Prospect Sierra and The Berkeley School for neuroatypical kid?

Hello. I am looking to hear from parents of neuroatypical kids who have had experiences with lower grades at Prospect Sierra and/or the Berkeley School in the last 5 years. I am the parent of a child entering a lower elementary grade and considering both of these schools for next fall. Both schools identify as embracing diversity-- in practice, does that extend to neurodiverse kids, and what does that look like inside and outside of the classroom? I would appreciate hearing any and all feedback. Leaving this purposefully vague during application season. Thanks in advance for sharing any insights.  

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Hello!  Our daughter is autistic and is completing her second year at Prospect Sierra.  She attended P.S. for Kindergarten and is now in First Grade.  We could not be happier with the team at Prospect Sierra.  The facilities are amazing, the teachers are fantastic, and the learning specialist is AMAZING.  My daughter receives both one-on-one support and group support from the learning specialist and she has made so much progress this year.  She is truly thriving!  Prospect's focus on social and emotional intelligence is notable for any child, but has been especially helpful to our daughter.  In preschool, she often said she wanted to stay home from school but that is no longer the case.  She is now excited about school and is learning to tackle challenges with joy and confidence.  This is a community that we have come to love and trust.  As a multiracial family with an autistic child, we can honestly say Prospect Sierra doesn't just talk the talk when it comes to diversity and inclusion.  They walk the walk!

Hello, My son entered TBS in fifth grade. I think you’re looking for experience with lower elementary but I’ll write from our experience and hope it helps. We moved mid year after having a tough time in our public school. My son felt accepted and happy with in his first few days. He is now in seventh grade and truly feels seen and supported by his teachers and the staff. The climate is accepting and open minded. My son says he feels like his school is a small village where everyone knows each other. Lots of kids get support, it’s feels like a normal part of the day. We really like the learning specialists for the lower and upper grades. And there’s good social emotional support as well. Even a parent’s group once a month for parents of neurodiverse kids. I truly feel like the staff wants to see my kid thrive and grow. 

Our daughter was diagnosed with ADHD and some learning differences while she was in second grade, four years ago, at Prospect Sierra. She had been there since Kindergarten. Almost everyone there was well intentioned, kind, and willing to work closely with both me and our daughter's team. However, her teacher at the time was not well schooled in how to support a child with her challenges, and would regularly embarrass her in front of the class as a way of compelling her to fall in line. (That teacher is still there.) She became fearful of going to school, not least because other kids, responding in part to the teacher's behavior, began shunning her as well. The Learning Specialist also informed me, during a parent-teacher meeting, that she had "tried everything" with our daughter, and was at a loss.

Around that time, we attended a support group run by Prospect for parents of children with learning differences. The parents of the middle school children used the occasion to voice their frustration at how their kids were basically abandoned once they left the elementary school, receiving no support as they struggled with the even greater challenges of sixth grade and beyond. One mother cried. It was at that point that we decided to apply to The Berkeley School, where our daughter entered fourth grade. It has been a revelation. In her own words, about half a year into fourth grade: "Mommy, the teachers at Prospect Sierra were good teachers, but they didn't know how to teach me the way I need to learn. Now I have a growth mindset." Although, now in sixth grade, she has her challenges and struggles, she loves The Berkeley School, and truly feels at home there. She has grown scholastically and socially, and trusts and feels comfortable with the teachers. 

One last important point: the teachers at The Berkeley School, and indeed the head of the school, Mitch Bostian as well as the Learning Specialist of the Elementary School, Stephen Cahill, have a deep understanding of neurodiversity and its challenges. They work closely and compassionately with families to figure out what will be the game-changer in their kids' lives that will help them thrive. Moving there was the best thing we've done for our child.

Our son attended PS through 8th grade and had a fantastic experience. Our daughter was also at PS, but was diagnosed with ASD while in the 6th grade. She had been struggling at school. After diagnosis, we worked with a counselor who coached us about ASD in general and about how to work with school; what accommodations to seek and how to advocate for them. We spoke with staff at PS who were mostly understanding about the circumstances, but in the end unwilling to make several of the accommodations. For a neurotypical kid, it works great - for those who are neuroatypical, not so much. That said, we dealt with this with the middle school staff; the lower school staff and experience may have been different. 

