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Private Middle School Reviews
It must be that time of year again, when parents start questioning public v. private....So here I go. My daughter is in 5th grade at a Berkeley public school. We really didn't even consider private school when she was entering kindergarten. There have been many wonderful things about her public school - very involved parent community, a lot of really great and interesting kids, and some wonderful teachers.
But I am watching as my daughter becomes more quiet, withdrawn, and frankly kind of disengaged with school. She is not one who raises her hand or takes up space. She is definitely an observer. It isn't a capacity thing -- my daughter has always gotten all 3s and 4s on her report card, and continues to do so. But her teacher reports that she hardly raises her hand, and when called on, does not seem to be paying attention. This is from a teacher who is considered one of the best in the school.
The only thing that seems to excite her about school these days are when she is working on a big project that allows for a lot of creativity (like her current project to develop a timeline about her life and world events). She is a very creative kid who spends many happy hours at home writing stories and drawing.
As we think about middle school, I am just worried that this quietness and lack of engagement in school will worsen. I am thinking that now may be the time to consider private school.
We are in the Willard zone, so our choices would be Longfellow or Willard. So I'd love to hear from parents with girls like mine, about what your experience has been like if you chose to stay in public school. If you chose the private school route, did you find a school that worked well for your quiet, creative girl?
Financial aid is a whole 'nother question, but from what I see in the BPN archives, it is best to go ahead and apply and see what you might get. Thanks for any thoughts! anon
So we went with the smaller, private option and our daughter is very happily settled at The Berkeley School on University. The 6th grade has two lovely, lively and learned classroom teachers, and the curriculum is rich, engaging and allows for creativity in student work. There's no just getting by and not participating for any student - the teachers are too on it! The school has a warm, welcoming community--staff, teachers and parents-and much attention is paid to the social-emotional well being of the kids. EC mom
That all changed once she started at The Crowden School in Berkeley. The program integrates a chamber music curriculum with a full academic program. The students must work cooperatively and are actively engaged in the creative process and problem-solving whether rehearsing an ensemble piece, running a food drive, going over math homework, or designing background scenery for a performance. The academic program makes my daughter want to know and do more, and music has opened up an entire new world for her.
She entered the 5th grade with only a half year of lessons under her belt. The progress she has made with two hours of daily music instruction has been beyond anything I imagined for her. But the true difference is in her confidence. She takes leadership roles, speaks her mind, and feels safe to be herself. I consider her to be a fairly typical kid entering into the middle school years with all usual complaints about homework and a healthy dose of girl drama. But no matter what challenges she faces, she feels like the school has her back. She knows that teachers see her and she loves her classmates on good days and bad. I highly recommend taking a tour of the school to see both the music and academic classes. Since you mentioned it, they do have a financial aid process and if this is the right place for your daughter, you should go for it. Quiet Mouse Singing Now
My 5th-grade son is very interested in history, philosophy, and chemistry. I don't think that he is getting adequately stimulated in public school so we are considering private school. He could probably use a higher level class environment at this point. He's very low key and gets along well with others. He is very strong in math. Suggestions? We live in El Cerrito. Thank you very much. His Mom
I recommend attending an info night a Portola or making an appointment to speak to the 7th grade math, history and science teachers. You should come out surprisingly impressed. 7th grade advanced science at Portola is very good, with lots of time in the lab and hands-on work (chemistry, however, is not a big part of the 7th grade curriculum so he won't get much of that at any school, public or private). 7th grade history is a ton of work, studying ancient civiliazations, current events, and teen social issues; your son may be surprised that he can experience history and philosophy overload. At Portola, 7th grade advanced math is very structured with a lot of homework, and it gives an excellent foundation for Algebra I and II, Geometry, and the math required for high school Chemistry. There is also a placement test for students wishing to skip into 8th grade math. good luck
My daughter's new middle school offers Spanish, French, Mandarin and Latin. I believe that the Spanish and French classes will include students who have taken the language through elementary school, but Latin & Mandarin are new to middle school. When she first looked at the school, she was very excited about Latin, which I think is a terrific (if difficult) language to learn, and I think it would help in terms of being able to understand much of the basis of our language. I probably would have taken it if it had been offered. My husband keeps pushing Spanish, which I also think is a great language to learn, with more opportunities to use it. The catch is that if she signs up for Latin, she's stuck for the next 3 years. I think she may be able to switch if she takes Spanish or French (though I may be wrong about that too)
Here's the question(s). Which language would you take, if you had the option? Or which would you advise your child to take? And why? Should she be taking Spanish now, before she's too far behind other kids, and so she'll be able to use it in the future? Which of the high schools offer Latin or Mandarin? I assume they all offer Spanish or French? We're probably looking at private high school: Bishop O'Dowd, St. Mary's, Head Royce, Bentley, College Prep. DO you know what those schools offer? Thanks for the feedback!
