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St. Mary's College High School (Berkeley, CA)
I would love to hear any newer feedback about St. Mary's College High School in Berkeley. Is the same principal there that people loved in 2011? How is the academic rigor? What is the overall personality of the school? What extra curriculars are there besides just sports? Very grateful for your honest feedback! Values More than Books ...
My child is in Honors Classes, but does not feel overwhelmed, I think the trimester system (no projects over breaks etc) is great for him and us. They also foster a sense of community, community service and during enrichment week students are encouraged to pick a project that is helpful. My nieces have built houses in New Orleans, taught on reservations, and in El Salvador, lived with farm families who are trying to stop clear cutting.
Obviously no school is perfect, and I believe you pick a HS for your individual child, but, that said in the few months we have been at St. Mary's I have patted myself on the back many times for sending my child there. I too believe HS is more than academics, it is the time to grow and become the child who will be a successful ''almost'' adult in college.
There are numerous ''non athletic'' clubs and a thriving drama department, there truly is a place for everyone Check out St Mary's, you will NOT BE DISAPPOINTED Great Fan
We recently attended the parent info night at St. Mary's High School in Berkeley. I checked the posts and the most recent is from November 2009. We were very impressed with the principal and now would like to know if his vision translates to the school. How are the teachers? The school community? Where do the majority of students live? What are the strengths of the school and the weaknesses of the school? Thanks so much in advance- Looking for a High school:)
Our daughter had good teachers and some not-so-good ones, but overall she learned a lot. When it comes to academic rigor, she felt that you could challenge yourself (she took a lot of AP classes) but that you didn't have to.
Kids come from all kinds of racial and ethnic backgrounds and seem to mix easily. They also seem polite and helpful--if you look lost walking around campus, someone is likely to offer to help you. It's certainly a safe place. My daughter never worried about leaving her backpack lying around (and once, when she left her brand-new phone in the bathroom, someone turned it in to the office).
What didn't she like? Well, the dress code. (No uniform, but a ban on anything they deem inappropriate for school, such as sagging pants for boys or v-neck tops for girls.) Also, there's a relatively small selection of elective classes, compared to some big public high schools. You can take Spanish or French, for example, but that's it.
Saint Mary's is also into sports--many kids are on teams. Our daughter wasn't an athlete but loved going to the big games where everyone turned out to cheer.
I definitely agree with your positive impression of the principal. He's smart, enthusiastic, and genuinely concerned with the ''whole student.'' I don't know how the new trimester/block scheduling system will work, but it looks like the school put a lot of thought into it, and I trust that they will evaluate it closely as they roll it out.
Not being religious at all, our family wasn't sure how Catholic high school would work for us. But the main impact was that the school consistently conveyed a message of ethics, compassion, and social responsibility. My daughter really liked the debates in her religion classes, which by junior and senior year were classes such as World Religions and Ethical Leadership.
All in all, we give it a big thumbs-up. Former Saint Mary's mom
Re: Catholic high school for child with out gay parents?
St. Mary's is a very accepting high school. My child graduated from there and came out senior year. There were other gay students at the school at that time as well. The school teaches tolerance and acceptance of one another. Our child had a fantastic high school experience at St. Mary's. St. Mary's supporter
Hello, Could parents of students at St. Mary's please provide insights into the teaching at St. Mary's high school? How are the teachers -- dedicated, passionate, knowledgeable, understanding? How are the academics, esp. math, science and writing? Does St. Mary's do a good job at motivating the kids to love learning? Are there choices for AP classes? How is the homework load? Which college do they attend after St. Mary's? Also, how are the kids? Are they supportive of each other? Thank you so much!
How good a class is depends on the teacher. St Mary's is well known for their sports, and each of the first two years I felt like my son had 1 or 2 teachers who really just wanted to be coaches and their classroom work came second. But each year he's had some teachers he really liked who left him excited about their topic. Math was not good the first two years and now he has a teacher he likes and he's doing well.
When my son was applying I read a letter on BPN from a mother who said each of her 2 daughters had had teachers at SMCHS they thought were good and teachers they thought were really bad, but each daughter had a different and often opposing evaluation of who was good and bad; so some of it is personality match etc. I don't believe it's challenging enough for the super, super bright and super academic child who will graduate from an Ivy League college summa cum laude, but I think it's good for average bright kids.