For 7th grade we switched to Tilden Prep and could not be happier. She has thrived, and she's already moving on to 8th grade coursework. The remote nature of this pandemic year helped her adapt (she really hated school coming out of 6th grade), but we suspect that when she's on campus she'll continue to thrive. The 1:1 nature of the school works really well for neurodiverse kids (we suspect there are quite a few there), and cutting out all of the social challenges allows her to focus on learning. She is engaged with her teachers and her work. Plus, without all the standard school day stuff, her day is much shorter; this also frees up time for neurodiverse kids who have other deep interests. 

Tilden Prep starts in middle school, so it's not an option for you yet. I think our daughter was fine at PS through 4th grade (girls can mask a lot of ASD behaviors). But she was not thriving in middle school and continuing in a standard school as she got older would have not gone well. . 

This is our experience with our particular neuroatypical child. Others may have different experiences. 

When we were looking into independent schools for my 6 year old autistic son, PS never responded to my email and phone inquiries. We heard a lot of positive feedback about PS from family friends with children who go there and really wanted to give PS a chance, but we never had an opportunity to even speak to staff. For reference this was back in June of 2019.

TBS on the other hand was very responsive, listened to our concerns and answered our many questions before we made our decision. My son is now in Kindergarten at TBS, and the school has far exceeded our expectations. He is happy, social, engaged and academically progressing at age-level. All the teachers and staff are trained to support each child’s learning and growth, and the school is set up to give kids a place where they’re not “different” and feel included. The teachers and SEL Specialist really try to work with us, our son and therapist to ensure that they can support his social-emotional needs along with academics. The classroom sizes are small which allows teachers to provide individualized support not just to our son but to all of the children. Social Emotional Learning is part of the school’s curriculum starting in Kindergarten and this was important to us because social skills and emotional regulation are areas where our son needs additional support. He has been doing play based ABA in naturalistic settings primarily at home due to covid, but his BT will soon be joining him in the classroom to shadow him and provide support. There were some tricky protocols due to covid so having in-classroom support was delayed a bit longer than we had hoped, but his teachers are so well trained and have been able to support our son and provide many helpful tools to help him with social and emotional regulation.

Choosing the right school for a neuroatypical child is challenging and for us it was very anxiety-inducing. Even if you think you are making the right decision, there is no way to know exactly how things will play out. I think you will find varied responses and a wide range of experiences by talking to other families which might make your decision all the more difficult. Tour the schools if you can and chat with teachers and staff. I highly recommend you speak with the SEL Specialist at TBS!

Hi - We have had a child at both TBS and Prospect, so we can speak to your question.  Our child has dyslexia with a very high IQ, and unfortunately we found that Prospect was not a great fit.  There were some great teachers there who recognized her strengths, but mostly we were made to feel like our child was a problem to be managed, not a unique learner to be encouraged.  Over the four years we were there, we watched at least 10 kids leave Prospect, all of them with some sort of unique learning style.  These are not kids who have academic deficiencies, they simply do not fit into a one size fits all approach.  That school does a good job of teaching a certain type of student who fits in a certain box, but it was not a place that was able to truly engage all types of learners.  The learning specialist was unable to address the needs of all the kids who needed her, we knew some families who had to fight for her services, and she did not seem equipped to address a variety of learning styles.  The school held only two meetings for parents of neurodiverse kids in the many years we were there, and the overall approach was that the parents were made to feel like they were the only family dealing with these issues.

TBS has been an extraordinary experience.  All faculty is equipped to teach a diverse range of learners, and more importantly, they celebrate the power of neurodiversity.  There is a monthly meeting for families of neurodiverse kids.  Teachers do not approach neurodiversity as a problem to be solved.  They also recognize that every student is neurodiverse - there is not one type of ideal student.  They empower each kid to know themselves as learners, and then to become an advocate for what they need.  The academics are high level, and as we apply to high schools we are consistently told how well prepared TBS kids are.  The curriculum in middle school is particularly impressive, with an effort to encourage students to really take responsibility for their education.  TBS feels like they are on the cutting edge of recognizing the value of diversity in learning, rather than trying to maintain a limited approach to the possibilities of education.