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Berkwood Hedge School (Berkeley, CA)
I would love to hear current experiences of Berkwood Hedge- it seems that there has been a lot of teacher turnover in the last two years, and the kindergarten class may be under-enrolled. Historically I've heard great things about the school, but I'm wondering how the school is doing now, and about prospects for the future. Last reviews on this school were 2 years ago. Thank you!
The school has, indeed, been in a time of transition. From my angle as a new parent, this transition has had little impact on my experience or my child's experience. The staffing changes have not left me holding worries in any way about the school's sustainability or future of ongoing excellence. A Berkwood Hedge Parent
Overall, we are very happy with the school. It actually has exceeded our expectations in terms of providing a safe space for socio-emotional learning in addition to academics. If you have a spirited child (as we do), it's definitely one of the few schools that know how to support both kid and parents. The teachers are competent and confident, and very motivated to work with the parents. That was a breath of fresh air for us with our ''troublemaker'' and helped us take new approaches to parenting as well. In addition to that, the breadth and depth of the academics is quite impressive and has kept my kid engaged and motivated to continue learning. He also blossomed in areas I never thought possible, such as art and dance.
Staff turnover can appear disconcerting from the outside. However, the school has taken time to reach out about each transition and subsequent selection process of new hires. This transparency has truly inspired our confidence. Happy BH parent
There is some staff turnover this year, but it's less to do with the school than with life. One teacher got married and is moving to another area. Another teacher is retiring. They will be missed, but we're very happy with the teachers the school selected to take over their classes and feel confident that the school is as strong as ever. a very happy Berkwood Hedge parent
Berkwood Hedge is a kind and gentle place, and that also matters tremendously to my children. They feel completely safe and loved by teachers, students, and families.
It is true that there is going to be significant teacher turnover next year, and given how amazing the teachers are and how much each individual teacher's input matters at such a small school, no one is happy about this. But the people coming in as head teachers are all current or former teachers at the school in different capacities, which is likely to make for a pretty smooth transition. They have all shown themselves to be top notch teachers who share Berkwood Hedge's values and goals.
We feel lucky to have found Berkwood Hedge and feel that our children are having a wonderful elementary school experience. Happy BH Parent
Recently we had the pleasure of attending the end of year dance and music recital as well as ''family fun night'' as first timers. Both were amazing experiences. To witness our children and their peers expressing themselves so joyously and unselfconsciously during the recital took my breath away. To see them rally in support of each other - winners and losers - at family fun night made me so proud of our community. Our children - all of the children at Berkwood Hedge - know how to love, honor and support each other. Social justice and inclusion at its very best.
I cannot speak for the past and though things do change, I can whole-heartedly express my belief in Berkwood Hedge and fully expect a bright future for our family there. - Berkwood Hedge parent
It is a beautiful environment, where kids of all grades interact and support each other personally, and in learning and creativity. The teachers are amazing, unbelievably responsive to any parental questions or concerns, and fantastic at meeting the kids where they are and fostering curiosity. We've watched as our daughter's confidence has grown as she has learned both academically and socially. Kids are really nice to each other and parents, and open discussions happen with the kids when needed to help them make good decisions with how they treat others.
A very thoughtful approach seems to be taken with all decisions at the school, so while it does seem like a time of some changes at the school, we have not yet been adverseley impacted by any of the changes and are not worried about them. It's a truly special place for both the kids and the parents, and I'd think pretty hard about passing up an opportunity to send your child there if you can. Happy Berkwood Hedge Parent
Two new lead classroom teachers for next year have already been at Berkwood Hedge this year. My son has had one of them as an assistant classroom teacher and as a Spanish teacher; he adores her and I've very been impressed by what he has learned with her this year. Next year he will have an amazing teacher who is returning to Berkwood Hedge after several years of training teachers and supporting children's literacy. I just happened to meet a woman whose adult son had this teacher when he was in second grade and this mom, 20 years later, couldn't stop gushing about what a fantastic teacher she is. My kids have had excellent teachers every year at Berkwood Hedge and I feel completely confident that will continue.
The school is a special place and you can feel it when you are on the campus. The year is nearly over, but call the office if you would like to come for a tour. Or visit the Facebook page for some quick snapshots -- pictures and stories -- of the types of things that make the school a wonderful place to be. Hope you'll join us! A happy parent
Having completed our first (Spirit/Kindergarten) year as part of this community, I feel grateful to form part of such cohesive, inclusive, loving and comprehensive group. My child is thriving, not only because of the staff support and the thoughtful pedagogy, but because the entire community has as its goal to serve the children's educational, emotional and developmental needs. It is more than just a school. We see it as an extension of our own family in terms of philosophy and values.
As any family can experience, change is inevitable. However, we as parents, dwell not on the reasons why a teacher may have had to move on; but on how the school and community handles the replacement of such teachers. We appreciate the involved process which includes parents and staff.
