Albany Middle SchoolCommunity Subscriber
Not too many people have firsthand experiences with both districts, but I can tell you that I have a student at AMS right now and - keep in mind this is the COVID experience and a "normal" year could be different - I feel like it is very academic-heavy and there's pretty high expectations for homework. We are happy enough with the band program for what it is this year; expecting it to be better in a normal year. (Not sure what type of music your daughter is into.) I also have a fifth grader who is artistic (not musical), quirky, and dreamy, and I don't think they would be particularly happy at AMS - that is, it is not tailored to their flavor of student personality - and I don't plan to send them there. Can't speak firsthand to Berkeley schools being same or different, but we have experience in a different public school district and I wouldn't say that it catered to the artistic dreamers either.
YES, absolutely seeing this for my poor 7th grader at Albany Middle School. The district has chosen to fill the required state hours of school with "asynchronous learning" - the teachers just assign a ton of material with no understanding of how long it will take, and at least my child's teachers NEVER say, stop after one hour. I think Albany is not doing great with remote learning, tbh. Overemphasis on quantity not quality.
Archived Q&A and Reviews
Albany Middle School - Help!
We're a new family to the AUSD school district. We moved to Albany specifically so our son could attend middle and high school here. The beginning of 6th grade has not been smooth. Our son is anxious about school. Lunch seems chaotic. He is having a hard time meeting kids and generally seems unhappy. He never had any trouble with meeting friends and enjoying school at his elementary school in Oakland. Of my emails to his two main teachers, one has gone unanswered and one was a reply with very little information. I'd like to hear from other AMS families about how to best navigate the AUSD system? There must be great things about the school. What are we missing? Lost with AUSD
I can't speak to Albany Middle School, but my daughter had a very difficult time at the beginning of 6th grade too, in Berkeley. I think 6th grade is just really hard for a lot of kids. Like your son, my daughter had many friends, and enjoyed elementary school. But none of her friends ended up going to her (public) middle school, and she struggled socially the first few months. Keep trying with the staff; call and ask if there is a counselor you and/or your son can talk to about how to get him more involved, or match him up with some potential new friends. The good news: my daughter ended up LOVING middle school. Hang in there. sk8ma512
So sorry that your son is having a difficult time. I have a 7th grader at AMS and have found that teachers and staff often go out of their way to help kids in your son's situation. I would contact one of the guidance counselors and let them know. You can do this via email. I would also encourage your son to find an activity that interests him (Cross country, band, garden club, etc). Lunch can be overwhelming! The library is a calmer place open at lunch where kids can play games, read, do homework and talk quietly. Albany mom
My daughter attended a different, nearby public middle school and I'm sure the communicating-with-teachers issue is the same. Specifically, teachers do not communicate with parents. This is by design because students need to start advocating for themselves. The student must initiate the contact/question, usually by written note, before or after class, asking the question and requesting a meeting if necessary. If the student has truly done all he/she can to resolve the issue on their own to no avail, then the parent may step in. Regarding your second question about making friends, this, especially at Albany, will take more time. Remember that most of these kids have been together for school, soccer, camp, baseball, and library storytime since they were in preschool. Albany is small, everyone has known everyone for years. Maybe joining a club or activity will help him make friends. Good Luck!
