Gifted Children and Berkeley School District
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Gifted Children and Berkeley School District
My feeling about Berkeley Unified is that my child's teacher has not been
interested in hearing about our gifted child. The feeling, imho, is ''Great you
have a smart kid! Enjoy it and be thankful your child isn't in need of special
services.'' We have experienced some public schools that have been better than
others and some teachers who have been better than others, but the end game in my
child's class has been that those who have been at the bottom have received the
most attention and services. Is that bad? Not necessarily. It's a wonderful and
noble approach. But it still left our child's needs unmet. We experienced lip
service to meeting the needs of ALL children. But that's not what happened for us,
imo. If you want your gifted children to have what they need, again, imho, you
should check out the private schools. There appear to be many wonderful and very
expensive private schools in the area. The city of Berkeley has many, many
wonderful assets for gifted children. The public school we attend has not been one
of them for our gifted child, again, imo.
Parent of a gifted child
We are moving to Berkeley, and my highly gifted child will be in 3rd grade in the
fall. Which schools in the Central zone are good for gifted kids? Please don't say
Berkeley mama (to be)
Your gifted child will do well in BUSD and you will find many smart
kids there. But you don't get to choose which school. The district will
assign you to one of the schools itself.
Based on my eight years (two kids) of experience with one Berkeley public elementary
school in the Central Zone (Berkeley Arts Magnet), I'd say it's more a question of
how individual teachers work with highly gifted kids than anything about the school
in general. Visit some schools, look in the upper-grade classrooms, talk to parents
if you can and then just pick one (without discounting the importance of start time
You don't get to choose which school your child goes to in Berkeley, so
it really all depends upon your relationship with the teachers. A school
could be great at dealing with your gifted child, but you don't get to
choose to send him/her there.
Dear parent of a gifted child.
All of the BUSD public schools have the same budget and similar class sizes. None of them
that I know of have ''gate'' classes.
Most of the extra money at any of the public schools is being spent on kids who are behind
or having trouble learning. NOT on the gifted kids. Pretty much the expectation is that if
you consider your child gifted, the teacher may make suggestions for additional work or
study subjects at home. There may be a teacher who would agree to figure out an
accommodation for your gifted child on an assignment by assignment level, but those teachers
would not be the norm. Because of BUSDs diversity, the teachers at these schools have some
of the widest ''learning gaps'' of any schools in the nation. Parents have to take an active
roll in finding enrichment activities outside of school if the current curriculum doesn't
meet their kids needs... That said, you are going to find that there are a lot of kids who
are high achievers at BUSD, their parents may or may not consider them gifted, but I'm sure
your child will find similar learners.
If this is a concern for you...I would suggest you go to a private school that caters to
gifted children or has smaller class sizes if you don't think your child will do well in a
normal 3rd grade class.
Frankly, a lot of people at BUSD get tired of the parents who talk about their ''gifted''
kid all the time. You might get some eye rolls.
As the parent of a gifted student, I can recommend Berkeley Arts Magnet in the
Central Zone. It was a good fit for our kid, and contrary to what was stated in
an earlier post, if you request it, I believe that you have a good chance of
getting in, at least eventually. I would try in 3rd grade rather than 4th,
because there should be more room in the classrooms (they consolidate in 4th).
There are a lot of academic families from all over the world passing through,
so spots do open up, especially at the end of semesters.
While no Berkeley Public School can offer you a gifted Program, as I'm sure you
know, BAM has lots of gifted/academically advanced kids, maybe in part because
of the proximity of the University, or maybe that is true for all the Berkeley
Schools, I can't say. Anyway, our kid found friends who enjoyed the same kind
of imaginative jokes, games, etc., which was huge, and not found everywhere, in
Gifted kids are known to be more sensitive (our kid definitely is), and the
environment at BAM really worked great for us. Now I know other families have
different experiences, but we found that BAM did a great job at keeping
negative behavior in check, even with challenging scenarios. This was huge,
too. The school works hard at this, with a variety of positive reinforcement
strategies, recess supervision, etc.
Before BAM, our kid went to an ''elite'' private school, the type which may
seem to offer more for a gifted child, but the competitive scene was not good
for our sensitive one. The aggressive kids were not kept in check with the same
consistency, there was more of a tendency to sweep things under the rug.
Like most schools, the innovation of the teaching will rest with the teacher.
There are some great teachers at BAM. There is an effort to keep some of the
Arts going, they have visual Art class for half the year and BAM kids do seem
to be up on stage often, performing in class plays or the Talent Show, etc.
Music is offered in all Berkeley Schools. There is a Volunteer run gardening
program in fourth grade, offered by a superhero named Kate. There is an amazing
range of Afterschool classes run by another superhero named Sandra: rock band,
theater, robotics, chess, yoga, Spanish, etc.
So, you can't expect a ton of differentiated instruction (although the reading
program is set up that way), but the teachers are used to having unusually
advanced students every year. If you don't want to commute to Marin, Oakland,
move through the tunnel, etc., BAM could be a good option. It was for us.
