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King Middle School (Berkeley, CA)
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What are the big pros and cons of King Middle School?
How are the academics?
Are kids ''known'' by their teachers?
Are kids under significant peer pressure to grow up too fast?
Are the kids happy?
What is the social scene like - inclusive, cliquish, overwhelming, etc?
Hopefully a future king family
I've yet to see any peer pressure, but she is only in 6th grade. There are such fantastic kids there that it seems like they are able to find a broad range of friends. And I love the diversity -- you can find nothing like it in private school -- or even many other public schools for that matter. The kids look happy to me. She speaks about a group of ''popular'' kids -- but kind of tongue and cheek and she doesn't feel excluded by it.
I honestly can't believe it is a middle school -- she is thriving and completely inspired. The only thing that I think could make it even better for her is if there were a few more long term projects. The homework has been extremely light (which I don't mind at all!) but it doesn't seem like they really dig their teeth in like she did in 5th grade. I've heard that they make the academics light the first year to help with the big transition, which I think is smart.
I would strongly consider it! king parent
Despite the size, the kids are known, not only by their teachers, but by the grade-specific vice principals and many counselors, and even by the principal. We have a very shy, quiet child, who has always disliked being the center of attention, so he avoids speaking up as much as possible. And yet his teachers not only know him, they care about him. Two of them in particular have been very active in helping him find comfortable ways to engage more in class. And they all have been extremely willing to meet and communicate with us, which has been great.
Academics have been great from our point of view, which I mostly attribute to the teachers. Our son has had several excellent teachers, with just a couple who were less than stellar. The new standards bring a different style to some of the classes, but so far only the changes in math have really presented a struggle for our family. Science, computer, and history have been especially engaging classes for the boy this year; the material we've seen has been interesting and really well presented.
As for the students, you ask about cliques, peer pressure, and general happiness. As I mentioned, we have a shy boy who gives little thought to his wardrobe or appearance, and goes happily off to school with track pants that are 3 inches too short, and a giant head of tangled hair. I'm pretty sure he's not getting a lot of peer pressure to 'grow up too fast'. He seems to be very OK with himself just as he is. We were worried that he would be lost, wouldn't meet friends, and would feel completely overwhelmed. I guess that was just us. He has never once mentioned feeling overwhelmed or complained of any teasing, and he has a really nice group of friends who run the gamut from total geek to total babe. The student body is so big that any kid can find friends, even my shy guy. There doesn't seem to be a big 'cliquish' thing really. I'm sure that they exist, as it's middle school, but maybe because the school is so big, they just aren't a big deal for many kids.
Starting to look at middle school options in Albany, Berkeley, maybe Oakland? If you have any thoughts on these public middle schools, please respond. My child is currently in private school and we want to switch to public middle. His strengths are math, science, and music. Very active but not in sports (maybe swimming or track). He needs extra help with written output, but is improving. He would benefit from a structured environment with some social-emotional support. Any impression on how a child's individual needs are attended to, and what are the strengths and weaknesses of each school would be appreciated! Worried
My student's humanities teachers have been very supportive when approached for special assistance for my student. The teachers generally communicate well by email and in person.. The counselors a are excellent. School is big enough that kids can easily find a niche. Lots of different kids with different interests and styles and seems to work well. It is a big school with lots of programs and it somehow feels homey. I understand the two other Berkeley middle schools are similar, but smaller.
As for how our son's academic needs have been met, we have been [for the most part] quite pleasantly surprised. He hasn't had a lot of homework [yay], but what he does have is mostly interesting -- no busy-work. His classes are well taught and most projects have been engaging; in particular, his science and computer classes are favorites.
He did begin falling behind a bit this year; he would forget to turn things in, forget to write down homework assignments, and just generally forget to pay attention. He can be very distracted and is very disorganized, and it caught up to him in the more independent 7th grade. We discussed it with his teachers and most of them have been great. They have welcomed communication with us, have been very good about emailing or phoning, and have been trying very hard to help him through this tricky period. Some of them have really accommodated him: they've been open about accepting his work late, set up post-class meetings with him, offered lunchtime/advisory help sessions, and more. We've been very pleased with how attentive they've been with our one student among so many that they teach.
King's strengths are in its terrific teachers and staff, in the beautiful grounds, garden & kitchen, and in the truly diverse and sincerely nice kids -- at least the ones I've met through the boy and while volunteering. The school has a stellar counseling staff, who, like the vice-principals, are assigned per grade so that they can learn their students and stick with them for all three years. Its weaknesses include the size of the student body, which can make it tough to feel like a community - especially after being at a small elementary school. We came from a preschool and an elementary where parents were extremely involved and constantly present. I know every middle school has somewhat of a parent-community decline, but it still feels weird to me. Another weakness is in the basic public school fact of standardized testing. My kid isn't bothered by them, and I don't think the teaching suffers [I've not yet seen one who ''teaches to the test''], but it still feels bureaucratic somehow, which bothers me. They may not be much of a problem for us, but I'm also not sure how useful it is to dedicate every morning for a week to them.
