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The Crowden School (Berkeley, CA)
After a few months, the school seems to us a very special place. The families are outstanding. The musical instruction is probably the second best in the country, next to Julliard. And the school culture is not cut-throat as it must be at Julliard. Our daughter came in not knowing how to play her string instrument and is already performing difficult pieces. The school can take a novice and raise the skill level to the sky. The music faculty has to be the most overqualified faculty in the country for this level of instruction. Our daughter also loves the instruction in musical history, which includes the history of instruments. The academic curriculum is challenging. She has been so excited that algebra has already been introduced at the beginning of fourth grade. From the fifth grade on, there is a special math teacher who supplements the curriculum. The class size is small--10-12 students. The fourth grade teacher is rigorous and organized, and is a Bard graduate. All homework is graded, and grades and comments on assignments are posted at least weekly on a private website. The kids are uniformly smart and polite. They seem to be very happy. The principal has a Ph.D. in English Literature from Cal, and revels in teaching Shakespeare to the upper-school students. Anonymous
Re: Which private elementary for highly gifted child?
You might consider touring Crowden (4th-8th grades) in your search for a private elementary school to serve the needs of your gifted child. Because the school and classes are so small, teachers can (and do) differentiate learning and class curriculum for each student. Teachers in both the music and academic faculties are highly trained, thoughtful, funny, kind, curious people who encourage intellectual experimentation and risk-taking among their students. They mix with the children at lunch and recesses, playing chess, soccer, or just hanging around interacting with them. The teacher-student ratios are extraordinarily low, which as you know is very important in schooling a gifted child. Many parents have remarked that Crowden comes as close to offering all the benefits of homeschooling one could hope for in a school environment. We've had teachers write different tests to meet the needs of each student in a class or use a different teaching materials for subsets of students performing at different levels.
There is a natural affinity between music and math and many of the school's students are strong mathematicians and perform in very the highest percentiles on standardized tests (in math, and other subject areas too). Music instruction isn't tied to grade level and students can (and are encouraged) to rise to their level of ability and capability. Some of the world's finest musicians pass through the school and work with groups in master classes and other forums. Students have musical (and other) skills that they can use to make and create, and they use these skills to put together extracurricular musical ensembles, compose, or undertake other independent, creative projects, which can be very satisfying, especially for a gifted kid looking to channel ideas and energy. Crowden is a very happy, special place that serves the needs of a variety of children, particularly the gifted set, extremely well. Enthusiastic Crowden Parent
What is the Crowden School like? I was impressed by the maturity of some middle schoolers I met, and I would like to hear from parents who have children in the program. I understand this is a music program, do the children have time for other activities, sports, dance other arts? Are the academics strong? What is the middle school experience like? It looks like a small school, how well are they prepared for high school? Interested parent
My son was attending a very well regarded prep school for elementary school and wanted to switch to Crowden because the academics were so much stronger! For him, the music is a bonus, but he loves the class discussions with his peers, how much the teachers respect their abilities and the fact that they can focus on learning instead of discipline in such a small classroom. Can you imagine middle school with little to no pressure to become just like everyone else and instead find your own unique voice? That is Crowden. What a boon it has been for both of my children. kdm
I'm interested in your comment about the evident maturity of the students. That could be partly due to the kind of child who self-selects to go to a chamber music school! However, I think it's also a product of the music education. Chamber music requires personal responsibility and accountability to your group and performance develops poise. Through learning their instruments, I think Crowden students learn the direct relationship between preparation and outcome - something that might otherwise develop a lot later.
I wish every child had the opportunity to learn in a place like Crowden and don't understand why more people aren't beating down the doors to get in! I can only attribute that to some wariness of '' chamber music'', but I can assure you that it's completely accessible and joyful. You should visit! Happy Crowden Mom
Re: Elementary or middle school with a great music program
The Crowden Music School in Berkeley is an amazing school in every way. My daughter started in 4th grade as a beginning violinist, and thrives. I have never seen so many happy, bright children in one school community, starting in 4th and going through middle school. This is an exceptional school in so many ways, academically, musically, socially, it is a utopia for us. You must take a tour! Very Happy Parent!