I am thankful to have such a loving community caring for my daughter's educational, emotional, social and developmental needs - as well as our own as parents. Rod
Re: Schools that foster creativity?
I strongly recommend that you have a look at Berkwood Hedge. My son is in the Kindergarten (called Spirit) class and he has many of the same interests as your daughter. The Berkwood Hedge School is a school that truly nurtures creativity. They have a stellar literacy program that includes storytelling in the oral tradition (BH actually has an on-staff storyteller who tells stories to the Spirits and anyone who will listen during lunchtime each day), a fall Storytelling Festival, a Parent facilitated library, a Readathon, and the list goes on. My son came to Berkwood Hedge telling stories but his pacing and cadence has changed so much (and we're just half way into the school year)! He has evolved from wanting to dictate the stories while I type them to wanting to illustrate them and attempt to write the dialogue (much like a comic).
A few months ago, my son decided that he wanted to be an elephant and to wear his elephant helmet to school (he's worn Papa's tie around his waist once or twice because he wanted to have a tail). I explained to him that it likely wasn't allowed and he could show his teacher prior to entering the classroom but she would probably ask him to remove it. We arrived and the incredibly wise (and almost ethereal), Hanan, greeted us with a chuckle. She rubbed his head and said, ''Aren't you the cutest little elephant. Come on in!'' The day was not over and I braced myself for the end of the day to pick up a little boy who was crestfallen by all of the ridicule, elephant hat stuffed in his backpack, traumatized by the cruelty of elementary school children. Instead I had the sweetest little elephant run into my arms, all smiles, eager to tell me all about his day. He had a number of ''big'' kids say hello to him on the way to the gate (ageism just isn't an issue at Berkwood Hedge-- the children all play together and the Spirits are paired up with a 5th grade (Fire) buddy that they work with once a week).
Formal acting, if I'm not mistaken, isn't introduced until the 4th grade and a production is put on in the 5th grade. But if your daughter is in fact anything like my son, she is always in character. The Spirit class has costumes and the children are welcome to wear them and play during ''Free Choice'' time. I can go on and on but you should just visit the school for yourself. See the children's art on the walls, and in the classrooms. Check out the library. A plus if you can see Elisa, the math specialist in action-- talk about innovative methods of teaching! My husband and I are extremely pleased with what a rock solid and well rounded education our son is getting. Creativity is intermingled with the academic curriculum. Instead of being something extracurricular, the arts are part of the learning process ie. counting beats during music is a lot like learning syllables in class and both involve counting and written symbols (letters and music notation). I am witnessing my 5 year old make those connections! I can't explain it, the faculty at Berkwood Hedge just GET it. But again, you need to see for yourself! Mama to a Creative Spirit
The studio space is lovely and the kids get to do amazing things with clay, paint, photography, fabric, and more. Open studio during lunch allows kids to build and create with found objects. The annual community storytelling festival (Telling Tales) held each October brings incredible performers and storytellers to the school and inspires the kids to write and perform themselves. And the 4th and 5th graders get weekly drama classes. The 5th graders actually have drama twice a week and write their own play (!!!) that they put on in May. Please come for a tour or Open House to see for yourself! In addition to inspiring creativity, this great school has dynamic teaching overall and fosters a warm and inviting community. Sarah
I'm overwhelmed by the sheer number of schools that need touring! I am wondering if I can narrow down some of the schools... can anyone give me their perspective on Walden versus Berkwood Hedge? I've toured one (BH) and really liked it, but am wondering if they are very different... should I bother with the other? Thanks. Overwhelmed and Low on Time
Berkwood Hedge has a much more balanced, professional, tantrum-free environment. There is emphasis on the arts and on working cooperatively (both kids and teachers), and they have a director who is able to hear concerns in a non-loaded way and thus really help families. The kids are happily engaged, active learners. Ask to see both school's handbooks. -Done both
My son started kindergarten (the Spirit class) this fall at Berkwood Hedge. Initially, we weren't quite sure what a ''progressive'' education entailed. I gathered that my son would not be singing the national anthem every morning and filling out ditto sheets like I did as a child. But I wondered what their process for learning was and I wondered if it really worked. What did, ''meeting a child at their level'', really mean? Shouldn't there just be a bar and children strive to reach it?
We also had quite a bit of concern about kindergarten being dubbed as, ''the new first grade''. We wanted our son to be challenged but not pushed. We liked the idea of education being, not so much the thrusting in of information or memorizing multiplication tables, sight word flash cards, etc. We also weren't interested in learning for the sake of learning. We instead felt that education should be the bringing out of what is already in the child. My son entered as an early reader and he could do basic addition and subtraction with the use of manipulatives but I was quickly beginning to see that he was already in this rut of scratching the surface of a topic and then asking, ''what's next?'' There was the danger of him getting bored easily or in him only reading, writing, or counting in order to impress adults. We want him to love learning, to dig and to thirst for it. Not because we say so or because we expect it of him but because he has a very personal and profound need for understanding. We wanted a school that would be willing to take what a child learns and put it in context.
