Middle School Reviews: Academy of Alameda & Park Day in Oakland

Hello wise community.

We've got middle school coming up in a year and a half, and are strongly considering either the Academy of Alameda or Park Day School.

We'd love to hear from parents with (ideally middle-school aged) kids at both schools. We want to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly (if any). For context, our child is on the introverted side, has a creative mind, reads avidly, finds great joy and learning from doing art and engineering projects, and is a kind, sweet but anxious kid who we'd like to see learn to speak up and stand up for himself while broadening social relationships. 

We understand that Park Day has, in the past year or 2, undergone a big transition of staff and administration. How has this impacted current students & families? Has the quality or direction of education been affected as a result? Also, how would current families describe the school culture, especially when considering families? If your child(ren) entered PDS in middle school, how was their transition? Did they feel accepted by kids who had been there for years, or was it hard to 'break in' due to cliques or other challenges?

We hear nothing but great things about AoA and were impressed at the recent Info Night. Does the school really walk their talk, because it sure ticked off a lot of boxes for me (as an educator) as a place where I think my son could thrive. 

Thanks for any and all insights! Alameda Parent

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Our child is in 8th grade at Park Day. The transition into PDS at middle school went quite well. But I have to be honest that I've been disappointed since then. The past 2.5 years have been full of staff departures, turnover, inexplicable drama. We've stayed because our child has formed good friendships and is happy.

People seem to like the new head of school, and things seem more stable now (how could they be less stable??), but we will not be sad to leave after graduation. Not bitter, but not in the least sentimental.

Your child sounds like the perfect Academy student.  Not the Academy of Alameda, but the Academy School in Berkeley, http://theacademyschool.org/.

The Academy has been around since 1969, and since undergoing some changes a few years ago, it is once again thriving and continuing to grow.  It has been a wonderful middle school for our brainy, project-oriented, child who started off somewhat socially-awkward and now in the 8th grade, has blossomed into a confident, socially adept and thoughtful young man ready to take on the world.  The recipe for success?  The small-size classes (10-12); low-turnover of staff; outstanding teachers who are both challenging and nurturing (a difficult combo to achieve); engaging curriculum including specialist classes 3-4x/wk in science, language, art, and music from kindergarten up.  There is no danger of any child slipping through the cracks.  Each child is encouraged to develop his/her own voice and taught to speak up for themselves. Students become part of a strong cohort and build solid long-term relationships.  Our son, who had problems making friends early on, has made friends for life.  Additionally, because this is a smaller school (K-8/100 students), the relationship between the middle (upper) school and the elementary (lower) school is loving and familial.  There is no stigma of mixed ages playing together.  Older kids are protective and are looked up to by the younger ones.  Bullying is non-existent.  Cliques are rare. The families are welcoming, diverse and down-to-earth. Truly, I have never seen a community like this.

The Head of School, John Lynch, is not only a former parent, but is a long-time teacher at the school.  As a former college professor, he chose to work specifically with this age group because he understands them so well and partners with parents to help navigate these tough middle school years.  He is an extraordinary teacher and role model.  He expects a lot from his students and they happily rise to the challenge. The other middle school teachers are also outstanding with unbelievable credentials.  These are well-respected teachers who develop great relationships with the kids, and whom we are grateful to have during these formative years. 

We are preparing ourselves for the heartbreak in leaving The Academy after graduation.  

We have a 5th and 8th grader at Park Day who have been there throughout elementary school.  It is true for us that the previous 2 years the middle school has had a ton of teacher and administration turn-over, leading to instability and changes that negatively affected the students and made for an atypical Park Day experience.  However, I have to say that things have changed dramatically this year, and we've decided to send our 5th grader to middle school there. The new Head of School has been excellent, the interim Middle School Director has made a positive impact, and very quickly they have established a very new tone.  There has been no turnover in teachers this year, who are very solid.  The school is hiring a new Middle School Director for next year, so we don't know who that will be yet, but we have confidence that this team will choose well. (Ask me about this next year.)  We would not send our younger kid into 6th grade unless we felt really good about this program, which we do.  I would say that the Park Day school culture among families is very warm, involved, and social-justice-aware.  There are always a lot of new kids in 6th grade, and usually I hear that new kids generally can integrate easily.  Feel free to get in touch with me directly if you have more questions.

Hello There,

I saw your post and I would love to chime in with regards to my daughter's first year of middle school at Park Day.

