Middle school - trying to choose between four schools

Hello all, 

Our daughter is entering 6th grade from out of town, and we are trying to choose between The Berkeley School, Prospect Sierra, Park Day School and Black Pine Circle. We have to make a decision soon! She is quite creative and always full of ideas, and has no academic challenges. However, socially can go between being quite self-conscious / shy, to excitable - full of ideas - but somewhat inflexible. So while very social, she isn't the most easy-going kid - and can be quite sensitive. She also can be quite anxious - but again - very social. She is currently at a small school, (just 20 kids in her class), and we're trying to find the best fit for her with her social-emotional development in mind, as we are relocating to the area. We particularly want a place with a good drama and creative writing program - her two favorite endeavors.

Would love to hear of your middle school experiences. While I know that cliques/girl-drama is unavoidable, given our daughter's heightened sensitivity, we'd like a school where there is not too much of this. Or at least where social-emotional development is at the forefront. For example, while I know that TBS is that particularly nurturing, how does that balance against the benefit of having a larger student population from which to make friends, like at PS, where there are many new kids entering?

She also has been studying piano for years, so we wouldn't mind a place that can nurture that interest, though that is secondary.

If you have a daughter that sounds like ours, I'd love to hear of your middle school experiences at any of these schools.

Thanks!

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Park Day is all about leading with empathy. And the school culture is such that being the new kid (no matter what grade; no matter what circumstance the new kid is coming from) is handled with intention, and empathizing with what it feels like to be (insert situation -- including being the new kid). It is also done in a way that *doesn't* make the new kid feel different or stand out. It's done with a big group hug, if you will. 

I have a current 9th grade son at public high school who was at Park Day K-8, and a current 7th grade daughter who also started Park Day in K. While they haven't been the new kid, they have been the ones who welcome the new kids (and their families!). The awareness that teachers and other school staff have about the new kids makes it an inviting and welcoming experience that eases the transition. For example, my daughter was paired up with a new kid over the summer and they hung out a couple of times. By the time we were a few months into the school year, my daughter made friends with a different new kid, and her summer pal made friends with different kids. 

Regarding middle school drama, you are right that it happens. Two things about that: (a) what's important is the way the teachers and staff respond. Park Day has been doing restorative justice before it was a thing. There is also a strong culture of non-violent communication (OFNR - observe; feel; need; request); and (b) it also *doesn't* happen with all kids. Just as there may be natural group selection of artsy kids, or sporty kids, or gamers, there are some kids who lean away from cliques and hang out with different kids everyday. There are also kids who just aren't into the gossipy/drama thing. 

What I have appreciated about Park Day is that teachers and staff know and recognize this. They talk to the kids about being respectful (you don't have to be friends with everyone, but you do have to be respectful!); and about making choices and using good judgment. 

Regarding drama and creative writing: drama is getting its footing. We have a fabulous drama teacher who is new to Park Day is year (2019-2020) and she's doing great work in getting the kids to think about drama not just on stage but also radio shows, developing a script/dialogue, etc. She is also working to have drama be interdisciplinary, combining efforts with the music teacher. The kids do some acting on stage, and for those who don't want to be the front and center talent, there are other roles for them that are just as important such as props, and stage managing. 

There are plenty of opportunities to grow as a writer, too. Throughout middle school, they explore different types of writing via reading different genres and writing in different styles, too. My daughter started out shying away from poetry, and now she enjoys it and even won a small contest. I also credit Park Day with the long-term impact because my 9th grader who doesn't have daily school work during our shelter-in-place has on his own decided to start journaling every day. He doesn't even like to write! I credit the journal/free writing at Park Day for showing him the joy of writing.

I hope you find Park Day is a good fit for your daughter and your family. It's an amazing community!

My daughter is in middle school at Park Day School and I can honestly say, the students are surprisingly open minded, supportive and nonjudgemental. I keep waiting to hear stories of cliques, drama and gossip, but it seems that while there are friend groups, the kids are pretty fluid when socializing. I think this must be a result of the school intentionally prioritizing compassion, collaboration and acceptance of diversity. And while it is intentional on the school's part to create this kind of supportive environment, it also attracts families who prioritize these values. This all translates to a community that puts a lot of emphasis on the social-emotional development of the students, and as a result, we see a lot of sensitive, expressive and comfortably unique kids at Park!

We've also been very happy with Park's drama and music department, as well as their creative writing program/humanities classes. The academics during the middle school years at Park Day are rigorous in general, but they're able to support different learning approaches with collaborative work and project based lessons.

Good luck with your decision and feel free to follow up - I'm always happy to sing the praises of Park Day!

Hello,

We have a daughter that sound like yours! We were in a very similar situation last year with our big-hearted, anxious, word-loving, somewhat inflexible daughter and chose Park Day. We couldn't be happier.

Becky, Rachel, Joyce, Carrie, and the rest of the 6th grade team really get our daughter. They see the best in every single kid and push them with patience and love, even when they are inflexible, and even during these tough times the world is currently going through.

The  6th graders at Park Day start the year with an overnight trip to Westminster Woods and it was a great way to integrate new students like our daughter. For our daughter it is important that she have a close relationship with her teachers & make friends, and we were very impressed with how quickly this happened. We don't think this was a lucky coincidence, Park Day team is very intentional with their focus on the social-emotional. Our daughter is a writer, like your daughter, and Rachel has been so supportive. They have a great latitude on projects to follow their passions and interest. Even during the shelter in place this has continued. Yesterday my daughter and one of her Park Day friends were working on a story together in Google Docs. In short we are very happy, We like everything about the school but more importantly feel like it's the right fit for our daughter. Middle school is not easy, so we are thrilled to have her in a place that supports her emotionally.

My son graduated from Prospect Sierra a couple of years ago. He is quiet, sensitive, bright, (and also a pianist!). He had an excellent experience at Prospect. There was a STRONG focus on social and emotional health and well-being, as well as leadership in this area. The thing I liked about the program was that they used the inevitable issues that arose among the students as an opportunity to teach skills, empathy, and awareness. They did it in a way that was appropriate to middle schoolers (that wasn't embarrassing, but empowering). It seems to have worked well for our son. The academics are outstanding too.