Which Elementary School for ADHD?

Parent Q&A

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  • Hi All,
    Our 6-year-old was recently diagnosed with ADHD and is currently in Kindergarten at a private school in Oakland. So far, we have been very disappointed with how the school has approached her diagnosis and needs and their negative/punitive approach, which led to a lot of anxiety and negative self-talk from our kid. She's doing a lot better now that we found her a therapist that she sees once a week, and started her on ADHD meds. Her school is now pushing us to reenroll for next year but we have decided to move her back to public school for the 2024-2025 school year. 

    She was accepted to Thornhill Elementary and is on the waitlist for Hillcrest (both in Oakland). We just went through an IEP Assessment and OUSD determined she is "gifted" and her ADHD is not impacting her "learning" and she is therefore not eligible for an IEP based on their evaluation. I was hoping to hear from any parents of Neurodivergent kids at Hillcrest or Thornhill Elementary on the teacher/administration's approach to supporting Neurodivergent kids, primarily with transitions, classroom focus, and emotional regulation.

    Would appreciate any advice on this as we try to figure out which school can best help her thrive, and make her feel included and supported.

    I know this is not your question and I'm not familiar with those schools but I've found it easier (and usually enough) to have my ADHD kids have 504s in OUSD. This gets them accommodations in the classroom. There is also a lower bar for a 504 than IEP. And just because you start with one doesn't mean it won't change. Over the years both my kids have cycled through IEPs and 504s depending on their needs for accommodations and servcies. You can ask for an evaluation once a year. And a 504 whenever. You might wait a month or two into the school year and then request one.   

    You should be able to ask for a 504 plan. BUSD also only uses IEPs for students who are below grade level. In the plan, you can write the accommodations that would help. We also ended up paying for services like OT out-of-pocket. Check with one of the parent advocates at DREDF to get more details on the process. We had the first evaluation done through the school district. After that we had the evaluaton done through the UC Psych department, and the grad students and their supervisors were very helpful in coming up with the needed accommodations. If you have the money you can pay for a private psychologist to do the evaluatoin, but we found the Cal eval to be very good.

    Another thought is that often public school teachers are better at teaching the full range of students, so some of the issues that came up in your previous school might not be as much of a problem.

    hi! my son is not diagnosed as neurodivergent but definitely has strong strengths, challenges and quirks, He started Thornhill in third grade after a charter school that was way too chaotic for him. He was not yet reading at grade level. Thornhill has been really great for building his skills and his confidence. He went from maybe a first or second grade reading level to a 9th grade level in 2 years, but more importantly, he now really likes school.

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  • Hi there, 

    Our family is considering a possible move from Berkeley to PUSD with our 2 kids, the 9 year-old of whom has ADHD and an IEP, which we feel is being lovingly addressed and attended to in Berkeley Unified.

    Private school is not an option ($$) and I am curious how our child's needs would be attended to and held in PUSD.

    My child is a bright, strong reader, competent mathematician and very very weak/challenged writer (a lot of which I attribute to pandemic-related learning loss/family dynamics) who struggles with impulse control and social pragmatics. Loves music (as a 4th grader will choose an instrument in BUSD this year, so I'm also looking for info about the PUSD music program).

    Any windows into PUSD experience dealing with these sorts of challenges and info about music&extra/special subjects would be appreciated. Thanks!

    Hi - we are in PUSD and my middle schooler is neurodiverse.  It was a fight to get them an IEP (some friends have gotten one without a problem and others, like us, have struggled) but once we got the IEP we have been happy with the services provided at the middle school. The counselors and teachers at the middle school have been wonderful imo.  The elementary and middle school music teacher, Samatha Wild, (she teaches elementary, middle and high school) is PHENOMENAL and incredibly caring and supportive of our kid.  My child isn't gifted or especially interested in music but continues to be involved in the music program because the teacher is so wonderful.  I'd be happy to chat with you if you want to message me privately.

  • hi all

    we currently attend a private school in oakland. our kid has adhd and is currently being tested for mild ASD. mainly social struggles. thrives in project based learning and we are concerned he will fall through the cracks of pubic schools. am i incorrect? are there charter schools for this? are there private school that specialize in this? he excels in math/tech, struggles with language comprehension and social skills. we are open to sending him anywhere in the east bay or even marin county.


    You didn't say the age of your child, but my daughter has a very similar profile and we've found a High School that meets her needs fairly well- Latitude High (a public charter school). It is a project based learning school with a block schedule, small groups of kids that stay in the same pod over the 4 years, and a wonderful special education department that supports her IEP. If your child is younger, I would encourage you to look at the reel2e.org site in general, they have a list of schools that may serve 2e learners (reel2e.org/post/2e-private-school-panel-2022). Feel free to reach out as well and good luck in your search!

    Hi, my daughter is autistic and we're getting her evaluated for ADHD as well.  She also has social challenges and communication challenges as well.  We live in the east bay in Pleasant Hill/ Walnut Creek area and she definitely did not have a place in our school district.  

    I looked everywhere for a school in the east bay and found Big MInds; they have a Pleasanton and Pinole Campus (we attend Pleasanton.)  I cannot recommend this school enough.  It's a private school just for 2E learners that goes from 1st-8th grade. My daughter loves it, my husband and I love it.  

    Here's the website - good luck with your search!


    My kid has ADHD and excels in math/reading but struggles with social skills/impulse control. Public school was not a good fit and we opted for a private school. Check out Core Academy in Concord. This is our 2nd year there and the teachers have been great with dealing with my child's needs. We know several families who commute from Oakland. The school offers a shuttle service that picks up and drops off in downtown Walnut Creek. 

    Check out Tilden Prep.  They have campuses in Albany and Walnut Creek, and an affiliate in Marin.  It's not exactly project-based learning, but classes are taught 1:1 so it's very flexible and the pacing is individualized, and the whole social aspect of school is kind of optional.  The school has a mastery-based system in which kids basically can't fail; if they don't earn at least a B grade in a class, they keep working on that material until they do. What a concept, no more "you got a D/F, on to the next unit" but "here's what you need to learn, we'll keep teaching it and testing it in different ways until you succeed"!  It's expensive, especially if your kid takes a long time to get through a "semester" class (you more or less pay by the class hour, rather than a set amount of tuition per semester or per year); it was worth it for my 2E son whose freshman year in public high school was a disaster.  They offer a solid range of classes, including honors and AP, and have both full time students and part timers who are taking just a class or two to supplement their schedule at another school. (My other kid took French III at Tilden after taking I and II at, and while still primarily enrolled in, public HS, long story, but we were very glad to have the option.)

    Hi - I’m a mom of a 2e boy who is on the spectrum. Your situation sounds similar to ours. We enrolled our son at Big Minds Unschool when he was in 2nd grade and he will be graduating this year! We are forever thankful for this wonderful school which allowed him to develop his strengths and tackle his challenges in an environment free from bullying and negativity. The school has locations in Pinole and Pleasanton. There are numerous students from Berkeley and Oakland who are enrolled at the Pinole site. You can learn more at bigmindsunschool.org. 

    I would look at Big Minds Unschool.  They have a small campus in Pinole and another one in Pleasonton.  The founder, Melanie Hayes, is great!  She looked over my kid's assessment and gave me some great insights that I didn't get over at Summit Center, the clinic that specializes in gifted kids.  The school is based on the Sudbury model where the curriculum is student driven with support and guidance from the teacher.  It's small and designed specifically for the needs of 2E kids.  If you're not familiar with that term, 2e are kids who have advanced-level strengths and some kind of learning difference, like ASD, ADHD, or dyslexia.  When I toured it, I liked it a lot, and loved Dr. Hayes, but we ultimately decided my son was going to need more remediation than what the school could do.  So that's important to know--although a lot of private schools won't be able serve some LD kids.  But I know other kids who did great there.

  •  My six year old son is in his second year at MLA, a Spanish immersion school in Oakland. It's clear that a traditional setting is not going to work for him, as he's very hands-on and needs lots of movement. I would like to see him in a Montessori or outdoor type school, but I don't want him to lose his Spanish immersion and I also can't afford much for private school (not while his brother is in daycare, anyway). I work in the schools and could potentially transfer to any district to get my son into schools in that district. 

    I can't advise you on a the Spanish immersion piece but I would highly advise you not to put him in a Montessori program if he truly has ADHD.  Montessori requires good executive functioning skills, maybe even more than a regular classroom.  My kid was in a Montessori school and none of the ADHD kids did well.  We moved him into a different (private) school, and all the ADHD behaviors went away. In his case, he is dyslexic and executive function requirements were just too much. Also, are you sure he doesn't have a learning difference?  Kids with dyslexia do not do well with foreign languages, and in fact, they often get exemptions from that requirement as part of their IEPs.  I've seen kids with unrecognized LD in dual immersion who look like they have ADHD, but are actually freaked out because they can't keep up. My godson was like that.  He was bouncing off the walls in his dual immersion class and diagnosed with ADHD.  His mom moved him to a different school and again, all the behaviors went away.   Just putting that out there in case you haven't considered this possibility. 

