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Global Montessori International School (Berkeley, CA)
Re: Chinese Pre Schools in the East Bay
We were in the same exploration about a year ago, and actually came across GMIS in an old BPN post as it had not come up in our original research. We are so glad that we chose to look again. GMIS is a warm and nurturing environment that has been a great choice for our (now) 3 year old's first preschool experience as well as a great entry for us as parents new to the school environment as well.
The school's senior administrator is someone with years of experience in running schools that genuinely cares about the well-being of everyone in the environment - the staff, the teachers, the students and the parents. She has made herself available to us every step of the way and knows all the parents and students by name. She also has made the parent community an integral part of the experience without overwhelming or overburdening us as parents.
Our daughter has thrived in the Montessori environment. We did not have a preference for Montessori in our search, but it has worked quite well for our daughter's temperament - inquisitive and vibrant, yet somewhat independent and introspective. The facility is bright and very well maintained, in fact, they just recently had a cleaning crew come in to help combat the heavy flu/cold season we are in (speaks fondly to my OCD tendencies about cleanliness and germs). Our daughter started in the younger children's classroom where they helped with the potty training (most of the schools we looked at didn't offer this). The teacher/student ratio was 1 to 6 in that classroom which we were very pleased with.
There are a number of enrichment programs offered with the cost being relatively affordable IMO. The parent organization is quite active with numerous fundraisers and activities and we're very pleased with how much Chinese our daughter has learned in such a short time. The parent communication is consistent and thorough - there is a weekly newsletter that is sent and simple methods for parents to communicate with the school and with one another as well. The only complaint we have would be the parking. Since GMIS is in a busy location, it often can get quite busy during the key pick-up and drop-off times. Just takes a little patience.
With all that said, it also came down to the feeling we got when we met with the administrator and visited the school. We looked at all of the schools you mentioned, and it was between Shu Ren and GMIS for us, but in the end, we just had a better 'gut' feeling with GMIS for our daughter and for us (Shu Ren felt too 'academic' and we weren't looking for that in a preschool, perhaps down the road).
Hope that helps. Extremely happy GMIS parent
Unfortunately for us, the ''Honeymoon Phase'' was short lived. Upon moving, there were a number of issues that came from poor planning and exceptionally poor school communication. The start of school was pushed back time and again due to unrealistic construction timelines. This resulted in a lot of chaos and confusion as we all waited, holding our breath to see if we could send our kids to school that week. Once school finally opened, the construction continued, resulting in a massive effort to do parent fundraising to purchase HEPA filters for the whole school to manage the dust and debris. After getting the filters in, we later found out that they were rarely turned on and that most were stored in closets and not seen at all. Last year, the saving grace was both the extremely strong Parent Community and the kind hearted teachers. Between the two, the year rounded off nicely despite its rough beginning.
But now it's getting worse. The main school administrator left last year after 5 years and the school never replaced her. Instead, a chain of random parent ''helpers'' have been rotated in and out of the front office, making poor communication even more difficult, with no one taking ownership of the position, no training, and adding to parent confusion as to what's happening at school. The ratio in the primary classrooms has bumped up from 1:6 to now 1:12, overworking the teachers. To make matters worse, they have started to use parent subs to staff the classrooms, instead of certified Montessori teachers. Why are we paying for a private Montessori education?
The teacher turnover is extremely high. They are overworked, underpaid, understaffed, and over enrolled. Normal transition periods are ignored as classrooms become packed. There is a small lawn and garden, but it's only a fraction of the size they had before. No play structure (one may be coming soon), minimal blocks and hula hoops, and that's about it. I can't imagine an elementary family being ok with this lack of play space for the bigger kids. Speaking of elementary program, we've been told they are cancelling the elementary as of next year. So, look elsewhere for a longer term school if you want to continue on past Kindergarten. It's just really sad...great parents and wonderful teachers (what's left of them that is...) just don't mix well with bad business management and communication. We wish them the best, but sadly, they are just not what they use to be.