Re: Middle School Options in Oakland/Richmond/Berkeley
In response to the question of middle school options near Oakland/Richmond/Berkeley, I want to add praise for The Crowden School in North Berkeley. My daughter, a young cellist and singer, transferred from public school at the beginning of this year as a 6th grader, and we feel like we have found utopia! Crowden is a small community of 4th-8th graders who all study classical music for 2 hours at the beginning of each day, and then continue into their academic studies. While there are several extraordinary young musicians in the school, many children enter 4th and 5th grade as beginners on their instrument. Both the music and academic faculty are extraordinary, and my daughter has absolutely blossomed. While standards are high, the children are supported and encouraged, and known intimately by their teachers. Financial aid is available, and I encourage middle school parents to contact Crowden for a visit. -Sarah
Anyways, if your daughter has that musical spark... then I would strongly recommend you find out more about the school. I'd be happy to talk to you on the phone is you need more information! By the way today is Thursday the 20th, there is Baroque student's concert going on at 6:30. It is free, you should go and check it out. Best regards, Nestor
Don't let the music conservatory aspect of The Crowden School scare you away. My daughter is currently a 6th grader at The Crowden School, where she started last year. She has had a great experience there, especially this year, both academically and musically. When she expressed interest in TCS (starting in 3rd grade), I was initially reluctant because she's no musical prodigy, and I wasn't sure, at such a small school, they would be able to handle her academic needs (she's extremely bright).
Happily, I found out that TCS is interested in fostering musical development in a wide range of kids and my daughter's musicianship has grown tremendously in the last 1.5 years. Some kids come into 4th-5th grade with almost no musical experience at all (rank beginners) while some (especially in the upper grades) are very accomplished. There is no stigma attached to being a beginner or less advanced. Most students are required to take a string instrument. There is a piano program, but you need to be more advanced to do that program. Some students do a combination of piano and a string instrument. Their musical program includes playing in ensembles, technique class, theory, chorus, and music history. There are a lot of opportunities to perform, even for the least advanced students, and the kids learn to present themselves professionally on stage. My daughter has developed a lot of stage confidence and poise.
Academically, TCS has some fine teachers. The 4-6th grade science teacher does amazing hands-on experiments with the kids, had them keeping lab books even in 5th grade, and makes the topic relevant. (She did a fabulous unit on nutrition that got all of us talking at home, too!) I've heard good things about 7-8th grade science, too. My daughter is absolutely thriving in English (this is the first teacher, ever, to really challenge her). They are reading interesting books and he has the kids do interesting creative writing assignments. Math, while not perfect, is decent. I wish there were more individualization, but it's still better than what we've experienced in the past. She is doing some algebra this year. The teacher (who also teaches 7/8th grade science) is good.
I don't know much about 4-5th grade since the 5th grade teacher changed since last year.
If you have a child interested in learning about music along with a decent academic curriculum, it's worth looking at TCS. I would be happy to talk to anyone interested. Madelyn
I would like to hear from current and recently graduated Crowden School families about their experience at the school. It sounds like a wonderful environment for musical kids (two hours of music daily), small class size, etc. But I would really like to hear about the academic environment - specifically for a child (entering fourth grade) who is consistently at the top of their class and reaching for more challenge. What is the approach on mathematics, social studies and science? Are kids too sheltered at Crowden because of its small size? What is the school's expectation of parents as far as volunteer hours and after- school commitments such as concerts, groups, etc.? Thanks very much. -Musical Family Mom
She is like a different person after her year there, calm, more focused, interested in her studies and music. It is a friendly place in our experience, and because of all the performances there is a 30 hour per year volunteer commitment which doesn't seem too difficult to meet, particularly if you like going to concerts. We have made many friends through the school, so it is really something the whole family will become involved in. It is a unique, and incredibly special place. If your child (ren) like music, I can't imagine a better place. Very pleased Crowden family
Re: Alternative/arts based public school?