First and foremost, ''meeting a child at their level'', means that the Berkwood Hedge faculty are seeing and treating your child as an individual. the teachers at Berkwood Hedge recognize that there is no on-size-fits-all formula when it comes to education. We process information differently. We know that there are a number of possibilities to, ''sum equals 10''. Whether it 's 7 and 3 or 6 and 4, we still arrive at 10. Likewise, there is in fact a bar (we'll call it ''10'') and Berkwood hedge is committed to seeing to it that every child meets that bar and working together as a community to figure out just how to make that happen. Trying to discover what combination will yield that, ''10''. I think that what differentiates Berkwood Hedge from many of the other schools that we visited is that the ''bar'' isn't fixed. BH doesn't run the risk of academic performance being ''standardized''. As soon as a student has reached 10, he's being posed with the next challenge, ''sum equals 20''. ''Meeting a child at their level'' applies to everyone. At Berkwood Hedge, students who are advanced in a subject aren't given paper and crayons and asked to draw until everyone else has caught up (something that I dealt with as a child in public school).
Berkwood Hedge has already kindled my son's interest in learning. He tells me things in spanish. When we go to the library, he beelines for the non-fiction juvenile section for books on insects. He wants to know what is at the center of our planet and he makes drawings of ''other solar systems that we've never heard of''. Where blocks were once used for building structures for habitation, he now builds ships (that you can sit in) creating triangular bows. He tells me that he ''honors'' me for making the family such a great dinner. He's learned that Zev is a boy's name that means wolf and that it comes from a place where people speak Hebrew. He wants to know more about that place (it's on the map in his classroom). He is growing so much as a young person. he was very shy and I can already see him coming out of his shell. Last week he came home with a library book from the school library. I asked him who he went to the library with and he replied, ''I went by myself. I just gave her the book and told her my name and she checked it out for me''. The library is open during lunchtime-- a time when my son just wants to play-- so hearing that he elected to go to the library during his lunch break , floored me. Berkwood Hedge is his school and it is intimate enough that he knows everyone (students in every grade, teachers, and administrators alike). Our family could not have wished for a better school! A Spirited Mama
Re: Hands-on, no-homework private/charter elementary?
The description of what you are looking for in a school fits very well with what our family has experienced at Berkwood Hedge. The biggest strength of this school is its teachers, every one of whom seems beautifully in tune with both individual children's development and the social and emotional needs of groups of children as they progress through elementary school. It is a place where both children and adults can bring their passions and interests into the curriculum. My third grader has come home recently discussing the impacts of plastic downcycling on what can be reasonably recycled, and he was the person who made sure our family watched the presidential debate so he could better understand the U.S. political process. But as important as those topics are, and as passionate as he has become about them, he was even more excited about creating Balobbyland, an imaginary world for centimeter tall creatures (and in so doing he became more fluent in multiplication and measurement). The teachers really ''get'' children, and this is evident in the excitement with which the kids take up challenging projects and ideas.
Art, music, and PE are treated as necessary and important parts of education rather than as extras, and my children love all of their specialist teachers (in addition to those three, there are also Spanish and environmental science specialists).
The social environment of the school is really sweet, both because the school is small and because of how the teachers work to support social development. My kindergartener comes home telling me about her third grade friends. The fact that a crew of third graders will happily play with the kindergarteners at recess (and teach them how to braid, do cartwheels, and a host of other things) is both surprising and heartwarming to me. There is a real sense that everyone at the school cares for everyone else.
You mentioned preferring no homework, and there is in fact some at Berkwood Hedge. But I'm a no homework supporter myself, but I don't find the limited homework inappropriate or overly time consuming. The teachers use homework judiciously, for specific purposes. Good luck in your school search! I hope you find a good match for your family as we have for ours. Happy BH Parent
Re: so many good schools to choose from - which one?
Greetings, I'm a parent at Berkwood Hedge (of a second grader and kindergartener). I saw your posting and can only speak personally about Berkwood Hedge, and we've been so impressed by the combination of strong academics, the social justice curriculum, and the arts, I don't know where to begin! Berkwood Hedge really specializes in an integrated curriculum that's tailored to each child's specific learning needs. My kindergartner did a study on hair earlier in the year, which incorporated children's literature with hair themes (involved many variations of Rapunzel); music (a rap about keratin); math (the students graphed hair types, made a chart); science (each child examined their own hair and their classmates' under a microscope, then drew depictions of what they saw, followed by scientific discussions about the structure of hair molecules); and art (each child created multi-media self portraits with a focus on their hair.) My 2nd grader is currently delving into fractions, recording various numbers and parts of numbers found around the house. She's also dissecting owl pellets to learn what owls eat. They both LOVE reading!