Ratio: when we first applied, we were told it was 1:8, however, lately this is no longer the case. It is 1:12. Although we were not too happy about that, because one, we were not being informed with this change, two, this was not what we signed up for, but at least our kid's classroom is still running fine.
Teacher quality: we believe all the teachers at GMIS are very warm and nice. We have nothing but good things to say about our classroom's teachers. They work really hard and the kids love them. However, it seems there are an increasing amount of what we term ''nannies'' instead of teachers being introduced to the classrooms. We are uncertain of their qualifications or teaching methods (def. not montessori trained).
Chinese Program: Our kid's Chinese level has been thriving thanks to Xiang Lao Shi. Having her as the head teacher of the classroom helps tremendously.
Teacher turnover rate/well being: Turnover is pretty high. The workload is enormous. The Chinese teachers especially are taking on a lot of extra duties around the school, and it seems like they have a hard time taking time off even when they are sick, which is very unfortunate.
School Communications: It has been one of the weakest parts of this school as long as we've been here. Some active parents were helping out at the beginning of this school year since the admission director left last June, however, the position has remained unfilled. Part-timers are performing limited daily operational duties, and communication with parents is minimal. Things feel very reactive to us. We have only seen improvements when we've complained, and even then, it's been temporary.
Parents Organization: One of the reasons we feel fortunate to join the school before was because of the strong parent community. The majority of the parents are very nice and work very hard to continue to support the school, but the school isn't working with the parents organization as closely this year. There's clearly some disconnect between the two.
Academic Performance: We can only review our own child, and we have been very pleased with the progress and things we see thanks to the classroom teachers.
Enrichment Programs: They have Art, Kung-Fu and Chinese. Last year Fall, they had Viva El Espanol came, which was excellent, but we didn't know what had happened, they are not offering that now.
School Ground: Small but sufficient for small kids. Some climbing structures will be helpful to develop motor skills.
Maintenance and hygiene: They only have one part time handyman who fixes things around the school as well as cleaning the school. We used to have cleaning crews coming in at the beginning of last school year, but we don't notice any ever since.
Elementary Programs: It's sad that they will not be offering this program after this semester, but that might be for the better.
Unfortunately, we decided not be continue our kid with GMIS next year and applying elsewhere. Mr. C
I am leaving a review for a fantastic Mandarin immersion Montessori school in Berkeley named Global Montessori International School (GMIS). This review is completely unsolicited, and I have the freedom of being honest and objective because my child is moving on to another school. My child started at GMIS at the age of 2. I chose GMIS over the other Mandarin immersion programs in the area because of the following reasons: 1) the teachers were experienced, youthful, energetic, loving and kind; 2) the founder of the school, Vivi Teng, is a warm-hearted, honest person with extensive Montessori experience and devotes herself full-time to managing every aspect of the school; 3) a great parent community of highly educated but down-to-earth parents who are very involved and very tuned into the development of young children and their needs; 4) an ethnically diverse student population with over half of the children coming from multiple ethnic backgrounds. I visited and toured all the other schools in the area (PRINTS, AIM, Shu-ren) and came to the conclusion that the biggest hearts were at GMIS and that my toddler would be cared after the way I would expect a large family of kind aunties would provide. After having been at the school for 2 and a half years, my child has been able to recognize many Chinese characters (I would guess at least 50), knows bo-po-mo-fo symbols and is able to use them to read early reader books from Taiwan, is able to converse in Mandarin with proper tone, and is also progressing well in English reading and acquisition of math concepts. Potty training was done by the teachers within 1 year of enrollment and made my life so much easier. Extracurricular activities have included Soccer Shots, Kung-fu, Chinese and Western singing and music, beginning Spanish, and afterschool Chinese class. Other class options include art and dance. He has been exposed to gardening, animal care, trips to the Berkeley Nutcracker and Chabot Science Center. There is a wonderful outdoor garden area with a vermicompost earthworm bin to teach children about the soil lifecycle. The outdoor playspace is clean and has a variety of outdoor toys. In the summer, water play is also available. I have made many friends among