Advice about Middle School

Parent Q&A

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  • Questionable school intervention

    (10 replies)


    My 8th grader was absent last week from school. When she returned Monday morning, her classmates ran up to her and told her that a meeting had been held to discuss her good points and bad points and her overall integration into her class. Her peers were apparently told to keep the meeting confidential and were all expected to participate. She is hurt both because she felt the  coordinator who facilitated the meeting betrayed her, and of course while lots of positive things were said, she now knows who said negative things, such as “egocentric”, “selfish” etc which has affected her relationships. She didn’t want to go to school this week. The school claims it was a legitimate intervention called “Circle is Friends” and the coordinator refuses to apologize for damage done. Shouldn’t they have had my daughter’s consent at the least and ours as parents? I feel very angry. 
    Thank you!!

    Simply going on what you've described, as an adult== not a fragile teen-- I would feel awful being told that some of my peers got together to discuss me--in secret.   Your daughter was absent, is that why they chose her?  That this group was formed for this purpose and headed up by a "coordinator"--is particularly upsetting.  I'm very sorry this happened to your daughter--and that it is an ongoing practice. Please investigate more.  Talk to the principal, go before the school board.  Gawd

    This is nothing short of INSANE.  At the very least, I'd be in the principal's office having a very, very serious discussion.  At most, I'd be investigating legal options to ensure this never happened to any child ever again.  That would include removing people from jobs and ensuring they never worked with children again. 

    I think this is not an intervention and think you should speak to the school administrators and place a formal complaint. 

    This is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. Incompetent, ridiculous, illegitimate: totally indefensible.  There isn’t a context that would remotely justify a teacher-led, mandatory, behind-the-back, secret gossip sesh about an absent student.  And this is the least of the problems with this story, but any teacher who believes “confidentiality” can be assured among eighth graders should have their credential revoked.  I’d change schools and name the school in forums like this so other people can avoid it. Don’t make your daughter put up with these people anymore.

    This sounds bizarre and terrible.  An intervention is usually held with the person present, not when they are absent.  This sounds less like an intervention and more like a secret meeting where everyone just talks about and judges your daughter.  I'd go over the head of whoever was in charge until you and your daughter get an apology and this practice stops.  It's teaching the kids that it's ok to judge people and talk about them behind their backs- totally inappropriate for school children to be taught this by their teachers.  

    Sounds highly questionable.

    The adult in question here does not appear to understand what Circle of Friends is.

    You can read up about it in various places:

    Without the "focus child" present this actually appears to be bullying in my opinion.

    Report this to everyone you can think of. File a complaint. Contact the school board.

    Wow, I would be so upset by this. I'm so sorry your daughter had to experience this.

    Oh god, no.  I am guessing this is a private school?  If so, frankly, they can do whatever they want. If it were me, I would think seriously if I wanted me kid to continue there.  Not only because of the questionable judgement but also because of their lack of willingness to hear your concerns. 

    This strikes me as an incredibly tone-deaf activity (especially for middle schoolers!) unless it were to be handled very carefully which would, of course, include your and her knowledge and consent.  Also, this is a new activity, if she has never been a part of the circle herself (talking about another student) right?  If so, they would especially need to take care with this.

    Yeah, this is a no and a no from me.  And I am in the field of education, FWIW.

    That sounds really "off" to me. I'd be angry too. Yuck! Definitely would make some noise on this one!

    I don't have any advice, but I'd be very angry too - it sounds like someone with very little sensitivity to young teens read a pop psychology book and tried out a sloppy interpretation on your daughter.  She has my sympathy.  My daughter had a difficult time in 8th grade and would have been very upset at this. 

    What the heck school does your daughter go to?  Yes, that is very weird and unacceptable.  In fact so obviously so that it's hard to imagine this happening outside of a teen television show.  Honestly, I would go crazy on school administration (including the board because this has to be some private school).

  • What to look for in a Middle School

    (2 replies)

    Hi, I have a third grader and we are just starting to think about middle school, which could start in 6th grade, depending on which school we pick. I would like advice from others on the size of a middle school. How many kids is too big? How many kids is too small? Would a small middle school with 10-15 kids across two grades be too socially limiting? Or does it feel comforting? Is a school with 250 kids too big and scary? How important is it to have a well-resourced school with good elective options for kids? Or is it more important to make sure my kid is challenged in the classroom (he is advanced academically but socially young)? If there is a trade off between academic fit and social fit, what is more important? Is it better to choose a school that goes through 12th grade or change school again for high school?Thanks so much for your advice! I don't know where to start to think about this and there are a lot of different options.

    I only have a sixth grader (still at the same elementary school, which goes through 6th), but from the wisdom of parenting an 11 year old, I will say 3rd grade is too soon to worry about this. Think about it more in the spring of 4th grade, when more of your child's strengths and challenges in the school setting have emerged.

    But, a school with 250 kids too... big? No. I would be concerned that a private school that size would be going out of business soon. Keep in mind that many, many private schools have folded in the past 5 or so years in the East Bay due to the high cost of living here, and there are probably more teetering on the brink each year.

    Mom of three former middle schoolers here.  You will be amazed by how much your kid will change by 6th grade, including right up to the last minute during the summer before they start middle school. By the time they were 12 and 13, my kids wanted a bigger school where there were more kids to choose from.  This is the age when kids start figuring out, independently of us parents, what really interests them, and who they want to hang out with. All three of my kids made lifelong friendships in middle school, and discovered lifelong passions, whether science, music, art, or sports.  An environment that might seem overwhelming in 3rd grade is often the very thing a young teen wants. Chances are excellent your kid will actually prefer a bigger school, but if not, you can always make a change when you get there.

