1, using a CD ROM program, and a tutor she really liked. She learned it, but never really understood it. At Independent Study, she began studying Geometry with Pam Drew, and exclaimed, "Finally, math that makes sense!" She also has a friend who tutors her from time to time (when she doesn't quite get something). The subject is still not her favorite, but at least she can follow it and is not afraid of it.
The younger daughter just plugs away at Algebra and Geometry, doing it by rote and not by love, but getting A's and B's. My top recommendation is to find a tutor--age doesn't matter, but attitude does. Older, younger, peer, adult--just someone that loves math and knows how to explain it. Someone your kid doesn't mind spending time with. In our case, it was friends--one homeschooler, one from Independent Study. We paid them for their time.
To parents concerned about the above issues, I highly recommend Independent Study, for the great teachers and for the one-on-one contact with teachers and students. No cliques, no crowds, just friendly individual persons. . . It can be quite a relief after the stimulation and chaos and big classes of Berkeley High. The students earn grades and credits for graduation from BHS, have access to AP and other specialized classes, and are eligible to do any activity BHS has to offer. Talk to the Independent Study department chair at 644-8592, and go visit the campus.
There is no way that Independent Study chemistry is the equivalent of the regular BHS chemistry 1-2/D classes which meet 90 minutes/day, 5 days/week. Even with the individualized instruction a student gets in independent study, the regular classes do more labs, do more practice work, and cover more material. Steve Brand (Jan 2000)
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