Every fall, the school embarks upon a storytelling curricular unit, bringing local storytellers into the classroom and sponsoring a storytelling festival with internationally renowned tellers. Daily lunches are accompanied by a storyteller (my daughters know more Greek myths and Coyote tales than I do!) The tie-in to reading and oral communication is emphasized; the school really works on helping each child find their voice in writing, in speaking, in the conflict resolution and social justice that's practiced on a daily basis.
The community is amazing. The school has one class per grade, but the curriculum and many school-wide programs are designed with a mixed class focus. My kindergartner has a 5th grade buddy and a 3rd grade reading buddy. ''Sign-up'' workshops allow 2nd graders to play chess with 4th graders, 1st graders to learn soccer skills with 3rd graders. Please feel free to contact me if you have any other questions. Sincerely, Julia
You mention math at Black Pine Circle. What I'll let you know is that our experiences there in the lower grades demonstrated no real challenges in the areas of math for our child, or other humanities for that matter. What we saw was that the exceptional math experiences at BPC occur in the middle school. Our daughter never really felt challenged by either math or reading while at BPC. The explanation we were given when we asked was that the teachers needed to bring everyone together to a similar level. While at Berkwood Hedge, our daughter has been given an overall understanding of math that my husband and I wish we had been given at her age. She hasn't just memorized facts - I'm sure you know that's the easy part. She's actually learned how numbers work together and can play with that knowledge.
You also mention that you'd like a larger community. I'm afraid Berkwood Hedge, as it only covers 1st through 5th does not fulfill that desire. I would describe it as a small, tightly knit, yet VERY welcoming community. Black Pine Circle had a much larger community.
Finally you also mention that you'd like your child to be "seriously challenged in the humanities." I'm not sure how to specifically address this. But I can tell you that when we chose to switch schools to Berkwood Hedge, we knew we were getting a truly diverse, progressive caring community. What we didn't fully realize our daughter would get is an education in how to write that has surpassed anything I've seen/experienced elsewhere. This school creates mature and confident writers of both fiction and non-fiction. I wouldn't be surprised if any of these children went on to become published authors, they certainly are given the foundation for it. One thing you may not know about is the "Book This Evening" program put on by the Library Committee every year. Each year an author, and sometimes author/illustrator is invited to speak to families and children. It's been a great event, and after the last visit, my daughter was talking about it for weeks! I hope this helps you understand a bit more about Black Pine Circle and Berkwood Hedge. -Berkwood Hedge Parent
My husband and I were originally drawn to the developmental curriculum of the school, and continue to be impressed by it as we experience it day-to-day.
One thing that has stood out to us about our daughter's literacy development this year at Berkwood Hedge is that she has been encouraged to write what's in her mind, to be courageous in what she tries, and the result is that she now sees herself as a writer (and, in turn, a reader).
Our daughter had been very excited about learning to read and write in kindergarten. Pre-kindergarten, she could write her name and read a few sight words. Yet within the first few weeks of school, she began to write messages when she wanted to tell us something, such as ''Les go! Mama Nau! Ples!'' when trying to get me out of the house to go to the park. She then began reading all of what she was putting down on paper, and telling us enthusiastically, ''If you can write, you can read; if you can read, you can write.'' Just this last weekend (mid-way through the school year), she wrote a story that included phonetic spellings of ''trail'' (her attempt was ''trele''), ''suddenly'' (sudinly), ''diamond'' (dimind), ''sparkled'' (sporkld), ''magical'' (majikl), and ''oridnary'' (odunere). What has stood out to us about Berkwood Hedge's approach has been that she has steadily grown in her literacy skills while experiencing this work as a meaningful activity in authentic communication and expression.
We've had a similar experience with what she has learned in her math skills. She enjoys it and understands key concepts that have been introduced to her for the first time at Berkwood Hedge (for example, understanding how to count by looking at groups of numbers, 5+5=10, so 5+6 (or 5 + 5+1) = 11).
I continue to enjoy observing how the school teaches (and feel that I learn in the process as well). The school also provided a comprehensive written report of our daughter's literacy and mathematical progress mid-year (in addition to a parent-teacher conference), which was very helpful to see. (There will be one more conference and written report for the second half of the year).
There's much more I could say - positive experiences with art, music, P.E., storytelling, content of the themes explored in class, afterschool care, parent community, field trips- but I wanted to share one part of our experience related to how the school has challenged and engaged our daughter academically.
Best wishes to you as you make your decision about which school feels like the right fit for your child. It sounds like you have many good choices! Happy Berkwood Hedge kindergarten family
RE: Small schools - good or bad?