  • Sixth grader sad about middle school

    (5 replies)

    My son is a new sixth grader at Albany Middle School.   He came home from his first day of school and broke down in tears.  I thought maybe something upsetting had happened with his friends.  But it wasn’t that.  He has a nice group of friends, and everything was good with them.   He also thought his teachers were “fine” and “seemed nice.”  It was more that he was deeply disappointed by the content of the school day.  Lunch is short, the day is long, and little that happens in class excites him.  He misses elementary school.  Two weeks in, he cried again last night about going back today.  He says “there’s nothing to look forward to at school except lunch.”  He is a bright kid and a fast, self-motivated learner.  Classroom instruction prioritizes bringing struggling kids up to par, which can leave more advanced kids feeling alienated.  I’m worried that might be what’s happening.  What can I do to help him?  Should I even do anything?  Is this just one of those times when kids have to learn that life is  disappointing?  I’m sad that he’s sad.  It’s hard to see a kid with so much intellectual aptitude and curiosity begin to “hate” school.

    I remember having a similar experience in 6th grade, reporting it and my sadness to my parents and they did nothing. It left me feeling unheard and powerless.  I stopped bringing it up and my parents never asked any follow up questions about it.  I survived but it feels sad.  My advice would be to brainstorm with your son how you might solve it. Is it possible to switch to a more academically engaging school?  Even if you can’t change it, at least he’ll know you really heard him, tried your best, and took him and his feelings seriously.  He’s worth it.  Over time, I stopped going to my parents with any difficulties because I wasn’t heard and they didn’t follow up.  I only shared the positive stuff.  

    I’m so sorry to hear about your son’s reaction to middle school. This was a tough transition for my son, too. Ultimately, we were not super successful getting the support my son needed from AMS. I do believe the staff cared, but I was disappointed in how they responded and surprised they weren’t able to offer more strategies to engage/excite my son. High School was slightly better than middle school, but my son never loved going after leaving elementary school. It was a really hard time for everyone involved. I hate to be so negative, and do not mean to imply your son will have a similar experience. I am hoping that by sharing our family’s experience you feel reassured that your concerns are valid and don’t wait to take action. I wish you all well! Good luck.

    I could have written your post last year. Our son is the same, and continues to be so in 7th grade, though to a lesser extent. I think you hit it when you talk about being at an age when they discover life can be disappointing. This is a kid who looked forward to one thing after the next, not so much anymore. Sometimes he will say "there's not as much to look forward to." He's sensitive and also tends towards negativity, which we are working with. I've found that outside activities (sports, etc) helps, and engaging him constantly about how he's feeling and strategies for coping can really help. You could also maybe offer tutoring afterschool or use other means of keeping him engaged academically - for us we talk about geopolitics, history, etc at home with him a lot. Good luck to you - in the same boat!

     I have an eighth grader at Albany Middle School and his first quarter of his six grade year was really tough. Took us a while to dial-in what new things he could explore. But slowly he became interested in some of the clubs, made new friends with kids from the other elementary schools, and joined a sports team. In time he learned to like school again.  It’s a big adjustment . Wishing him and you all the best!

    Yeah, kids should suck it up sometimes. For a few hours or a day. Not for a whole school year!  I would contact somebody at the school to see if you can improve things. A counselor, or a teacher, or the principal. Somebody. If you can't make things better, it is time to think of alternatives. 

  • Searching for a speaker or program to help with social/emotional development for middle school girls - any leads GREATLY appreciated!

    I can recommend 2 programs, neither of which is exclusively "for girls" but both can really help with MS and teen girl communication - and one may have a bit more relevance to girls than boys. 

    One is Dovetail Learning's Toolbox program -  This is used by my son's school and is a great program actually for K-8 - which "builds resilience, self-mastery and empathy for self and others." It's a simple but clear and effective program for schools, the facilitators that I have seen are strong, and we actually find it useful at home as well.

    The other is The Body Positive's Campus Leadership program - This is billed as for high schools but they definitely run this for MS and even younger kids. I can attest from first-hand experience that it is fantastic program, where kids learn self-regard, empathy for others, resilience and leadership. A great anti-bullying program. The focus is on accepting the way you and others look, but it's so much deeper than that and has real resonance for even the most "perfect" appearing kids, who often have great anxiety about themselves lurking below the surface. The facilitators are very strong and kids are trained to be campus leaders, and to help stop bullying and facilitate communication.

    Both of these programs are in many Bay Area middle schools and high schools - and TBP has a national presence. I'd interview both and see what might fit for your school.

  • Hi, all.  I need some advice about how to navigate the public school infrastructure to help my daughter.  In short, she needs to move to a different class and I'm hoping someone can offer suggestions for how to best approach this issue.

    My daughter is attending a public middle school for the first time after previously attending a private school.  Overall, the experience has been great for her!  However, she's got one teacher who has not worked out so far.  My wife and I have met with the principal on two different occasions about 3-months apart.  The first meeting happened after just about a week into the school year, when we got the sense that there was going to be a problem.  (And by problem, I mean that the teacher is not equipped to handle middle school kids.  She's just moved from teaching young kids in early elementary school.  When she recommended that the middle school class read "chapter books" we got the sense that something might be off.  That was just a very mild example.)  The principal acknowledged that the teacher was on their radar.  At the first meeting, the principal indicated that they were going to monitor this teacher's class, provide guidance, and generally work with the teacher to try to improve things.  Three months later, nothing has changed, and the principal is giving us the exact same answer with no real plan to help my daughter.  They're only focused on making this teacher a better teacher, which will probably take a few years, and this process comes at the expense of my daughter's education.

    This teacher is the only one at this grade level having this issue.  Since my child came into the school somewhat advanced, she's been coasting and really not learning anything.  The teacher is struggling to address the average student, and seems to be trying to help the struggling students, but is leaving the kids who are a little ahead to their own devices.  By the time my daughter starts next year, she'll have basically wasted this year without being challenged unless we do something.  My wife and I were hoping the principal would help us work towards switching my daughter to a teacher with a little more experience who would have the capacity to challenge the more advanced kids.  However, it seems the principal is concerned that moving my daughter might trigger an avalanche.