If you have the option to choose among the schools you listed, it seems like you'll do pretty well no matter where you end up. jmf
I am wondering if anyone could give me insight into how well their child fared at King MIddle School in Berkeley after being at Prospect Sierra (or any private K-5 elementary school). How was the transition academically and socially? Thinking Ahead
I've spent some time over there [volunteering and field trips] and, at least among his peers and the students I've worked with, I've been impressed by how nice and respectful the kids are. It's still pretty loud in the halls when they're switching classes, and at that age, you can't avoid the occasional bad language. But our son has had only positive experiences with the other kids, and he hasn't witnessed any bullying or fights. The principal has got to be the best around. She is amazing. The kids all know her and respect her, she really likes them, and she has earned an enormous amount of respect from the parents. She and her staff work exceptionally hard at making the school a positive place, with an emphasis on a community environment.
The rest of the good stuff about King, like the kitchen and garden programs, the beautiful facility, the strong counseling staff, and the excellent after school program are all things anyone can hear about on the tours, and read about on the website: http://www.mlkmiddleschool.org/
It's working well for our family. And it's been interesting to talk with the parents of my son's friends who are at the other schools, both public and private, and find that their experiences are very similar to ours. We are lucky to have so many great options here in Berkeley. Good luck with your decision! -jmf
My son has played soccer on a local rec. team for the past couple of years. We've not been thrilled with the experience and are hoping he will be able to join the soccer team at King Middle School when he starts next year. He enjoys soccer (as a sport but also for the team atmosphere and friendships) and plays rather competently. But he also has other interests and while he enjoys the competition, we're not looking for a super-competitive environment. Any impressions on how competitive the tryouts are at King, and possible advice as to best prepare for it? Not quite a soccer mom
In the spring, your son might be interested in ultimate frisbee, too. The coach is great, the sense of the field is similar to soccer, and it is a very supportive environment. The cross county and track coach is also great and very flexible.
For sports at king middle school, you will need to have your student's doctor fill out a form (get it in beginnign of the year at the school) and pay the afterschool program fee. Right now it is about $100 per month, and less for families with lower income. Very affordable. After school offers a bunch af classes, too.
The city- run swim program is at the pool next to the school. It is swim workout. No meets. Kids can do it one to five daysa week. Practices go from 4 to 5:30. Check the pool for rates. Welcome to King! It is a great place. My student loves it. Go Cobras! A king middles school parent
Re: Your Impressions of Berkeley Public Middle Schools
I have experience with King. My kids love it. They have had some excellent teachers. The sports program is strong. The edible school yard garden and kitchen are wonderful. One kid loves the afterschool sewing/knitting/beading classes. It is near the soon to be reopened north berkeley library. The food is good. It is the largest of the 3. It has a strong drama program afterschool for 7th & 8th graders. Before school music is well attended. Willard parents have told me that they like the school well. Hopefully a parent will respond. Longfellow is also as strong as the other two. Some of each grade are continuing dual spanish-english classes for core subjects. Hopefully you will hear from these parents too. Probably does not help you make your decision, but at least they are all a good choice! BUSD mom
Re: Where does your middle-schooler go to school?
All three of my kids went to MLK Middle School in Berkeley and loved it. They got good academic preparation for Berkeley High, made lots of friends, and participated in after school activities. There is a lot going on at King for lots of different types of kids. Check it out. happy in BUSD
Re: Worried about homework in Berkeley middle schools
My 3 kids all went to King and found the homework load to be very reasonable. All three played sports at King and also did extra-curriculars outside of school, and never seemed panicky or stressed about the amount of homework they had. The teachers make sure that larger writing assignments and projects are well scaffolded and broken down into ''chunks'' so kids can work on them one step at a time. My kids are all fairly organized and that probably helps, but the load did not seem unreasonable at all. --Happy MLK family
Each student is given a wire-bound ''academic organizer'' from sixth grade on, and I find that my son has to be very organized to stay on top of his homework--and he's an organized, conscientious student as it is. I have more concerns about how his more scattered, dreamy younger brother, who may follow him to King in a few years, would handle the workload there.
The students at King are certainly not coddled. If anything, if they are able to keep up with the workload at King, they will be well-prepared for the rigors of high school and college.
Yes, I did see ''Road to Nowhere,'' BTW. King parent
Re: Longfellow vs. Willard
I'm not sure about Longfellow vs. Willard; but I can speak to the Longfellow vs. King question. My child had a hard time socially at King, particularly in 6th grade; while her friends who went to Longfellow had an easier time forming cohesive friendship groups. Most of her current friends are friends who went to Longfellow, though things are much more socially open at BHS. Academically, I would probably choose King again, but the social ''scene'' was very rough for a smart, shy, self-conscious child (lots of teasing about being ''smart''; though I wonder if other kids were teased about other differences). What is unclear to me is how much of this is middle school (friends with children in the private schools have spoken of similar problems), how much of this was the specific school, and how much of it was the child (who is thriving in high school). anon
Re: King in Berkeley vs Portola
The 6th graders at King, where my student goes, are well buffeted from the rest of the school and spend their whole day with the same classroom-group of kids. The group moves from class to class together as a clump. Everyone, pretty much, stays in the 6th grade wing. We think King is great, with good afterschool class opportunities and great sports and perfomring arts. Anon
Re: Moving to Berkeley Summer 2010 - middle schools?