    I hesitate to write this as I know what works for one ADHD kid might not work for all and that you said that a traditional environment will not work for your kid, but I just thought I'd share that my two kids (one with diagnosed ADHD and anxiety and one with suspected ADHD, both of who present pretty differently) are at Greenleaf,  another OUSD Spanish immersion school and we've had a good experience so far there. My oldest, a second grader, has been on a 504 for a while and were just now moving to a IEP, mostly so he can get OT at school for disgraphia. The process of supporting him through zoom kindergarten and reentry into first grade was full of support,  understanding and creative problem solving by the teachers. They have tried hard to help us as we've struggled to find timely outside therapy and OT too. It's not been perfect but as a parent who worries about her kids who don't fit on traditional "good" or "easy" kid boxes, I've been grateful for Greenleaf. Happy to have you message me for more info if you feel like stating in OUSD might be possible at a different school.

  • Looking for advice and recommendations about a potential (but hopefully not necessary) mid-year elementary school switch next year. Here are some of the details of our situation:

    Our 8-year-old has been at the same small private school in the East Bay since preschool, and we've recently signed a contract to attend next year as well. However, we are not entirely convinced this will be the right choice and are preparing a Plan B in the event we need to switch him next year, either mid-year or at the end of the 2022-23 school year. It's a long story, but basically he seems to dislike school more and more each day (after initially loving it for the first few years), and the reasons he provides for why he doesn't like it seem to stem from his extreme sensitivity and some personality differences between himself and his teachers. Covid definitely has not helped, as it upended everything he knew at school and really reduced the amount of fun things they used to do. When we asked him earlier this year, he told us he didn't want to switch schools because he didn't want to leave his friends, but in the past few weeks he has expressed that he might be okay with leaving after all. He will have new teachers next school year so we decided to give it a try and see if things improve in the fall; if not, we will consider switching. 

    He has been assessed as 2e, highly gifted plus ADHD, and is very sweet but introverted and quiet. Other kids definitely have to be the ones to make the effort to befriend him, so we worry that if he switches to a school where he doesn't know anyone, he might have a hard time connecting and finding friends. He's currently in a very fluid academic environment, which is great for his giftedness as they are able to teach him at whatever level he is, so if we do need to switch schools, it would need to be someplace that is similarly flexible. Ideally it would also be a very warm, nurturing environment that understands 2e learners and ADHD in particular, that spends a lot of time outdoors, and that encourages kids to support each other and to welcome the new kid. :) 

    We have looked at Aurora in Oakland as it seems like it might fit the bill. Does anyone have a 2e / sensitive / highly active kid there, and if so, how has your experience been? Thoughts on whether a mid-year transfer would be acceptable (assuming they have space)? I was thinking that if we can wait, it might be good to switch him next year for 5th grade so that he has a year to get to know people before the junior high program starts. Are there other schools that might be a good fit for a kid like this? I guess another concern I have is that we'll switch him and he'll still be unhappy at school, but also won't know a soul, which will be worse. 

    Sorry this post is a bit rambling, there is a lot swirling around right now and I just wonder if anyone has been in a similar situation and what your advice would be. Thank you! 

    Hi there, We've been on quite the school journey with my 11-year-old 2e daughter. I would be happy to share our experience privately. Feel free to send me a note to initiate correspondence.

    I don't have a recommendation for you per se, as we have been home/unschooling for the past two years and just enrolled for the fall in an east bay private school that appears to have a real appreciation for and robust support system for neurodivergent kids (and who knows how that will go!)... And also because every child and family and situation is so unique. But I would love to be in touch directly, if you want to reach out. My current third grader is recently 9 and has a similar profile diagnostically (if not necessarily personality-wise), with some additional diagnoses/complexities. We applied to a number of schools for next year, including Aurora, which ultimately didn't offer my kid a spot, presumably because they didn't think, in this case, that they could support him. We also have considered basically every other scenario, because even though the 2E field is gaining a lot of traction, which is awesome, it's so hard to find folks who know about--or can make happen--best practices.

    Whether you stay where you are or not, it does sound like the root causes of your kid's unhappiness right now (beyond the covid stuff that's impacting everyone) could use more exploration, as his sensitivities will follow him wherever he goes and maybe need to be better addressed, and I also wonder what is at the heart of what he and/or you perceive as personality differences. (Of course, personality differences exist and matter, but in this context could they really be about practices in the classroom that aren't working for your kid? I know that typically as 2E kids get older, or greater demands are made on them, their asynchronies start to show up more and become harder--this is def. true for mine.) Anyway, I'm happy to talk privately in more detail, and share resources. I always get a lot out of connecting w/other parents navigating similar terrain. 

    Hi there... I wrote previously but had a couple more thoughts! It seems like your plan makes sense, if your kid has friends where he is and the school is able to teach to his strengths, since that's a couple of big wins right there. Next year, hopefully more fun pre-covid stuff will return, and teacher switch-up may be helpful, as you note.

    If you suspect deeper issues are underlying his difficulties right now, and want to look outside of the small progressive schools (although in that realm I know TBS and Crestmont both seem devoted to serving their neurodivergent populations, and you mentioned Aurora, which I think can accommodate to some degree... I'm also happy to share more privately, about our own school hunt), there is also Big Minds in Pinole, which is a totally different school model but is the only place around here that caters only to 2e kids. (They are gonna be very limited in their tuition aid, though, if that's important for you.) And, if you consider going in a homeschool/off-the-grid direction, I recommend considering Outside School, which is a non-academic 3-day program totally based outdoors (Alvarado Park) and great for highly active kids who might be burned out on school-school. I'm happy to chat with you about our experience there this year.

    In case you could use some parent support, if you're not familiar with Bright & Quirky, check them out-- their virtual summit is next week (April 4-8) and free. I've really appreciated the ideas I've picked up there, and my kid is also in one of their online courses and loving it (collaborative building in Minecraft). Beyond the summit, B&Q has some more intimate, good looking support options, and of course education conundrums are a big topic for many parents.

    Finally, psychologist Lisa White at Summit Center (Walnut Creek) specializes in helping families think about local education options, and we were helped by her. 

    Have you considered Black Pine Circle in Berkeley? It might be a good fit. While learning about schools, I heard from a couple of parents of 2e kids that BPC was a great fit. The parents I'm thinking of described their kids as highly sensitive / benefiting from some support socially / on the spectrum, while also being gifted or academically advanced. It sounds like BPC has an intensive social emotional learning program, a quirky and warm community, and differentiated academics even for kids who fall well outside the norm.

    You could look at Big Minds Unschool.  There's one in Pinole and another one in Pleasonton, I think.  It's specifically for 2E kids.   Small, nurturing, flexible.  A few years ago I met with Melanie Hayes, who runs it, and she was wonderful.  I was looking at it for my kid, who is also 2e, and ended up consulting with her for myself. She offers narrative therapy for adults who were gifted kids and want to make sense of how that might have impacted their lives.  She has a deep understanding of the psychology of giftedness and has built her school around those priciples.  Was not a good fit for my kid because of his dyslexia, but it was great for me in putting at least some of my life choices into perspective.  BTW, my kid was at Aurora for three years and it was fine until it wasn't, and then we had to move him to where he could get more support.  There was another 2E kid who did well for a while then got homeschooled and another who moved to Big Minds.   

  • We are planning a move to the area in time for the start of the fall academic year, and are in the thick of applying for schools for our 5-year-old (entering K). He is a sweet, smart child recently diagnosed with ADHD who also has some sensory processing issues. Unfortunately, he also struggles mightily with impulse control, and that struggle can manifest as aggressive behavior (mostly hitting and yelling). His preschool is wonderful and tolerant to a fault, and he also has been working with a 1:1 aide. We feel that finding a school that's a good fit for him is the top priority for our family (we also have a 10-year-old). 

    We are coming from the Northeast, and private schools here are typically not welcoming to kids with particular needs; as a result, there are multiple special private schools here that cater to learning differences and the like. But I am not seeing anything like that in Berkeley/Oakland/Piedmont, at least not for elementary school. Am I missing something? Where do kids like this go in the East Bay? I would be incredibly grateful for any advice or personal anecdotes, including about public schools (we are very open to public, just concerned that larger class sizes will be a deal-breaker for him). Feel free to PM me. Thanks!

    Berkeley public schools have a strong special education program.  Most elementary schools are full-inclusion, meaning kids with special needs are part of a mainstream classroom, but many also have 1:1 aides, and can also have push-in services or be pulled out into a resource room for services (OT, speech, adaptive PE, reading, PT, etc.) and breaks. 

    Hi there,

    Welcome to the Bay Area! I have a child who sounds very similar to yours and we also thought that a private school with smaller class sizes and less stimulation would benefit our child. But our kid got kicked out of the private school we chose for the exact behaviors you've mentioned, even though we were very candid with the teachers and administration going into the school. There might be other private schools that are more accommodating but that was our experience.

    There are several (very expensive) schools for different learners in the Bay Area but all the ones I've seen start at 2nd or 3rd grade (Star Academy in San Rafael, Raskob in Oakland, and another in Belmont that I can't recall the name of offhand).