    Since the principal basically gave us no alternatives, it feels like our hands are tied.  Anyone know the workings of the school system well enough to suggest how we might try to escalate this request to move my daughter?  It seems like aiming for the start of next semester would be an ideal time to make a move.  We have to act now if we're going to make that happen.  I really appreciate any suggestions!

    (I've attempted to write this post so that the teacher and school could not be easily identified.  I'm not trying to shame the teacher...just want the best outcome for my daughter.  That's also why I chose to hide my username...Thanks!)

    One teacher and everything else is good? Then just supplement outside of school. At 6th/7th grade, you will not be sacrificing "at the expense of my daughter's education," all the academics of middle school will be reviewed/repeated later. The social and community aspects are actually more important at this age. If you think of public school being for the greater good of the community (which I truly believe), then work with the teacher to help her become a better teacher rather than making it all about you.

    If she's at a BUSD middle school, your best bet is to work with the grade-level counselor. Our daughter had some issues with teachers and the counselor was very helpful.

    Just one teacher who is not actively bad in a day with multiple teachers? Let it go. You run the risk of communicating to your daughter that she is a special snowflake and mommy and daddy will always fix her "problems". Being slightly advanced is not a problem; challenge her to go above and beyond in the subject independently.

    I suggest dropping the issue.  If I recall correctly, middle school was boring, and the "more advanced" kids spent a lot of time "coasting" while the teachers did the best they could with big classes of diverse skill levels.   That was my experience, at least, and I turned out OK.   I would recommend letting your child "coast" a little bit instead of being a thorn in the side of the principal and this teacher, who sounds like she is doing the best she can with what she's got.  Don't look at it as "wasting" a year - she is surely learning many new things, including valuable social skills, being in a new and more diverse school.

    Just to offer a different perspective— this may be a time for your daughter to learn life skills other than reading.  Such as accepting things we cannot change, challenging oneself by creating extra-curricular activities and studies, patience, compassion for her teacher, the satisfaction of offering to help others (like the kids in the class who are struggling), and/or finding ways to manage frustration. 

    I don't have advice on how to make the school change her teacher, but do have an alternate suggestion. You say your daughter is advanced and not being challenged. So the long-term consequences of a dud teacher in one subject are minimal. It's not that she's going to struggle forever with a weak foundation in that subject, it's just that she'll be bored this year. In public or private school over the next 7-11 years of middle school, high school, and college she's going to have some great teachers and some stinkers. For the rest of her life, she'll have some co-workers and bosses that are awesome and some that are useless. It's not too early for her to learn to deal with a dud. It's a life skill she'll need. And you can model for her that you win some and you lose some, and sometimes you have to make the best of what you've got.

    I only see two possibilities here: while trying to support all kids, focus on the ones needing the most help; or, helping the ones that are doing great and leave the other ones to fail.  Which one do you think should be the one the teacher should go for?  

    If she made the right choice, in my opinion, maybe your other options would be to add extracurricular activities for your daughter; or tutor your daughter yourself a little.  Give her challenging activities, or help add some challenge to her school work.

    Another possibility: move to an area where kids have so much support at home that kids are all 'brilliant'.  Another option: move your daughter to a demanding private school.  And, no matter what, it's great your daughter is so advanced that she does not have the challenges the other kids have.  Congratulations on that.

    In any case, I hope things work out for everyone, mainly those who need the help the most.  

    Please check out a really awesome article on parent-teacher problem solving:

    I wanted to respond to your post with a different perspective.  I am a public high school teacher and a mom of a kid in public school.  I think you are finding that public schools are not based on a consumer model, which is why getting the principal to respond to your preference for a teacher has proven difficult.  The beauty of this model is that it is there to serve the public equitably, although it does not always do this perfectly or seamlessly.

    While it seems unfortunate that your daughter got this teacher while she is still so new to this level, one challenge of middle school and high school is that students will sometimes receive teachers they don't feel challenged by or don't mesh with for other reasons.  Part of developing into a resilient student is learning to deal with those challenges.  As for academics, if you daughter is not struggling academically, it seems like she is at a great age to challenge herself.  If an assignment is too easy for her, maybe you can brainstorm with her how to go above and beyond, or add another level of nuance or thoughtfulness to her work.  Or even work on reading above grade level books for fun that she enjoys and also challenge her - which will certainly facilitate her growth and literacy. Or, instead of finding challenge or interest in this particular class, maybe throw herself into the challenge of another class that she finds interesting, 

    You just came out of six years of private school. Your daughter has six teachers now (presumably) and only one is not good? I think those are really good odds. Maybe this is the better learning experience for your daughter--that she can be successful, happy, resilient, in a less than perfect environment.  And sad to say, but not all middle schoolers, especially 6th graders, are reading chapter books. So maybe the teacher wasn't out of line in suggesting this. I totally get where your principal is coming from. Everyone knows this is not a strong teacher. But there is a teacher shortage right now, and better to have a teacher in the class than no one (and yes, this happens). As far as changing teachers, is there room for everyone to change? No, of course not. So who gets to? Probably no one, unless it's for very compelling reasons.  Your daughter will survive. She might learn she doesn't actually need the best in order to thrive. Most kids don't.

    I remember being in a very similar situation with being bored in class and teacher that was too busy to help a kid that was already advanced. She kept telling me to walk around and help other kids, which I was fine doing for a bit but I did not want to spend the whole period being teacher's helper and learning nothing new.   My parents lost the battle of changing me to another class with a teacher who had a group of advanced kids in class and was helping them with different assignments since they wanted academic diversity and wanted each class to have kids who were advanced and who were struggling.  The compromise my parents reached with the teacher after a lot of back and forth was that my parents would provide enrichment resources (books, workbooks, worksheets) for me to work on in class after I complete class work.  So I would still do the assigned work in class (usually very quickly while the teacher was explaining the worksheets) and then work on my own books/worksheets afterwards.  My parents checked it and bought all the additional resources, so I know it took time/money but I was self motivated to do self study and it worked well.  My parents had the same concern about me wasting a year, and this way I ended up learning more in this class doing self study then I did in many of my other classes.  If your kid is motivated and is willing to do self study and you are willing to arrange it and provide the resources, it was a great solution for all.  So even if you cannot change teachers, maybe there is another solution that would work.  Good luck. 