It depends on your child. For our child (as well as our family) attending a small school was a wonderful experience. He attended Berkwood Hedge School, a small private school in Berkeley, from K-5. He came away with solid academic skills, a deep awareness of social justice and lifelong friends. The staff members of small schools are well aware of the areas that can become problematic for certain kids. They are well versed and highly skilled. It's good to remember that enrolling in ANY school - big or small - requires a certain leap of faith. Best of luck to you! Small School Fan
Re: Private or Public School for 5 yr old speech delay
I'm sorry you are having a hard year. Please check out Berkwood Hedge School in Central Berkeley (www.berkwood.org). Here's a video with parents talking about their kids' experiences at the school, including the school's ability to meet kids where they are with their learning and allowing them to learn at their own pace. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5sshcRSbT9M It's one of the most established, well run, highly respected by educators and not terribly well known schools in the Bay Area. My child is thriving there. Jodi
Second, it is probably best if you choose a public school -- perhaps even remaining at your own with the IEP in place. Public schools must provide any special services your child needs (e.g. speech therapy, occupational therapy, learning assistance, etc.) free of charge, based on the testing. Most private schools do not provide any such services -- you would have to provide them yourself at extra cost (on top of extremely expensive tuition). It's possible that you could still get the services from the local school district, but then you would have to shuttle the child to and fro.
My child had an IEP around handwriting issues. He received both resource help and occupational therapy. The nice part was, students went in and out of the classroom for all sorts of things -- music lessons, resource help, computer practice, etc. No one took any notice of it, and there was no stigma attached. I didn't have to take him anywhere special, it was just a regular part of his day. It helped him enormously. Karen
Re: Private schools in Berkeley
Our daughter loves her school, Berkwood Hedge. We have found a wonderful community of thoughtful, compassionate students, parents, teachers, and administrators. This is a school that really lives by its progressive mission statement to the fullest! One of the things that always inspires me is hearing the students honoring their teachers for great lesson plans or fun homework at our community meeting, which happens every Wednesday morning. Kids love coming to school, and I often hear a parent report that their child pretends they are not sick, because they don't want to miss school!
We also appreciate the small size, one class per grade level with up to 20 students in each grade, about 100 students total, because it means the students, teachers, and parents all know each other and create relationships of trust long before the child may even be in that particular teacher's class. The small size also allows for a lot more freedom and mixing of class levels, which a lot of the kids really enjoy. This school really feels like an extended family that is supporting our children as they begin their journeys in elementary school.
Since you are moving from Spain, a close-knit community might be really helpful while you get settled in Berkeley.
Berkwood Hedge is very committed to providing financial assistance, and many families receive financial aid, so it would be well-worth applying for assistance. http://www.berkwood.org/ Tamsen
I'm looking for comments on Berkwood Hedge School, there doesn't appear to be anything recent in the archives. We are considering it for our son who will be entering Kindergarten in the fall. We like how the school presents itself, but does it really walk the walk? anon
From the start, Berkwood was kind, accommodating, and had no problems with accepting our son, who has been DXed with anxiety. They got our kids in, in a matter of days. Yes, they do walk the walk, in spades. I had to put our kids in after care, because they do not want to leave at the end of the day. I can't imagine a better environment than that.
We adore it for it's wonderful social community. Our kids have dropped in and integrated in the school with ease....and it's only been a couple of weeks.
That said, remember that no school is forever, and if you find that it's not right for you, you can change schools in 1st grade. Wendy
My three kids could not be more different -- socially and academically -- and each one of them thrived/is thriving at Berkwood Hedge. The teachers really see each child as an individual and helps them along their own learning and social paths. All of my kids access the developmental curriculum with confidence at their levels -- one kid is very strong academically and she is challenged and so happy and the other has learning disabilities and he is confident and excited about learning and is making great progress.
I also can say that my oldest moved on to a big public school and is doing so well there. He has the confidence to navigate the typical tricky social situations and contributes a lot in class even though he is shy. He was very well prepared academically and handled the increased homework and test-taking with ease.
There is so much more to say, but we couldn't be happier with the teachers, the staff, the strong community, the curriculum, diversity, etc. If you want to talk more the moderator can give you my contact info. Happy Berkwood Hedge Parent
Other pleasant surprises that we've found about the school include:
- The diversity (racial, economic, family structure, etc.) among the families and teachers is amazing for such a small school.
- The ''buddies'' are great. As a new family to the school, we got a buddy family that welcomed as as soon as we arrived in Berkeley. Our Kindergartner beams when describing his time with his 5th grade play buddy, 3rd grade reading buddy, and his ''senior buddy'' from the North Berkeley Senior Center.
- All the staff (and many of the kids and parents) know our kids by name and by their interests. Wow -- no wonder they feel so comfortable!
- It takes a lot to be a Bay Area Green Business. Berkwood Hedge is conscious of, and careful with, its use of resources (water, electricity, paper, etc.) and teaches this stewardship to its students. I love that homework papers are always double-sided or printed on reused paper. My kids LOVE the reclaimed materials available for their art projects during lunchtime open studios on Mon/Fri.