    You might want to consider a public school with a solid IEP. I at least would recommend contacting your local school district the instant you have proof of residency and start the ball rolling as the assessment process can take a few months. And even if you decide to do private initially you'd have the IEP in place if for any reason you had to switch to public.

    Good luck! These are tough decisions for any parent.

    I think your best bet is one of the public school districts in the East Bay. You'll need to know which city you're going to be living in first, but Berkeley, Albany, Oakland, Kensington, Piedmont, and others should all be fine for your kindergartener.

    I have experience with a special needs kid in Berkeley public schools and in various private schools in the area. There is only one private elementary school that I know of in the East Bay that specifically serves LD kids: Raskob in Oakland. But I believe Raskob does not admit kids that have behavior issues, and the same is true of other private schools that serve LD kids in higher grades. There are also a number of small K-5 and K-6 private schools that pride themselves on serving kids with diverse needs, and can be great for kids with learning differences. My child went to one for 4-6 grade and it was fantastic.  But the aggressive behavior is going to be an obstacle for you. In a classroom of 8 kids, the spotlight will be on your kid all the time. Probably not the kind of attention you're hoping for in seeking a small school.

    Public schools serve a lot of smart kids with ADHD and also kids with behavior problems, so your son will not be a standout. But you should seek a 504 Plan for the ADHD, or if the learning and behavior issues are severe enough, an IEP, which can give you access to a classroom aide and outside help. You should get started on that as soon as you know which school district you'll be living in, by contacting the district's special education coordinator. You may need to pay out of pocket for a neuropsych evaluation if you don't have one already, so that your son can start kindergarten with a plan in place. Your son can have a good experience in public school, and learn and thrive. But a caveat: be prepared to continuously advocate for him and negotiate with each individual teacher to get the support he needs. At least that was my experience in BUSD, and it can be exhausting, which is why we eventually went the private school route.

    Good luck, and welcome to Bay Area!

    Welcome to the Bay Area!  My advice is not to wait until you get here to start the IEP process for your child. You have several months before moving, so start it now.  Children can get qualified for Special Ed services as young as 3. And my advice is don’t bother with an SST or 504. Go for an IEP under “Other Health Impaired.”   ADHD commonly qualifies a child for OHI. Then his IEP will move with him to the Bay and can even include services to start K if you get them listed in the IEP now. (Such as an aide, small supportive classroom, occupational therapy, etc.). When you register/enroll here, you have to check off that he has an IEP and give the new school district a copy of the IEP so they can place him appropriately. 

  • Hello all,

     This is my first post. I took a job offer at one of the tech companies in South Bay and we will be relocating in a few weeks. We have been searching online and have been a bit underwhelmed and discouraged with the school options. Our third grader has ADHD, the inattentive type. She’s very well behaved, social, and imaginative with a strong memory. The class sizes we’re seeing are huge and the highly rated schools seem to be extremely competitive and focused on test scores. Where can we send our child in the middle of the school year, meaning rolling admissions with small class sizes, nurturing, and open to children with learning differences? We’re ok with public or private. I should also note that we haven’t finalized where we will live yet but I’m open to any good area that has a max commute of two hours from Sunnyvale on company shuttle (commute time factors into my work day). We’ve been looking at East Bay and South Bay a areas that would fall into my maximum desired commute. I would like to nail down a place to live and school for her prior to sending for her.  Thanks!  

    Hi there -

    I am not aware of any elementary schools in the East Bay that particularly cater to ADHD kids .  My guess is that your kid will most likely be better off in a private school due to smaller class sizes, (mine was) but how experienced the teacher is in dealing with ADHD is always the luck of the  draw.  The CHC is very active in the south bay and seems to be involved in two schools, but at first glance they don't seem to be focused on ADHD. Still, this might be a good local resource for you: https://www.chconline.org/ebc/. Good luck! 

    I can't imagine having to do this commute, but ...

    We moved to Lafayette in the East Bay in Jan 2018 and enrolled our two daughters in the public elementary school.  Three months later they were both diagnosed with ADHD (one combined and one inattentive).  I have been SO pleased with the support we have gotten from the school.  I wish the class sizes were smaller, and there was less focus on grades, but overall I think we have been extremely lucky. 

    So, if you can stomach the travel from Lafayette to Sunnyvale I highly recommend you consider it.  Best of luck!!

     I recommend looking into Crestmont School in the Richmond/El Cerrito Hills area.  My son started school there this year and I was attracted to their philosophy of nurturing the whole child, collaborative approach to learning, as well as their small classes sizes.  The also have rolling admissions.  Best of luck to you!

    Our son was diagnosed with ADHD in the second grade while at BUSD. We pulled him out of public school and discovered Aurora School in Oakland. It was the best experience he had in his grade school education.

    Hi There, My son goes to Sunnyside Microschool in Downtown Oakland.  It is a really special school for spirited kids who are not neuro typical.  Many have ADHD or other learning differences.  The school serves a small mixed age group who does a lot of individual work within different themes set by the teachers. They do not track to common core, and allow kids to work at their own pace within each subject- all of the math is done via individual tutoring and there's no homework.  My son has been thriving there this year and the anxiety, pressure and overwhelm that he experienced with other schools is non existent at Sunnyside.  http://www.sunnysidemicroschool.com/home

    Would you consider a parochial school? Many (at least in East Bay/Oakland) have smaller classes and resources to support ADHD and other learning differences. We found many privates simply weren’t equipped. We switched our ADHDer (combined type) after a couple years in public OUSD school. We’ve found the quieter environment, consistent routines and expectations, and enrichment are really helping our child thrive. So much so, we haven’t needed to engage with their Learning Resource Coordinator for additional support. We’ve also been pleasantly surprised by proactive offers for accommodations.

  • I'm unfortunately searching for "last minute" recommendations for an appropriate East Bay (preferably Oakland/Berkeley) school for my 8 y.o. son who has ADHD, Anxiety and likely a gifted learner.  He's very creative/artistic.  He's currently in a private school, but it's turning out to not be supportive of his social/emotional needs so I'm scrambling to find something for 3rd grade this fall.   Any recommendations for schools that might be a good fit -- and possibly have openings this late in the game? That also has afterschool options? Thanks so much.

    I have a 10 yo with anxiety, ADHD, and more - and he got a letter from the district saying he's gifted because his test scores are really high. So welcome to the 2E family! We have been relatively happy with the public school (Fairmont, in the WCCUSD) handling of his 2E needs. Once you have a diagnosis letter from an MD, you can (re)convene an IEP team and discuss how to adapt. We have gotten everything we asked for him, over 2.5 years as his needs changed, he got new diagnoses, etc. Fairmont is good for special needs because they have both a full inclusion policy AND two classrooms for special ed so overall the education professionals aren't rattled by someone who has a lot of complexities. I would look for a school that is big because the staff will have institutional experience with children with differences. In our experience the anxiety is always the #1 concern when it's at a high mark, because that is detrimental to meeting daily needs, and in IEP meetings we spend time telling the group how that presents at home and impacts the student. (Often it is masked at school.)  Once we explain, I have never felt like we weren't believed or taken seriously. In terms of the advanced learning, we have found it very difficult for the teacher to differentiate in a really meaningful way, and while it would be nice, we appreciate their attempts and just supplement at home through a variety of sources. At this point in his scholastic career, we feel like we have to prioritize the other issues. Time enough for hardcore academics in high school. Finally, the other thing we do for his social/emotional needs is that we have made the decision for one parent to stay at home so that he doesn't have to go to aftercare. It's just too much time having to regulate himself and pay attention and all that, plus it doesn't leave enough time for homework/reading/quality time at home.

    I was in the same boat two years ago. I highly recommend you take a look at Berkwood Hedge in Berkeley. They are small and truly supportive of learning differences. They even have learning specialist on staff and incorporate educational therapists from the outside if needed.

    My two sensitive, gifted, anxious and possibly ADHD boys are thriving there! Affordable, too.

    How about checking out Glenview, Chabot, Kaiser, Sequoia in Oakland? All of these schools are well rated and Studio One picks up  for after school program which is a wonderful arts program. I have no idea about availability but around 4th grade, some students start changing school to private school, so you might get lucky.

  • Hi Parents,

    Our 5 year old is currently in the public school system. He was recently diagnosed with ADHD (which we werent tremendously surprised by..). Because of ADHD he has always had a very hard time being seated in one place, focusing for extended period of time (for unpreferred task/acads or task he already knows about), keep full control of his impulses. He is also a sensory seeker so tends to get overwhelmed with everything thats going on in classroom and gets into personal space. He is also extremely bright, in the sense that he can grab concepts pretty quickly, he has a VERY  imaginative brain, excellent communication skills, he has outstanding memory (which helps because he needs to learn something only one or two times and doesnt forget). But because of these reasons his brain is always ON! When we started getting calls from the school regularly for his lack of presence in class and impulse control we begged the principal to help us out. So for now temporarily he has an aide who helps him out for couple hours in class. We have been through IEP process before but did not get anything because the one day the district psycologist went to observe him in his pre school (an year back) he was having the best day ever!

    We are back in the IEP process and just started assesment, but based on what i am reading on adhd forums its highly unlikely that we will get an aide for him and i know that without one he is basically not going to be learning in school and adjust to the class and he is going to start hating it (he LOVES school as of now). 