    I don't have any advice, but I did want to convey empathy. I understand the resource constraints and the difficult choices that underfunded schools need to make. But I also believe that every child matters, every child deserves to be challenged, and that the solution is not for advanced students to have to spend their free time doing additional academics that they missed receiving in school. Nor for parents of advanced students to have to spend their time and resources on supplementation.

    In a similar situation and struggling.

  • My 7th grader is struggling with all the web-based work and assignment structure in his school. Are there any middle- and/or high schools that eschew this approach? The chromebook is not only full of distractions, but also pretty heavy to lug around. Mostly, it sucks up his time as he navigates around and gets distracted, runs into glitches, forgets to turn things in, etc. Major bummer.

    It sounds like you are objecting that kids at your son's school are using computers to get organized and for research? Did you know that this is how work is done nowadays, not only at high schools but at the college level and beyond, for professional work?   Learning this skill as a teenager has value, and kids who don't have access to computers are at a disadvantage. We are lucky computers are now so affordable - you can buy a chrome book for under $200. I'm sorry that your child is getting distracted by this tool, but distraction is not a new problem. Pencils can be distracting too. As for the weight: my child's physics textbook is twice as heavy as his chrome book. Why does he need to lug around all that paper when he could access it online?

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Questions Related Pages

Field Trips for Middle School On and Off Campus

June 2013

I am looking for field trip ideas for middle school....we are in the East Bay and looking for interesting things to do with middle schoolers. Additionally, we are looking for ''on campus'' field trips - people who will come to school for day-long or extended classes. I have a keen interest in diversity training or building community - a way where kids from very diverse backgrounds might build on their commonalities. This could also be multiple sessions. What is the best way for me to get information and find out if these types of resources exist? Thank you!

I highly recommend having Berkeley Rep Theatre come to your classroom as a community-building exercise. They will walk them through steps an actor takes to prepare and can do a variety of lessons based on the age of your students/your goals. Public schools get one session free, private schools pay a nominal fee however, they are offering a promotion if private schools sign up now for one paid session, they will get a second free.

For sixth graders studying ancient Egypt, I can think of nothing better than the Rosecrucian museum in San Jose. They will most likely never go here on there own, making it doubly worthwhile. The UC Botanical garden has fantastic docent-led field trips.

If you are up for tying it into community service, Save the Bay has a multiple day program where kids plant natives, clear trash from the estuary and kayak in the estuary. I believe this involves a mandatory teacher training over the summer (but not 100% certain on that) Kids For the Bay can come to your classroom to teach about our valuable estuary - someplace too many of us take for granted. Gail

Trouble adjusting to middle school

Nov 2012

My son (11 years old) started middle school this year. He attended a small, middle class public school and did extremely well there. The middle school is much larger and more diverse, and he is having some trouble adjusting. Where the trouble is most obvious is that he cries when it's bedtime, and begs me not to leave him alone in his room. For quite awhile he said he was sad, but lately he's been saying that he's scared. We've talked about it a bunch and although he likes his teachers and his classes, he says that he's scared of going to school because the kids there are mean. When pressed for details, he says that this means that the kids yell, swear, punch each other, and push each other into lockers. Because of this he doesn't feel safe. He says that no one has ever threatened or hurt him, mostly that the 8th grade kids do this to each other (and sometimes the younger kids do too).

My best guess is that no actual bullying is probably going on, just really noisy horsing around between kids who are mostly friends. But my son is pretty sensitive (this is a kid who is scared of roller coasters and didn't particularly like Disneyland because of the crowds and the noise); and the noise and crowds between periods, plus some amount of rowdy behavior, is upsetting him.

My question is, how can I help him learn to deal with it? I know I could put him in a small private school, but I really think it will be better for him long term to learn to cope with this; it's part of life after all. He's a smart kid, pretty social and outgoing, and adults really like him. He's got a lot of strengths to draw on, and I'd like to teach him to use those strengths to deal with challenges like this. anonymous

My daughter had a very similar experience, and is now a well-adjusted 7th grader who may be one of the kids who is loudly and boisterously roaming the halls at your son's school! The key for us last year was consulting with the staff at the school, particularly the counselors. Our school has a team of counselors who are there to guide the kids through this very emotional period of their lives, and I went in a couple different times with different concerns, including ''my daughter doesn't feel safe'', and the concerns were taken seriously and dealt with appropriately. The counselors at your son's school should be able to meet with him (and/or you) and give him tools with which to navigate the situation. The teachers should also be made aware of your son's sensitivity, and be watching out for him. He shouldn't be expected to bear this struggle on his own. If it's an issue for him, you can bet it's an issue for other kids too. Perhaps the principal or counselor could do a school wide announcement or assembly on respect for others' feelings, and how some behaviors can be hurtful... sk8ma

I am putting my second child through middle school and both had a miserable time adjusting, even though their elementary schools had the same demographics and overall number of kids. One problem is the class size is larger, even though the total population is about the same. The other problem is that this is an adjustment period for all kids, some get more wild, some get more introspective, etc. A month ago my child was begging to homeschool, but now she has made more new friends, has joined a lunch-time club, and seems to be better able to tune out the 8th graders. Maybe just give it time. Good luck

Bright 6th grader is frustrated and bored with school

April 2011

Our 6th grade son is in a smaller OUSD middle school. What with serious budget woes, etc, (bigger classes, no GATE program, etc) he will quite frankly never get the challenging curriculum AND the teacher's attention he needs. As a result, he's bored most of the time and is in danger of never learning how to learn since most stuff comes easily and he tends to get anxious if he doesn't understand something (he also has documented behavior issues, a 504 Plan and is on meds).