Where they go to college is posted somewhere on the web site and in the orientation material.
It's diverse and safe and small enough that the faculty really do know each kid and care about each kid. That trumps hyper-academic for my family. mother of a junior who is happy at SMCHS
Yes, the school has AP classes, maybe not as many as other schools, but the usual ones (e.g., English, Physics, etc.). There were many students who got into big name schools back east (Brown, Cornell, NYU, Vassar). You can check with the school regarding its AP offerings and what schools its students have been accepted to.
As with all schools, there is some variability w.r.t. teacher ability and motivation. For my daughter, she was really pleased with her English, math, history, and economics teachers, and I agree with her assessment. There were a couple of science teachers who were so-so, and a couple who were really good. Though initially she was not happy about taking religion classes, these ended up being among her favorite classes. They were well taught and diverse (comparative religions, historical perspectives, etc.), and not dogmatic. Students were encouraged to express various opinions and points of view. She ended up liking them because they were more abstract and thoughtful and provided good opportunities for analytical thinking.
The school is small, so there is a sense of community there that may be harder to achieve in a larger school. The students are supportive, and my daughter gave me several examples over the years. She still sees her high school friends when she is back home.
My daughter spent a little more than an hour on homework most nights. Sometimes more. She said that her friends at Berkeley High seemed to have a lot more homework than she did. My daughter did try to be efficient about getting her homework done. I'm glad that the homework load was no heavier as she was able to participate in sports (club soccer and school sports) and other student activities. Janet
Re: Switching Schools as High School Junior
Sounds like two more years at BHS is not in your child's best interest. HS is such an important time on many fronts. My child went to St. Mary's HS and had the best 4 years I could have asked for. There were students who transferred in as juniors and were welcomed into the community. Since St. Mary's is a small school, newcomers are welcomed easily and add to the student body. You might want to consider looking at the school. It is a Catholic education (I am not Catholic) but it is also an education that is more global in reflection than in religion. parent of St. Mary's grad
Re: Public vs. private "real life" experience?
You are looking at VERY different private schools, Bentley, CPS are in a similar category and St. Mary's is at the other end of the spectrum when it comes to ''real life'' experiences and diversity. St. Mary's does not have the same socio-economic make-up that the other two have. Many students that go to St Mary's are there on scholarships and would otherwise not be able to afford going to a private school. These very reasons make St. Mary's a wonderful 'private' school because you get the best of both worlds. You really need to look at the major differences between the first two schools listed and St. Mary's and then decide. I don't think 'real life' experience fully exists at these schools where the students are predominately wealthy. parent of St. Mary's grad
Hello, Hoping to get a glimpse from those who currently have children attending St. Mary's College H.S. Can you share the best and worst experiences in regard to academics, social life, teacher quality, etc. ? My daughter will be going there starting next year; I'd like to get some tips -- to start out the year. Thanks for your help. Anonymous
We are not religious, but I asked my older daughter what her favorite class was at St. Mary's yesterday, and she said ''AP Physics, and Parables.'' Parables is one of the religion classes, and they take one each semester they are there. She loved it because they read parables and discussed their meaning. For a while, she wanted to be a philosopher! The good religion classes really stimulate them to think about ethics and values, and I think that is great. Kids should all have a chance to do that in school. They should also have a class on financial planning and checkbook balancing, and my daughter seems to be in that class now, a pleasant surprise. The pre-college counseling is good and they have an opportunity for an intensive week of professional SAT preparation their Junior year at a very reasonable price. There are also excellent opportunities to participate in community service projects here and abroad.
Some ''worst'' things: Over the years they have had some bad teachers. I think that is not unusual. Sometimes they bring that on themselves, or it is a personality conflict: one of my daughters will complain endlessly about so and so, and the other will love him or her. We wanted to take a semester off to go abroad and could not without losing our spaces. Now, faced with College expenses, I wonder if we could have saved the money and made do with the local public--some people have excellent experiences there too. But if you asked my daughters, they would be adamant that it was well worth it to go to St. Mary's. St. Mary's Mom
We are beginning to look at High Schools and are
interested in private schools as well as our local public
high school. Although we were raised Catholic, neither of
us has been actively religious for 30 years. We are
considering St. Mary's and wonder if there are other
families with gay parents who have experience with sending
their child/ren to Catholic schools. How much homophobia
was there? Teachers? Administration? other kids? other
Anyone not actively Catholic who sent their child to St.