    We live in south bay and are really wanting to also start looking at private school options as well that can help him flourish. From this forum i have mostly seen school recommendations for East bay or SFO but none for San Jose/Santa Clara area. 

    Would love to hear any recommendations so that we set our child up for success. Any insights/experiences will be really helpful!

    Thanks so much!!

    I can't speak to South Bay schools in particular, but based on your description of your child, I would strongly encourage you to check out a Montessori school. It sounds like he may be gifted, as evidenced by his being very bright, very sensitive, and bored with tasks he has already mastered (which is, from my totally non-expert point of view, a possible reason why he has a hard time focusing or sitting still - maybe seek a second opinion on that ADHD diagnosis?). The Montessori approach frees up kids to work on what interests them, to go at their own pace, and to physically move around the classroom, which is really ideal for bright and/or sensitive kids and helps ensure they keep that love of learning going! Good luck to you. 

    -Been there

    Just a thought...have you had your child tested to see if he's gifted?  Sometimes the symptoms of ADHD and giftedness are similar. What you describe could be a bored gifted child.

    Just went through this but with an ADHD primarily inattentive type.  The school should do a Connors III assessment which incorporates the feedback of both teacher and parents (in addition to observations by school psychologist). Then take that information to a child psychiatrist as you need a medical diagnosis of ADHD to provide to the school system. Once you get a medical diagnosis, it should be possible to get an IEP.  Regarding an aide -- are there other children who require an aide (in the same grade)?  If so, then perhaps your son could be placed in the same classroom and the aide could assist both kiddos.

    We used an advocate to help us navigate this process (after not getting very far on our own) and her help was invaluable. Her name is Teresa Baro, and she is located in Pleasanton (http://my.php.com/resource/teresa-baro-advocacy-0).  And (my two cents) while many parents fear using ADHD medication, I would encourage you to try them (they are short acting) and see if it helps your son be able to concentrate during school.  A friend after many years of trying alternative therapies, put her tween son on ADHD medication and after two weeks he asked her "If you knew this medicine could help me, why didn't you try it earlier?"

    Good luck!

    Your child sounds a lot like my kid--very bright, great memory, takes more than his fair share of teacher attention.  My son was diagnosed with ADHD in 2nd grade (age7) but had classroom behavior challenges as early as preschool.  If you have Kaiser, I recommend going through their ADHD assessment process.  It was very helpful.  We also went to a class they offered about medication.  While initially hesitant about medication, I can say that it was life changing for my child and has definitely been the right decision--he is in middle school now and doing very well academically and socially.  We have a 504, not an IEP, though now in middle school he hasn't needed much accommodation.  We know several other kids with ADHD and none have a classroom aide.  If your son needs an aide then I wonder if the school is a good fit and/or if the diagnosis needs review--maybe there is more going on.   My son had amazing teachers at Sequoia elementary in Oakland.  

  • Our 6 year old first grader is currently at Glenview Elementary. It's a fine school, but my wife and I are afraid the large class sizes and rigid structure are not a good fit for his ADHD. He's been getting in trouble the last two weeks by disrupting the class. And when he starts to get wound up it's hard to bring him back down. We've had to pick him up early a lot lately because it's too much for him to handle. Not to mention the teacher and his classmates. 

    So if we can't come up with a plan that works for him at Glenview, we may decide to pull him out. But we don't want to do so without being armed with good intel on schools that could be a good fit for him. 

    Academically he's right where he should be, so that's good. He just needs to be in the right environment. We're still learning what all he needs, but for now we're thinking small class size, less rigid learning environment. Teacher's who are experts in educating kids with ADHD and other learning barriers. 

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated. We're open to charter schools and maybe private. 

    I really recommend you meet with his school to come up with an IEP before yanking him out and putting him in a charter school or private school, where he will not have access to the same resources! I think if you can be open-minded about the caliber of teachers in the public school system versus the private school system. You do know that public-school teachers are required to have more training and certification than private-school teachers, right? He may need an aide, he may need a quiet place in the classroom -- all of this is stuff that the school can be required to provide. I will say that I'm in the WCCUSD, and have heard that other school districts are not as responsive to IEP requests, but I have had such amazing support from my kids' school. It all depends on how willing you are to engage with the school and the teachers to come up with a plan. 

    Montessori Family School in El Cerrito can be really good for distractable kids. It isn't for all kids but it's worth a visit. My son is really distractable but being able to pick his lessons has helped keep him engaged. Some kids do great in the Montessori system and thrive when they are given the freedom to pick what they want to focus on and to take a break or do something simple and relaxing when they need some quiet time.

    Some friends' kids go to Urban Montessori Charter, which has a lot less structure, but not sure about class sizes. Check it out. 

    Sorry to hear about your struggle. Sounds like Aurora school in upper Rockridge might be a good fit for your son. It's a small K-5 private school. Small mixed grade classes, low student to teacher ratio. My child started kindergarten at a different school (big class, overwhelming, getting in trouble for being a 5 year old) but it wasn't the right fit and none of us were happy. Luckily I found Aurora through Berkeley Parents Network, toured the school 2 weeks into the school year and fell in love with it. I am happy to talk more off-line. I know they have a rolling enrollment and open houses coming up. I highly recommend contacting the school for a tour and see if it's a good fit for your child. https://auroraschool.org 

    Hi there!

    I feel compelled to reply to one of the responses posted here. Aurora school is NOT a good fit for any child with ADHD or learning disabilities. They do make the basic accommodations - sitting near the teacher, fidgets, etc - but they are not set up to support any alternative/visual learning that is needed for these children. The extent of their support for children with ADHD or learning disabilities is working with a specialist twice a week for 30 minutes. This deficit in their teaching will not be noticed in their kindergarten and 1st grade years at Aurora because the curriculum is not very demanding. Once these children reach higher grades, those needing extra support just fall farther and farther behind. By the time they reach the higher grades, these children are in a very bad situation and are so far off from grade level when entering middle school.

    Aurora is great for children who are neurotypical - the community is wonderful. Their social/emotional foundation is incredible. We would have likely had a lovely experience there, had our child fit this.

    Have you requested the school evaluate him? if not, do so to see if he qualifies for additional services (IEP) or accommodations (504). You have to be your child's advocate through this, but ther are a ton of resources online (try DREDF, understood.org, ADDitude magazine). As another poster mentioned, public schools are required to support/accommodate different learners whereas charter and private do not. Many private state quite openly that they are not equipped to support anyone with grade level deficiencies or behavioral challenges. That's said, a few have made that their specialty, but think they tend to stick with more mild/well managed cases. is he getting any additional supports (e.g. OT, medication). Those were game changers for us that helped my child be successful in the classroom environment.

  • My 9 child has special needs and is no longer in the public education system (we pulled him because it was going so badly).  He's not able to read and has been moved six times within the district.

    I'm seeking a placement/program and having many issues trying to find a private school to take him and wondering if there is a program that can be created.  I'm open to some creative and more traditional placments/programs.  

    Interested in district placements with supports and what worked for your kid.  

    Interested in private placments

    Interested in home school options

    He does better in a 1:1 setting or small group for learning as he has ADHD and it's severe.

    What has been successful for your child and have you put together a program if one doesn't exist?

    You might want to look into a micro-school which generally offers one-on-one support but in a small group setting. Our child doesn't have the severity of yours but it's been a great fit. There's In+Addition on the Berkeley/Albany border and Sunnyside on Grand in Oakland (which works specifically with 2E/neurodivergent kids so you might want to call them first). Good luck! 

    My son was 9 when we pulled him out of our local public school. He has ADHD, fine motor issues, etc., had been able to make some progress academically, but was completely miserable. We initially tried a charter school, but eventually ended up homeschooling (which is something I never expected to be doing). It has been a definite, though not easy, success. He is enrolled in a charter school independent study program, so we get some funds to spend on academics and enrichment. The ability to be at home, away from the social stresses and distractions of school, has made a huge impact on his ability to learn. Three years ago he was definitely academically behind. Now he is advanced, and loves taking online classes while wearing a headset. After using no technology at all the first year, we added one or two self-paced online classes, and now he is doing 4 online classes including one live class. Even this class is great, because the teacher can just turn off the kids' microphones when she is talking, and then pair them up in small groups to work. Much less distracting than sitting in an actual classroom! He still does after school activities that he enjoys and sees friends. When you homeschool, you can tailor your child's education to exactly what they need. You can spend an hour each day on phonics, or go hiking. It's extremely flexible, and when something isn't working, you can change it immediately. I never thought it would be something I could manage with my kid, who is certainly still not easy, but I'm so glad I did! Good luck!

  • Hello parents/educators,

    We have an energetic, inquisitive 8-yr old who has mild learning differentiation needs. He has been enrolled in both private and public institutions in San Francisco for Mandarin Immersion Programs since he was 3. He is extremely intelligent and talkative, but strong-willed, defensive, and easily frustrated by inflexible school structures - a challenge. We were advised by professionals that immersion programs can start to stress-out kids with ADHD as expectations grow over time, particularly in the 2nd-5th grades. He is headed into 3rd grade, and we are all feeling anxious about this year. He was just given an IEP last spring, but I am honestly skeptical that the public school has the right resources to fully support him social-emotionally. Nothing against public schools, but SFUSD struggles with this particular issue.