- Our kindergartner is joyfully learning to read (he had no interest in even learning all the letters prior to the school year) and our 3rd grader is learning strong research skills and becoming a great writer.
- Our sport-phobic kids love P.E. at Berkwood Hedge. We appreciate that it physically demanding in a fun, supportive setting.
- Our kids are getting more Spanish in school than we expected. It is taught directly by specialists, but also woven into the day by classroom and after-school teachers.
- ''There are no mean kids.'' It seems too good to be true, but that's what our kids say. We think it speaks strongly to the proactive oversight of the teachers, the student-involved conflict resolution program, and the nature of the school community.
We know that there are lots of great school options in this area, but Berkwood Hedge really does seem outstanding. Hope we will see your family there in the fall! Sarah
Things that need improving -the social justice curriculum is a little vague to me. If you live in Berkeley your child will get a fairly large dose of that kind of curriculum in any school. I was hoping that as the kids got older they would do some service projects, get out in the community a little, but that hasn't happened. They are still sorting out the enrichment programs-there has been a different music teacher almost every year we have been at the school and at this point it is a disastrous program. Spanish as well has been unfortunate, they are trying something new now that I think has promise, but it was just instituted this year, so we shall see. BH follows a developmental model, so if your child wishes to do more academically it can be hard to get support to move at a different pace than the rest of his/her classroom community.
All that being said, the BH community is a very loving and caring group of people. We were looking for a small school that nurtured our child's individuality and valued a wide range of social and learning styles and perspectives, and that BH has done in spades. Whenever I have gone into the classroom the kids all seem to be actively participating and engaged at levels that are comfortable to them. BH mom
Now my daughter is in 4th grade, and is running into social anxieties as she wakes up to the greater world of girls' alliances and cliques. It hasn't been easy at home these past weeks; she's not sleeping well and seems to be more self-critical. It's downright painful to see her go through this. I am very impressed with the way that Erica and Vera, the two fourth grade teachers and the fifth grade teacher, Marianne, have been willing to meet with me to help me sort through what is going on and how best to deal with it.
Last year, too, there was some stuff along these same lines and when I brought it up, Seema (3rd grade teacher) was very pro-active in addressing the issue as an issue for the whole class-- not only my daughter's. Over the year she actually changed the class dynamic; the lines that divided the class blurred and everyone began to play with one another more readily.
The teaching at BH is very solid. My daughter has some trouble in math; they've identified that and separate her from the general class regularly for special attention.
And last week, for five days, one hour per day, the fourth grade students were treated to puberty class (P.C.). My daughter was nervous beforehand but by the end of the week, she'd changed enormously. She's now excited about entering puberty. Amazing. The teacher is an outside hire, Ivy Chen, and she's wonderful-- funny, accessible, tremendously informative. On Friday, my daughter came back from school and immediately sat down to send Ivy an e-mail! Yoko
Re: Elementary schools where African American boys thrive
it's just sad that parents of children of color still have to worry about these things. i had the same fears for my (dark- skinned) latino son. he's just started kindergarten at berkwood hedge and we're both happy.
the class is diverse and curriculum reflects that. the staff keeps its ear to the ground so it can address any social issues that come up among the kids and the curriculum is flexible enough that it can accomodate many learning styles and skill levels. the dedicated math teacher and art teacher are both african american, and there are other minorities on the staff.
when i went throught the process last year i remember wishing there was a school which had the kind of flexibility and great academics where all the teachers and kids looked just like him ( and where the teachers weren't demoralized becasue of the budget cuts). in the end the curriculum won out. there is also an argument to be made against keeping kids in a monoracial environment: the world just isn't that way.
anyway, it was sad to read about your friends' experiences. hope you find the right place for your son. anon
Re: Peaceful, Kind, Elementary School in Oak/Berk???
It's great that you are spending this time to consider the nuances of how the culture of a school affects the experience of your child. I am writing to suggest that you visit Berkwood Hedge School in Berkeley. We are very happy there, as are our children. We do not have a television in the house, and we also limit media, but we don't fall into the ''wooden toys only'' group. The families there are a lovely mix of caring, responsive parents with thoughtful, engaged children. It is a small school, so when a situation arises where feelings get hurt - as is bound to happen in any school - the teachers and staff are quick to respond. Even the kids pipe in, sticking up for each other. There is a lovely conflict resolution program that the kids really take pride in utilizing, and the culture of the school is truly one of kindness. One of the overarching tenants of the program is social justice, but this isn't rammed down anybody's throat - it is simply a common thread in the curriculum that shows up in age appropriate ways. Caring for each other, whether it be your friend who is having trouble listening in class, a group of people less fortunate that you, or recognizing the importance of taking care of the environment all come into play.
