Diversity in K-12 Schools
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Diversity in K-12 Schools
I am hoping someone can give me advice on diversity at Berkeley private schools. We
currently live on the east coast and are applying to schools in Berkeley remotely
for next fall 2015. We will be renting and not sure where we will end up within the
city (but definitely will be Berkeley), so are focusing on private schools for my
daughter who will be entering first grade in September 2015. I have read all the
school reviews on BPN, but I am still concerned about racial/ethnic diversity (or
lack thereof) at private schools (she currently attends a very diverse public
kindergarten; we are South Asian and there are two other South Asian families in
her class alone). I would really appreciate any advice on how to get information on
diversity at private schools in Berkeley, particularly percentages of minority
students in the class, and in particular if there are any South Asian families in
attendance at Berkwood Hedge; The Berkeley School; Walden; Black Pine Circle, or
other schools in Berkeley.
Thanks very much!
My son goes to Prospect Sierra in El Cerrito (we live in Berkeley and work on campus). He
is hispanic and we are a multiracial family. His class has several south Asian students
and other hispanics, as well as several Asians and mixed race kids. The school has a
wonderful commitment to diversity and incorporates this into the curriculum. He has been
happy there (and is getting a great education!).
I don't know much about private schools in Berkeley, but I'm assuming the diversity is
similar to Oakland, which leads me to...you should definitely look into Oakland private
schools. I toured many and saw a lot of diversity, but to speak to my son's school
(Redwood Day), there's fantastic diversity. In her grade there are 32 kids (2 classes)
and there are: 2 South Asian kids, 8 African American kids, and 5 Asian kids. I think
you'll find quite a bit of diversity in the private schools.
happy with diversity
Not sure why you'd want a private school in Berkeley. People move to (or pretend to)
Berkeley just for the schools. Anyway, to answer your question you should look at
Montessori Family School in El Cerrito. There are more So. Asians there than most of the
private schools, this due to the lower elementary teacher who is also So. Asian. They
have a bus that brings kids from the Preschool next to the university if you don't want
to do the drive (about 15-20 minutes on surface streets).
I know you were wondering about diversity at private schools in Berkeley. However, I
wondered why you were not considering Berkeley Public Schools. Our son is a first grader
at one of the BUSD schools and we are so happy to have him there. We considered private
when he was entering kindergarten, especially because I am a teacher at a private
elementary in the area. Ultimately we decided that true diversity, not just a percentage
of non-whites at a school, was just as valuable as the academic education he would
receive. He has had two exceptional teachers (in the opinion of this very experienced
teacher in both private and public) and wonderful connections with a variety of kids. And
we have an active parent community at our school as well. I think it's the best of all
Good luck with your search.
Happy BUSD Parent
Hi! I'm a parent of a 3rd grader at Black Pine Circle. I asked a couple of school
administrators about your question and got a few numbers. My family is caucasian but it
turns out we're in the minority in the lower school (K-5) of BPS: 52% of families
self-report as non-white. When you include the upper school (6-8) the percentage goes to
44% as non-white. There are a lot of multiracial families here; 31% describe their
families this way. This is something I've noticed, the most common type of family here is
where the parents are different races. As far as South Asian in particular, that category
isn't broken out in the figures I got, but when I asked a mom of Pakistani origin what
she thought, she guessed there are maybe 3-4 South Asian families in the lower school.
(Overall Asian is 7%.) This sounds small...but it's also a small school with one class
per grade. The social environment among the families is, in my experience, very
Berkeley-feeling; that is, accepting and desirous of diversity. I'm sure you can get more
details by checking out the website and calling the admissions office. Good luck in your
Livin' in 2040
OK, this is going to be overly general, but this is what I would tell
you if you were my South Asian friend moving to Berkeley from the East
Coast. As background, my 3 kids have attended a variety of public and
private schools in Berkeley and Oakland over the past 15 years, and I know lots of
parents, including South Asian parents, in nearby cities.