We are in the process of choosing a middle school for our son. I'd love to hear how other people make this decision. I've been talking with his teachers, visiting different schools, considering the tuition and possibly moving, reading books... I still don't know. My son just wants to go where his friends are going, but they're headed to a variety of places. How do you know what will be a good fit for your child until he's there already? Middle School Angst
1) I think one of the main purposes of middle school is to teach kids ''the rules'' of high school, in an atmosphere very like high school, but where grades don't matter in the long term (i.e. college selection). My son is very much a routine based kid -- and having several different teachers, with different routines (some have worksheets, some have homework notebooks, some have daily homework, some have occasional projects. etc.) has been a surprisingly difficult adjustment. We've had some poor grades just because assignments (completed and in his backpack) didn't get turned in; we've had a few last-minute slapped-together projects because he forgot to write down the due date. I also understand that this is very typical of sixth grade boys. So, we're working on the skills he needs to do well in multiple classes with multiple teachers. I am extremely glad he is not learning these lessons in high school!
2) My son went from a small, rather sheltered elementary school, to a large, pretty diverse middle school, and it's been a bit of a shock to him. He's still learning to cope with the behavior differences, the swearing and yelling in the hall between classes, the sheer number of kids here and the inevitable noise and jostling. Not overt bullying, more just sensory overload. It's surprisingly hard on him, and I'm really glad we're not making this adjustment for the first time at Berkeley High or Oakland Tech or some such.
So my advice would be this -- try to let your kid out into the big wide world to the extent that you can. Don't choose a small, sheltered private middle school unless your child has a real need (e.g. extreme sensitivity, serious ADHD or other learning difference, etc.). Pick someplace reasonably large and diverse, and make sure that the kids change classes and teachers throughout the course of the day. They'll have to learn these lessons sometime; let middle school be practice for high school, while the grades don't count. If they learn these skills now, they will have more options later. learning along with my kid
I know that this process is a little gut wrenching at times, but you are doing the right thing by doing the research and asking the questions. But at the end of the day you know your child and have the best sense of how they may evolve, so trying to consider both the short term transition and the longer view of how middle school will prepare them to move forward is key. trust your instincts. Tamara
I am looking for a private middle/high school in the Oakland/Berkeley/Contra Costa area that would be suitable for my quirky 7th grade son. He is intelligent and hardworking, though not an exceptional student (mostly Bs). He needs small classes and a good deal of personal attention. His strengths are in language arts and less so in math and science. Mostly, however, he has been unhappy and felt excluded from the social scene at his public school, which emphasizes sports and affluence. A school environment that accommodates different learning styles, and embraces, or at least tolerates differences, plus is affordable, would be ideal. Thanks in advance for any ideas. Concerned mom
I'll try to keep this objective so you don't dismiss my opinion, but believe me, it comes from research and experience: Private Schools are businesses. For all of their endless yapping about academic excellence, nurturing environments, Socratic learning and commitment to diversity - they are businesses. Private schools use their interview and orientation process to weed out any kid who looks even remotely like they will need more than average attention. Depending on what you mean by 'quirky' it's likely they may not be interested in your son.
They are looking for nice docile kids with solid academics that they can lift up a grade or two, so that the kid's happy parents will run around telling everyone what a great school they attend - that's free advertising. The level of sports-madness in different private schools varies a lot, but you will absolutely not be avoiding the affluence issue by going private.
If your son is already in 7th grade I would seriously consider toughing it out, at least through middle school. Kids who are not totally average stick out MORE in private schools. The social scene seems turbulent in all middle schools - long-standing friendships dissolving and new ones forming, along with the exciting hormonal drama.
We ended up going to our local public middle school. Judging by our kids peer group I don't think the academic or social outcome would have been much different if we had gone private. Interestingly, two different friends have moaned about how unresponsive their private schools have been when they have raised concerns about academic issues. We would also have been about $70k poorer if we had gone private.