I've had experience of both King and Willard Middle schools in Berkeley - and both those experiences were good. My daughter was in 7th grade when we moved and thrived at King, loved the big size and the demanding teaching. My son went to Willard because we had moved closer to there, and also thrived, made great friends and was well prepared for high school. Willard is much smaller than King and he liked that he knew everybody. There are certain programs at King (such as dance, jazz band and French) that are not offered at Willard and the facilities are bigger, but as there are more kids and my son was only interested in sports, it basically balanced out. On the other hand, I found the King administration more intimidating to deal with, although I believe this has improved at both schools. I'm currently working with some Willard teachers on starting a chorus program, and have been highly impressed by their enthusiasm, energy, and dedication. Fiona
My daughter probably will be starting at King Middle School in the fall. She is coming from a private school and does not yet play a musical instrument. We would like to take advantage of King's great music program, so plan to start her in private music lessons so that she can join either the orchestra or the band in the fall. My daughter wants to try either viola, which would put her in the orchestra, or clarinet, which would put her in the band. Since she is open to either, I was wondering if I should try to nudge her in one direction or the other. Is one teacher better than the other, especially for a new student? Is the band vs orchestra experience at King significantly different? Any insight greatly appreciated. ready to play
At King we provide the kids with instruments, but until then she would have to rent one. A and G, Oakland, and Forrest music, Berkeley, rent wind instruments and can recommend teachers. Ifshin violins in El Cerrito would be the place to rent a viola, and they will size it appropriately to your child.
All that being said, we also have a fun chorus at King, which is quite popular with its students. Good luck, and feel free to contact me off-list with more questions: email@example.com
You can come through the west gate and visit music classes any day
from 7:45 - 8:30 a.m..
Madeline Prager King Orchestra Director
My son will be starting at King Middle School next year as a sixth grader, and is interested in joining the soccer team there. He has played on his Mersey soccer team since first grade, now in class III. I would love any feedback opn the King soccer team. How is the coach? Does he yell/intimidate the children or is he supportive emotionally? Is he skillful in developing players' soccer skills? How is the skill level of the team? And when are practices and games? On a sideline, he also has an IEP because of dyslexia, so weekday games may be hard (with Mersey all games are weekend). soccer mom
Re: Returning to Berkeley after 10 yrs - which school?
My 6th grader at King is having a great year. The academics are challenging enough. The school does fine with test scores. Most kids from King are quite well prepared for the rigorous classes at Berkeley High. The school feels fun and safe. Athletics are quite well-run. Swimming afterschool is offered by the City of Berkeley at King Pool, too. There are several kids from Europe who are here in Berkeley for just one year or less while their parents are in town on academic sabatical. They seem to do fine and the American kids seem to enjoy having the new kids around. The kitchen classroom and garden classes are amazing (google ''edible schoolyard''). The new lunch building produces fabulous nutritious lunches that kids love (believe it or not). Seems like the school is big enough for each kid to find others with similar interests. By the way, in Berkeley, many private school kids opt for Berkeley High. The public schools in Berkeley work well for us, and leave us with money left over for travel.
Re: The low-down on King & Willard Middle Schools
Hi, I taught at Willard last year and my child is a 7th grader at King this year. I think the teachers are equally good at both schools. Willard is in a more urban environment near Ashby, whereas King is in a mostly residential area. My child really likes King and loves the zero period music program. My child is an A student and is in the Honors Math program. They find it fun and challenging and look forward to taking Honors Geometry at BHS next year, in 8th grade. My child says making friends at King is the easy part. Making the right friends in King's diverse community is the hard part. King has lockers. At Willard, you carry your stuff around all day with you. King has a really nice new lunch room with homemade breads, salad bar, soup, etc. As a parent, I feel more at home in the King community. King parent
I have a 5th grader who is in a public elementary school, and I'm wondering whether people have comments on King -- does it work for most kids? My child can get easily distracted, though this year seems more academically focused, in part because of a great teacher. I hear King has great teachers, but that classroom management is a challenge and a lot of time is wasted on just trying to get kids to focus. How are the academics? Do you have to be really self-motivated and organized to succeed?
I also wonder about the social dynamics -- do kids get enough adult attention/support/guidance to address the social issues that come up at this age? Is it easy for a child to just get lost in the mix of so many kids?
Thank you for any insights! anon
In my kids class, there is a wide range of skills and abilities, but the teachers are fabulous at working with the kids and there is an aide in the class to help the kids with challenges. The principal, vice principals, counselors and special ed. teachers seem to work quite well as a team.
When I felt my kid needed more specific attention on an academic item, it was easy to communicate with my kid's teacher by email, and then in person, and get the item resolved. Lots of teachers there said that when they were getting a credential, King was the school they dreamed of working at some day, and now they are sooo glad to be there.
The staff put a lot of energy into helping the 6th graders step up to middle school. All the parents I have spoken with are very happy with their 6th grader's experience at King. I highly recommend it. King Parent
As to academics....it's public school. I don't think their main goal is getting kids to Harvard or Yale. There are some great creative teachers, some enhh worn out teachers. All of them well meaning, but, you know, they're dealing with a crazy bureucracy, crazy laws, classes that are larger than they should be, five minute parent teacher conferences, etc. etc.
One nice thing at King is the band program, which has been a strong anchor for my daughter. If your kid is musically inclined, consider it, even though it means getting up at an ungodly hour. The sixth grade band teacher in particular is a bit of a nut, quite demanding, but in retrospect my daughter feels she got a lot out of his program. Hope this all helps a bit. c.s
For the parent who asked about King, the before school music program begins at 7:45 am and goes until 8:30 and then regular classes begin at 8:45. The time slot is called ''sero period'' The kids can take band, orchestra or choir. Sixth graders have their own band. There is also a jazz club that kids can do (whether or not they take morning music). It seems to me that doing music at zero period is a great way for the kids to build a cohort. And it can get them ready for the great music at Berkeley High.