I would suggest you look into the Crowden School in Berkeley. Music-based. Not sure what grade they begin, but they would surely be a good resource for you in your search. What an inspiring search -- bravo!
I would love to hear from parents whose kids are in the Crowden School right now and also from the parents or kids who have graduated from Crowden after the 8th grade. I am really keen to know about the transition experiences from Crowden to High School, the kind of high school typically a Crowden student goes to, the difficulties, if any of moving from an musical environment to a regular High school etc. After being in a school where music is the main focus, how prepared are the students to face math and science etc in High School etc. I have a young child who is very musical , at the same time she is also academically very gifted. While Crowden seems a good idea, I want to be sure she also gets a sound education and not have difficulties transitioning to High School.Any thoughts in this matter would be greatly appreciated. Anon
The academic faculty is creative and exciting, with a tremendous love for their field, the school and the students. In the church basement days, the school hired PhD and graduate students to teach in their fields of expertise. More recently, the school continues to hire faculty with PhDs and graduate credentials, but looks also to experience and love of teaching.
So, putting together the self-selecting nature of the students and the strong teaching, Crowden students go on to an impressive collection of high schools. In the competition for limited spaces at many private high schools, the music education (and discipline it implies) is a unique distinguishing factor. Bay Area private high schools know about Crowden. Many grads go to Berkeley High, CPS, Head Royce, International High, Lick, Marin Academy and San Domenico, as well as University High, Athenian, and Maybeck. Our grad is thriving in high school. She does not desire to become a professional musician, but continues to love music and plays in a youth orchestra.
There is nothing else like this school if your child loves music. Come visit, and I hope you love it like we do. Crowden Lifer
I have two Crowden kids in my family (one graduate, and one still there), and I
couldn't be happier. The school is grades 4-8 and has two hours of music every
morning. I found the ''music thing'' really intimidating before I knew much about it,
but it's not a school just for violin geniuses. They welcome complete beginners, and
are really supportive! The academic program is very strong (and includes French, a
LOT of hands on science, math, history, PE, English etc) and commitment of the
teachers helped my son go on to high school very well prepared. My younger
daughter was bored to tears at her last school, and she's just blossomed in the 4th
grade with Ms. Matteson. Crowden has just undergone an extremely positive change
of leadership, and I recommend the place highly. I think they accept applications
year-round. The phone number is 510-559-6910. The website is
Proud Parent of Crowden Kids
We are thinking about Crowden for our daughter, who loves to sing, and plays two instruments, but is by no means a prodigy. She also loves writing, drawing, science and running and climbing trees. She is perfectly happy at her current school. At the same time, music clearly feeds her in a special way.
I am concerned about whether Crowden's intense focus on music would leave no time for other pursuits, and that its small size might mean that she might not experience a sufficiently wide range of activities and personalities that she might need to expand her horizons in middle school.
I'd love to hear from families who are currently or recently at Crowden. What are the pros and cons? - Intrigued, but Debating...
I would like to reply to the posting about the academic program at the Crowden School. I am a father of a fourth grader (so this is her first year at Crowden). Previously, she went to Kensington Hilltop. She has played the violin since she was six, but that is not the reason we are sending her to Crowden.
Since I am not a musician myself, I was skeptical about sending her to a music-oriented school. I changed my mind when I went to an open house and spoke to parents who had no thought of encouraging their children to become professional musicians. I was extremely impressed by the upper and lower school English teacher (the upper school English teacher has just been appointed academic director). They were assigning books and assignments that were extremely challenging and which require students to write and think at a level much higher than those of the public school (or of many private schools we had considered).
In the year that our daughter has attended Crowden, I have been struck by the way in which she is excited by academic topics for the first time. The history, English, math and science assignments encourage creative thinking as well as mastery of the particular subjects. Because the classes are small, the teachers devote a great deal of time to the needs and interests of particular students. For the first time, we do not see a need to supplement our daughter's academic curriculum. We had no experience with the previous (founding) administration, but my general impression, gained through conversation with former students and parents, is that the current administration and faculty are less rigid, more inclined to take individual needs into consideration. It also seems that the musical program has become less competitive, more attuned towards cultivating an appreciation for music (performance, theory, history) than towards developing professional musicians. In both music and academics, the students seem tremendously supportive of one another.
