Public or private middle school as pandemic continues?

My child is currently in 5th grade public school. He is doing ok academically, and that is because I watch him all day during zoom school, and I make sure he does his homework, otherwise, he is not engaged at all and does not care about academics. He only likes comic books and video games. Even before ISP, he thought school was very boring, and had to be bribed and coerced to do homework. He also did not like the social aspects of public school as boys at such age are trying out social skills, teasing and talking trash, which he had a hard time with. Looking at this whole ISP and middle school next fall, I am wondering if we should put him in private school or keep him in public middle school? I really don’t want to be his “prison guard” anymore, making him do school/homework. But I’ve also heard private schools are just the same with even more homework and more zoom time. It’s a lot of money that I don’t want to spend to end up in the same position as now. Anyone with a kid like him? What did you do that worked or did not work? What middle school is better for kids like him? Thank you!

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This is the right time to think about private school for next year; they're all having admissions sessions coming up. It doesn't cost anything to zoom into a few and gather more intel. If he has a tight friend group moving into the public middle school, that would be a big factor to stay put. Otherwise, to be honest, from the perspective of someone who has one child in public middle school and one child in private middle school, yes the private school is more individual attention, more engaging, and more interesting assignments. That's my opinion and your mileage may vary. This is based on virtual classes. Right now many private schools in the East Bay are rolling out "back on campus" plans but obviously nobody knows what the COVID future will hold and it's a roll of the dice as to whether on-campus is really going to last this school year.

Since in your district 6th grade is a time of school change, you might want to consider a transfer to a school in the West Contra Costa district, where 6th grade is still in elementary school and there are a couple of K-8 options. In our experience, this made the social component a lot less stressful. It is also so much easier on the 6th grade students to remain with one teacher rather than having five. Good luck.

I have been very thankful for Park Day School!  Pre-COVID and during SIP.  Strong social-emotional focus, accommodating to each child's needs, smaller classes, even smaller when remote, not too much homework, homework is relevant and interesting.  During SIP they also did a great job of keeping a sense of community and peer engagement.


I have a child at Fusion Academy which is great during this pandemic because it is all 1:1 and on video when in person isn't possible.  It actually keeps my previously unengaged student totally engaged and doing homework independently for the first time ever.  I think they start in 6th grade, if you're still looking for next year. For this year, I might consider homeschooling with private tutors (some will come in person) for a kid like this. So many of these kids are just losing a year of their education (whether in private or public school). Many of them can't mentally engage over video or do the work independently and will really lose out, but they won't be alone.  For a real education during this pandemic, I think 1:1 is the way to go for many of these kids.

I would recommend that you keep him in public, but find him a school that is doing a better job with this new format. Use the saved $$ for better bribing "toys!" LOL My 4th grader is at ASCEND and my 7th grader is at EBIA and both schools (both charters, in Oakland) are doing a fabulous job with this online format. Feel free to reach out if you want to discuss more. I'm no longer a teacher, but I used to be an elementary school teacher and I taught in both public and private.    

Our son is currently a 6th grader at Crestmont in East Richmond Heights. It is going really, really well! We're in distance learning until early Nov., and then we're moving to on-campus learning. The campus is totally set up for it and ready to go.

Our history is that after being at the same school for a few years, that school became unstable and we did half a year of public school last year. So we actually have two pandemic experiences to compare to Crestmont, and it's like night and day. Yes, he is in Zoom classes, but the classes are fun, personal, and engaging. The teachers keep him on track in terms of showing up and getting his work done. Last year I had to keep him going all day — printing everything out, checking things off the list, pushing him to attend and to keep up. I have done almost none of that this year. He's basically self-sufficient because the program is so organized, immersive, and supportive. 

I also have a high-schooler, and judging by both my boys and their sets of friends, distance learning works well for almost no one. Kids in general are turning inward toward screens and, if we're lucky, books and games. So I think your kid is normal in that.