Hi - I'm sorry to hear the transition has been hard for your son. My daughter just started AMS, as has all her friends from her Albany elementary school, so we are figuring it all out as well. I don't know you or your son, so it's hard to comment on the situation, but one thing that is way different in comparing AMS to elementary is that the onus is now on the child. It's been a big shift to have him take the lead in figuring out what needs to happen/when/how/etc. One thing I can imagine that's difficult is that most of the AMS students are coming from one of the three Albany elementary schools......so the majority of kids already know lots of people, and that could feel a bit lonely for the kid who doesn't have an established group of friends. We moved here a decade ago for the schools and love it. The schools, families, teachers....all have been really great. Your son is only a few days into school - give it time! It would be surprising for him to jump into it all on day one. Let him make friends. It will all work out. Good luck! AMS parent
I don't know about AMS but my 3rd child just finished middle school in Berkeley and your description sounds very familiar so I wanted to tell you to be patient, stay calm, most likely it will work out and in a month your son will be content. Lunch is chaotic in middle school. My youngest came from a small private school to a big public middle school and for the first few weeks came home every day appalled and intimidated about the chaos, noise, and bad manners in the lunch room. Then he found a few like-minded kids to hang out with during lunch and never complained again. As for teachers, my experience was that some of his teachers were very communicative, helpful, and supportive, both in email and in person. Others were disorganized, didn't read email, didn't answer texts even after they suggested texting instead of emailing, but were happy to talk for 45 minutes after school if I dropped in. Also be aware that the first 2 or 3 weeks of school are extremely busy for teachers so don't expect a lot of time devoted to an email from one parent out of the dozens of kids in their class. I think it will be OK. Hang in there! mom of 3
I didn't see your original posting until just now, hopefully after three weeks of school, things are going better for your son. If not, do e-mail the principal who would be happy to meet with you and help you help your son transition, Sixth graders at AMS are really taken care of, they understand that the kids are still elementary school kids in age, put into a middle school situation, so they treat them really well. The fact that your family is new to AUSD and your son didn't go to the elementary schools here could be tough since most kids know each other, but they're also pretty nice kids. I'm sure the principal will have good suggestions and will want to help your son transition to AMS...she's really very nice and concerned about the kids. They aren't really expecting the sixth graders to figure it all out on their own and understand they'll need help (one poster mentioned the kids needing to advocate for themselves). Jenny
How kids get to Albany Middle School
Hi! Our child will be starting Albany Middle School in the Fall. We live in town, but pretty much on the opposite side of town from the school. We're trying to figure out what are reasonable options for our child to get there and back every day, and wondering what parents consider safe and reasonable alternatives. Do most 6th graders get there on their own? Biking? Do parents walk or drive them? We'd appreciate hearing what people's approaches and experiences have been. Thanks! == New AMS Parent
My eldest starts middle school this fall also, and it's never even crossed my mind that my kids would do anything other than walk or bike on their own. My son has been getting himself to and from school since third grade (he's most often used a scooter; he may use his bike more for middle school as it's a longer distance) and I expect my daughter, who is going into third grade, to do so as well. If your kid will have to cross Marin Ave or San Pablo Ave to get to AMS, help him/her choose a route that crosses at a light and/or is supervised by crossing guards -- but, barring special medical needs, I can't imagine a 6th grader needing a parent to get to school in this small, pedestrian-friendly town! Holly
Albany Middle School after school programs
We are looking for after school activities, supervision, tutoring, etc. for my 12 year old granddaughter who attends Albany MS. Because she is disorganized, can't be counted on to remember her books or assignments or much of anything else, she is being tested for ADD. She is also frequently very sad because of 3 deaths of close relatives a year ago.
We are trying to find something positive for her to do after school that would hopefully include homework supervision, art and P.E. activities instead of coming home alone and doing nothing until her parents get home at 6:00.
I've looked into the Albany Teen Club (but heard it may lose funding and that kids mostly watch tv or play video games with little supervision), the Y (haven't heard back), Girls Inc (nothing available now, maybe in October), the JCC (unaffordable and no scholarship funds available).
I wish there was someone who provided an after school ''day care'' program for middle school girls, maybe in the provider's home. Like having a mom there. And that is affordable. Dream on, I know!
Any suggestions? Since I'm giving a lot of personal information about my granddaughter, to preserve her anonymity, I'm signing the message without my real name. Grannie J
The YMCA is starting a brand new program that will be held onsite after school at AMS. The focus is helping students get their homework done. It is not a tutoring program per se, but more individual academic tutoring is available at extra cost.
I don't know much more about it, but just saw an announcement about this. If your granddaughter gets a good start on her homework after school, she'll have more time for leisure activities with family in the evening. anonymous
Hi Granny J--when our daughter was at AMS (She is ADD and has very definite issues with organization) they offered an after school program called ''Homework Club''. It wasn't perfect, but more often than not, she did get her homework done, and since the program was somewhat aligned with the school, they were able to help her figure out when she was missing an assignment.
Unfortunately, all they do is homework--no other activities--so if she had no homework, there wasn't much else for her to do but read. But still, you might to see if it's being offered as an option. Best of luck. Karen
Would AMS be right for my dreamy 6th grader?