the parent group and contributed to the development of the Parent Organization which provides parents with an organized website for information and helps to orchestrate the myriad of volunteer, holiday and cultural events that occur each year. The school's preschool through kindergarten is growing by leaps and bounds. The elementary school is still in development and currently enrolls through second grade. My son will miss GMIS very much and after 2.5 years, I am still certain that I made the right decision for him. I have not seen as many happy kids elsewhere as I have at GMIS, and as many kind teachers. Whether your interest is Montessori, Mandarin, a diverse and global environment for your child, GMIS will fulfill all of the above and more than prepare your child for Yu Ming or any of the other Mandarin immersion programs in SF. Many of the kids who go to Yu Ming from GMIS are quite over-prepared and already know most of the Mandarin and early math covered in public school kindergarten. All in all, a wonderful preschool and kindergarten and you can't go wrong. I expect that with continued development the elementary school will be wonderful, too. Vivian
Re: Reviews on GMIS and AIMS for a 3 yr old
I don't have any experience with AIM, but my two kids have been at GMIS for the last 2 and a half years. My older one started at 3 1/2 in the children's house until he went to Kindergarten this past fall (a little over 2 years there). My younger one started in the young children's house classroom right after turning 2 last fall, and is currently in the children's house classroom (3-6 yos).
We have been extremely happy with GMIS! We feel really fortunate to have this really fantastic, nurturing, rich, bilingual preschool experience for our kids. The teachers are really wonderful. For the preschool teachers, one English teacher has been there since the school opened I believe, the other has been there for at least two years and is also a parent. For the chinese teachers, two have been there since the school started I think (or for at least since we've been there), 2 have been there for 2 years, and one is new (came in the summer this year). I can't think of one negative experience we've had with any of the teachers, and my kids have been with all of them at some point. The director, Vivi, has a really great vision of the educational experience she wants to provide, and would not hire someone she didn't think was a great teacher. We talk with the teachers regularly, and they always know exactly what is going on with my child. They spend the time to get down at their level and meet them where they are, and you see can see a relationship of mutual respect. We have a really wonderful community at GMIS and the teachers are a big part of that.
We are very happy with the academic side of things as well. The materials in the classrooms are well developed and diverse, and the children do music, dance, and soccer during the school week. My older son was more than prepared for kindergarten (starting to do carryover addition and subtraction, beginning reading in chinese and english, writing dozens of characters and english words). We do not speak Mandarin at home, and we are often told how impressed people are with his Mandarin ability, both reading/writing and speaking. This was not a detriment to his English read/writing either. He was allowed to progress at his own pace, since the work is self-determined, and we were very happy with his progress. My younger son is almost 3 1/2 now, and he's doing Zhuyin as well as recognizing and tracing many beginning characters. He's doing a lot of math work too, many things that my kindergartener's class wont get to until the end kindergarten at his public school. I could go on and on, but overall we think it's a wonderful school and my older son was very sad to leave when he graduated and went to public kindergarten. Enthusiastic GMIS parent
An update on the new location for GMIS: The school will be relocating to a new address in Berkeley across the street from Ecole Bilingue and near one of the Berkeley Bowl groceries. The move will take place over the summer and be ready to start in September! I encourage all interested parents to look at GMIS and consider enrolling. Vivian
I am thinking about sending my daughter to GMIS (Global Montessori International School) next year but heard that the school may be forced to move/leave the location where they are at today. Does anyone have any information on this? Would love to hear from current GMIS parents. Thanks! Julie
Re: Seeking excellent Pre K program with 2011 openings