The sports at King are very good, too. And swimming is offered next door at King pool at 4 pm. Anonymous
would love to hear more recent updates on King Middle School and any changes that have occurred with the new principal. anon
Academics? Well, the jury is still out. We've been in public school since the beginning, and I have always wished there was more of a challenge. However, there is finally some real history and science (!) and that is keeping him happy. Also, a fine elective called ''What's on your Plate'' for sixth graders is really helping to teach critical thinking, Berkeley-style.
The campus is really beautiful and well cared for. The place has a very good vibe. I like the way the grades are kept separate at lunch and activity time - lessening opportunities for hazing. There are a lot of rules and they seem to be rather strict in enforcing them. The parents are much more engaged than I had expected at such a large middle school.
We have talked several times about the drug/alcohol issue. He says the principal has made at least one announcement about it, and my son has been asking more questions about drugs and drug use (great opportunities for guidance!) I gather there is still a problem with availability nearby and perhaps on campus, so it's something we'll have to watch closely and keep communicating about. The bigger issue I have right now is that there has been a rash of locker break-ins. The boys say there are kids with listening devices that crack the locks. This has them pretty upset.
Even with these problems, I get the impression that my son feels quite safe there, but is aware that there are things he needs to watch for. We have long experience with the principal (from elementary school) and trust him to deal with these issues aggressively. Pleased so far
Re: Pros and Cons of Berkeley Middle Schools
My 8th grade daughter has had a great experience at MLK Middle School. Middle School Open House took place last week and we were impressed. Other parents I spoke with were similarly upbeat. Some of the highlights: excellent, dedicated teachers, the fabulous Edible Schoolyard and cooking program, and Spring after-school enrichment classes in subjects like architecture, solar cars, dance, and more. The whole academic and social environment at MLK seems a lot more positive than what I experienced in a suburban district where schools were supposedly great. My daughter had one teacher she didn't care for last year, but that individual is no longer at King. One kid said King is ''exciting,'' which is a pretty positive statement coming from a middle schooler. King Parent
Re: Best BUSD Middle School?
I have zero experience with any Berkeley Schools. However, I have had a great deal of experience with Bob Whitlow, who will be a 6th grade teacher at MLKing Middle School in the Fall. He has been the much beloved and truly amazing director of Aurora Elementary (an East Bay Independent School) for a great many years and decided he wanted to have his own classroom for a change. Everywhere he goes, he creates an atmosphere of community, tolerance, open-mindedness and creative approaches to learning. If you end up near him, you will be lucky indeed ---Long-time Aurora parent
I have a daughter in private elementary school and am considering Martin Luther King for middle school. I've heard some good things about King and plan to check it out. Meanwhile, I would love to hear of parents' experiences with King, good or bad. Is the curriculum challenging? Are classes kept under control? Is the school safe? Is it so big that kids get overwhelmed? What's the social situation like? What do you wish you had known before your child started school there? If you started in private elementary school, how was the transition? Any information--about any of these questions--will be much appreciated. Thanks! Elementary school mom
The 6th graders have only two core classes--the same teacher teaches English and History, another teacher for Math & Science. They also have PE and various other subjects like art and drama. 6th grade lunch is separate from the 7th/8th graders, which is nice--all in all it is an easy transition from 6th grade. It is only in 7th grade when they have different teachers for every subject. Teachers seem to make a point of providing projects that challenge students.
Another good change from elementary school is the expectation that the kids are responsible for their own homework--starting right away in 6th grade homework assignments are frequently stamped in daily, and if you don't do your homework, it will affect your grade, which many students find motivating. We did need to sign off on her homework once a week, but you will probably find that you will not be nearly as involved in cajoling your student to do their homework.
No middle school is going to have the students sitting like statues in classes, but as far as your questions about classrooms and the schoolyard are concerned, our experiences have been very positive.
A few other comments: The new principal is very well-regarded, having been at Cragmont in Berkeley a number of years. We like the fact that the school is diverse. The Edible Schoolyard (the big garden on campus) is integrated in the science classes--that includes both growing and cooking food. The new, long-awaited, dining commons is expected to be open in the fall, I believe. Good cafeteria food, if your child is willing to nutritious food (salad bar, etc). The Band and Orchestra programs are available to any student. They are ''zero'' period, meaning you have to be there by 7:45am, but are well worth getting up for. The kids learn a lot, and sound great. There are various after-school enrichment classes in the spring--the production of the Odyssey was especially amazing. Various sports teams too. Overall a very good school! Happy King parent
Due to discouraging numbers and classroom disruptions, some believe that attempting to teach to ALL children though differentiated instruction is impossible. As a result it's a wonder BUSD hasn't lost more students to private. Several years ago at district wide meetings the superintendent brought up the subject of the exodus to private, and instead of highlighting improvements in academics or accountability, tolerance became the primary focus. In our house, BUSD’s tolerance rant became a joke as we questioned tolerance of who or what – Society and varying lifestyles, governing bodies (such as BUSD), mediocrity, lack of accountability, thievery, and/or violence?