    So here we are looking at other schools, mostly outside San Francisco in the South Bay and East Bay areas. We are even ready to relocate out of the city as we believe this is a critical time period for our son - he is starting to dislike going to school, says nobody likes him, and feels like an outcast. I just cannot believe there isn't a school out there where he can not only be accepted and 'tolerated' but also flourish and become the amazing being to others that I already see. Your insight and experience with such potential places would be so appreciated.

    -Struggling but hopeful parents

    Have you heard about Big Minds? it is a very small private school in Pinole- north of Berkeley on the I-80 that serves kids who sound like your son: very smart, energetic children who do not do well in "regular schools". Big minds operates on an unschool model- there are no classes a student must attend but rather a more fluid schedule in which teachers support students' natural curiosity and help them become successful self directed learners. The social emotional development is supported by staff and peers along with the academic needs, so students who need quiet time are able to sit by themselves for parts of the day, those who have trouble communicating or calming down are supported rather than punished.

    Hi there - our son is 9 and was diagnosed with ADHD in 2nd grade thanks to a very attentive teacher at Berkwood Hedge school in Berkeley. The school is very supportive, and we feel it is a good environment for him. They are open to working with parents and counselors and definitely make accommodations. Our son feels fully integrated, loves to go to school, and sees that he is supported in his challenges. Definitely worth checking out!! 

    Have you looked into Montessori? My daughter was leaning towards some of the same issues that your son has and after she finished public school in kindergarten, we moved her to a private Montessori school and she seems to be doing much better. She was never more than borderline; her teachers recognized her problems, but my friends were shocked to hear about our concerns. What I do know is that she needs a lot of control and choice in order to be applied in her work. So far it is looking like the combination of being a bit older and Montessori have eliminated her problems. 

    Sounds like you have  gifted "2E" learner.  I've been hard pressed to find schools that cater to that profile as well- either there are gifted only or targeting a specific learning difference like Dyslexia.  Since you are in SF have you already looked at Alt school, Alta Vista, and Brightworks?  If you are looking to expand your search into the East Bay- I'd take a look at Big Minds Unschooling in Pinole, Da Vinci Center for Gifted Children in Alameda, and the new Sunnyside Micro School in Oakland- all unique learning models catering to gifted 2E learner profiles.  If you are looking at Charter schools (where your IEP could still apply but maybe a better fit), take a look at North Oakland Community Charter School, and Urban Montessori in Oakland.  I'm sure there are other good ones I'm not familiar with as well.

    Good luck!

    Have you tried or considered Montessori schools for him? It has very different structures in place (child-led work periods and work planning, emphasis on social-emotional, etc.) to support learning, so may be a good fit for him. Maybe worth a look!

    Definitely check out Montessori Family School in El Cerrito.  They have many kids like this and can generally support this type of learner.  Good luck!

  • My 8YO son has dyslexia and ADHD. He struggles in the typical public classroom with 25+ students both academically and socially. He just finished the Lindamood-Bell program and is doing great with his reading, but we have seen that he needs the smaller class size so he doesn't get distracted as easily. He often complains that he is getting bullied at school and called names. I am looking for a private school that would have a smaller class size and a more nurturing environment. Any recommendations?

    I am very sorry to hear about the bullying, which the school should be completely on top of preventing. However, moving to a private school is a double-edged sword, because private schools don't have the same obligations to provide an equal education to students with special needs. (See recent posts on this.) Some do, of course, but it's more voluntary. There are private middle and high schools focused on special needs students but I am not aware of a local private elementary school that does. My 3rd grade son has an IEP for a variety of conditions (including ADHD, in process of diagnosis) at his public school in the WCCUSD and I am certain he would do better in a smaller classroom - as would all the kids in his class! - BUT, the tradeoff is he wouldn't be getting his current level of service in school for free. And this year anyway there were only 19 kids in his classroom, you can't really do better than that. I have been reading about some auditory therapy used at Suma Kids in Concord to help minimize environmental distractions, and we may pursue that outside of school.

    Check out Raskob, they may have the programming your son needs. Best of luck!!! I am so so sorry that your son is being bullied. 

    Several schools come to mind, but many are in the South Bay.  The ones that come to mind in the East Bay are Raskob, which is in Oakland and is a school geared for kids with ADHD and dyslexia and has low ratios in the classrooms and integrated therapies.  We toured their in the past and I was impressed, but we didn't end up there.  Your post doesn't mention whether math is an issue- some kids with dyslexia also have math learning affected.  The other school that comes to mind is Da Vinci school for Gifted Children in Alameda- they are a very low ratio school (5:1) and I've heard several kids with ADHD have done well there.  Don't let the "gifted" wording throw you off- there is no testing involved, and its really a description to indicate social emotional learning needs as well as asynchronous development where they can be "gifted" in one thing and way behind in something else.  Also, check out EdRev website for a listing of other schools that teach to different learning modes- you may be surprised at the options that are now all over the Bay Area.  Good luck!


    I'm sorry for your troubles.  We have a 9 year with dyslexia.  It is encouraging to find that Lindamood bell helped.  Some info.  If you want to go full on dyslexic school, there are many from the east bay that carpool to Charles Amrstrong in Belmont.  It is 200 kids all dyslexic.  And ADHD often goes along with it.  No bullying. And my son is convinced he is super smart.  Some parents go for a cloupke of years. In public school, it was hard to fight for resources once my son reached "grade level".   Private schools you might choose nice and small.  You will likely have to supplement.  

    Two programs.  Foundations is used at Berkeley School.  1 st to 3 Rd. And that is the program Amrstrong uses. Math made real is used at several schools and is based in Berkeley.  We found there was not one solution but decided private plus supplement worked for our son.  

    Some ideas for your son.  Other famous dyslexics? In London in told the reserve a track for dyslexics at the top schools because so many are Brillant at math and science.   Finding places where he can succeed in other areas.  

    Also Debbie Vielbaum former head of admission ls at Charles Armatrong has a consulting practice under Vielbaum consulting.   She has worked with famikies transitioning out of Amrstrong into public and private. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Elementary school for 2nd grader with ADHD

April 2015

We have a 7 year old diagnosed with ADHD- combined type and anxiety disorder. Currently we are in Illinois where he receives additional resource support for reading, writing and math in regular class room (which keeps him on task).He also gets separate pull out sessions focused on reading, writing and math with various learning aids. We are moving to the bay area with a new job offer in South San Francisco and don’t know much about ADHD support services in local public schools. Our son does great in smaller class setting. In addition to the bay area, we are open to other areas (if there are good public schools). From our research (based on API score and great school rating), We've shortlisted the following areas. But, we also know academic ratings sometimes does not necessarily mean that the school provides great services to the special need students. If you are familiar with the school districts below and know some qualitative information- good or bad (such as leadership understands the challenges of a special need student, shows empathy etc.), please share that with us. We would be truly grateful. Burlingame, Belmont, Redwood city, Redwood shore, San Carlos, San Mateo, Foster City, Piedmont, Orinda, Lafayette, Moraga, Fremont, Dublin, Claremont, Montclare, Rockridge, Richmond, Alameda. Larisa

Wow! Your Illinois school sounds so wonderful, that I almost started crying. I have a child with ADHD in a top-rated Oakland Elementary school (both Montclair and Rockridge neighborhoods fall in OUSD, by the way). Based on our experience, I would suggest that you try to find another school district. OUSD has been miserable for my ADHD kid. Some teachers try to help, but it seems more common that teachers punish kids for talking too much or not sitting still by taking away recess. It has been very difficult to get very basic accommodations, like extra time on assignments.

Honestly, we are ready to move to find better schools. I hope that there are responses about schools that do a good job in the Bay Area. I am also hoping that the original poster might share the name of the school/district in Illinois that does so much--- it sounds like a great alternative to where we are now. Anon

School for socially anxious 9-year-old with ADHD

Oct 2011

Our son, now in 4th grade, has been attending a private school in El Cerrito since Kindergarten. Though it is a wonderful, progressive school, because of his anxiety and ADHD, it has never felt like a good fit for him socially or academically. He has wavered between loving this school and hating it, the latter being the latest sentiment. He is having trouble connecting with his peers, who are often too overscheduled with other activities, and the academic pressure is getting to be too much for him--and he is starting to resist going in the morning. Though his teachers have been very supportive of his issues, his sometimes inappropriate behavior and difficulty reading social cues seems to be alienating other kids, and support from preoccupied parents seems to be nonexistent.