First of all, there are not that many South Asian families in
Berkeley. UC Berkeley attracts scholars from all over the world, so
there is a LOT of diversity in the city. I imagine everybody in
Berkeley knows at least one South Asian family but there is not a
preponderance of your particular diversity in Berkeley. If you are looking for
SF Bay cities that have a large South Asian community then you want to
live closer to the Silicon Valley, say Fremont and south. Or, in the
suburban areas along 680, like San Ramon and Danville.
As a result, you are unlikely to find any schools in Berkeley that
have a very big South Asian student population. Most of the larger
schools, both public and private, will have some representation, say
one or two kids per grade level. Smaller schools like the ones you
listed, not so much. One of my kids went to one of the small private
schools you mentioned. Of 80 kids total, there were two families in the entire
school where one (not both) of the parents was South Asian. I imagine that is
typical of Berkeley private schools. So if you really want to go
private, and you want more than a couple of South Asian families,
then you need to be looking at
the really big private schools that are K-8 and K-12 with at least two
classes for every grade. Those are going to be in Oakland, El Cerrito,
and other nearby cities. And it's still going to be hit or miss,
varying from year to year, with not much diversity overall.
Based on private schools my kids
have attended or I have visited, I'd say virtually all
private schools in the area are 85-90% white/European, maybe 8-10% East Asian,
and the remaining 2-7% are
African American, Hispanic, South Asian, and other nationalities.
Catholic schools tend to be more diverse than this, but still not
close to what you'll find in public schools.
Public schools in Berkeley are much, much more diverse than any
private schools in the area. My kid's public middle school looks like the United
Nations. At a recent "Culture Fair" night, it seemed like every
country in the world was represented. You really should visit in
person before making your decision.
Again, sorry for the over-generalization, but that's pretty much the
picture here in Berkeley!
I am not sure that such a school exists, but maybe you can enlighten me. My
husband and I have taught at private schools in the Bay Area, and in the process
have seen firsthand how so many of them are ''pressure cookers'' filled with kids
whose parents earn astronomical amounts of money. Though this is not the case
for all families, and I do not begrudge them their fortune, it is not the type of
environment we would like to send our own children to. On the other hand, we
have been equally unimpressed with the public schools in our city (we live in
Oakland) and cannot afford to live in Berkeley, where I have heard that some are
slightly better. And we do see that for the most part children tend to get more
individuated and creative instruction at private schools (not a reflection on the
teaching capabilities of public school teachers, just a matter of time and
resources differences). So we are researching private schools in the area, but
are really wanting to find one that is sincerely committed to economic diversity.
Where it is not just a way of marketing their commitment to diversity, but rather
an integral part of the school's philosophy and raison d'etre. I guess that
would mean either exceptionally low tuition or exceptionally high amounts of
financial aid? I'm not quite sure, and we are still in the nascent stages of
exploration, but can the BPN community enlighten me here. I know we are not
alone in a) barely making it financially in the Bay Area and b) being appalled at
the rising inequality between the ''haves'' and the ''have nots'' in the world
and this region in particular and c) wanting a stimulating
social-justice-oriented and *reflective* environment for our children to thrive
in intellectually and socially.
Your instincts are correct...there are no truly socio-economically diverse
private schools in the east bay (the exception being parochial schools,
perhaps?), because in order to do that they could not survive. Do you
value socio-economic diversity as part of your child's educational
just theoretically? Because if you REALLY do and you are sincere about
'c' of your post, then donate the $25K+ a year tuition and your
your child's public school and truly change the lives of dozens of
You are obviously very well educated. You are just the sort of person our
public schools need. Please get involved in changing public schools.
speak for those who can't.
Sorry to sound so harsh, but I'm just tired of people in the east bay
both ways -- i.e., getting an educational experience catering to their
every need, while easing their conscience about the inequity inherent in
their child to private school.
Give your public school a chance!