The general lack of control of wayward or slacking students (more groups we’re to be tolerant of), and/or the 50% of students who score low or failing on state standards math tests, dictate remedial math as the standard in 6th and 7th grade. Add into the mix CPM (College Prep Math) books utilized by the district, which were linguistically too difficult for most of the lower and middle achieving students to comprehend, and the recipe for low test scores then becomes clearer. We’ll admit achieving students were offered extra work in order to achieve A’s (A work or problem of the week), but we found this was usually without additional class-time instruction. Plus, in middle school there is still no belief in tracking or separating children by ability in any subject until they are in 8th grade math, and even those classes were at risk. Everything is still age or grade based, with no separation based upon maturity or ability. This led our child to wonder if his knowledge or ability was expected to rub off on other students by osmosis, while he was left helping instead of learning.
As it pertains to a previous post by a teacher regarding academic placement in 7th grade honors algebra, we’d like to offer the majority good luck. We found that gaining access for our bright child to the only program for achieving students, honors algebra, was impossible with the previous principal, as placements were limited to less than 3% of the students in the 7th grade. Entry was dependent upon high scores on a variety of specialized tests and the recommendation by their 6th grade teacher. Eleven students out of nearly 300 gained access, the remaining were subject to remedial math. Not very specialized or even-handed when equity has also been touted as a concern.
Alas, according to the district all this is supposed to change this coming year as they are finally making changes to the math program. Please note that parent requests for inclusion in this decision making process were ignored, yet we still have high hopes for progress. Should anyone be interested in the changes to the math program they are available on page 45 of the school board minutes noted below. http://www.berkeley.k12.ca.us/SB/docs/bd_of_ed_march_14_07_packet.pdf
Since most kids won't complain about classes being too easy, what we've heard from parents is that everything seems to be ok. That is until parents question curriculum or math placement, or their child is booted out of school for physically defending their person. It also depends upon the personality of your child, whether they are complacent or eager to learn. Question and listen when your child tells you they are bored, the class is too easy, or their grades are slipping. Look at their homework. Sit in on a few classes. Or just sit in your car once the bell has rung to see how many kids walk in late from the store on MLK with sodas or chips in hand. Only then will you understand, as we have, that there is much room for improvement of accountability at King.
Again, I would encourage all parents to get involved, make sure your children are able to finish their homework, but never assume all is well just because there aren’t complaints about school. If you believe your child is under-challenged even district GATE personnel suggest tenacious parent advocacy for a more challenging or differentiated curriculum.
One last note. Before the school year ended an elementary school parent with a friend who teaches at King told me, ''Everything is great at King, the principal only comes into the classroom maybe once or twice a year.'' What I wondered was whether they heard themselves when they made this statement. We're absolutely certain the new principal will be more visible and open to the King community, and gain a grasp on the problems previously faced at King. Looking Forward with Hope
Can anyone give me an idea of the comparison between Willard and King middle schools academically? My child has been offered a place at Willard, and I am thinking about asking for King instead - but with not much enthusiasm after the things I have heard. I'm wondering why Berkeley public schools are so poor academically - is everyone who wants a good education for their children sending them to private school? And how can people afford this? It's enough to drive one into teaching... anon, as my frustration is surely not politically correct
What the Berkeley schools have attempted to accomplish is noble, in my opinion. Unlike some other school districts, Berkeley tries hard to render all of the schools within a particular grade level range reasonably similar in terms of ethnic mix and overall quality of teaching staff. I also think that there are a lot of excellent teachers and programs in the schools, and that any child who attends Berkeley schools has the opportunity, at least, to get a good education, *provided there is adequate support within the home environment*.
However, reality intrudes and creates real problems. Most recently, of course, has been the brutal round of budget-cutting that has led to the slashing of programs and the teachers' ''work to rule'' collective action. These things definitely hurt in the classroom.
But the problems in the Berkeley schools are certainly longer-standing than this. The most fundamental problem, as I see it, is that the schools are being asked to accomplish things that are simply unrealistic--most notably, they are expected to transform, single-handedly, the behaviors, attitudes, and achievement levels of disadvantaged children, who comprise a very large percentage of the Berkeley school population (and this proportion is made larger by the large percentage of wealthier parents who have put their children in private schools).
I have come to believe ever more firmly that children's basic orientation toward learning and achievement starts in the home; if they are not truly supported at home to do well in school, the schools will fight an uphill battle to win their hearts and minds and will almost always lose. For whatever reasons historically and sociologically, many (certainly not all) parents in disadvantaged neighborhoods apparently are not able to support their children sufficiently in this way. Whether it's because of hostility, lack of confidence, being too busy and overwhelmed, or whatever, too many parents simply do not and perhaps cannot provide the support their children need to do well in school. While volunteering in the schools I saw that by the fourth grade, far too many children apparently had already made some kind of internal decision that achieving in school is ''not their thing.'' And it gets worse later on.
The result here is that teachers are trying to cope with classrooms including too many children who are largely tuned out from learning and achieving. Anyone who has spent even a small amount of time volunteering in the schools knows that a few disruptive children can affect negatively an entire classroom and drive an otherwise conscientious teacher crazy. Almost every day my eighth grader at Willard comes home and tells me about the disrespectful and downright mean things that some students routinely say to teachers, how some kids apparently pride themselves on how often they are given detention or are otherwise disciplined, how so many students virtually never do their homework and don't seem to care, etc., etc.
And of course, in terms of the superficial ways that some people measure ''school quality,'' the presence of low-achieving children from non-supportive homes lowers the district's test scores and makes it appear that the overall quality of education is poor.