Private school is totally out of the question - he was rejected by 6 last year and the experience left us very, very bitter (his anxiety issues came out full-blown during interviews).

At the recent Open House night, one teacher seemed to be pleading with us to ''do something'' since he's so bright and she understands his frustration and boredom and she also fears he will ''never enjoy school until college''. That's a long time to suffer!!

What the heck are our options?? What do others do with their very bright children in middle/high school?? [According to recent posts on another BPN thread, the Bay Area is overpopulated with exceptionally bright kids...]

Do ANY East Bay public high schools have tracking programs that are successful? (I've heard different reports on Oakland Tech and their AP Program). Do we have to leave Ca.? Home school? Supplement? ARgh!! So Sad

From your email, I think I would focus most on behavior modification for our son. He is not magically going to turn into a productive and thoughtful member of society when he grows up and gets to college. I'd get him of those meds and experiment with new ones, and have his issues overseen by a really, really good therapist. Try Lenny Levis. He is the best for pre-teen and teen boys. He is worth the investment of your money. He will get you real results. My son went to him and my husband and I are forever grateful. (510) 540-5052 anon

I am really sorry you are going through this.

First my short answer, yes, your child may be too smart for public school if your public middle school is not differentiating the curriculum. In the Oakland Education Association (OEA - teacher's union) and Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) contract it specifically states that all teachers in all grades will differentiate for the students in her or his class. The OUSD Plan states that students who have tested into the gifted and talented education (GATE) program will be clustered in class and that their needs will be met.

So, you need to look on the district website and find the OUSD GATE plan (it is under departments, gifted and talented) and write a letter and send it certified mail to the principal of the school, Troy Flint at the district office, Tony Smith superintendent and Betty Olson-Jones of OEA. The letter should ask for the differentiated lesson plans to meet your son's academic needs.I would also say that if the district will not comply you will seek to have your son's academic needs met at the cost to the district.

I believe that parents should file a class action against OUSD as they are not complying with their contractual obligations, nor their own published plan. As parents of gifted or highly motivated students we have the legal right to have our students needs met in public school. You have options for online education, but this may only exacerbate your son's issues. I also believe this is why we need publicly-funded charter schools to meet the needs of gifted students in OUSD schools where the teachers do not know how to or refuse to differentiate classroom and home work.

You need to write the letter in May and give them 40 days to comply. Work on the issue over the summer and actively make sure that you work to get the classes and teachers who are willing to differentiate their curriculum. You will not only be helping your son, but my child and all of the other students who are not being served by OUSD.

Mom of GATE Child who supplements with Stanford's online EPGY Program to Make Up for the OUSD and Union deficit

I am sorry you are having such a hard time navigating how best to find an educational environment that works for your son. Middle school is such an important time developmentally and cognitively and you are really wise to pay attention to institutional fit and whether/how to engage your son in productive behaviors (both academic and social). High school seems too late in many respects to re-balance kids whose emotional behaviors have affected their academic ones.

What sounds like a disconnect in your post, however, is how you seem to think about the responsibility for educating your son since it sounds like you think the ''right'' institution will solve all the problems. I believe it is the parent's responsibility first, and then in partnership with schools and any other resources you might find to help. Your post sounds like you are blaming all of these other institutions with not geting or serving your son, who from your description has some real challenges. To be rejected by six private schools means something beyond his academics is going on and most likely not just with him but as a family unit. I've heard from colleagues in independent schools that they don't think an otherwise academically-ready kid with other issues is a good fit if the parents are in denial or unwilling to take responsibility for getting outside help. It's nice that his current teacher is sticking her/his neck out and asking you to do something. good luck 2 cents

Check into MetWest in the Oakland Unified School District. I doubt if he will be bored. A website about them is: Flora

One option for your son might be Tilden Preparatory School, which is a private, WASC accredited middle school and high school in Albany that accommodates a large range of student needs, academically and emotionally. We teach students one-to-one and in small groups, so students can go as fast or slow as they'd like, and in as much depth as they'd like in the areas that excite them. Karen Hobbs and I (Shary Nunan) are both psychologists who have worked in the arena of education and psychology for many years, and work with families and their students to address whatever issues might arise. We would be happy to talk with you to see if Tilden Prep would be a good match for your son. Our number is 510-525-5506, and you can find out more about Tilden Prep at, or you can email me at 1snunan [at] We wish you the best in finding a better school situation for your son! Shary Nunan, Co-Director

Worried about middle school for homeschooled daughter

Sept 2009

My 10 year old daughter, who has been home schooled thus far, is considering attending middle school for 6th grade. Although she is academically a bit ahead, I feel confident that she would be OK, even if bored at times. However, so many of the schooled tweens I know are pretty typically obnoxious (materialistic, cliquey, shallow). Frankly, I'm worried about her being socialized in this environment. In general, the home schooled tweens and teens I know are really lovely people. I'd like to hear how your girls have survived or been damaged by middle school, public or private, and your recommendations for particular schools that nurture healthy adolescent behavior. No lectures, please, on how kids need institutionalization to be socialized correctly. Is middle school the right choice?

I homeschooled my daughter for 6-8th grade just for this reason. She requested to be homeschooled, loved it, and then requested to go back to school for high school. She is now happy at Berkeley High (currently a sophomore). She has lots of friends, is an independent thinker with healthy attitudes, and does well in school. She is not materialistic, cliquey, or shallow. I think middle school can be toxic for girls. We're both very glad we homeschooled for middle school.