We're looking at other schools whose community can offer him more support and accept him for the unique individual that he is. It would also be nice for him to connect with friends who are not too busy to get together for spontaneous play time. Any thoughts on Archway, Walden, or others that might be a good fit for a sweet, bright, but anxious 9-year-old boy? concerned mom

Try Beacon Day School (510) 436-4466. Not only the number of children in each classroom is very small compared to other schools but they have incredible activities. The staff and teachers are thoughtful, knowledgeable and they really care about each child. Express your concern - I am sure they will address it and work with you to provide the best. narniaph

My son is now 11 and was diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia, and anxiety when he was 7. It was getting worse in 2nd and 3rd grades. We were in a private school in San Francisco that boasted 2 learning specialists per grade and 2 counselors - he did not thrive and in fact, became more anxious and lost his self-confidence. Last year, we decided to commute to Oakland to have him attend the Pacific Boychoir Academy. My son enjoys music and singing and this environment has changed everything for him. Since we started there, he is so much less anxious just due to the supportive environment, small class size, and attention he gets. The musical aspect of the school has also had a profound effect on helping him stay calm and focused - he has come alive through music. He has been taking medication for ADD for years, but finally the days of tutoring and struggling over homework are gone - he's happy and motivated. The issues he used to encounter daily have disappeared. I know from experience that it's worth looking at many school options to find the absolute right one - I'm a believer that it's about environment - identify what makes him anxious (numbers of kids, pace, different interests, need for praise, etc.) and then look for a place that really addresses what he needs - it's worked for us. I've found that small classes, creative programs, and individualized attention go a long way for kids with ADD and anxiety. I'm happy to share more about our situation. kts

I would highly recommend Montessori Family School (MFS) in El Cerrito. My son has been attending MFS for 5 years now. When he started there he was 8-years-old and had a lot of problems with making friends, dealing with conflicts and being able to stand/sit still. MFS provided all kinds of recommendations, support, additional tutors, etc., etc., etc. It took a while, but the improvement in my sonC-s behavior is tremendous. He has learned how to deal with people and manage conflicts, able to concentrate and study well, and generally become part of school family. Happy MFS Parent

Services for kids with ADHD at public school

Oct 2009

Our eight year old (a 3rd grader at Malcolm X in Berkeley) was diagnosed with ADHD last year. We put her on Concerta which seems to be helping her focus--at least somewhat. The school agreed to provide her with a ''full educational evaluation'' after seeing some very skewed speech and language test scores in second grade. They have completed these tests now and want to meet with us on Wednesday to discuss next steps.

We were told in a nutshell on the phone that our child even with the meds is ''borderline'' in qualifying for ''services'' and that it could go either way in terms of their decision on what to do.

So I am wondering whether it would be important for us to advocate hard for her getting ''services''--or whether ''services'' aren't all that helpful?? I don't really know much about ''services'' and their usefulness. Any and all advice would be extremely helpful to us. We want to do what will be best for our child. SH

You will definitely want to advocate hard for your child. The first thing to know is that your child has the right to a free and appropriate public education. The sticking point comes in defining ''appropriate'', hence the decision about what services and supports are needed for your child to succeed in school. If you are able, I would strongly advise that you get either an attorney who specializes in education/special education, or an advocate to assist you. I am a parent of two Autistic sons, one who also has Down Syndrome. I am not a paid advocate, just someone with a lot of experience who is always willing to help out fellow parents. Sarah

My son was diagnosed with ADD at the end of 2rd grade and for us the ''services'' weren't very helpful or there at all. We live in the WCCUSD and the money is just not there for these important ''services''. I found that working with the teacher worked much better. I set up a meeting with his teacher and figure out with them what they were comfortable with. His teachers gave him extra time to complete assignments and let him bring work home. He was even given his homework packet on Fridays (on the hush hush of course)so we could get through the more time consuming assignments in the morning when he was more focused. He wouldn't finish the homework over the weekend but would get a good start on it so it wasn't so much during the week. Now he is in middle school and I still find it much easier to deal with the teachers directly. For example.. he is in advanced classes because he can do the work but in Algebra he only does the odd numbers. That way he gets through the assignment but doesn't spend 2 hours doing it. I am not sure what the BUSD offers but this is how I got around the ''services'' or lack of. anon

Education Advocates at DREDF (Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund) can help you understand what special education is all about, and help you sort out whether your child needs special education to benefit from her education and how to best work with your school. Our services are free of charge. We are located in Berkeley, and serve families throughout Alameda, Contra Costa and Yolo counties. Contact us at (510) 644-2555 or iephelp [at] dredf.org. Robin Miller, Education Advocate, DREDF

My son has ADHD and was tested within the school distict. Testing gives you a sense of what is going on, but never as good as private testing. The school district never uses the term dyslexia even when you are searching for answers and it seems to you that what else could this be? The services were generalized, although you get an individualized plan that doesn't quite happen for a variety of reasons. Kids get pulled out in groups twice a week. I now have my son in a private school (they vary as well) and they very much support my son's needs and the teacher abides by the plan within the classroom. One thing to know...When we originally did the testing, we were told that it is the difference between the measured intelligence and the child's performance that qualifies him for the extra services. Howerer, in talking with a resource educator recently, it seems that this has changed and that even without this difference, the child may qualify based on performance only. Good luck. Been There

Services for kids with ADHD at public school

Aug 2009

Our son is 7 years old and was diagnosed with mild dyslexia and ADHD. We have already given him the gift of another year (per all the great advice I found here!) so he will be entering First grade this fall, instead of Second grade with the rest of his peer group. He went to a Waldorf school for his early childhood and to a Catholic school for his first academic experience of Kindergarten. He loved both. The Waldorf school is 30 minutes away, Catholic school 5 minutes away. Our son is very social and outgoing, loves knowing ''everyone'' in our neighborhood, being a part of the community. I definitely feel more comfortable with the Waldorf community, so it was an adjustment for me getting used to the Catholic school environment.

Our son is very creative, loves to be outside, and is extremely active. All those qualities are encouraged and developed at the Waldorf school. He can't read yet, has trouble paying attention but behaves very well at school (at home, he is very difficult, but that's where he ''lets his hair down'' so to speak). He likes the ''big school'' feeling at the Catholic school: the fact that it is in our neighborhood, the pool, the gym, all very cool from a 7 year old's persepctive.

My concern: I am worried that he will have a very hard time keeping up academically at the Catholic school. I am trying to protect him from feeling as if something is ''wrong'' with him because he doesn't learn in a linear fashion. He already has received extra help and tutoring for speech, reading, writing, etc., but is still in the bottom/middle of the class after being held back another year and he still hasn't begun to read. I'm not worried in the big picture sense, but I am worried about him struggling in school.

I am wondering if he would fare better at the Waldorf school, using a multi-sensory approach to learning. Or, perhaps the rigid setting of the Catholic school would benefit him. Does anyone have experience with this situation/decision? I would love to hear from parents and/or students themselves who have been through this before.

I am also trying to seperate what I prefer (Waldorf) with what would be best for him (being included socially in the neighborhood, not having to switch schools again).

Thank you very much in advance for help in making a decision that is keeping me up at night. Lynn

Hi, My daughter has ADHD and Dyslexia and is now a freshman in high school. The very best thing you did for you son was to diagnose him early and get help.

The best thing you can do is get early intervention. Private schools don't have to adhere to any Special Education laws and normally don't have the intervention programs that public or specialized schools have. I do think it really depends on how severe his dyslexia and ADHD. If he is severe (not reading yet seems severe), I would get him the most intensive intervention now.

As for keeping up with his class, it is difficult for them and their self esteem does suffer because of it. But, I think it is good to find something he is good at, no matter how small it is, and to build up his self esteem with it.

I also think you need to look at what reading programs both schools have to offer. If the catholic school does not have an intensive reading program, then I would seriously think maybe it is not the best school for him at this point in his education.

Reading researchers tell us the ideal window of opportunity for addressing reading difficulties is during kindergarten and first grade. 95 percent of poor readers can be brought up to grade level if they receive effective help early. While it is still possible to help an older child with reading, those beyond third grade require much more intensive help. The longer you wait to get help for a child with reading difficulties, the harder it will be for the child to catch up.

The three key research conclusions that support seeking help early are:

* 90 percent of children with reading difficulties will achieve grade level in reading if they receive help by the first grade.

* 75 percent of children whose help is delayed to age nine or later continue to struggle throughout their school careers.

* If help is given in fourth grade, rather than in late kindergarten, it takes four times as long to improve the same skills by the same amount.

You will need a lot of support, you are your son's number one advocate and you know what is best for your son. If you have more questions, please feel free to email me.

My 8-year-old has ADD. You probably know that ADD starts to be a problem around 2nd grade when kids need to be able to listen to the teacher and stay focused on work long enough to finish a 15-minute task, neither of which my son can do! The developmental pediatrician who diagnosed him explained how ADD is actually a chemical deficit in the brain -- not a strong enough signal is getting through. The meds work by strengthening the signal so the kid can stay focused on a task that requires brainwork. No amount of tutoring can fix that.

I also have an older son who made it almost all the way through K-12 public & private schools with untreated ADD. I say ''almost all the way'' because he dropped out of HS. Since then he's had a series of low paid jobs, and started community college several times without being able to finish out a semester. He is a really great guy, smart too, but he has big gaps in his skill set from being tuned out for most of K-12. He also does not have the focus for anything more demanding than running a cash register, which is very boring for him, so he doesn't stay long in one job. He never went on ADD meds because I didn't believe in ''drugging children'' as they say. Now that he's old enough to make his own decisions, he says he is opposed to treating ADD with drugs. I love him dearly but I'm not that excited about supporting him for the long run. It is also very sad to me that he thinks he is dumb. He is not dumb, he just has ADD.