Thanks for any help
at least one of my daughter's close friends was raised by a single mom [dad was always ''out of the picture''], but she is not aware of gay families at st. mary's [on the othe hand, she is not terribly social, and it wouldn't matter to her if someone had 2 moms or 2 dads]. my daughter says a teacher told them about a school survey, which said only 25% of st. mary's students are catholic. my impression of the school, as a parent, is that the school is very tolerant and caring. my daughter adds, though, that kids often tease other kids about being ''gay,'' a joke we both find offensive. [but that kind of stuff is likely to be worse in a public school, because there just isn't as much attention to individual students OR individual rights. we pulled my son from ECHS in part because of the lack of attention to him, as an individual.]
hope this is helpful.
There are quite a few families where Catholocism is not the main religion, mine included. We are jewish and catholic. The school is supportive in that area as well.
But, remember, this is a catholic school and that is their focus and there is prayer.
My child has loved her 3 years at SM
I would like any information, recommendations about St. Mary's College High School. I like the school, but would like first hand information to compare.
As in any school, the quality of the teachers varies from very good to not so good which as always is frustrating especially when you are putting out a good chunk of change to send your child to a private school. The expectation at the school is that everyone will go on to college. However, if your child is academically driven and is a high acheiver, I would strongly urge you to discuss this with the school. I do not think our son has been challenged very much up until now though I do think this year will be different now that he has some flexibility in choosing his courses. The community is very diverse with children from all types of backgrounds attending the school.
It is a catholic school which does impact all aspects of the school. The kids take religion every year and every class and assembly begins with a prayer. As a Jewish family, we have found this somewhat alienating, but our son has figured out ways of dealing with the situation that is comfortable for him. In some ways, religion is a class he has come to enjoy because those classes have the most interesting discussions. As our son does not want us to be involved with his school life, we occassionally have contacted his teachers through email if we had any concerns. All of his teachers over the past two years have responded to our emails within a reasonable amount of time. I can't say that they have ever initiated contact, but I have found them responsive when we have contacted them.
We have the advantage of living within several miles of the school so it almost feels like a neighborhood school. As many children attend from outside of Berkely, the traveling to and from the school can be an added burden especially if the child is involved in after school activities of which there are many. Cindy
We're moving North and I'm looking for a High School in the Berkeley area. Any first hand knowledge on St. Mary's or College Prep? If we rent in Berkeley and are interested in Albany High, how strict are the School Districts with requesting a transfer? BHS sounds great, but my incoming Junior needs small classes. Thanks!
Classes at St. Mary's are quite large (her English class last year had 35 students) and the level of instruction can vary widely. The religious instruction is fairly heavy duty and quite Catholic. Science and math instruction are especially weak. On the plus side, the school is economically and racially diverse, and the social environment is warm and welcoming. The kids are very friendly and the school works very hard to teach mutual respect and tolerance. The sports programs are excellent and because it is a small school almost everyone makes it on a team.
One last note . . . almost twenty girls in my daughter's grade are leaving this year. I'm sure your daughter would be very welcome at the school after so many departures. retiring St. Mary's parent
This was our attempt to leave Berkeley High, which is huge, has many large classes, and a chaotic, insecure environment. Of course, there are many people who love BHS.
To each his or her own. anonymous
I encourage those of you looking around at different high schools to consider St. Mary's--for a small, highly diverse, friendly, community-spirited environment with excellent academics and sports. This was a huge and difficult decision for a non-Catholic family, solidly committed to public education. We had to give it a try to change a path that was becoming too risky and uncertain for our pre-teen, and we are ecstatic. Call St. Mary's in North Berkeley, just off Hopkins, to visit, or attend the upcoming Open House for families looking at high schools for next year: November 21st, Sunday at 1 pm. For a child who might get "lost" in a really large urban school environment, without a clear commitment to his or her academic path, nor a strong extracurricular activity, we have found St. Mary's the ideal answer---there are now just over 600 students, co-ed. This month we are hosting a French exchange student arranged by the new French dept. chairperson---and our junior will attend school in France for two weeks next March.
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