Julia Morgan School for Girls. No guarantee that all the girls there are ''lovely'' or from ''lovely families'', however. anon

Wow. What a question.
Wellll. My 13 yr old middle schooler (from what I hear from other parents and teachers) is a kind, caring and strong girl, who is respectful to adults and kids, and stands up for other kids and gets along with a lot of other middle schoolers. Sooo, many of the school-going kids you know may be obnoxious, materialistic, cliquey, and shallow. But I don't find this to be typical of my daughter's friends, team-mates and acquaintances. Sure, I definitely know a few kids in those groups who are obnoxious to adults, mean to other kids or focused on material things, but it is not the majority. At a large public school, like the one my kid attends in Berkeley, kids are able to find others like them. Sure it can be more challenging for the kids who are super introverts to seek out and find like-minded kids, but if they get in a great after-school group that reflects their interests, they'll make friends. Perhaps the home-schooled kids are more used to hanging around other parents, so they are more at ease talking with you in a meaningful way than the ''institutionalized'' kids are in their pre & early teen years. Yikes! I recall I wasn't very good at it as a teen, unless I really know the parent and felt they liked me. Were you good at talking to other parents when you were a teen?

So for us, yes , a large public middle school in Berkeley is a great choice for our kid. Good to great teachers. Lots of diversity. Interesting after-school classes and sports. All three middle schools in Berkeley have great programs going. If you live in Berkeley, stop by and check them out. BUSB Mom

I too was wary of middle school for my daughters. That is why I chose a K-8 school. Instead of starting over in a new environment during a socially awkward time, the 6th graders in a k-8 school are now the big kids on campus. There is a buddy system where the ''middle school aged'' kids are paired up with the younger grades to do activities from time to time. It teaches the kids to focus on being role models instead of only thinking about themselves.

Unfortunately, I don't think you can ever get away from the ''tween'' social scene and some of the bad attitude that goes with it, but I truly believe that the values we instill at home will hopefully guide them in the right direction with their peers. Good Luck!! teresa

It sounds like you would prefer to keep your child at home. I am not sure if you share your descriptions of schooled kids with your daughter [''pretty typically obnoxious (materialistic, cliquey, shallow)''] but if you do she may find middle schoolers to be that way as well, and that will not be fun for her.

I am a middle school teacher and I LOVE middle schoolers. Yes, they have their issues, but so do younger kids and adults. I think middle school is a magical time to learn what you like and who you are and I have seen many kids thrive in middle school. It is important to remember that any time you get a group of people together, there will be some you like and some you don't. In my experience the good kids find the other good kids, and it all works out.

I have had a few homeschooled kids have a rough transition to regular school just because it is so different. Having a teacher instead of mom grading work is sometimes a bit of a shock. So, if you decide to send your daughter to school, you may need to accept a period of it not being too comfortable while she gets used to a new system. teacher

Although my children were not homeschooled, I understand your concern about middle school and the attitudes of tweens and teens. It is, in fact, one of the reasons I chose Redwood Day School. In visiting schools for my young children, I would always try and get a sense for the children in the upper grades figuring this would be telling about the attitudes children developed there. I found the children in middle school at RDS to be very aware, smart, and considerate. My kindergarteners had 6th grade buddies who were absolutely lovely kids. There is something unique about the atmosphere at RDS, and I believe it is a mix of the wonderful families it attracts, and the school's constant message about what is acceptable behavior towards one another. The children learn respect early on, hence bullying in the younger grades is basically non-existent and the older siblings of my children's friends are considerate and not materialistic. I wish you luck in your search, and I would highly recommend visitng Redwood Day for this reason. Happy Parent

12 y-o seems headed for trouble in big middle school

Feb 2009

My son seems to be struggling with the move to middle school. He was in a small, very close knit school for k-5, but is now midway through 6th grade in a large middle school. The good-he is playing baseball, with some success, in the band, running track, and his grades have been mostly A's and a couple B's. He is taking control of his homework, practicing his instrument, and playing a lot of guitar on the side. The bad--he has been suspended from school for having cigarettes and a lighter on him, and pulled out of class by the police b/c he was telling kids he deals pot, and asking what they wanted. Last night he was telling a girl via text that he smokes a lot of pot and cuts himself or is thinking about cutting himself. Now, I know he doesn't smoke a lot of pot (he doesn't have the freedom to do so, and I've never smelt it or seen any signs of it), and that he doesn't cut himself. He is trying to find a persona that works for him, I guess, but we don't really know how to help him find a healthy one. Any ideas or suggestions? We are struggling, not wanting to over or under react, but not sure what to do. He is a good boy, but I'm afraid he is going to talk himself into trouble. Struggling parent

Dear Struggling Parent, My son went from a small school to Martin Luther King Middle School. It didn't work at all and he is a great kid. I actually took him out after 3months and home schooled him through Hickman Charter School in Berkeley. I realize not everyone can do this. It's not my things either, I transfered him into Archway School (private) It was Great and make a huge difference in everyway! What a happy relief. if you can afford private school I would go for it. Especially for middle school which for many kids is just plain painful. This is an extremely important time. tracy

Smart student miserable in middle school

Dec 2001

My son, who has always been a A-B student and has gotten along fabulously with every teacher he's ever had, is having a terrible time at King Middle School. He is in 6th grade. He will not play outside during recess (he has been going to the library instead) and does not want to invite any friends from school home. At his elementary school he had many friends and an active social life on weekends. His work is suffering, he is not turning in assignments and his latest progress report predicts that he will be getting C-Ds. He used to be quite uptight about turning in his homework when it was due, and doing it just exactly right. Now his teachers' assessment is that he doesn't care. I am at a loss. He insists there is nothing wrong, yet he is very unhappy, cries, and has asked to go back to his old school. He is a gentle boy, not into sports and generally not into rough activities, very creative. He is miserable. I don't believe King is a good fit for him, yet I do not know what alternatives there are for people who cannot afford private schools. If anyone has any suggestions or recommendations I'm open to just about anything right now. Thanks

