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Canyon School (Canyon, CA)

Berkeley Parents Network > Reviews > K-12 Schools > Canyon School (Canyon, CA)


See also: Living in Canyon
Aug 2012

I currently live in Oakland and my children have always attended private schools with financial assistance. My income will increase soon and I don't believe the school will continue to provide assistance at the same level with the income change - our family won't be able to afford the school without assistance. I looked in to Oakland Unified for elementary schools and have familiarized myself with their system but am sure I will not be pleased if my daughter is not placed in a high scoring school. I have heard good things about Canyon Elementary School which is in its own district and am intrigued. Does anyone have a recommendation? Are there any difficulties/challenges with respect to an inter-district transfer? Any advice would be appreciated. Considering Public if outside of Oakland


Have your children already been accepted into the school? If not, I wouldn't bother with trying to transfer in. Canyon is a high performing school and has been showcased nationally in books and television shows, due to this, there is a long waiting list. Still waiting
June 2010

We are trying to decide between Canyon School and Montclair Elementary. Both schools have many positive qualities, but I know a little more about Montclair and would like to know more about what it's like at Canyon so I can make a fair comparison. If you have experience with either or both schools, please share your perspective (and your recommendation, if you have one). I am especially interested in the pros and cons of each school, and the ''insider'' perspective from parents and/or staff. Thanks


I can say a few things about Canyon School, which has its strong and weak points. Socially and emotionally it has all the pros and cons of a large family where everyone knows each other. It's great for developing creativity in general, and confidence in speaking and performing in particular. It is also very good for fostering friendships and understanding between children of different ages. The curriculum is somewhat disorganized but there are many very fun projects and field trips. The K-1-2 class is very highly regarded, and the 3-4-5 class has been holding its own, but the 6-7-8 class has been shaky for years and experiences a lot of turnover of students as well as teachers. Many parents do a lot of supplementary instruction or hire private tutors. You have to be able to be very involved as a parent, at school or at home, to make it work well, but if you can do that it can work very well indeed. - Mom of a Canyon School alum
March 2007

We're considering Canyon School for our child, and would love to hear a bit more about people's experiences there. It seems like a really wonderful place, but I have a couple of questions: Would a child who needs a fairly structured environment be a good fit there? How do the children like having such a small group peers in their immediate grade level? Finally, are the kids generally well prepared for high school after attending Canyon? What do you love or hate about it? Thanks for any information.


We moved to Canyon when our son started first grade. He is now in the final 8th grade. As a caveat, I am on the school board, so my opinion is informed and biased. The program is structured (broadly) as three multi-grade classrooms, K-2, 3-5, 6-8. Multi- grade classrooms are ideal for social and educational development. Older children mentor, and Canyon teachers structure curriculum so it either rotates across three years or is repeated in greater depth during each succeeding grade. There are around 7-9 children in each grade, 20-23 per multi- grade classroom, so teachers become familiar with each kid. They focus on arts and math. Teachers are paid no more at Canyon than in any other horribly under-funded California district (hello to being at the bottom of State per-pupil funding), but the autonomy and creativity they have at Canyon draws superior educators. Parents from out-of-district must put in considerable driving time delivering and picking up their child. They tend to be generous fundraisers for the school. Not every parent who invests time and money this way is comfortable with the limited administrative input a public school offers to out- of-district parents. Any small program becomes a laboratory of personality types, but I doubt there is a crystal ball that can guide a prospective parent vis-ŕ-vis their success or frustration with the ever changing, but small social network.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for an education-minded parent like myself is the 6,7,8 grade program. I doubted that such a cozy environment could offer the curriculum needed to prepare for high school. I set out to prove it, and discovered how ignorant I was (unfortunately, uninformed opinion seems to guide many educational decisions). From government think tanks to nonprofit activists, I was told the usual middle school (or junior high) is an American experiment (a 1950s political reaction to Sputnik and America's ''coddled'' youth) gone wrong. Statistically, more kids crash academically and behaviorally in middle school than in high school. K-8 program graduates outperform their middle school counterparts. There are competing explanations that I won't elaborate. But 6th-8th grade girls may benefit especially, since their social scene has little anonymity and they remain masters of their own appearance and choices. Canyon graduates do well in high school. To summarize, Canyon offers structural advantages (multi-grade, K-8), attracts good teachers, and as an independent public school district remains intrinsically innovative. Nevertheless, the demands on inter-district transfer parents are substantial, and they face more formal constraints on core program influence than they would in their own district. Now, I didn’t mention the ecological context... Canyon School Information