While we don't have experience in the OUSD, I would encourage you to
investigate your local Catholic Schools. One thing you said really struck
a chord ''wanting a stimulating social-justice-oriented and *reflective*
environment for our children to thrive in intellectually and socially'' -
that is truly at the heart of Catholic education - and while some of the
schools may be more homogeneous, MANY of the Oakland catholic schools are
incredibly diverse. Catholic schools educate the whole child, and that
sounds like it might be a good fit for your family and worth
investigating. I would encourage you to research some online and make an
appointment to see them - you can visit www.csdo.org to find out more.
Best to you!
Happy Catholic School Parent
With all due respect I think when you visited the schools you may have
seen a beautiful campus and kids with name brand clothing and parents with
name brand cars - what you may not have seen are the individual children.
You did not see my daughter, for example, when you visited the campus. If
you had truly seen my daughter you would have noticed the 1999 Saturn
wagon we drive so that we can afford for her to be there. You would also
see 5 - 15 year old Hondas driven by parents and teachers alike.
My daughter attends one of the ''beautiful schools'' with ''wealthy''
families. What I know is that we are on a 75% scholarship. Many of the
teachers teach at and are committed to the school so their own children
can attend with a large reduction in tuition. Our daughter has friends and
classmates that live in multi-million dollar homes, but it may be that the
overwhelming majority of the families at the ''beautiful school'' give up
family vacations, drive old cars with over 100,000 miles, eat pasta rather
than steak, make due with older clothes and shoes because they value the
educational opportunities their children are given.
The scholarship committee asks us every year to provide the information
needed to grant our scholarship. Every year as we decide to go camping for
a week instead of staying in a hotel, we are grateful for the opportunity
our daughter has been given. When we see the foreign languages, the arts
classes, the depth of the English classes with rich discussions because
all students have arrived prepared and ready to discuss the material, the
science labs and the depths of knowledge in history and current events we
know we have made the right choice.
And like many other families who have made similar choices we would sell
our home and live in an apartment to continue to give this experience to
our daughter because in the end we know the difference. Our daughter was
in one of the ''hills schools'' in Oakland in which the PTA raised
hundreds of thousands of dollars and yet nothing compares to being in a
class in which every student is working hard to his or her full potential
and is prepared for the material that is presented. Nothing compares to
having teachers who know the material they teach with such depth and
complexity that they do not have to think about differentiating, it is
just a natural part of the learning process for all students.
So before you take a wide lens through the whole school, take a magnifying
glass instead. Look at my daughter and the boys and girls she plays soccer
with at lunch. Watch as they sit not 'three under a tree for the diversity
shot'' but their knees tucked up as they sit in the floor in the hall and
discuss life in South Africa's apartheid and then tell me what you see.
Four Languages and Five Science Labs for my Daughter
If you are open to being outside the East Bay, check out Live Oak School
and San Francisco School (both in SF). I'm partial to Live Oak because my
daughter went there - it is an amazing, nurturing place with a strong
commitment to social justice. They give tuition assistance across a broad
spectrum so their range of socioeconomic and racial diversity is wider
than most private schools. I'm pretty sure SF School is even more diverse
in both aspects but don't have first-hand experience with them. We still
found that most families were above our income level (teacher and social
worker), but nothing like what you see at many of the private schools,
including the high schools where our kids go now. Even if SF is not an
option for you, it might be worth a call to them to talk about the issue.
The head of school at Live Oak is Virginia Pak.
You say you are ''appalled at the rising inequality between the 'haves'
and the 'have nots' in the world and this region in particular''. Private
schools charge appalling amounts of money to provide an education that all
students should be entitled to in a functioning democracy. No school that
charges significant tuition is going to be ''committed to socioeconomic
diversity.'' It just is not. Private schools are enclaves of privilege.
Most will claim to offer lots of scholarships and value diversity, but
they have a bottom line. I don't think there are any that have a
need/blind admissions policy.
Public schools actually are committed to socioeconomic diversity. They
are filled with teachers and parents who are committed to providing the
best education possible to kids no matter the resources of the child's
If you are truly appalled, I recommend you do not feed the economic
disparity monster. I love our neighborhood elementary school and have
worked shoulder to shoulder with a great group of parents for years to
keep it going strong. I am now in the midst of watching a big chunk of
the students in the top economic crust of our local public school peel off
and head to private middle schools. It is painful. It seems obvious to
me that private schools are not just a symptom of the increasing economic
disparities in our society, but a significant driver of these disparities.