To the Mother of the Upset Sixth Grader: All of us at King understand the difficulties that students experience as they make the transition from elementary school to middle school. As a result, we have set up many programs and resources to help our students with this. Please call me (644-6280), so we can discuss these options. If you would prefer to contact someone else, you could call Sixth Grade Vice-Principal Diana Penney (644-6389) or Counselor Jan Sells (644-8534). I know we can improve your son's situation if you give us the opportunity to help. Neil Smith, Principal

the transition to middle school is fairly major. I don't believe you mentioned if your son was in a BUSD for elementary school, but if he wasn't, then MLK could really be a shock. There are some really wonderful teachers and administrators at King, and I would start there, before seeking any outside counsel/advice. I would find out from your son if he has any teachers he feels a connection with. If he does, go talk with them regarding their advice, perspective. I'd also talk with his vice-principal, whom I believe is Diana Penny. And if you need to speak with someone else, I would make an appointment to speak with the principal, Neil Smith, whom I've personally found to be incredibly helpful and accessible. Best of luck to you and your son. Asa

There are other middle schools than King. I would try to transfer him to a smaller public middle school in Berkeley or maybe even do a transfer to an Albany school. Trisha

Sounds like one of two scenarios to me. One, it could be a bully situation. I live in Fremont and elementrary school is 1-6, junior high is 7-8 and high school is 9-12. I think there is a fundamental problem with putting 6th graders in the same environment with 8th graders, but that's how a lot of other school districts do it. I've heard a lot of complaints from parents who had to deal with this same situation. It's very hard on the kids emotionally so it's going to make the grades drop. It's a very real problem and teachers don't always notice when it's happening, especially in the larger class sizes. At least check it out to see that's not what's happening. Two, he could be lacking motivation because he IS so smart. He needs something else to stimulate his interest. He needs to see the big reward down the road. Check with the school district to see if there is any kind of program to give him more challenging subject matter(more challenging, not more work). And don't stop with just the teacher's word. Ask to speak to the principal and any school counselors about it as well. They might see something the teacher missed. I am not criticising the teacher, again, so many students in the classroom, it's easy to miss something. Marianne

In the five years that we spent at King as a family, I think that every year at Back-to-School night Principal Neil Smith would say,If your child doesn't have someone to eat lunch or be on the yard with please let us know. They need to have someone. Have you used the resources at King? My experience there was always that I was listened to carefully and that my child's needs were addressed. Good luck. R.

I'm sorry to hear about the problems your son is having. Is it possible he is being bullied? That sounds like one possible explanation to the behavior you describe (avoidance of playground, etc.). In any case, I hope that you have talked to someone other than the teacher about this. Before you give up on King, be sure to talk to the principal Neil Smith and the school counselor Jan Sells to see what they suggest. I have found them both to be very empathetic people who really care about the welfare of every child. Whatever the solution for your son, good luck. Marilyn

To the parent with the miserable 6th grader at King Middle School. My son is also not into sports or rough stuff, preferring books and science, but he really enjoyed King. He had wonderful teachers and when he didn't, the principal, Neil Smith, was easily available to talk about making changes, which we quickly did. The garden was a particular favorite, as well as drama (the drama teacher is terrific!), so there are other places for kids to make friends besides sports. There's an afterschool drama club that could provide him with a lot of camaraderie if he's interested. Or maybe your son just needs to change classes to find a teacher he connects with and a group of kids that better fits him. The good thing about King is that it's so big, he's bound to find kindred spirits -- he may just have to look harder than he's used to doing. Being such a big place, King does demand a lot of independence and a willingness to take charge over one's own education, but that's not a bad lesson in itself. I hope something works out for your son. He may end up really enjoying school, if he works at ways to get more out of it. Good luck! Marissa

To the mother who wrote Smart student miserable in middle school: Most private schools are willing to take kids who need tuition assistance, and some have very large endowments. My son's school takes many kids whose parents cannot afford the cost. I would definitely try to move your kid out of King into a private school mid cycle. Before moving him, if might be a good to pin down what's currently wrong. Does he have a counselor, therapist or adult frient he can confide in?

My son, also not into sports, not agressive and very creative, went to Longfellow, which I think is a good choice for public middle school- its much smaller, less sports oriented, and your son might just feel more comfortable. They have also finished their rebuiding/retrofitting and have a beautiful library, gym etc. so its not a construction zone. And I think that the teaching staff overall is very good. Good luck!!

Have you looked into Longfellow Middle School? It's MUCH smaller than King and seems to be a much better fit for a lot of kids. My daughter went there for 7th and 8th grades (she's currently a sophomore at BHS) and had a really positive experience. I would also encourage you to continue to try and find out what is troubling your son. Perhaps he would be willing to talk more openly with a counselor, family friend, etc. L

My son (who entered 6th grade at King last year) also had a very difficult adjustment period. He refused to go to school every morning for the first 3 months, often crying. It was heartbreaking. Very similar to your son, he had always liked school before, had many friends, was a pretty good student, etc. and could not articulate the nature of the problem. The end of the story is that he found his way and now is enjoying 7th grade alot and has a stellar line up of teachers several of whom he has bonded with quite well.

In hindsight, my analysis of the problem(s) and what helped:

1) My son has always lagged in his social maturation. So when he came back after the summer, most of his friends had changed and he had not. His friends were more anxious to be independent, more interested in risk-taking activities, more interested in girls, less interested in hanging out with their families. My son was still a fifth-grader at heart, still wanted to be with us, and was terrified of the new terrain. He ended up being teased by many of his peers for various things. Solution: He eventually had to make some new friends that were more like him. The good news is that King is a big enough school that you can pretty much find friends who are like you no matter what. It took awhile to make the new friends but the confidence that that gave my son was considerable. He still doesn't invite new friends home, but seems to have many friends (both new and old) at school. And now as he's maturing, he's reconnecting with some of the old friends.