There are certainly families there for whom popular culture is a prevalent part of their lives, but it's my take that the majority of the families (the structure of which is quite varied) choose to keep images of violence out of the scene. We've never had a problem there. In fact, of the 9 various schools we've been involved with (we have 3 kids and have moved two times over the years), we find that Berkwood Hedge is by far the best fit for our peaceful family. Ask if you can attend one of our weekly Community Meetings - I think it gives a great sense of what the climate is like.
When you visit various schools, try to spend time talking to other families. You will always find families who aren't happy at any school you go to, so you have to really trust your own feelings about the place. I know families who have left Berkwood Hedge for various reasons, and I know families who have come to BH and have never been happier. Only you can make the best choice for your own family.
Good luck with your decision. These are important years for both you and your child.
All the best, another peaceful parent
Here's a plug for Berkwood Hedge school if you are looking for a wonderfully nurturing educational environment for your child with chronic medical conditions. There are a number of children at our school who have various syndromes and chronic conditions including type I diabetes, severe peanut and dairy allergies as well as mild disabilities. As a parent of a child with multiple medical conditions, our family has found a haven of support at Berkwood Hedge. The teachers all got on board to educate themselves, staff and students about our daughter's conditions without stigmatizing her. This experience has normalized her emotionally as well. She feels really cared for and attended to, but not coddled or infantalized because of her diagnoses. She's a normal kid at this school have a very loving and well rounded educational experience. Laine
Re: Academically strong and liberal private school
Berkwood Hedge, a K-5 school in central Berkeley, seems like an excellent fit. The academics are awesome--full of substance and creativity. For example, recently the entire school had a week-long geography ''teach-in'' during which each child carried a passport, traveled to classrooms transformed into other countries, and was challenged to think about big questions, such as how nature affects culture. The kindergartners are called ''readers'' and ''mathematicians'' and keep a ''writers' journal,'' all of which helps them believe in themselves academically right from the start. During lunch, a storyteller weaves tales for the children (it helps them sit still long enough to get some nutrition!). Although small, the school has math, science, Spanish, art, music, & P.E. specialists. Often, half the class goes to the specialist at a time, which allows both the group with the specialist and the group with the classroom teacher to get lots of attention. At a Community Meeting on a Thursday morning, you can join in songs about peace and social justice, hear announcements about community service and the ongoing efforts as a ''green'' school, and see for yourself that neither the staff nor the parents value looking like Barbie or Ken dolls. It's a loving and supportive community. We've been very pleased.
Amy (Berkwood parent)
Please share your experiences about the aftercare programs and
lunch/recess times at Aurora, Berkwood Hedge and Park Day
schools. Is there enough adult supervision? Is teasing or
bullying noticed and adequately addressed? What happens on a
rainy day? Are younger children separated from older children?
What do you think about the quality of afterschool enrichment
Thank you for your responses to any of these questions as to any
of these schools.
Grateful for Your Thoughts!
During lunch times, teachers stay with the children to make sure that children eat something before they go out to play. Many children also like to eat their lunches listening to a couple of staffers who are excellent story-tellers.
The afterschool enrichment programs are excellent. They are optional, so kids are free to just play if they wish too. The afterschool programs include Homework Club, Steel Drums, Capoeira, Spanish Club, Chess, Sport League, Crafts, Cooking, Wheel day and South American Ensemble. Most programs are included with the Afterschool fees.
The Aftercare is also offered during Spring Break, Winter Break, etc. In addition to on-site activities, there are usually some field trips to parks or museums. When my son was young, there was an all-day trip in which he got tired and fell asleep; I learned that one of the staff actually carried him during the walk back.
Younger children tend to play in the sand/play structure area; older children play mostly in the ''big yard'' area. Because of the buddy program which pairs older kids with younger ones, younger children like to hang out with their buddies at times. Because all the kids know each other, I noticed that children look out for each other wherever they are, at school or during field trips. These friendships even extend after BH years.
There's always sufficient adult supervision, In addition to the afterschool staff, teachers and the administration also keep an eye on children as they come and go. Teachers know each child in the school by name. Also, many children know who is whose parent :) Teasing and bullying are noticed and adequately addressed by the afterschool staff and/or teachers. There's an active conflict resolution program and all the staff is trained.
When it's raining during afterschool, they do activities such as crafts, cooking, board games and free play in the Multipurpose room. I believe that if it's only a light drizzle, kids with raingear are allowed to play outside. This is a great for my very active son; keeping them indoors at any sign of rain is too restrictive in my opinion.
Berkwood Hedge aftercare is a fun, safe place to leave my son. Kids enjoy it so much that they don't want to leave! If you'd like more input about Berkwood Hedge Aftercare and/or Teachers, don't hesitate to contact me.