I advise anyone like you who is appalled at the rising inequality to jump
into a public school and be the change you have been waiting for. Involved
parents and families drive the improvement of our public neighborhood
schools. Within our communities we have great power, if we choose to use
it. Buying a path out of the public institutions may appear to be in the
short term interest of your child, but I believe the long term interests
of your child and my child and of all children are better served by
parents who use their resources to help build functioning local
institutions and who model a commitment to the whole community.
Public Primary Education Fan
I don't know of any specific schools, but I have some ideas for questions
to ask admissions directors.
1) How many children at your school would qualify for free or reduced
lunch if this was a public school? If you're from a family of four and
earn under 43k, you can get reduced lunch, 30k income makes lunch free.
Income guidelines here: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/nu/rs/scales1213.asp
For reference, BUSD schools, which are very balanced, have between 30 to
60 percent free/reduced-lunch students.
2) Is there diversity of parental education level? If there is
socioeconomic diversity but everyone's parents are college graduates and
above, there won't be as much of a climate of diversity.
3) Does the school have students who are English Language Learners? Does
the school provide materials to parents in Spanish or other languages?
Have you considered Catholic schools? They seem to be way more diverse
than the independent schools I'm familiar with, and of course tuition is
It would probably be a geographic stretch for you, but I think the school
you are looking for is Crestmont School in Richmond on the El Cerrito
border. It is a parent coop; we have accredited teachers and a director,
but other than that parents are in charge of keeping the school
functioning. The coop model allows us to keep tuition much lower than is
typical of private schools. Like other private schools, we offer financial
aid to help make Crestmont accessible to low-income families. But as
opposed to most other private schools, Crestmont tuition is doable for
many middle class families -- those who would not qualify for financial
aid but would still be hard pressed to pay a typical private school
tuition. Crestmont also offers families opportunities to offset part of
their tuition, for instance by serving on the board or participating in
the classroom. Our school is committed to economic diversity and has a
structure that allows us make this ideal a reality.
Dear Apalled -
If you are truly apalled by the lack of diversity at private schools, then I would
strongly recommend that you go the public route. We are so blessed with numerous
options in this area, so there is no question of needing to fit a square peg through
a round hole, so to speak. My two kids went public for elementary and are now
private middle school. I chose this route for various reasons, all of which were the
result of my own children's individual needs, which I won't detail here as it's not
relevant for you. It has been a good decision, and has worked out better than
expected. It is also a stretch, financially. Of course, I do wish the schools were
more socio-economically diverse, but as a realist, I understand that is not their
mission. Their mission is to provide the best education possible as well as to
remain viable financially, and to do so means charging a lot of money and that
knocks a lot of people out of the running. Don't blame the private schools, blame
our lack of public funding (prop 13!).
I'm not a public school booster, like so many people I know, who would only see the
good in public school and the bad in private school. I see the good and bad in both.
And c'mon, there is good and bad in both! But seriously, I don't think public middle
school in Oakland (where I live) is terrible. Quite the opposite. I know many kids
having positive experiences there. But if the economic diversity is a top value to
you, and I 'get' why, then private school is probably not best for you. Give public
a try first, it might pleasantly surprise you.
Public/private, can't we all just get along?
