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Willard Middle School (Berkeley, CA)
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We are planning to transition our son, who is entering sixth grade, from a small, private school to BUSD (Willard). After much indecision we have decided to move ahead because we see a variety of advantages (primarily financial). However, we still have a few concerns that I would like feedback on before he starts. He has been at his current school since kindergarten and is in a very small class where the kids are like siblings, they are so close. The teachers know him very well. Socially, I am concerned that he will get lost in middle school and find it hard to make friends. He is social but quiet and shy at first. From your experience, is the social environment welcoming to quiet kids? Is it difficult to make friends? Also, academically, his current school is quite advanced, especially in math. In 5th grade, he is working at a 7th grade level according to his textbook. Are there options for students who enter the school with advanced math skills? Or will we need to supplement the school curriculum with outside work or tutoring (I would really like to avoid this if possible)? We are confident we made the right decision after weighing all the pros and cons, but I would like to prepare for any challenges he will face, socially and academically, as this will certainly be a very difficult transition for him. I'm especially interested in hearing from parents whose children made a similar transition. Thank you! Middle school mom
Admittedly, he is not getting the same educational experience as he was at Berkwood Hedge, but from what I've seen of the Willard 6th grade teachers, they are an impressively upbeat, supportive, and capable bunch. They control the chaos, work with all sorts of kids, figure out how to integrate the Common Core, and do a lot to make learning fun and to make the year special for the kids. Some examples include the early human challenge, Pi Day (fabulous!), a hiking/camping trip in Tilden, and a competition between Greek city-states.
My son happened to wind up in the same class as a good friend from Berkwood Hedge and regularly seeks out another during lunch. Those old friendships have helped him navigate this year, but he has also made new friends along the way and my sense is that students are generally kind to each other. The drama program (Metal Shop Players) is excellent and is a really nice way to get involved as a 6th grader. My son also goes to math and coding clubs during lunch. One is run by a parent; I think the other is student-led. Classroom math has been pretty basic, but they supplement with Khan Academy and we've added Marin Math Circle to the mix. You may want to supplement there as BUSD has moved away from differentiation in math at the middle school level. Overall though, you have lots to look forward to at Willard. Happy that it is working out so well
I want to put in a good word for Willard for people who are looking at middle schools right now.
We have been so impressed with this school. Our son started Willard this year as a 7th grader, coming from a small private K-6 where there are no grades or tests. He is a shy kid who has Inattentive ADD, which means he is in a fog most of the time. To be honest, public school wasn't our first choice -- we were very worried about how our son would fare at a big middle school alongside kids who had years of experience navigating public school, taking tests, getting assignments in on time. But now I wish I could go back a year and reassure myself. Willard is an outstanding middle school where our son is thriving academically and socially. He just brought home his first report card - all As and Bs - yay! and has made big leaps in his academic interest and knowledge.
Our son has excellent, caring teachers. Some of his teachers have been at Willard for years, others are younger. All of them clearly love their subjects, and they love working with kids this age. Our son is fired up by science and math this year, which surprised us because he has never been enthusiastic about academics, certainly not challenging classes. I had heard that Willard has strong science and math but I never expected the level of teaching that we are getting, or the level of interest from our son. Assignments for all his classes have been creative yet challenging, often using online and state of the art tools. Homework has been very manageable, even for a kid with no attention span. Most of his teachers provide class time to complete homework, including longer-term projects, so what comes home is mainly stuff that our son didn't finish in class. All my son's teachers have websites where you can download assignments and check what's due when, all the teachers are very accessible in person and by email, and all of them keep grades updated on the online Powerschool site so we can track how our son is doing.
The counseling staff at Willard has been very responsive, answering our email questions before our son started school, and then setting up a 504 Plan for our son a few weeks into the school year. This was a very easy process. It turned out that nearly all the accommodations we were asking for - extra time on tests and homework, extra reminders about assignments - are already provided for all the students at Willard. All of our son's teachers accept late homework without penalty. Our son has been able to re-take some tests that he couldn't finish in class and get them re-graded. Homework collection is very structured and there are lots of reminders about upcoming assignments. This is a great school not just for kids like mine, but for all kids who are a little disorganized - the emphasis at Willard is on learning and mastering, not just on dotting the i's and crossing the t's, and there is a lot of support for kids who need more structure and help with organization.
I had some complaints about the afterschool program early in the year, but the staff has made changes and my son who was initially reluctant to go, now often stays after school. This tells me that even when there are problems, the school makes an effort to address them.
I have 2 older kids and we've tried out a variety of local public and private
schools over the years. I think that Willard is top notch. Academically, there
are few private middle schools in our area
that can compare to Willard. Why spend lots of $$$
getting an inferior education for your kid!
Our daughter will be starting middle school at Willard this year after being in a small, private school environment for K-5th. We are concerned about being in a public school, but more worried about what she will do after 2:30. We wonder if the after school program at Willard is rough, and are looking for alternatives, but don't feel good about having her walk along Telegraph alone to get anywhere. Can anyone offer any good suggestions? Concerned Parent
I do want to say that the program coordinator was friendly and very prompt in answering my emails. And, I sincerely appreciate that there is an after-school program at Willard. When my older kids were there, it did not exist -- 12-year-olds were sent home at 3:00 to fend for themselves. I like the idea behind it, and it is much needed. But the reality is very different from the description on the BUSD website, and seems to be little more than babysitting by adults who have little enthusiasm for kids of this age.
We are considering buying a house in the area that is zoned for Willard. Should we completely avoid Willard? I hear mixed reviews of the school. Thanks Karen
Re: Where does your middle-schooler go to school?