My son has been enrolled in Global Montessori International School in Berkeley since the age of two and we love it! Small class size, wonderfully kind and attentive teachers and staff, and immersion education of children in Mandarin are what make this program special. They provide potty training as well. The kids have dual exposure to english and mandarin at the upper levels. Extracurricular activities include gardening, cooking, art under the guidance of MOCA, Soccer shots, field trips to various museums, visiting musicians, and education on various topics ranging from dental hygiene to Asian cultures. The kids achieve a very high level of proficiency in math at a early age. Because they are learning both languages at such an early age, both come naturally and pronunciation seems to be quite clear for each respective language without accents or crossovers. The kids just seem to know to speak Mandarin to the Chinese speakers and English to the English speakers. If you really want your child to fully develop both sides of his or her brain in an attentive, loving environment, this is the place for you. Over half of the kids enrolled come from backgrounds with no Mandarin, so no need to worry if you're a non-speaker like me :)I Vivian
Re: Mandarin afterschool programs in the East Bay
I would recommend the after-school Mandarin program at Global Montessori International School (http://www.gmis-berkeley.com/prog_afterschool.php). Classes meet from 3:30pm to 4:45pm on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday each week. I'm continually impressed by the Chinese-language artwork and written worksheets that my 3-year-old brings home from these classes. - GMIS parent
Re: How is Montessori style Mandarin immersion
We investigated PRINTS, Shu Ren, and GMIS before deciding to send our child to GMIS for preschool. (We chose not to explore AIM because we were concerned that having Japanese, Chinese, and English combined together in the early stages would dilute the language experience. We felt this was a slight disadvantage of PRINTS as well.)
The way I would characterize the Montessori philosophy is that it is very dedicated toward encouraging the child's self-reliance at a developmentally appropriate level. Montessori-educated children are known for learning how to take care of themselves at a basic level at a very young age (even before 3 yrs), doing things such as dressing themselves, helping to clean up after a spill, and preparing and sharing food with others. Another life skill which I think is even more important in the long term is becoming self-directed in choosing what to pursue and following through on their interests. Montessori kids are expected to choose their own pursuits, rather than constantly waiting to be told what to do next. Whereas traditional kindergarten in the U.S. may often have kids bouncing from one activity to the next after only 15-30 minutes, the Montessori approach will allow kids to pursue an activity for an hour or longer if they desire, enabling them to develop a longer attention span.
One possible concern about this is that in a Montessori school, children may miss out on the opportunity to explore new activities that don't initially appeal to them. I always ask Montessori educators about this on interviews, and I continue to inquire about this frequently as my child grows. At GMIS, the teachers monitor the kids' activities to make sure that they're not missing out on something important, which I can see from the periodic "report cards" that they send home containing evaluations along multiple dimensions expected for children at a particular age. They will check for gaps in what a child has been exploring and present a new activity or lesson to a particular child when s/he is ready.
Another possible related concern is that children may spend more time in individual rather than group social settings, if the nature of the education is primarily self-directed. GMIS adopts a flexible approach and includes group circle time several times throughout the day, in addition to providing multiple opportunities for unstructured indoor and outdoor play with classmates across age groups. Small groups often spontaneously emerge during class, because children are curious about what other children are doing or because a teacher is giving a mini-lesson. In fact, the Montessori philosophy is considerably less age-stratified and rigid compared to traditional U.S. educational settings, encouraging cross-age interaction so that older kids actively help younger kids learn. We see this as a tremendous benefit to supporting positive social development.
As you note, what's important is how a school implements the Montessori philosophy, since there is a lot of variability here. One difference is that the American Montessori Society (AMS) approach is less rigid than the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) approach, in that AMS-certified teachers will use outside materials and resources to supplement traditional Montessori materials. Most of the GMIS staff are AMS certified, while a couple are AMI certified; I don't know the credentials of AIM or PRINTS teachers. Another difference is in the administrators' and teachers' application of the Montessori philosophy; some are stricter than others. From my observations of GMIS, I feel the school provides a very warm and nurturing environment, responding flexibly to the children's needs and including ample time for unstructured, imaginative play. At the time that I observed PRINTS, I felt it was more rigid and less nurturing. This is something that you will want to look for yourself in all the schools that you visit because it can be so subjective and depend very much on the individual.