You mention 3 things where you know you are not alone: a) barely making
it financially in the Bay Area and b) being appalled at the rising
inequality between the ''haves'' and the ''have nots'' in the world and
this region in particular and c) wanting a stimulating
social-justice-oriented and *reflective* environment for your children
to thrive in intellectually and socially. Well, guess what, in Oakland,
you can be barely making it financially, be appalled at rising
inequality (and DO something about it!!!), and have a stimulating
social-justice-oriented environment for your children to thrive in. And
you can do it in public school, right here in Oakland. I know because
I've got 3 kids in public school here. I can't speak to all of the
elementary schools in Oakland and I won't tell you the name of ours
because I value my anonymity, but there are lots of schools in Oakland
that you would fall in love with and then quietly say to yourself,
Sheesh, I can't believe I was ready to pay thousands of dollars for
something I can get for free! One responder explained very clearly
why one cannot find truly socioeconomically-diverse private schools:
it's just not their model. Period. And as to the sad state of public
funding: remember that every single child who enrolls in private takes
valuable resources out of the public school pot. Yes, public funding in
California is an embarrassment to all of us Californians, but every
child who enrolls in private rather than public is sending California
public education further into crisis. The money leaves the public
school with the departing students. And the departing students are
almost always the ones with financial resources as well as higher test
scores and personal connections that would lift up almost every student
in public school, including those who come from homes where no one has
attended college. Parents with means donate to the PTA, and every kid
at that school benefits from music, art, social/emotional education,
field trips, etc, even those whose parents didn''t contribute a dime.
Even children in poor families deserve to be enriched. For every child
that goes to private school, there''s another field trip not offered,
another art teacher given a pink slip, and another school psychologist
who is asked to reduce her hours and carry a heavier load.
I AM a public school booster, but I also do see the good and bad in both
private and public schools. My children attend public in Oakland
(elementary and middle), but many of our friends are in private. Yes, we
do all just get along, but that doesn''t mean I agree with their
decision to educate only their own children, while everyone else fights
for diminishing resources. My middle-class white children will survive,
go on to college, and be productive members of society, but what about
those kids with far fewer resources than mine? Truly, the BEST solution
to rising inequality between the ''haves'' and the ''have nots'' in the
world and in this region in particular is PUBLIC EDUCATION, but only if
it is supported by all of us.
We are looking for a k-8 private school in the Berkeley area. Our daughter is
adopted from Guatemala and therefore diversity and other Hispanic students
being part of the student body are both top priorities. A bilingual program is a
plus but not necessary. Any recommendations for good schools which are k-8?
Curious to hear other parents experiences and recommendations. Thank you
I suggest you look at Archway School, a k-8 private school
located in both Oakland and Berkeley. Diversity is
reprensented in both its faculty and student body and
children thrive and grow under the guideance of some of
the best teachers in the east bay. (FYI- the spanish
teacher is a native speaker and spanish begins in the
lower grades). If your child is entering k-4 contact their
Oakland campus at 510-547-4747, and contact their
Berkeley Campus at 510-849-4747 if entering 5-8. I think
you will find the Archway community a good fit.
a happy Archway School parent
My two children (half hispanic) are at Black Pine Circle
(BPC) and we could not be
happier. Diversity at the school has increased dramatically in the past few years.
Spanish is begun in kindergarten and integrated into the curriculum. BPC is a
wonderful K-8 school, strong academics, lots of art and music (strings are
begun in kindergarten), with a strong parent community. Check it out.
We have been very pleased with The Berkeley School
Montessori) for the diversity of the students and their families and their
support of adoptive families. Our two girls were adopted from Cambodia and
both have felt the support of students, faculty and staff and the sense that
their cultures are celebrated and honored. Throughout the years, the girls
brought presentations of Cambodian culture and holidays and their adoption
stories to the classroom.
While there is no bilingual program, Spanish is integrated at the Early
Childhood Center and in all levels of elementary and middle school. There
are TBS families whose first language is Spanish (among many languages
represented in the school community). Finally, the flexibility of the
progressive education at TBS gives teachers the opportunity to spend time
exploring a particular culture and issues that develop around adoption and
family. We have been very lucky to have a teacher for the past three years
who is also an adoptee.
The Berkeley School is a respectful community where differences are
celebrated - I hope you'll give them a look.
If your top priority is diversity and/or the presence of other
Hispanic students, I'm afraid you will be disappointed with
the local private schools. A few private schools are still
conducting tours - please visit and you'll see what I mean.
At best, you might see one or two Hispanic kids for every 30
or so students at some of the bigger private schools.
Where you will find diversity is in your local public
schools. Possibly a parochial school.
Mom of 3
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