The truth is, a child can (still) get a good education in the Berkeley schools. The number of students who depart annually for excellent universities after finishing their Berkeley public school educations attests to this. But the pathway through the public schools can be a difficult one to follow for many children and for their parents, as well. Some children have the temperament to ''tune out'' the negative stuff, but some do not. I will add that the situation in the public schools would be far better if some of the parents who have placed their children in private schools returned them to the public system. Those children and their parents are resources that the school district could certainly use. But I understand that parents want to do what's best for their children, and in too many cases the perception is that their kids will be better off in a private school environment. That's sad. dag
Hi, My ten-year-old daughter (summer birthday so she will be eleven by september) is starting King Middle School in the fall and is very worried and upset about it. She says she does not want to got to middle school at all, but she really doesn't like King in particuar. She hates how huge the school is and does not like that she will be changing classes now. She is a moderatly well-adjusted child who gets excellent grades and is top of her class right now. She does have a good friend going there, that is not an issue. My daughter has heard that you have to 'run the mile' every week at King for P.E. ( which she doesn't want to/thinks she might not be able to do) and is upset that the swimming program at King has been cut. My daughter is worried that there will be a lot of troublemaking kids at King and that because the classes are so big she won't get any individual attention from the teacher. She hates the gardening and cooking program and even though she is good at both, because ''It is a waste of academic time''. Please any advice on how to help make the transition easier for he (For the record, she has always hated change and getting older or having people expect more from her). Laura
I would like to hear from other parents of kids at ML King Middle School in Berkeley. Our two oldest graduated relatively intact, and we have always spoken highly of the school, although we knew that some of their friends did not fare so well. This year our third child, who seemed to be doing well, (achieving high grades, behaving well, etc.) suffered a major emotional crisis and we discovered he has been using alcohol, marijuana and other drugs, on a regular basis, AT SCHOOL. Apparently, he learned through the grapevine that he could obtain drugs on the King campus and has been doing so since he was in 5th grade.
I am concerned that other families should be aware of the situation. My son first confided with the school psychologist, who is familiar with the ongoing situation and informed the administration. However, even after my son was hospitalized for a month, the principal looked me straight in the eye and said, "We don't have a drug or alcohol problem here. We would know if we did. We don't have incoming sixth-grade parents saying to us that they have heard there is a problem here."
So, I guess I'd like to rectify that situation. If other families have had similiar problems at King, I think it's only fair for incoming families to know. (Among the community of mental health professionals the situation on the King campus is an open secret.) One of the things I've liked best about our six turbulent years at Berkeley High School is how things improved BECAUSE all the problems were made public. I am really disturbed by the apparent effort of the administration at King to keep up appearances, making each family feel individually responsible, rather than taking an honest look at the situation on campus, and how it might be improved for everyone's benefit.
For my son's sake, I hope this can appear anonymously -- and I would love to see responses posted here and archived for general reference.
Thank you. concerned mom
With that said, I feel the administration at King needs to be more proactive and affirmative in responding to the parents of its students. In my opinion, it seems that there's an insular attitude within the administration at the school -- attempting to stay above the fray in taking on controversial issues like drugs and bullying. This rather insular attitude makes me as a parent feel ignored when what I'd like to have is an ongoing open, communicative dialogue with the administration. I'm sure it's not the administration's intent to ignore parents or be insular. The fact is that many kids will be doing drugs by ages 11, 12, 13, and parents may be aware of it, or not, and certainly educators who have taught middle school for many years are aware of it. If several hundred kids are coming to school drugged out, the problem is obvious. But, it's hidden, and not a topic you just bring up with other parents, so the only way to be aware of the problem is for parents and administrators to know the kids you're dealing with -- talk to the ones who get caught, find out how many kids are using by listening to kids, talk generally to kids, talk with the parents whose kids are using drugs -- and get to know and listen to concerned parents who bring up these issues. Certainly, you don't expect the principal to make an announcement saying drugs are being sold on campus. However, in the end, the way in which the administration communicates to you as an individual parent with a middle-school child who has a drug problem, and to the community of its parents about all kinds of issues, makes a huge difference in the perception and reputation of the school for incoming sixth-grade families and those families already at the school. Please post anonymously since my child is still at King. --Anon
There are many wonderful and devoted teachers there and they do a lot to try to engage the kids, but the powerful undertow of the need to experiment, the need to rebel, and the allure of alcohol and marijuana is too much for many kids to resist. And yes, there is a very very strong tendency to blame the parents and the children, to hide the problem in the individuals involved, making it seem like there are just some bad kids making bad mistakes. All of this is devasting for parents, especially single parents like myself, and the level of guilt and shame is overwhelming, which of course only compounds the problem. I don't know how it could be turned around. Kids who are making the choices to experiment with ''substances'' can't let teachers or administrators be supportive. The identification of school as the enemy seems to be built into the whole system, for children who choose to rebel.
In short, yes, there is a serious problem of alcohol and marijuana at King Middle School, and it is not being dealt with in a way that supports change. (Whatever that might be--I sure don't know...) Let me also reiterate that there are teachers there who give 100% to their students and who are true gems. anon
Kit Pappenheimer, Principal, King Middle School
My son is 13 and i am aware this is a tough time for kids in general. that is why we chose to put him in an environment where the possible harmful choices he can make are reduced - e.g. don't put a puppy in a china shop!
I do believe the school administration has to take a stronger position in not only regulating the presence of the drugs/alcohol on campus (which they seem to minimize re: the response) but also encouraging an environment where kids can make better choices.