The transition to Middle School and to a new school has been very smooth sailing and fun to watch. My daughter is generally quiet by nature and can be shy, so we were worried about how well she would assimilate socially. I am glad to say that the students at Park Day have been so welcoming and inclusive. My daughter's feedback after her shadow visit was that everyone there is so kind. And what I've observed during our first year is that her cohorts are in general, all a very kind and loving bunch. From little things that they've demonstrated like birthday surprises to asking newcomers to join them at lunch to playing with their Kindergarten buddies during break, makes me believe that kindness is placed in high emphasis at Park Day.

Since I wasn't here the year before, I can't speak with regards to the transition within the administration and staff. I do know that the two main 6th grade teachers are beloved and have been at Park Day for some time. My daughter enjoys her time with both of them and I feel they have been instrumental in helping her find her voice and sparking her curiosity. Over the course of this year, I've also enjoyed seeing my daughter, generally quiet, speak up for herself and question things that she doesn't find right. It's so awesome to witness her path to self-advocacy! Classroom focus seems to be on the depth of knowledge acquisition rather than the breadth which I feel really ties in with the philosophy of nurturing the love of learning.Overall, I am very satisfied my daughter's learning progress, knowing that Park Day isn't just preparing her for High School or College but for life. I know this sounds cheesy but often times, I find that too many schools emphasize on how to best prepare kids for high school or college that they forget that learning is a continuing journey that lasts, hopefully, throughout life.

So far, the family community has been very welcoming. There have been a few social opportunities hosted by the school for families to get together. And several parents have also reached out to arrange for play dates, making our family feel really welcome.

We are very happy here at Park Day but more importantly, my daughter is thriving and cannot wait to go to school every morning. Plus, Mini Maker Faire!

Hope this helps some. Finding a school that's a right fit can be tough. I wish you well, whichever school you decide to choose for your son. 

Our child has had a great transition from public elementary school to Park Day for his middle school. The school has been very welcoming and our child has made friends with all kinds of kids. The academics are solid in their approach: through questioning and actually thinking about possibilities, rather than simply putting down "correct" answers, Park Day is a school that truly honors the development of critical thinking, not just the "right answers". 

Overall the curriculum is multi-faceted and fun but rigorous.  

True, some changes have happened at the school, but that happens at every school. Park Day has a lot to offer for students of many kinds. We are quite happy with the middle school and feel our child is making great connections in thinking, socializing and questioning the way things are.   

We have a son who entered Park Day School in the 6th grade and is now in 7th grade. We were happy that he was able to attend Park Day as that was the top school on our list. He is a reasonably social kid, but somewhat shy, and by the 2nd day he told me he had already made “two best friends”. He had come from a very good Oakland public school. One thing he said that impressed me early on was his surprise at the reaction he got when missing a shot while playing basketball at recess. “The kids all said ‘nice try’, you’ll make it next time” as opposed to the typical response he would have received in his old school. In other words, the philosophy of “WE ALL SUCCEED TOGETHER” permeates the Park Day social and academic environment.

Recently a new student joined the school in the 7th grade. He would probably be considered to be extremely shy. I saw him on the first day of school, keeping to himself and being fairly reclusive. At the time of writing this review, he is now playing on the basketball team, played on the flag football team in the fall, and has opened up so much socially it’s hard to believe it’s the same kid. I’m sure this is a result of the non-judgmental and supportive attitude which is what Park Day School is all about.

Academically, the school is first class, as you can see by their High School entrance acceptance rate. In particular the Spanish program is amazing, culminating in the 8th grade class trip to Mexico. As far the the things that need improving at the school, I would say the middle school music and drama could be emphasized a bit more, although the good thing about Park Day is that the staff are very responsive to parent suggestions, so these areas could easily be enhanced if the parents made that a primary focus. Our son takes private music lessons outside the school which works out fine for him.

As parents, we were a bit concerned about being able to integrate with the parent community, realizing that most of the kids had been attending Park Day since kindergarten. This proved not be the case at all, and within a short time we felt as though we had been part of the community all along.

Good luck with your decision and I hope this gives you some idea of the true value of a Park Day School education.

Our son entered Park Day at 6th grade this year and he's had a very good experience. He was hesitant at first because most of his Washington elementary school friends were going to Willard or King, but he has found a great new group of friends, who have been encouraging him to expand his comfort zone. The teachers have been caring and conscientious. We have heard about various issues from earlier years, but that has not been our experience. As an earlier post indicates, the new head of school has set a good tone and the school seems to be pulling together. That's not to say every class or every experience is perfect, but the teachers and staff seem to be pulling together and our son is thriving.