I'm wondering about what Berkeley public schools are good or not so great for my highly
gifted (IQ 145) child. Considering moving to Berkeley from Oakland for the public schools,
but would love any insight into whether it's worth paying probably at least twice as much in
In Berkeley, school assignment is by lottery (the city is split into three
zones, and you're assigned by lottery within your zone), so you have no
guarantee that your child will attend a school near your house. Thus, just
because someone identifies a certain school as being good at dealing with
highly gifted students doesn't mean that you'll get to go there. In other
words, when looking for a house in Berkeley, it's not worth buying one near a
school that you really like, because it won't increase your chances of
getting into that school.
Regarding which berkeley school is best for a gifted kid, the several BUSD elementary
schools are similar in level of achievement and each has slightly different programs;
same for the 3 middle schools. Although there are not enough GATE funds to offer
specific GATE programs, the many gifted students seem to be well challenged. Some who
are little academic geniuses are not little social geniuses and have plenty of
opportunity to become more proficient in social skills. Most of the GATE kids i know at
berkeley schools do fine in the district. At middle school there is opportunity to skip
ahead in math. At berkeley high a student gifted in science, humanities, theater, music,
language, visual arts, etc. can get a wonderful and very challenging education. A gifted
athlete can shine. I know one gifted kid who went to a very small private school for
gifted kids. After 2 years of adjusting he made friends. He missed his old buddies a
lot and his parents spent lots of time keeping connections up socially with old peer
group. Not an easy task. Gifted academic geniuses at berkeley high also learn how to
navigate skillfully in a vibrant urban environment with folks from a wide range of
incomes, ethnicities, religions, and academic skills. An important life skill.
Which BUSD schools are best for gifted kids? We hope the answer soon will be ''all of
them,'' thanks to a new parent-led group known as BALSA: Berkeley Advanced Learner
Support and Advocacy.
To learn more about BALSA's mission and/or to join our online community, please visit
www.berkeleyadvancedlearner.weebly.com, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to welcoming you to one of our upcoming meetings!
-Rachel Hurwitz, Founder and Chair of BALSA
Are the Berkeley Public Schools a good place for highly gifted children? I've heard their
better at differentiation than Oakland, but am curious to hear from other parents of highly
gifted kids. We are considering whether to pay for private school or move from Oakland to
Berkeley after having lots of trouble with OUSD for our gifted kid.
My son is in Kindergarten in BUSD. I know K is really early on in the school process,
but our experience makes us hopeful that BUSD will work out for the long haul. My son
entered K reading at a 5th grade level and well above grade level in math. His teacher
does some differentiation in class: he has his own box of books, is given harder stuff
during math, etc. At the same time, a big effort has been make to keep him part of the
group, which we appreciate. His homework is very differentiated. He keeps a journal
in which he writes down questions from non-fiction books of his choice (he's into
space), we help him research the answer using other books/internet, and he writes down
the answer. In our (admittedly short) experience with BUSD, we've found the teachers
and principle to be extremely proactive, respectful, and knowledgeable about fostering
his academic abilities as well as his social/emotional needs. You may want to consider
touring some of the BUSD schools and ask the principles how, specifically, they would
meet the needs of your child. Good luck!
Your child certainly won't be the only highly gifted child in the class in BUSD. I
think that's one of the best things about being gifted in the Berkeley Schools. My
gifted child has always had intellectual peers. The teachers did a reasonable amount
of differentiation, and usually had open-ended projects in at least some subject
areas, and allowed our child to pursue their own projects after the classwork was
completed. That said, we did our own enrichment through the library, ATDP, Lawrence
Hall of Science, Berkeley Rep, Math Circles, etc. I think whatever school
system/private school your child is enrolled in parents actively need to help the
child follow their interests. For our gifted child school was good socialization and
did teach some skills, while other intellectual interests were pursued independently.
In high school students have more opportunities to follow divergent paths both in
class and outside (AP courses beginning Sophmore year, Philosophy club, math team,
etc.) It has also been invaluable for my child to be with students whose strengths are
not academic so as to learn how to appreciate everyone in the community.
My son was in a BUSD elementary school. He was always a voracious learner and I tried
the best I could to peak his interest at home. By the end of 3rd grade though I could
no longer fool myself that this very good school was going to be able to meet his
needs. AFter I had him tested and did some digging around I found that there is so
much politics around ''giftedness'' - ''well every child is gifted!'' and ''what a
gifted child needs is to fit in with other kids!'' I see it still. And still more
stuff was my own -- I'm not a private school person, I believe in and am invested in
the public school system, and yet when it came down to it I had to get over myself,
be there for my kid and give him what he needed.
We've found that in spaces at GATE Academy (until recently Dunham Academy) up in
northern San Rafael. My kid has been there now for over 3 years and is thriving. As I
meet more and more families struggling with this strangely misunderstood special need,
my initial feeling is confirmed: that when these kids aren't seen, and given the vast,
deep knowledge they crave, they start to feel like something's wrong with them. I've
seen older postings on BPN about Dunham, some negative, but all I can say is that
my son can't wait to go to school, every day. He is lit up by learning and is
surrounded by really good friends who see the world in the same rich way he does. I
wouldn't trade it for the world.
Parent of thriving child
this page was last updated: May 18, 2014
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