What can be done as a community response to change the wave? i too have a friend who's kid was sucked into drinking and drugs at MLK and ended up dropping out. Let's not delude ourselves - experimenting and becoming a regular drinker/smoker are two very different things. My sense is that more of the latter is happening than should be the case.
It's tough enough as it is to maintain a good relationship w/ our kids at this age. putting them in an environment where bad choices are more the norm just creates more stress for the parents and endanger's your child. they are still kids at this age - and some kids are wired to try risky things.
In that climate, it's easy for trouble to brew. If kids are in an anonymous environment, they will feel freer to act out and disrespect both teachers and other kids and ultimately themselves. They will feel that if they can get away with something, then why not try? and at that age, they want to try it all.
During the elementary school years I knew what was up; now, since my kid does not talk much, I have no idea, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed hoping he'll remember to do the right thing at the critical time.
One added factor that makes the situation even more out of control is that many kids are completely unsupervised after school until their parents get home. I insist that my son come home every day after school and he hates me for it since hardly anyone else is under such restrictions.
I generally agree with King Principal Pappehheimer that it is after school in such situations rather than during school that kids with complete freedom and no supervision get into the most trouble.
This being said, I find that King is a mixed bag of a school with good and bad teachers, and a pretty weak curriculum, particularly in English. From my limited knowledge, the drug/alcohol issue exists at King but does not appear worse than at other middle schools where friends' kids go.
After a rather tumultuous first year at King Middle School with a teacher who has had major difficulties in the classroom, we're hoping to appeal to our child's counselor to let us ''suggest'' teachers for next year. I would appreciate hearing any recommendations for outstanding 7th grade teachers at King in any subject, especially in terms of their ability to manage a diverse classroom while at the same time providing a stimulating environment for students who have a high academic potential.
Don't lose heart. My child had many SUPERIOR teachers at King in 7th and 8th grade. I don't think it would be fair to mention the specific teachers my child had since she only experienced one teacher for each subject. My daughter went to private school in elementary school and I was hesitant to send her to King. However, I am now convinced that the private schools my friends kids went to did not have teachers who were any better or even as good as the many excellent teachers my daughter experienced at King.
As we all know, there are classes from HELL for the teacher as well as for the students who want to learn. Your child may not have had a very experienced teacher and/or it could have been one of those classes teachers hope never to experience again. A particular group of kids can ruin a class for those who really want to learn.
If your child has "high academic potential", he/she will be taking classes next year which will separate her from the kids who take the easier road. Don't despair. My daughter has pals from King who I am sure will be accepted at Harvard or Columbia three years from now. And I believe their teachers for King can take credit for inspiring the kids to work to their potential.
My daughter was crazy about most of her teachers at King in 7th and 8th grade. If she wasn't in love with them, she realized at least she was learning alot from them.
I will be forever greatful to the teachers at King who inspired my child to write even longer papers than assigned because she wanted them to be thrilled with her. I am thankful to her advanced math teacher who was not young or cute, but such a good teacher that she could really acknowledge him for that! I am delighted that her Spanish teacher was so charming that it was fun to learn. And the history teacher that was so funny with the stories he made up that she couldn't wait to get to his class.
You don't need to "suggest" to the counselor...I think your child's academic success will create a situation where he/she will be with other good students with good teachers.
A BIG FAN OF KING!
Re: Middle Schools with a strong math/science department
Martin Luther King Jr Middle School has a strong math department where 6th graders can test into 8th grade Honors Algebra for their 7th grade year and take Honors Geometry at BHS for their 8th grade year. Eventually, if they stay on this track, they can take math at UC berkeley during their senior year at BHS. jamie
I have two boys, one of whom is a sensitive, emotional kid
and withdraws in tough social circles; the other likes to
be hip and cool and seeks out those hip, cool kids who
aren't bullies. They both have the potential to excel
academically and do so when they have talented teachers who
take the time to learn what works with the individual kids
in their classes. I'm trying to get a sense of how what
MLK's strongests programs are, how good the teachers are,
and how my kids will fit into the social environment(right
now they are 2 years away from starting middle school).
Perspectives from MLK parents would be greatly appreciated.
I'm interested in hearing feedback regarding King Middle School. I'm particularly interested in hearing about academics at King. My son is a 6th grader in an independent school and is advanced in math. His current school moved him into it's advanced 7th grade math class this year. The teacher confirms that this arrangement is working well. He is also a prolific reader. I'm wondering if King can challenge him academically. We're all happy with his current school, but it would be nice to put those tuition dollars elsewhere in our budget. anonymous
He has excellent teachers, especially in French and science. The geometry is particularly challenging, but, again, he has a great teacher who keeps him interested and on his toes.
King also has early morning band, after school homework, help and a wide variety of after school sports. There is also an amazing garden and my son never tires of going to the kitchen and cooking upvegetarian masterpieces.
As far as social activities, It could use a few dances, but all in it's been a rewarding excperience. happy King parent
As she is a bright kid my first concern has never been with academics. I have a basic belief in the old adage that you can't take away ability, although so often, the potential is not reached. From my own life and the lives of my friends I can see that the ultimate happiness is not reached through academics but by finding out just what motivates and brings the most satisfaction. How many adults are doing work in the area that they initially started out in? I wish she would work harder and be more motivated to excel but on the other hand she is socially adept with good self esteem and alot of commonsense.The school climate at King is better than most Middle schools. Most of the teachers are doing a wonderful job and of course I hold the previous principal, Neil Smith, in the highest regard.