So, with that lesson learned, I now have a very different view about my 8-y-o's ADD. We began a trial of meds at the end of 2nd grade, and his teacher, who confessed a bias against meds, nevertheless told me that he noticed a 75% improvement in my son's ability to stay focused in class. What I noticed is that for the first time my son could carry on a conversation without my asking him the same question 5 times.

To answer your question: the Waldorf school will not be very demanding academically for a few more years, so your son will not have the problems he is having in a more conventional school. But he will still have ADD, and eventually he will hit the same roadblock he's hitting now. I really urge you to give the meds a try for a week and see how it goes. All the best to you

My son has ADD and learning disabilities that present as dyslexia though they are caused by long term memory and retrieval issues. He will be going to his fourth school in four years this fall. Two of those previous schools were Catholic schools. At both we found a high level of intolerance for his learning issues. The constant refrain was ''public schools have resources for children like that and we don't.'' While some teachers were willing to make some accommodations there were an equal number of teachers who were rigid that he must learn and produce in exactly the same way as everyone else. This is not true of ALL Catholic schools. I know of others (that are too far for us to commute to/from) that are more progressive toward children who already face challenges, but after two horrible experiences, where the learning problems were exacerbated by unchecked bullying and ostracism from classmates, we stopped searching for a Catholic school that would work with us.

I can't speak first hand about Waldorf and learning disabilities, but I have heard that the approach doesn't address them particularly well. Children with learning disabilities need very specific instruction that will not be taught in any general classroom. Frequently, especially with a child with ADD, that instruction is best delivered either one on one or in a small group setting. Your best bet is to either go to a school that specializes in learning disablities education, like the Raskob Day School, or put your child in a school that will be tolerant and accommodating of learning differences and get an educational therapist who can teach your child how to read and write around the dyslexia. We've paid anywhere from $45-$75/hr for ed therapy... that in combination with the tuition you are paying may be the decision maker as to which route you follow. a mom who has fought the battle

Dear Concerned Mom,

My older son sounds very similar to your son. In 12 years of teaching I have also had several students with dyslexia/ADD. I don't think Catholic School will present any problems for your child. My own experiences as a teacher in a Catholic school early in my career showed me how very supportive the school community can be, and usually is, for all students.

My son repeated K, and by the end of 3rd grade he was only reading at a mid-1st grade level. He was very frustrated with reading, and he was starting to give up. He began vision therapy in 4th grade at the beginning of December. The therapy is very expensive, but well worth it. The vision therapist suspected that he might have some form of dyslexia. The weekly therapy sessions lasted 9 months, and he still goes for check- ups every six months.

By the end of 4th grade he was reading at a late 2nd grade level. In 5th grade he was reading at a mid-5th grade level by January, and is now reading at a beginning 6th grade level as he begins 6th grade. He made the honor roll all three grading periods in 5th grade and tested advanced in English Language Arts on the CST at the end of 5th grade. He had tested basic in English Language Arts at the end of 4th grade.

Many doctors will tell you that vision therapy ''does not work'' for kids with dyslexia. My son used to say he was dumb, and it almost broke my heart. He doesn't say that anymore. His therapist was Dr. Iole Taddei in Corte Madera. There is a very informative survey on reading behaviors on her website. Best of luck to you and your family. Anne

I missed the original post on this topic, but in reading the responses want to chime in. My son has adhd/dyslexia and was attending a public elementary school where he had an IEP and received very routine ''pull out of the class'' assistance once a week (in and of itself very stigmatizing). We have had him at Beacon Day School in Oakland for the past several years where his IEP was honored, and actually steps were taken in class to address the modifications. It helps that the class sizes are small (14-18) and the teacher has the time to answer my son's questions so he can progress to the next step of whatever problem they are working on. His math, reading and writing have improved substantially. Also, Beacon is great for providing an environment of acceptance. Kids with learning differences seem to be accepted by other kids without too much notice. Hope this helps

I believe that the best educational model for a child with challenges like these is one in which the classes are small, the teachers are kind and have enough time to create curriculum that offers the possibility of success on the child's terms. Some children with AD/HD respond well to a highly structured environment, others do much better with a more flexible model, so the decisions have to be made on a case-by-case basis. In any case, it sounds like schoolwork could be very taxing for your child with this dual diagnosis. I am an educational therapist specializing in AD/HD. If you would like some professional advice or support for the development of organization and study skills, writing or reading comprehension, you can contact me at the email below. Also, check out the CHADD Educator's Guide and Parent-to-Parent Training classes. You can find information about them at www.chadd.org and www.chaddnorcal.org. Good luck. linda

Which Elementary School for ADHD child?

August 2008

I am looking for a progressive elementary school (public or private) in the Bay Area that will nurture my ADHD son. Some of the schools I am interested in include: Park Day, Aurora, Archway, Beacon, The Renaissaince School, and Orinda, Piedmont, and Marin Public Schools. I would love to hear from parents of kids with ADHD who have had either positive or negative experiences with these schools/school districts. Is there a school out there that has the resources to give ADHD kids the special attention they need??? Antonia

We have been quite happy with the services the Piedmont School District has provided for my 8-year old, who has ADHD-type issues, as well as learning differences. We have had to advocate to get our child appropriate services, including hiring a consultant/advocate, but generally have found the district to be responsive after being presented with the appropriate studies/data. At the school level, the principal and most of the teachers and staff have been very compassionate and open to learning about my child's disabilities and willing to make necessary accommodations in the learning environment, even before we officially qualified for special ed. services. Additionally, even outside the special ed realm, the district in general seems to have realistic homework expectations for grade-schoolers. Another factor to consider is the length of the school-day. Until the middle of 3rd grade, the kids are in school for only 5-1/4 hours (3-1/2 for kindergarteners). Plus, Piedmont in general has many services for special-needs kids, like after-school social skills programs and social skills groups, even outside the special ed program. Piedmont also has a strong special-ed parent group called PRAISE. If you're interested, you could call the school district for more info. about PRAISE and for the names of some Piedmont parents who might be willing to talk to you.

As far as private schools go, you should be aware that most private schools, unless they are therapeutic schools, will not test or give your child the services he or she needs. Public schools are mandated under federal law to identify the children with special needs, and federal funding is provided through the public schools to provide these services. A private school is not positioned, nor charged with servicing special needs students. If it turns out the public school system cannot adequately service your child, it will be required to find, and pay for, a private school that can meet your child's needs. So, if your child is disabled enough by his illness to have learning issues in school, I'd advise looking for a responsive public school district. I'd suggest that you call the director of special ed at some target school districts to talk about school services. I also highly recommend www.starfishadvocacy.org as an excellent resource for special ed needs for children with neurological disabilities.

Good luck! Another concerned parent

Best School Districts for ADHD boy

April 2008

I'm ready to start looking to buy a house in the East Bay, but I need to be in a school district that will be accommodating to my now 8-year-old son who has ADHD and some writing difficulties. Is there an East Bay district that is better than others about offering special services and accommodating special needs? - Anonymous Mom

I have a high school student with ADD and writing and processing disabilities. My student was in the Moraga school district for elem. school. We found them hard to work with: holding a student study team meeting and trying to characterize ADD as an emotional/family issue; refusing to look at any third party professional educational testing (ours was done by a highly reputable phd) - even if they were not being asked to pay for it; disputes about whether our child qualified, testing disputes with our professional, when comparing the private testing to low star tests, telling us that the star test results are irrelevant; once qualified, having a protracted delay in receiving services, and once services were provided, not meeting IEP goals within deadlines and services being of minimal value; taking the position that they did not provide math remediation although other students received remedial math services.

We ultimately removed our child from the Moraga public school and went the private route. We checked into coming back to the Moraga middle school. Since we had already qualified, qualification was not an issue, but the type of services offered did not fully address my child's disabilities, so we remained in private school. Based on my experience, I would not recommend the Moraga school district, although, in fairness, I have heard, that the district is trying to change to address learning issues in the lower primary grades. While you need to look at the elem. school level for your 8 year old, don't forget to look at the programs on the middle school and high school level.We recently checked out the local high school which is in the Acalanes district, and again qualification was not an issue, but due to the future budget issues in the California public schools, we had questions about whether the special education teacher would be able to have direct instruction or remediation services with our student. -Anon

Does daughter's ADD entitle her to special services or accommodations?

Sept 2004

We have been told that attention deficit disorder in our child does not entitle her to any special services or accommodations at her public elementary school because it is not classified as a learning disorder, and only learning disorders entitle children to special help. Is this correct? If not, can anyone steer us toward a good source of guidance for getting the school's help in addressing our child's problem? Her teachers have all acknowledged that it is a serious one, but their only answer to it has been to seat her apart from other children when they feel she is too talkative, and to advise us to ask our pediatrician for medication.