Only you can decide what is best for your child, but when you look at private schools be very clear what you're getting into - it's a business transaction. Is the school genuinely offering a better experience than your public options? Maybe, maybe not. Best of luck. Public School Parent
It does not, alas, offer high school. (My older daughter, currently in her junior year in high school, wistfully said when she was figuring out where to go that she wished there were an Archway high school.) But it might be a good place for your son to spend the eighth grade year while you figure out what of the many many possibilities for high school would work best. Website: www.archwayschool.org, phone 510-849-4747 Kathy
Hello BPN Community. I am looking for a good middle school for my intelligent, curious, affable 5th grade boy. On paper the East Bay School for Boys is a perfect fit, but I'm not sure the reality there has caught up to their ultimate mission. (I think it will one day be a great school, but for me there are still a few too many rough edges.) My son has attended a perfectly fine public elementary school in Berkeley, and has had several exceptional teachers and a couple that weren't so good. His public middle school is King, and while I'm sure he would be fine there (my daughter graduated from King 3 years ago, so I have some experience with it) I would love to find a fresh, scintillating, progressive (hands-on? project based?) curriculum for these critical middle school years. I would love for him to be in an environment that nurtured his social and emotional intelligence, and gave him a break from what can be a deadening traditional public school curriculum. It doesn't have to be an all boys school. Any ideas? I would also love to hear from people whose sons have been successful at the East Bay School for Boys or at King. Thank you
My kid is in public school and will enter 6th grade next August. I am looking for a middle school for her. She is struggling in school this year. She has mild / controlled ADD. Her school is an excellent public school but very academic and the class size is now over 30 students. My child started really struggling with the academics this year. Her grades dropped in 5th grade versus 4th grade (she used to get B+ and A- average and now in 5th grade she is getting C average and even some Ds). The school gives lots of homework every weekday which takes her twice as long to do as it should. She does not do any after school activities anymore and her self esteem is declining fast. I am so worried about middle school and high school. I am looking for a school with small class size and average academics but I do not seem to find one. Is there such a school (public or private)? I know that there are many academic private schools with small class size for highly achieving kids and small class size schools for kids with disabilities. Neither of these fit my child. I am looking for a mainstream school with challenging academics but not too hard. I am willing to pay for private school and commute to Berkeley, Lamorinda, Walnut Creek or even Danville/San Ramon. Can someone recommend such a school or it just does not exist.
We are going through the 'middle school crazies' and I wondered about our potential choices. We are looking at two different schools with two different philosophies. One is Beacon Day school - relaxed, small, block scheduling, less homework and mastery of a subject before moving on. The other Head Royce - more academic, exciting curriculum, fast paced, rigorous, more homework. If you have had any experience of either school, how did it work out? Did the different approaches end up being a good or not so good thing. How important was the homework thing for instance? Our son is creative, quiet, sensitive, loves reading etc. I'd love to hear from parents who have been through all this and can let me in on your golden nuggets of wisdom!! We are also interested in North Oakland Charter school. Cheers. Parent of a soon to be middle schooler
Are there classmates going to Beacon or Head Royce? That's a huge bonus. The social needs of kids at this age are an important consideration.
While you are touring the various schools pay close attention to where the kids look the happiest and most engaged. Good luck!
We love the school (we have been there for 7 years and have a 1st and 3rd grader also) and know that they have room for junior high students. SJCS Parent
I am trying to get a head start on the whole middle school issue (my daughter is currently in fourth grade at an Oakland charter elementary school which I love) and I am already feeling totally frustrated by the options I am seeing. So I thought I would put it out to the community.... Where does your middle schooler go to school? At this point I am interested in any public or private (but not religiously affiliated) school in oakland/emeryville/berkeley. Thanks for any info you can pass on. Mara
We are beginning to look at middle schools for our son. We are wanting private middle school that will support his advanced math and science.
He is currently taking Algebra as a fifth grader and he he is taking human anatomy astronomy and chemistry as a fifth grader.
He is a mature student who works well with other students as well as adults. His elementary school has him switching classes several times a day so that will not be a difficult transition.
Any Suggestions? Are middle schools all the same?