Our son goes to Willard Middle School in Berkeley. He is in the 6th grade and absolutely loves it. The teachers are dedicated and talented. The music/drama program is amazing. The sports program is fantastic and growing. They have gardening/cooking, plenty of field trips, after school enrichment classes and access to computers. A very nice library and librarian. They have P.E. every day and a sweet, well-supervised campus. The principal is very connected with the kids and seems to have a great rapport with his teaching staff. He didn't know very many kids as he came from out of district but quickly connected with other 6th graders during the first week of school. Berkeley Parent
Re: Worried about homework in Berkeley middle schools
My son is in 8th grade at Willard, which is probably similar to King. His homework load has been quite light all through middle school. In 7th grade he had an English and history teacher who hardly ever gave homework and instead said that the whole time the students were in class they were writing or otherwise working hard. I'm actually wondering whether Berkeley High is going to be a rude awakening for my son. I would say he spends about 45 minutes a night on average on homework now. -Mary
Re: Longfellow vs. Willard
I just read the posts, and no one has posted about Willard. My daughter started there this year, and loves it. It's academically rigorous, the teachers are terrific and the 6th grade math department is full of dynamic staff who make the classes fun. The principal, Robert Ithurburn, is very impressive, he goes to everything (and there are lots of events) and he's really on top of things. There has been a culture night, a math night, a wonderful winter concert, and I believe there's going to be a science fair. It's been a rich and rewarding year so far. There are other choices
My son will be a 7th grader this fall and will attend Willard. He's been in independent (private) school all of his life. Small classes, safe environment, etc. Anything I should know ahead of time? New Willard MS Parent
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
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 would be interested to hear from parents with children at Willard in Berkeley about their experience at the school as I am considering it for my 6th grade son for next year. Good or bad I would love to know what you think. Thank you very much in advance. Tracey
Both of my children attended Willard- each for 3 years (6 consecutive years). Our daughter graduated last year so I can't speak to the current year, but we were consistantly happy with Willard. The quality and dedication of the teachers and staff ,despite cuts in every aspect of school life, was amazing! Our children both came from private schools and both felt the quality of teaching was higher at Willard. We had the (very) occasional less than perfect teacher but the over all standards are outstanding. I can't imagine my children will ever have better teachers than a few of the ones they had at Willard. I wish Berkely High could live up to their standards in some small way. barbara
We haven't had any major problems. The one incident that did happen was dealt with quickly and efficiently, thanks to the VP.
It's a big school and the communication is pretty disorganized. It works better if you have email, if you don't then you're left out of the loop. Kind of exclusive, as not all parents have email. They do mail stuff out though.
The after-school program took a while to get going, but now it's in full-swing and works really well. The folks who run it are friendly and thoughtful. The kids can do their homework and then go onto a fun activity. The library is also open until 4 (except on Wed) for quiet homework, reading or work on the computers. The library, by the way, is a great place, run by a very smart, dedicated woman!
The 6th grade has something called the ''wheel'', where they rotate 4 times in the year through art (visual and performing), computers (my daughter said this was REALLY good as she learned how to type!), PE (which includes health and swimming), and Spanish. This is the only PE the kids get in 6th grade!!! Disappointing, but my daughter takes dance outside of school anyway.
I was very skeptical about Willard, but now I feel it's the best place for my daughter and she is thriving.
Re: music programs in middle schools
Hi, I think I can provide some information on Music in Berkeley's middle schools. My experience comes from two sources. First, I have a daughter playing in the Willard Orchestra right now. Second, I an building a volunteer program to support music in BUSD by putting music loving community members in classrooms to support music teachers and I have spent a lot of time in the last few years volunteering in classrooms myself.
Financial shortages and an very strong emphasis on test scores and closing the "achievement gap" have hurt Berkeley's music program, particularly at the middle school level. With the exception of one class at Longfellow, all middle school music classes have been moved to M-F at "zero period" (7:45 - 8:30 AM).
This schedule could have had the advantage of reducing conflict with other electives like advanced algebra and languages in a six period day which has little room for electives. Unfortunately, important electives are now also being offered exclusively in the morning in conflict with music. The Willard band now has about 25-30 kids, but the orchestra is down to six while many young string players opt for advanced algebra.
On the other hand, there are some very strong positives at the moment at Willard. Both music teachers are excellent. My daughter, a bass violin player, could not receive more encouragement and support. Music is her current favorite activity at Willard. Her orchestra teacher is a talented violist who also teaches on the college level. I volunteer for the band teacher once a week and she is also very dedicated to the kids and full of enthusiasm.
I can't promise you that the same teachers will be at Willard next year. The days of a music teacher being attached to a single school are gone, at least for the moment. Music teachers travel in teams to as many as six schools each week. You could call the Berkeley Music Department and ask about who will be at Willard next year. (510-644-8831)
In addition, all Berkeley middle schoolers have an opportunity in the spring to spend a weekend music retreat at Cazadero music camp where they work in an intensive way culminating in a concert for their families on Sunday. This weekend is subsidized by a grant and costs the kid's families very little ($25-$75) It can be a great experience for your child.
You might also look into the Crowden School after school program. Crowden is a top notch private school for kids whose primary interest is music. They have an after school program for which, I have been told, scholarships are available.
I would be happy to talk to anyone further about Berkeley's school music program, both how to get them most from it for your child, and how to best support it. You can get more information on the volunteer program at http://guest.xinet.com/kridle/MusicVols/index.htm. Bob
PS - As you are probably aware, BUSD is in the middle of further "belt tightening." Michelle Lawrence, our Superintendent, is now holding a series of community meetings at the schools. This is an attempt to identify core values for the district which will be supported in next years reduced budget. If you have strong feelings about music and art in our schools, it is important to attend some of these meetings and be heard.
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