Have you talked to the Principal? When we checked into Canyon school for the 2005 - 2006 Kindergarten year, we were 24 on the wait-list. We wree not allowed to tour the school until we were up higher on the list. I do know that the classes are ''combined grade'' K-1, 2-3, 4-5 6-7-8. My daughter is still on the list even though she is now in first grade entering second next year. They also have a Summer Camp at the school site ''Scamp Camp'' We would love to have the Canyon option for middle school, so we remain on the list - moved up 3 in two years. Canyon Fan
Our two children attended Canyon School for 4 years and we ultimately decided to enroll them in a public school that has more professional oversight. Although Canyon is a public school, it is run as though it is a private affair with the primary interest being the survival of the town. Many people will disagree with our assessment (we felt that our opinions put our children at a clear disadvantage in the classroom, as many of the paid employees are long term Canyon residents, including the ''head'' tenured teacher). The school may work beautifully for your children (the setting is lovely and the curriculum is gentle and nature oriented) as long as you stay in your ''place'' and refrain from asking questions or making suggestions or statements that might step on rooted toes (even ones that directly concern your child or the professional behavior of teachers). As far as the waiting list goes, it is a little known fact that friends and relatives of Canyon residents get priority for enrollment. Just ask to see a copy of the board policy and read it very carefully. I am sure this email will generate quite a bit of support for the school (it has many wonderful qualities) but most parents who have left the school simply stay silent as they are on to greener pastures. sign us, grazing elsewhere
I spent quite a bit of time researching Canyon and almost sent our daughter there. The wait list for out of district students this year was 48, and we were 7th, so in a way to be offered a spot there seemed like we'd won the lottery. I have a friend who lives there so I spent a very pleasant half-day visiting and volunteering there. First, the positives. It has a beautiful environment, peaceful low-stress approach, and all the children seemed kind and happy. I really liked the respectful way the kids interacted with each other and with the teachers. And the organic hot school lunch program run by a former Bay Wolf chef is fabulous.

The negatives? The classes are very small, they take six kindergartners a year so the K-1-2 classes are only 18-20 kids. If your kid doesn't click with their particular group I've heard it can be difficult. I also sensed a certain resistance to even fairly basic questions, such as when I asked if there was any flexibility for kids to work above grade level in any areas, since the classes were already mixed. The answer was a firm no, and honestly I think they were offended that I even asked, even though being able to work at your level is an essential component of Montessori and Waldorf methods, which is what their K-1-2 program is based on. Finally, I've heard that the transition from Canyon into Campolinda High School can be difficult, although on the plus side it's a chance to go to a great high school without moving to Moraga. We had also applied to private schools and when we got into our first choice private school (Black Pine Circle) we decided to do that instead. If we hadn't gotten in there however, I think we would have tried Canyon for a few years and seen how it worked out, since I have no doubt that it's far better than our neighborhood school in Oakland. an almost canyon parent


Hi there. I grew up in Canyon, and went to Canyon School from kindergarten all the way through eighth grade. I am now graduating from a small liberal arts school on the East Coast after extremely successful experiences in both high school and college, and Canyon School remains the best educational foundation I could possibly have hoped for. I believe our best hope for educating children is to foster in them a sense of wonderment, curiosity, and engagement with the world around them—those are the things that lead to a genuine love of learning, whatever form that learning might take. What better thing to wish for a child than to help them find their own lifelong love of learning? Canyon School is not for everyone. No school will ever be a perfect fit for every child, certainly not a school this small—but to find the right fit is the greatest blessing. Yes, there are small town politics. There can be some resistance to change. Your child may not adapt well to the small class size or her particular group of peers. But there is also the dirt and the dust motes; the clear creek full of little, observable creatures; the grand, majestic trees. These things should not be underestimated. Nor should singing, or artwork, or twice-annual plays—or having every single teacher and every single student know you for who you are. I don’t know where else you can get that kind of attention, that kind of specificity. And, your child might love the small peer group and find that it gives him room to be himself, to try to truly figure out who that is. One of the greatest things about Canyon School is the way it promotes interaction across ages and grade levels—kids at different stages have so much to learn from each other. Having three grades per classroom is often harder for the teachers than it is for the students—far from keeping the kids confined to the few peers in “their grade” it simply means that their friendships disregard the arbitrary boundaries of age and grade level.