2) My son felt detached from his sixth grade teachers at King. This is not because they weren't good teachers, but because he was just one of 30 students to them. I realize that at his elementary school, all the teachers knew him, knew his brothers, his grandmother, and my husband and me. Being known in this way was an important anchor and identity for him. Without that he felt very disconnected. Solution: My husband and I reached out to his teachers, let them know my son was having a hard time (and could not articulate why). They were wonderful. Each made personal contact with him in small ways. This made a tremendous difference to him. We now know that it is something that he needs in most situations. We are trying to show him how to make these connections and build this identity on his own in new situations.

3) My son chafed under the amount of homework he suddenly had in sixth grade (as compared to fifth). He spent nearly 3-4 hours every day, alot of it in procrastination. It was brutal for him, for us, and for his siblings. Solution: Not sure we achieved one, and homework continues to be my son's major complaint about school. Neither I nor my husband feel there are many benefits to large amounts of homework, in fact we believe it is detrimental to a strong family life. But we did our best to help our son find ways to get through it with the least amount of pain possible. The good news is that he has considerably less homework in 7th grade.

Good luck to you! There's nothing as painful as watching your child suffer. Consider also contacting the Sixth Grade Vice Principal. The King administration is very sensitive to the need for kids to like school and connect socially with other kids. In hindsight, I wish I had asked them for help. They have been responsive to us in other arenas.

When my daughter was at King I failed to make use of the support system available there. Now I feel bad about it. Like you I was feeling quite overwhelmed and hopeless by this point in the year. My daughter had a different collection of problems from your son -- but I took her out to private school before really trying to solve the problems she had.

Since then I've met other parents who had more positive experiences, by being more involved and making use of programs the school has -- like the Extended Day Program and GATE classes in the Spring. One friend says her daughter had the benefit of meeting weekly with a counselor -- for no particular reason. At some point in sixth grade that option came up -- and she took it. The counselor made sure the girl stayed in touch with her options and what was available to her.

In November I went to an informational meeting (another kid headed there next year). Neil Smith said a very important thing -- If your child is unhappy after 6 wks or 2 months...Come see Me! I think he meant it, and if I'm in your shoes next year -- I'll do it. Good luck.

ps. If you're committed to leaving King - you might want to look into the School of the Madeleine on Sutter -- by 6th grade they often have a space or two, offer a good solid education at a price WAY below private schools...and would give your child a working knowledge of religion, without expecting him to be religious.

Middle schooler not challenged academically


Can we expect/hope that our children are academically challenged? My daughter is in a Berkeley public middle school and is really not being challenged. She has had other years where this was true, but we always make do. She reads more at home, takes after school classes, and we do science or math projects at home. But she is getting frustrated, and so are we. She reads books during class because the pace is so slow. The math moves way too slow, the English books are read aloud in class which is slow for her since she does her reading at home. She's a 'gate' kid, but so far that has meant nothing. The mini courses have always been offered at times where she has other activities, and the subject of the classes are often not academicwhich is what she is telling us she wants. Being identified as 'gate' has never meant that she has been taught at her level.

She is a good student, very upbeat, and a hard worker, no motivation problems, and not a discipline problem. But year after year her needs are ignored. Do we have the right to hope her school might WANT to challenge her? Is being taught at her own level a luxury, or something that we might expect? I know Berkeley has so many kids at so many levels in one classroom. Many of the teachers are good at handling this very difficult teaching challenge. The new required standardized testing is probably very stressful for teachers who are trying to bring kids up who are below grade level. I'm so sympathetic to the teachers who work so hard, and the many kids who have to overcome formidable obstacles to get their education. I worry so much about the kids having problems (and have volunteered in the classroom a lot to work with students) and the hard task of the teachers that I'm afraid to advocate for my daughter. I want to know what others think about this. The last thing I want to be seen as is a 'pushy gate parent' that thinks their children's needs come first. Like all things it is a balance, but sometimes I'm not sure where the balance should be.

How do other parents think about this? Do you give up on the public schools and go to private school? Do you give up on the classroom and do supplemental teaching and after school projects? Do we help the district Gate office to address the needs of our children differently? Do we just ride it out and hope our kids catch up later, when they are at BHS, or college? What ideas do others have?


Go ahead and advocate for your daughter. The good thing about middle school is that there *are* options for kids who are at more sophisticated levels than their peers. You won't know what may be available for your child if you don't ask them to help. I recently asked for special work from my daughter's 6th grade teacher at Longfellow, because I thought she wasn't being challenged enough, was bored, and was going to become too *lazy* and the teacher was amazingly responsive and within one week, arranged for my daughter to do an advanced literature class, out of her grade level.

Good luck...

This is addressed to the parent of a GATE-identified daughter:

We're also having concerns about the amount of challenging material our child is receiving. His most recent homework assignment at King was to write out 100 words he's expected to learn for a spell-a-thon THREE TIMES. His class has been tested on these words several times, and he hasn't missed one yet, but he was expected to complete this very boring, repetitive assignment which taught him nothing.

The district focus of GATE education is on differentiated instruction. I've sat in on a few meetings, and that is the direction they're headed, over mini-courses or pull-out programs. However, there is very little money for materials, teacher training, etc. As you pointed out, some teachers are already doing it well, but others aren't there yet. The district offered an optional seminar on differentiated instruction this past summer and no teachers from his former elementary school signed up to take it. Some teachers feel they're doing enough. GATE education is clearly undervalued in the district, no matter how it's implemented.

Our solution is to offer plenty of enrichment (classes, camps, travel) and encourage him to read a lot. I hope the situation improves in seventh and eighth grade, although what you've said makes me think it won't. I have no solutions, but remain hopeful that some excellent teachers and a love of learning will prevail. We've gotten invaluable support from a friend who works with gifted populations, which has helped tremendously.