I am aware that some parents have found the academic program too demanding. It is true that expectations are high, yet our daughter has found the relative informality stimulating, and we have appreciated the benefits that come from allowing teachers great freedom in the crafting of their own curriculum. The boundaries of ''age-appropriate'' curriculum are quite wide, and the championing of state-guidelines is often part of a reluctance to encourage motivated (or potentially motivated) students to work up to their potential.
In short, our first year's experience with the academic program at Crowden has been entirely positive. If I were going back to middle school, this is the sort of place I would want to go. Eric
The school specializes in musical training, especially stringed instruments. In this, they excel. The teachers are professionals and the students learn to become good musicians. Students play their instruments for three to four hours a day if you include practice, school instruction, coaching, and private lessons. Students graduate skilled, poised, and confident. They learn to perform on stage, a valuable skill that transfers to other professions.
The academic program is controversial. The school advertises that it adheres to the state curriculum guidelines, but it does not. Some teachers refuse to use a textbook; others cover only a fraction of a recommended text. When it was a tiny school in the basement of a church, it succeeded with a few excellent teachers in traditional subjects, but those teachers left. There has been a rapid turnover since. The outstanding founder of the school retired as musical director, and the academic director became disillusioned and took early retirement. Their replacements do not appear to be of the same caliber. The school may be right for your child, but you should look it over carefully and talk to a range of parents. Visit the school and observe the academic classes. The school defends the disorder in these classes as ''good for the creative mind''. This is a point of debate each parent should consider. Anonymous
Re: Violin Lessons
The Crowden School offers instruction in violin. I believe, however, that in order to be enrolled in their courses you must also have a private teacher. Some information is available at: http://thecrowdenschool.org/comm_mus_center.htm
I suggest you contact the Crowden School for various names. We tried our then almost 5 year old on violin with Erika Miranda who teaches at Crowden. The violin didn't take and now my son is happily studying piano, but Erika seemed patient, kind and thoughtful.
Our daughter just started at The Crowden School this year in 4th grade and loves it. The classes are challenging, but the homework so far seems to be minimal (there is certainly some homework, but she does some of it at school, and the rest strikes me as meaningful ("work on your story about the Pilgrims") rather than busywork). My sense is that they do understand these kids have less time for homework because of their instruments. In the upper grades, I suspect the homework load is greater, though. Our daughter came to TCS from a good public elementary school, but the difference is like night and day. Here she has science almost every day, not just once a week, not to mention French, music history, music theory, and Chorus. The P.E. teacher is absolutely terrific, too, by the way. I had felt a little guilty about taking her away from her friends in public school, but her 4th grade class is a wonderful, friendly group of kids, and the students in the upper grades have really taken the new children under their wings. The 4th and 5th graders do many things together (music classes are mixed, for instance), so really the social scene doesn't feel thin at all. Our daughter had been reluctant to switch schools (though very polite about it -- she never said "NO" but did worry about leaving her friends), but on the second day of Crowden she said "I have to admit it, Crowden's a lot better than my old school," and we've never looked back. Good luck with your school search!
Home work was surely diffierent (more) for my girls . The prospectus reads one hour a night, but they have all taken more time. I think in general, middle school homework load is greater any way. They have been well prepared for high school, confident with good skills and study habits.
Crowden graduates go on to public high schools and thrive. It is a very small community and I do not know of one child who has experienced difficulty making the transition. In fact all I know were leaders in high school are going to top rank colleges. Friends are made across grade levels and older chilren are generally protective of younger. Friendships are strong and those made at Crowden are still most important to my girls.
When you make music with someone everyday for 4 -6 years you develop a strong accepting relationship. Please email me privately for more information or a chat. I know Crowden is not for everyone but it is a miracle for many. Chidren there are lively, curious and passionate about many things, one of which is music. email@example.com Deborah
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