Parents get bogged down with a variety of concerns but if they remain positive and supportive of the staff and their child's efforts I feel that the outcome will be good. It is definitely worth mentioning that the advice I found the most useful is;
My younger child, a bright, eager student who makes friends very easily, is *very* happy there. I will say that this is a kid who is not easily bored --loves school, always ready for something new, and looks for academic ways to make school more interesting.
My older daughter is also happy, although she has less cause to be. Academically, she does pretty well despite a minor learning disability. As always, there are some great teachers who provide the minimal additional support she needs to exceed, and some who seem to think she should just 'try harder'. Socially, however, she is an inept, nerdish, and inappropriately childish sweetheart. She has been physically attacked at King, had her life threatened (''but we were just kidding''), and been teased at levels from the annoying to the troubling. The school moved swiftly to respond to the physical attacks, although I still worry that the verbal stuff is not dealt with directly and consistently.
King works for us because the academics are as good as they get in Berkeley at the middle school level,and because we already learned that private school is not a panacea for social problems. (At Pacific Academy she was truly viciously teased one year out of three *with* the concurrence of the teacher.) While there is less opportunity for really bad things to happen in a smaller school, they also have less variety in their academic, sports, and after-school programs. Clueless teachers can happen ANYWHERE, and the dollars paid for private school don't translate into more attention paid to parental concerns.
The administrators at King are consistently good, you can actually talk to a vice-principal who knows *your* kid and will be with them for three years, and the diversity of programs available make it *much* easier for your kids to find something to engage them personally.
Nervous Mom Who Still Likes King
I have two kids who went to Walden School- a small K-6 private school and then went to Longfellow Middle School in 7th grade. I don't know much about King- but I will say that both my kids adjusted easily to Longfellow. As a teacher myself, I think there is a real advantage to 6th graders being with younger, rather than older children, and both my kids really benefitted from being at the top of the school in their 6th grade class. They received more personal attention from the smaller environment at a vulnerable time in their lives and were more than ready to move on to a bigger public school.
I've watched a lot of parents in K-6 private schools making this decision, and overall, it really seems like the kids who get the extra year at the smaller school benefit much more than the kids who transfer in 6th grade. There is a short period of awkwardness that first month of 7th grade, since the majority of kids have come to the school in 6th, but I think it's well worth the maturing they get to experience as sixth graders being the oldest, rather than the youngest in their school. I'm sorry BUSD went to a 6-8 middle school format, because research shows that middle schoolers benefit greatly being in schools with younger children. Good luck. Emily
Having a child similar in nature to yours (he was in Montessori pre-school, very athletic, but has been in public school since kindergarten), and having friends whose sons went from private to King in 6th and 7th grades, my advice is to begin his acclimation to public school from 6th grade because the 6th grade teachers and curriculum at King are excellent. I have a 19-year old daugher who also went to King, and when my son started 6th grade this year, there were some of the same teachers from 6 or 7 years ago and more recent hires, who I've observed throughout this school year, are excellent. I believe Neil Smith, the previous principal, did a good job of hiring newer teachers over the years. Unless your son knows several kids at King and is sociable, I don't believe starting him at King in the 7th grade is a great idea. My friend regrets to this day that she had her son at a private school through 6th grade, and when he went to King at 7th grade, he didn't adjust well. By the time he adjusted, he was ready to start 9th grade, and didn't do well adjusting to 9th grade at BHS. However, this is just my viewpoint, you really have to take into account what you know about your son, what he knows about himself, and discount some of the things a private school administrator might say to you due to their own self-interests. Good luck. J. A.
As was mentioned in some of the posts regarding riding AC transit, we live in walking distance of King but are in the Willard zone. Also, most of my child's friends will be going to King, so it would be great if he could go too. I checked the BUSD website and found out we would be Priority 5 (one notch above people who don't live in Berkeley!) - that sounds like we have very little chance of getting in. Ethnically, we are "other" so I'm not sure what impact that would have. Does anyone have experience trying to get into a middle school outside of their zone? Also, is there any information about construction plans at King over the next two years? Thanks! Anonymous
I can offer two suggestions. First, lie about your address. Sounds terrible, right? I regret not doing that. You'd be amazed at how many kids there are at King who don't live in the King district, and don't even live in Berkeley. The administration may tell you this is not so, but it is. Ask the kids. I also suggest taking up the issue of offering a bus with school board candidates. There's a meeting at Malcom X next Tuesday. If the school board wants to provide a bus, that's the only way it will happen.
As it turned out, our daughter wanted to go to Willard, so spent our limited energy fighting with other parents for a school bus for her first year, since you have to transfer on AC transit, but she quickly became AC transit literate. My son, who is now in 8th grade at Longfellow, had no desire to go to Willard, and most of his friends are either at King or Longfellow. I think Longfellow is really good, his teachers this year especially are great, and he either takes the bus or walks, a long hike but he enjoys it, at least until the rains!! In sixth grade, he took the school bus, which Longfellow provides, since it is a magnet school. By the time they are in 8th grade, they really don't want to be on the school bus!! If you want more info about this, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would personally vote for Longfellow- all the construction is done, teaching staff is very good, and since its smaller, it feels less daunting than the other 2 schools.
Re: Math Tutor
Have you tried the King homework club? They have teachers available Mon-Thurs afterschool. My daughter, 7th grade, has received lots of help. Her math teacher stays late every Thursday to help students. There is also before school tutoring every morning and the primary focus is math. Dionne
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