In case it is relevant, our daughter is nonetheless advanced in reading and math, which may be why the school won't help. We are concerned that her distractibility and her inability to organize and finish tasks will create severe problems for her in middle and high school, and we would like the school's help in helping her learn and practice strategies for addressing the problem. Father of a ''space case''

I think that attention deficit disorder can qualify your child for services in the public schools under the ''other health impaired'' category. It is not true that only learning disorders qualify a child for services. If the add affects her ability to achieve her potential and impacts her successful participation in the classroom, then she should qualify for services. You might want to get the book ''The Complete IEP Guide: How to Advocate for Your Special Ed Child'' by Lawrence M. Siegel. I know it's available at Amazon and possibly @ nolo press. It is extremely informative and helpful. Special Ed departments are overwhelmed and underfunded, be polite, but learn your rights (the book will help), make it clear to the district that you know your rights, and be a squeaky wheel. You will have to push to get services, but it can be done. There is also an organization called CASE,Community Alliance for Special Education, that will advise you on a sliding scale basis and has an excellent publication (I think for free) called Special Education Rights and Responsibilites. Their # is (415)928-CASE. Good luck! Been there

I am a Resource Specialist in a Hayward Elementary school and I see this regularly. If your child has been diagnosed by a medical doctor with ADD or ADHD then you can request testing through the public school to see if he/she qualifies for special education (most likely resource time). If there is not a significant discrepancy in her cognitive ability and her cognitive functioning she would not qualify as learning disabled, but if she is having significant problems in the classroom she can be qualified as Other Health Impaired because of the ADD. I have a few kids in my class to whom this applies. Also, if she is not significantly low and you do not want her tested or in special ed, she should be able to qualify for a 504 plan which entitles her to modifications made in the classroom. This is not a special ed function, it is part of the American Disabilities Act. If you have any questions feel free to email me. Good Luck! Rebecca

Being a private school administrator and parent of a developmentally delayed son, I do know that public schools do not recognize ADD/ADHD as a disability and therefore, these kids don't qualify for special services. I think that stinks but I have been able to help parents find other resources of support through Bananas and Kaiser Permanente has a good support group. Hope this helps... lena

Applying to Private Kindergartens for ADHD Kid

November 1998

My son is having problems in kindegarten and we are applying to private schools for next year. I have two questions from parents who have been through this process.

1) We are considering evaluation from ADHD. I made the appointment and then I began to receive the applications many of which ask if the child has been evaluated for it (not if he's been diagnosed, but evaluated). My inclination is to simply wait until the application process is over before I have him evaluated because I don't particularly want to lie on applications, but I'd like to start the process sooner rather than later. Has anyone else run into this? How have you handled it?

2) This child's kindegarten teacher does not like him and does not enjoy having him in class. We are required to have her fill out an evaluation for him. I'm inclined to think that we have her fill one out and also have his preschool teacher, who actually liked him, fill one out as well. Would this be a good strategy?

Thanks for any experience/Advice you might have.

About trying to get the possible ADHD kindergartner into private school:

Your son is having a bad experience right now. Yes, work on next year, but also try to improve the rest of his kindergarten year in any way you can. Meet with the principal ASAP. See if you can get him transferred into another kindergarten. Be as pushy as it takes to get him as positive an environment as he had in preschool.

Don't assume private school will be better, especially if your child *does* have ADHD, or ADD, or maybe just some simple learning delays. I have seen kids with mild special needs, including my own, flounder in kindergartens in a very highly regarded private school, with teachers everyone (at least everyone whose kids are completely on track) raves about. These teachers didn't dislike the kids, but they also either didn't have a clue as to how to help them learn, or didn't see teaching to kids with different abilities as their responsibility. The attitude was very much "we don't do special ed; you better get some outside help".

The above is especially true if you get your son into a private school by "tricking" them about his possible ADHD diagnosis and the difficulties he's having this year. If you can't be honest with them about who he is and what help he might need, don't be surprised if they're not willing or able to provide the help when he's finally enrolled there.

We made the opposite switch, from private school to public, and with a combination of some outside help and lots of very real, enthusiastic, quality assistance from the school, saw tremendous improvement. Good luck.

I would not recommend disclosing testing, definitly not just the intent to test. I would wait till after applying to do the testing unless you think the results of testing would have a big impact on your choice of schools.

On the advice of my son's 5th grade private school teacher I had him tested for ADD and learning disabilities. He was OK - not in the range. Most of the other boys in the class, I later learned, had also been recommended for testing (!). This was an academic private school. We eventually decided to change schools because this same 5th grade teacher just really didn't like my son and was coming down on him pretty hard. As a result, he had completely tuned out during class time and he was doing poorly in the school. He is a great kid and very enjoyable and social but not the sit-still-be-quiet-and-follow-the-rules type. The principal at the school also was not very supportive so I didn't want to try another year there - there wasn't any way to make him into something he is not. So, we were looking for a new school. In applying to new schools, I answered "yes" to the question "Has he ever been tested for a learning disability?". I don't think I would do this now. The school we were most interested in had an unofficial percentage of slots available for learning disabled kids, and that percentage was full. I think that because he'd been tested, my son was assumed to be in this group, so he didn't get in.

Another point: the private schools I looked at all had some sort of test to administer, usually academic, but some schools had an additional interview/test to assess maturity and personality of the kid. So I think if they want to screen out learning disabled kids, they can, regardless of whether you've had your child tested previously. Of course if you are looking for a school that specializes in learning disabilities this is probably irrelevant. but my experience was with schools that want few or zero kids with learning disabilities, and the kid in question is maybe/maybe not.

As to another recommendation, yes I would get a recommendation from the preschool teacher. But I think many private schools are used to getting apps from kids who didn't get along with the teacher they had last year so don't sweat it.

In retrospect, I am very happy with the way things turned out. My son started junior high at a Berkeley public school and got a teacher for 6th grade who found him delightful and who inspired in him a love of math and science (this is George Rose at Willard). Though my kid is never on the honor roll, and still has the occasional run-in with "The Law" for Dennis the Menace type pranks (last month it was detention for opening every single locker in Building X and then leaving the premises), he is very happy and has a lot of friends and is making decent enough grades - even an A in math on the last report card (but don't ask about History). Good luck!

As a teacher I have to say that I am concerned about several aspects of your situation. Your response to a child who is having difficulties is to a) say the teacher does not like the child b) change the school, and c), mislead his future school about him. First of all, if a child is having difficulty behaving in class and getting in trouble for it, the child will sometimes say, "The teacher doesn't like me." The parents needs to help the child see the difference between the teacher not liking the disruptive behavior and not liking the child. Please think carefully about what you hope to accomplish by moving the child to another school. First of all, your child will have a different teacher next year anyway, even if not moved. Secondly, ask yourself why you are hesitant to let the potential new school know that your child might need testing. If you think that would deter the school from accepting your child, why would you think it would be a good place to send a child with that condition? Obviously, you think there is enough concern to get an evalution. Maybe this is where your first focus should be -- evaluating the child and determining what his needs are. If your son is now attending public school, that school should be looking at what support he should be given, if the issue is an academic one, and not just a question of behavior. If this is potentially the case, you should know that you have a lot of rights as a parent and should push the school to see if he needs services and if so, that he get them. In any case, I think it makes sense to first evaluate his needs and THEN to determine the best placement for next year based on that. Then look at the first grade teachers at the current school as well as at private schools. I know it's very hard to be objective as a parent but your son has a lot of this school year to go and you being angry at his current teacher is only going to make it more difficult for him, and I'm sure he's frustrated enough already. Try for his sake, rather than being angry at his teacher, to ask her to give you specific suggestions on what might help your son this year. Also ask what she is doing to address the issue and whether she thinks he should be referred to the School Site Council for possible resource specialist help. The issue of whether the teacher likes him comes up because children really want their teachers to like them. For the sake of your son's happiness over the rest of the school year, I would suggest you help him make his behavior as acceptable as possible. If you can try to be cooperative and supportive of the teacher this may help her put things in a better perspective too, and see your son as the child you love so much, not just as a disruptive influence.

My son, now in fifth grade, had a horrible time in kindergarten at Head-Royce and we did not make the decision to move him until he was actually kicked out by the school in second grade.(We kept hoping things would get better.) So you're smart to make a change right away. My son went to the Elementary School of Arts and Sciences(ESAS) on Broadway in North Oakland after his Head-Royce experience. This school is very small, only 18 kids, in a mixed grade setting (K-3), and although the teacher did find my son difficult, he ended up doing extremely well there. (My son in kindergarten was very "advanced" academically but way behind socially, so that a mixed grade class worked very well for him.) If you want a small setting with lots of parent participation, you might want to look into this school. (By the way, my son is now at Montessori Family School and doing very well)

Regarding the letter of recommendation from the current, unsatisfactory teacher: We had a similar problem and I chose not to request a letter from the current teacher. I did find another person at the school who knew my child (in our case, the speech therapist) and requested that she write the letter. I also made it clear to the private schools that we were leaving public school precisely because of our inability to resolve the problems created by the teacher and the current classroom situation. I also got letters from several other former teachers: a public school teacher from a previous year, an afterschool art teacher, our rabbi. My daughter was admitted to both schools we applied to. I can't imagine that risking a negative letter from a teacher whose opinion you disrespect can be better than omitting that letter with an explanation.