The difference with Crestmont is that they have studied best practices for distance learning since last year, and are profoundly committed to doing this right for the kids and parents. They don't expect us to be teachers or even supervisors at the middle school level. They've GOT this. The teachers are so passionate about keeping these kids' spirits up and supporting them throughout the day, that he feels like he has community. He has already made a group of friends and enjoys seeing his classmates and teachers online. Other notables: 1. They have a resource teacher who catches any kids who need extra help and Zooms them through it. My son is dyslexic and she knows how to help him succeed. 2. They have a lively PE class that gets them up on their feet, and art classes (my son's favorite) as well as a great Spanish teacher who's a lot of fun. 3. Social justice, local history, and projects are woven into the curriculum, so they're learning their skills, grammar, etc., in the context of the racial, gender, and environmental equality history of Richmond; the Black Lives Matter movement; and the topic of learning styles/differences — including supporting each kid in understanding their own. This *relevant* curriculum is a whole different thing compared to slogging through drill and kill assignments uploaded somewhere that I have to print out and force him to do. They also have screen-light Wednesdays so his eyeballs get a break.

In terms of the social stuff you mentioned, the culture at Crestmont is so values-driven and the community is so tight that I have seen none of that. It's the most diverse school community we've been a part of, including gender orientation. Issues of bias and discrimination are explicitly addressed, so that stuff is not going to squeak in under the radar.

I honestly wish we'd found Crestmont earlier, and if distance learning is this good, I'm really excited for our kid to get on campus in a couple of weeks! 

One last thought. I'd recommend reading The Trouble with Boys. It really helped me in my parenting of two y-chromosomes over here! Good luck to you!


East Bay School for Boys sounds like the perfect place for your son. There is a lot of hands-on learning, including (when school is in person) an amazing work program where the boys get to do metalwork, woodwork, etc. - the school even has its own forge! It's a small school, so the teachers know the boys well and are really invested in their personal growth, and there is a lot of thought put into how to teach boys who were uninspired by traditional schools. The social-emotional learning is great, and the school culture is one of acceptance - there are all kinds of boys there. There is not a ton of homework and the teachers are used to dealing with many different learning styles. Dana, the head of school, has handled the pandemic with thoughtfulness and grace. My son hated public school and was completely unmotivated by it, and EBSB completely turned him around. It was the best 3 years of his life, and worth every penny. He is now a freshman in high school, super engaged in school, and getting straight As. I can't recommend the school highly enough. 

I would highly recommend you look at Bentley School. We have two kids there (one who just started the upper school and one well into their time there). While we've been very impressed with them all along, we are especially so during the pandemic. They have done a remarkable job, completely re-tooling themselves to prepare for the fall. The teachers and administrations have crafted an engaging and well-paced curriculum (and schedule) that keeps kids' learning, but above all, prioritizes the kids' morale. Our kids' teachers focus much of their synchronous time giving kids a way to connect with each other and to feel part of the community. And as they start to return to campus (just starting now and will resume more fully in January), they will be spending much of their time together on community-building activities and hands-on learning that they can't do while at home. Hope that helps.


Our kids are in private school (Prospect Sierra) and to be honest, we haven't found the distance-learning program to be worth the extremely high cost of tuition. If you have the ability to do so, perhaps you can supplement his public school experience? Find the one thing he's genuinely passionate about (comic books is a great place to start) and find some way to build on and feed that. Tapping into kids' own interests is often the key to engaging them, even if those interests might seem "trivial" or "non-educational." 

Our kids are also at Prospect Sierra (have been for a few years) and we are really happy with their distance learning program. Based on what I hear from friends in our local public schools, we are getting a much more robust experience - my middle school aged kids are in "classes" most of the day and have substantive homework and project assignments while their teachers are really accessible when we have questions or get stuck on something. Much of the school has also started going back in person this month too and my daughter is really excited to be able to see friends and teachers, even while wearing masks all day and following other pretty strict safety protocols. 

Distance learning is not perfect anywhere, of course, and cannot replace the in-person connection but I think having a school that is flexible, better resourced and able to respond to parent needs in this time has made all the difference. 


I have to say Park Day has rocked this distance learning situation - my 8th grader with ADD inattentive disorder is thriving with the diversity of engaging curriculum -- the innovations and creative projects and structure implemented by Park Day School  have been just incredible ... the new head of school Angela Taylor has brought the teachers together and brought out the best..They have also been driving a strong civics education element in middle school to educate around the system of democracy as well as providing significant support and attention for kids around the national protests and unrest.   It is not perfect -- Zoom is Zoom and my 13 year old is not on top of everything -- but that is his journey, not the school's fault,,,,