Re: Central Berkeley Schools
I just heard that the Bay Area's most wonderful private school- BERKWOOD HEDGE- has some openings this fall! For girls in K and first grade especially. Anyone even vaugely entertaining the idea of private school in Berkeley would be wise to jump at this opportunity and get more information! My son is a very attached, emotional child and kindergarten was a real concern for me, but we got a spot in kindergarten last year and feel it is the best (and hardest) decision we ever made. Every day when I pick Julian up from school I am amazed at how happy and peaceful he is. He is inspired to be creative and helpful and kind. The school feels like an oasis in this hectic busy world, not just for him but for us as a family. The whole staff is amazing, and we have had only positive interactions with everyone there, but I must say, the kindergarten teacher is the absolute best in the world! Berkwood Hedge has a strong focus on social justice, and I see my son internalizing this. He is compassionate in his relationships, and thoughtful about the wrongs he sees in the world. He's learned SO much more than reading and math there, his heart sings and buzzes with ideas and opportunity. What a great way to start a career in school!!! We don't know that we'll be in Berkeley forever, but I know that with each passing year that he gets to be there, he's more ready for life in the mainstream. His confidence builds every day. Berkwood Hedge is one of the most diverse schools in the community, with students from all over the world, and offers very generous financial aid to folks who qualify... Why not look into it? It could be the best decision you ever make too! Berkwood Hedge can be reached at 510-883-6990, or if you email me your phone number Id be happy to tell you more about the school and our experience there. There is hope in schooling after all! Becca
1. Excellent, caring teachers who know our kids extremely well and inspire them to learn. Small class size (teacher and aide for 20 kids). Strong integrated curriculum, with good breadth and depth, somehow made magically creative too. For example, a unit on shoes taught our 2nd grader not only math (multiplication, estimation, measurement), but also science, social studies (which shoes from which culture, who doesn't have shoes and why), as well as writing about and drawing shoes.
2. Many specialists: music, drama, Spanish, art, great P.E.
3. Diversity and strong parent community.
4. Fun before-school and after-care programs.
Every morning, our kids greet the day with big old smiles on their faces because they can't wait to get to school. By the end of the day, they have lots to tell us (and teach us). They're excited about learning, and - best of all - they're learning how to learn for life.
Can a parent ask for anything more? Simon
Berkwood Hedge School is a great place. The staff really ''walks their talk.'' The school has a long history of being committed to creating (and maintaining) diversity in the school community. I think they were actually the first integrated school in Berkeley (long, long ago, of course)! It's worth taking a serious look at. Good luck! BH Fan
In terms of the academics, I feel that the education our child is getting is exactly appropriate to his age. His teachers are amazing and I can see him learning math concepts and reading because they make it FUN, something I feel is extremely important. I really didn't want him to be getting drilled on this stuff, especially not in Kindergarten, so I was very sensitive to this sort of teaching when we looked at all the schools. Berkwood Hedge also offers Spanish and art classes, with specialists and taught in smaller groups, and this part of the program has been incredible for our child. He actually told me the other day that he wants to grow up and be an artist like the art specialist at his school and teach other children. (I would not be surprised if he did end up doing that since his paternal grandmother and aunts are all artists.)
Good luck. I would be happy to discuss this further if anyone has questions.
Berkwood Hedge has helped my children: learn to trust others (adults and children), be open to all kinds of learning opportunities, make connections across artistic and academic disciplines and love asking questions and searching for answers. They both love going to school, learning and have a strong network of friends from the school. This week a child in my daughter's 1st grade class suggested they write Pres. Bush about stopping the war. The school cares deeply about social justice. The school is small and so active with many programs! Most importantly, no child will slip through the ''crack'' at BH - every child is an individual and all the kids/staff/teachers know every child. The school strikes a very good balance (for us_ between child-centered/artistic/emergent curriculum and meaningful academic learning. They were able to both challenge my boy who started Kindergarten reading, and inspire my daughter to read this year. The learning is truly individualized for every student. My son has a mild physical disability, and he has never been labeled, teased or hurt by his differences. Instead, his interests and love of reading has given him the self-esteem to create good friends and not be limited by his issues.
No school is perfect, but this school has made signifcant changes over the past 2 years to stabilize the changing administration, attract fabulous teachers, and keep the soul of this progressive urban school as a priority. We love the diversity, the strong arts orientation, and the passion for education that is shared by all of the families, teachers, staff and students. The community is small, caring and commited to so many of the values we as a family also hold. This is truly a very special school. My kids see their school community as an extention of their family. My children are very different from each other and each has unique strengths and challenges. elizabeth
We start in kindergarten teaching children to understand that we are members of a diverse community, and that all of us, no matter what, deserve to be treated fairly. No school is perfect for everyone, and I'm sorry that this child's experience was not a good one. But to suggest that the school is bad for children in the upper grades, that the environment is damaging, and to imply that this experience is the norm is unfair and does a great disservice to all the families whose children thrived here and continue to do well in middle school, high school and beyond. Again, I'm sorry this child had a hard time, but to suggest to others that their children will have the same experience is quite misleading. Carla Riemer
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