Then we made the mistake of deciding to send her to the local public, very highly rated high school, for 9th grade. After a month it became clear that in fact Bentley K-8 school does prepare students 1-2 years ahead of the public schools academically. She was bored and not challenged at all. We quickly fixed that mistake and sent her to Bentley High school after about a month at the public high school.
In summary, Bentley K-8 school teaches 1-2 years ahead of the public schools, so if your child is not challenged and likes academics, I would highly recommend Bentley, and the high school seems great so far! (Bentley high school is in Lafayette). Anon
Both of our boys were quite engaged math and science students, as well as accomplished classical musicians (something about that math/music connection seems very real to me), and we found the school a wonderful nest of nurturing, with structure, a good social environment, and plenty of room for individual growth as well as group learning and group projects.
My boys went to TBS from preschool through grade 8. The academics prepared them extremely well for any high school they wanted to attend, and the environment, which I treasured dearly, and believe is equally important, allowed them to remain safely inside of childhood for just a tiny bit longer -- avoiding the over-sexual-ized, over-consumer-ized and media-blitzed reality of life -- for just a couple more years.
One son graduated from The College Preparatory School and the other from Lick-Wilmderding High School (very much their choices). One just graduated from UCLA with his degree Chemical Engineering (just because it ''sounded interesting'') and was recruited by Google where he now works (nothing at all to do with ChemE, he's followed his passion for technology). Our other son is a bio-medical engineering major at UC Davis, where he has discovered philosophy and viticulture. Therefore, I'd say they were both well-prepared for whatever step came next in their lives. (Really, with very little help from us - two parents who are liberal arts graduates who can barely solve an algebraic equation). Both of them could have gone to private/very expensive Ivy League colleges, and both, with our encouragement, chose University of California campuses, for which our bank accounts shall be eternally grateful.
I look back on all the school choices for the boys and I have the most nostalgia for TBS and what a wonderful place it was for our kids and our family. It was a sweet time with so much learning, growing, and happiness.
What more could you want? One Lucky Mama
We're looking for a new school for my son who is currently in 5th grade. It has become evident he needs a more creative, progressive, open school and classroom group. This is the type of kid who would rather write a song or ride a unicycle than play soccer. Academically, he is an A and B student, with no major learning differences. I have read all the recommendations in the archives and we are looking at places like Waldorf, Archway, Black Pine Circle and Park Day. I realize the class he would go in with has a lot to do with it and his shadow visits would give us a lot of info. Does anyone have any other places to recommend or advice/experience to offer on the schools we're investigating? Joan
My daughter(10) loves the arts(drawing) and sports(track), is very good at both and is getting much encouragement by teachers and coaches to pursue further in these areas. She also benefits personnaly from both. The sport helps her self-esteem,is a great outlet for her energy and brings her much fun. The art is a great way for her to relax or work through her emotions. She currently goes to a public school (4th grade) where the focus is on math, english and testing. There is no support for her desire to do art or sport. She is not a top performer in terms of grades, but she does not have a learning disability and the potential to be on top of her class has been recognized by all of her teachers.
I am considering finding a private school where there is more of a balance between academic achievement and support for arts and sports. I also think that she would be doing better academically if she was given a more rounded education instead of constant pressure to test well. Can anyone recommend a private school where she could start in the 5th grade and does not have to be a A+ student? Since my daughter is African American I would also prefer a more diverse school. Thank You so much for taking the time to reply. anonymous
My duaghter has been suspended from her middle school and
the school district will not place her in another school in
the district. She has been placed in an alternative school
called Diablo Day School. We have heard that this school is
for students with sever problems and my daughter does not
fit that category. Since it is late in the year, we are
having a hard time find an Independent school that will
accept her. Any advice on schools that will be willing to
take her, or other options?
Running Out of Options
There are always more options! Some, however, may require thinking outside of the box and beyond the obvious. Any suggestions that I would have would depend on having more details about your daughter's situation.
What happened to create this situation? Was she just suspended (as your posting states) or actually expelled from the district? What district do you live in? How far are you willing to commute? How much can you afford? Are you open to boarding school or homeschool options? What are your daughter's needs and interests?
Quickly, there are two middle schools in the East Bay that are often a bit more flexible in taking in new students. I can not say that they have space right now, but they would be worth checking out...Community School of the East Bay and East Bay School for Music and the Arts. Both are small independent middle schools.
Should you require further information about alternative programs, please be in touch.
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