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We have a two-year old and are trying to get up to speed on the different educational philosophies out there. If we want to avoid sitting-in-rows doing math worksheets, do we have to avoid public schools altogether? Or, are some public schools more collaborative and project-based? Or, does it depend on the teacher wherever we go? If we decide to go private, what are some progressive private schools in Oakland or Berkeley? Any suggestions for schools with progressive approaches would be helpful. Any advice for how to learn more about choosing a school (other than internet searching) would also be helpful. Thank you. C
I really support public schools, but it is quite rare to find progressive education in public school classrooms for a variety of reasons. Alfie Kohn (a wonderful writer and thinker about progressive education) has a GREAT article about this very issue. You can find it here: http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/progressive.htm. At the end of the article are a list of questions to ask of any school that you consider.
It is important to remember, though, that the dichotomy between traditional and progressive that is often described by progressive educators is, to a certain extent, too simplistic. Most schools now -- whether they are explicitly progressive or not -- promote active, hands-on learning, are student-centered, and so on. I think the differences between progressive education and traditional education are more subtle perhaps, but no less important. I think they are vital. But, if you go into your search with that false dichotomy in your mind, it could be confusing -- ''but wait, kids at public schools are actively engaged too'' -- and you might miss some of the profound differences between the two.
We were also interested only in progressive education. We looked at our neighborhood Oakland public school (Chabot), a few other Oakland schools (Peralta, Kaiser), and a charter school (see below). Each had its strengths and drawbacks. The private schools that we applied to were Aurora School, Park Day School, Berkwood Hedge School and Walden School. Of those, Walden is perhaps the most alternative, with a wonderful heavy emphasis on the arts. Windrush is another progressive school, but it was too far from our home in North Oakland to consider. Definitely worth looking into, though, if the location would work for you. Check out the websites for each of those schools, read about their approaches to teaching and learning, their educational philosophies. Read about what a constructivist learning model is and how it looks in action.
For comparison's sake, you might want to visit schools like Head Royce, which are great in their own way, but not necessarily progressive education. Redwood Day is somewhere in the middle. These can be great schools for many children and families, but they are quite different from the progressive schools mentioned above. There are others that are somewhere in between (Black Pine Circle, The Berkeley School, Prospect Sierra). All good schools, but again quite different from those that are explictly progressive in their orientation.
There are other factors to consider -- how good a fit the parent community is with your family, the size of the school, teacher-student ratios, quality of the enrichment classes that are provided and so forth, the physical environment, location, and so forth.
We ultimately decided to send our son to Aurora School. This is his third year there, and we are incredibly happy with our choice. Aurora is dedicated to progressive education, has multi-graded classrooms (K/1, 2/3, and 4/5 -- students loop with the same teacher for two years), fabulous specialist teachers (music, art, Spanish, movement, PE, woodshop, computers, library), an INCREDIBLE library (10,000 volumes -- the same size as or bigger than many large public elementary schools with five times the number of students and an amazing librarian who sits on the Newberry Medal committee), and a lovely community of families. There is a culture of kindness that permeates the entire school and especially characterizes relationships between the children and among the teachers and parents. My son has felt so safe there and has such a beautiful sense of belonging. He LOVES school and came home every day the first few weeks of second grade saying how he was ''overjoyed'' to be back at school.
As far as learning about different educational philosophies and schools, reading Alfie Kohn's books are a great place to start. Here is a wonderful list of his writings from his website: http://www.alfiekohn.org/books.htm. Many schools are hosting open houses and offering tours starting right now. You are welcome to attend those events. Aurora, for example, has an open house event in the evening on Thursday 11/4. If you have the energy, interest and time right now, you could do some preliminary searching in this way -- narrowing down the schools you want to look at more closely when your child is four years old and you are ready to start looking more seriously.
You didn't say where you live, but you can do the same with public schools. Find out when their tours and open houses are happening. I think overall, the curriculum choices in the Berkeley schools are a bit more inspiring than those in Oakland, but if you live in Oakland you should still definitely take a look. Plenty of families are very happy with their Oakland school.
Finally, there is one charter school that is explicitly dedicated to progressive education, and that is the North Oakland Community Charter School (NOCCS). Admission is by lottery, and the odds of getting in as a kindergartner are about 1 in 10, but there's nothing to lose in applying if the school appeals to you. Check out their website, too. It's a great school.
Good luck to you! Doing a little exploring now will make things easier and clearer when you get to the actual stage of making decisions. It's nice to give yourself that time! At the same time, don't fret too much. It's still so early. Your child will grow and change so much in the next couple of years. I knew what kind of school I was interested in for my son, but I don't think I could have known what school would be best for him until I saw what kind of four year old he became, what his strengths and needs were at that point. Give your child lots and lots of time to explore and play in open ended ways, to spend time outdoors, and to unfold and develop along his or her own trajectory. Formal schooling will come soon enough! emily
''We embrace a progressive, constructivist, and developmental model of teaching and learning. What this means is that Walden students actively participate in their own learning. They look, listen, and touch. They ask, answer, and discuss. They measure, move, and create. Walden students find creative and useful solutions to interesting and complex problems.''
The website is an excellent resource for learning more: http://www.walden-school.net I'm also happy to answer any questions. Best of luck! Happy Walden parent laura
- Dedicated, energetic teachers who are deeply supported by their
administration, especially in professional development.
- Happy, friendly and diverse kids
- Consistency across classes and curriculum
- Active parent community (with a variety of ways to contribute)
Ultimately, my daughter is doing very well at College Prep. TBS helped build her confidence, developed her already great sense of humor, and prepared her intellectually and creatively to do pretty much whatever she wants to.
PS. we love the school lunch program run by Gregoire (parent and Berkeley restaurant guy)
PPS Feel free to visit our family blog (http://thederringdos.com) to get a sense of what one TBS family is like. Patrick
As you come closer to looking at schools, I would encourage you to visit schools' classrooms more than once and to meet with the head of school/principal - that is what ultimately sealed our decision. catherine
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