One final point I wanted to mention is the truly exceptional qualities of GMIS Director Vivi Teng. She is a passionate and dedicated educator with many years of experience in early childhood and elementary education. In addition to working well with the children, she demonstrates a genuine interest in understanding the parents' particular needs, going out of her way to address their concerns. She has also assembled a fantastic team of teachers and works with them closely to support their development and ensure that the children receive the best education for their needs. All of the Chinese-language teachers are native Mandarin speakers, in addition to their training and experience with early childhood education.
In summary, we are delighted with GMIS because of its excellent Mandarin-language education, its thoughtful implementation of the best parts of the Montessori educational philosophy, the excellent teaching and administrative staff, and the dedicated parent community. - Very happy GMIS parent
Re: Mandarin Immersion Elementary Schools?
My son attends the Elementary program at Global Montessori International School in Berkeley. He enjoyed the warm environment, opened up his shy personality, and made good friends. We like the supportive parent community and receptive school teachers and administrators. I find my son becoming more confident, responsible, thoughtful and inquisitive, since joining the elementary group. The English part of the Montessori program led by the head teacher Ms Nugapitiya is great. In a little over 5 months he went from not able to read by himself to a beginner reader of chapter books, and teaching me stuff he learned from school, e.g. leaning tower of Pisa. I doubt the Chinese part was taught strictly using the traditional Montessori material, as I have seen a 5th grader used the recording feature on IPhone to practice tone pronunciations for a tongue twister. I really like the innovative media introduced by the Chinese teacher Ms Ma, which made it more relevant to the kids and more engaging. The children are naturally more proficient in English and often speak that among the peers so the teachers had introduced show and tell in Chinese, word games... I find it a good mix between Montessori philosophy of C,follow the childC. and willingness to engage kids using effective methods. To me the learning skills and the excitements toward the language and cultures achieved have been invaluable. happy mom
Another reason GMIS is so special is the culture. It is a warm, loving, kind place for the kids that also focuses on their education and making sure they learn. The kids love going to school and you can see what they are learning. And, they all do speak Chinese during the day, to the other kids as well, even those who don't have Mandarin spoken to them at home (like my son).
Additionally, this school is going places and will make a name for itself. Vivi has a tremendous amount of energy and she always has her eye to how to make the program stronger and reaching out to the community to bring resources and relationships to the school. Not only did they improve the art and music education this year (MOCHA comes to the school) she is reaching out to other schools in the area to create relationships for those graduating.
And lastly, but not least, the parent community is strong. there is a lot of parental involvement, which is great for the kids as well as the school.
GMIS was a wonderful decision for us as a family and we couldn't be happier. I hope you find your way to GMIS as well. A Happy Parent
Re: American Int'l Montessori and Global Montessori
This is the second year our child attends Global Montessori International School (GMIS), and we are extremely happy with how the school has become especially over the past 6 months. After the school made the change from trilingual (Chinese, Japanese, and English) to the current bilingual (Chinese and English) environment for the two lower classes (Young Children's House for less than 3, and Children's House for 3 to 6 yr. old), the level of Chinese learning among the students have improved dramatically. Since our child was fluent in Chinese to begin with, we were somewhat unsure about whether the Chinese curriculum was going to be challenging enough, but we are definitely not disappointed by the outcome (if not expectation exceeded) so far. The new curriculum director (who's terrific) for the CH has integrated arts, music and other subjects into the language program, and we are still constantly amazed by how much math the kids there are learning by age 5...The staff has created a caring/nurturing environment, and the parents are a group of great individuals. The school is by no means perfect, but given it's only the second year in operation, we think it's on a solid footing already. We have considered all the alternative Chinese immersion schools in the area, and we are very happy with our decision. Happy GMIS Parents
We have been thrilled by our kids' progress in Chinese since this summer when the school changed from a trilingual to bilingual program. All in all, we are very happy with GMIS and will keep our kids there for a while. GMIS parent
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