I grew up with some kids who were always restless at Canyon School, and some, like me, who are still grateful for it every single day—and I’m not sure you can ever know ahead of time exactly which it will be. But we all transitioned just fine into our high schools (a variety of them—Campolindo and Miramonte, some small private schools and Oakland Tech) and we all love each other still. I hope that, wherever you end up, your child loves their school experience as much as I did. And, by the way, those interested in Canyon School should check out Clever Scamp Camp, a summer camp run on the school grounds by two former Canyon School grads. -Best Blessings, from a Canyon Critter


April 2006

Can anyone give me any current information on the K-1-2 class at Canyon School? We're in Oakland but unimpressed with our neighborhood ''good hills school.'' I've been told Canyon uses the Houghton Mifflin reading curriculum ''but not in the K-1-2'' class. I know all kids are different and there's no need to rush them, but my 5-year-old is ready and pushing to read. I'm wondering if she'll be challenged there. How is the reading program there for the little kids? I'm thrilled about the art emphasis at Canyon, I know she'd love that, and I'd love her to be in a smaller school like Canyon, but she also feels more confident in a structured setting. Also -- I hear there's a waiting list of 20 kindergartners! There are only about 20 kids in the entire K-1-2 class. Should I give up, or is there actual hope of getting her in? (Private school is not an option for us.) Thanks very much.


my info.is 4 years ago so I hope it's changed, but a friend of ours kindergartener was accepted by Canyon school for a transfer into Canyon but the Oakland School district refused to approve a transfer OUT and so they could not attend. good luck. anon
The current information regarding Canyon School in a nutshell--is available on the school's website, I believe the information regarding the K-1-2 class is accurate. Despite the small size the children in this class display a range from a little below grade level to way above grade level, as is the case in most classrooms. The teacher is quite experienced and gifted at teaching a multiple grade classroom. I do know that the waiting list has at least 20 for kindergarten, and being that they are a public shool the only criteria they can use, is time spent on the list, so basically you have to get in line. You can put your child on the list for future grades if you're still interested, although I believe there are waiting lists for every grade. If you want more specific information, you can email me directly. Oh, and if you're really interested, there is an open house on May 18th in the evening. verde
August 2004

Re: School for Visual Spatial Learner
My son (age 11) goes to Canyon Elementary School, a K-8 public school located in woodland contiguous to Huckleberry Preserve (Tilden Park). This is a three room redwood schoolhouse, that offers multi-grade instruction in groups K-2, 3-5, and 6-8. The teachers are enthusiastic, intelligent, and demanding. All of the students get attention. Because it escapes the constraining, knee-jerk orthodoxy of many public schools, it provides an alternative for children with different kinds of intelligences. Canyon Elementary was one of the first public school districts in the east bay, back before Tilden Park existed, when people lived in cabins on the hillsides. It has weathered attempts to develop or eliminate it, and teachers, staff, and the local community are fiercely proud of its independence. The small size - there are only around 64 students in all - means parents play a large roll in the education atmosphere. But this is not an experimental or charter school - the school has been here long before me, and it will continue long after my son leaves. That means teachers and staff expect parents to respect its idiosyncratic traditions. Likewise, this is an environment where every student makes a large impact, so the decision to enroll should not be taken lightly. In other words, the school is a community, and communities need patience and support.

Many Canyon students (about half) transfer in from the Oakland area. Parents drive half an hour each way (some car pool) to take their children to and from school. During the first weeks of September, there is some churning, with new transfers in and out. Parents interested in Canyon Elementary's programs may find the upper grades have openings at that time. For those parents who follow educational reform issues, our K-8 structure will strike a chord - education research highlights middle school as the most dysfunctional segment of US education, and evidence points to the transition out of elementary into ''junior high'' as its weakest point. Canyon's 6,7,8 class provides an old- fashioned environment where boys, and especially girls, breath easy, without social pressures to grow up too fast. The 6,7,8 students learn facts, but they also learn to be themselves. If your concern is to cram as much curriculum as possible into your child, well ... Canyon School is concerned about character, spirit, groundedness, and a focus on cramming often works against those human values.

Parents and students interested in Canyon Elementary can call its office, 925-376-4671. The Principal/Superintendent/Teacher is Forrest Kan. Brian


May 2004

Does anyone have any experience with the Canyon public school? I'm especially interested in hearing from anyone who has done the interdistrict transfer process from Oakland, and has any advice on the process either from the Oakland side or the Canyon side of the process. Vali


My stepdaughter went to Canyon for the entire time available there, which is K-8. And my stepson went there for K - 5. The only reason he isn't still there is because his mom moved to Marin. The K-2 and 3-5 teachers are great. They have a wonderful, creative and open-minded approach to teaching and the environment is really amazing. There is a new 6-8 teacher who started when my kids left so I have no experience with him. They went through several principals during my kids' tenure there, I don't really know why. As far as the inter-district transfer information, I personallay didn't handle it, but if you wanted to call me to discuss our experience in general, I could certainly get the scoop on transfering from my husband's ex-wife. Susan
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