We are thinking of relocating for middle school, and wondering whether our unusual 6th grader (drama bug, dreamy, loves to read and write but has trouble keeping track of assignments) would find a niche and acceptance there. Also, I have heard that kids are given alot of homework at AMS, and I wonder whether families there have trouble carving out afterschool time for their kids to explore their own interests. I would be interested in hearing about any recent experiences of families at Albany middle school that might help us figure out if this school would be right for us.
Our very disorganized son is in 8th grade at AMS and he's done fine in part because they have a computer/email system which keeps both parents and students up to date on assignments and grades. Some see this system as maybe too much managment for the teachers, possibly intrusive of the parents and not teaching great managment skills to the kids, but for our family it's been extremly usefull. I don't feel like he has had too much homework overall. Middle school mom
After school for 6th grader
I signed up my sixth grader for the Albany Teen Center but have recently heard horror stories from every single person I have mentioned this to. Now, I am terrified and do not know what my other options are. I work full time and can't wait until mid September to find out what other after school options are available. Two questions: Is the teen center really that bad? Please reply only if you have personal experience. 2) Other options for my kid until 6pm? A panicked mom
I don't think you need to be so afraid. While the Albany Teen Center did not end up working out for my child, I did not think it was unsafe. 6th graders just tend to not fit in that well and are somewhat social outcasts. We switched him to Albany YMCA Teen program, which is right next to the school. He had already been with Y programs, so that worked a lot better for him. Much more age-appropriate. Homework was a focus (no homework focus at teen center unless your kid makes it happen). So, if you can, I'd switch. But I also don't think you need to be too concerned from a safety perspective. Good luck! mom of Albany 12 and 13 year olds
I'm thinking of moving to Albany so my son can go to middle school there. I have no idea if their middle schools are good. Does anyone have any recent experience they can share with me? He would be coming from a private school in Oakland so wouldn't know anybody. Sarah
My kids go to Albany Middle School, and it's been great. They are learning a lot, the administration has the kids very under control-no fighting or bullying is tolerated. The kids are generally really nice. There's lots of new kids every year, esp since kids from University village go there. I'm sure there is a greater diversity of school performance than at a private school, but that's true for any public school. It's a big school, which has been good for my kids-it means there's lot of people to choose from, and most everyone can find a niche.
Do any parents of AMS or former AMS kids have more recent reviews than what is on the website? Have your kids done well there? Are they happy? Do you get info from the school when you need it?
My daughter is in 7th grade at AMS, and has gone through school entirely in Albany. She is smart and social, but not a devoted student. All I can say is that she absolutely loves AMS, and we've had a range of decent to excellent teachers. After Back to School night, we shared the opinion with many other parents about just how lucky we are that the teacher and the parent communities are so dedicated, and that we have so much more than most places around (thanks in part to SchoolCARE, PTA, music/sports boosters, etc.). As for keeping up with my daugher's studies, I'm feeling a little out of touch, but I think that it is my own responsibility at this point to contact the teachers re my kid's progress. As with any public school, I've heard stories from parents who are at times unhappy with how their child's special needs are handled. It seems! to get better when the parents work with the school to make those needs known. The e-tree is excellent at communicating general school information. AMS also seems to do a lot of activities to keep the lid on bullying, etc. but I'm sure some goes on. Bottom line is that the principal and teachers seem willing to communicate. anonymous
We are a middle-class, middle-income professional family of European and Asian heritages - we found Albany Middle School to be a comfortable fit for us and our son. Our son graduated last summer from 8th grade at Albany Middle School, having moved there from an affluent, super-competitive school district in the South Bay where he was being overwhelmed by expectations of four hours of homework a day. Our impressions of AMS are therefore colored by comparisons with our previous middle school. I found AMS to be more moderate in its approach to learning, less high-pressure but more encouraging of students' individual development. My son initially found the school noisier and more chaotic than his previous school (Albany Middle and High schools do seem quite crowded), but he eventually got used to it and has learned to focus. Teachers are passionate about teaching their subjects creatively and innovatively - my son had hated science at his previous school but loved his AMS classes. He was able to take drama, dance and computer studies as electives last year, instead of worrying about his GPA, and he really seemed to relax and enjoy going to school. Parents might be interested to know that Albany is mentioned as a a ''good school district'' in various East Asian publications (i.e. high-scoring, high number of kids placed in UC etc.) and this has attracted a number of Asian families and even students without their families (''parachute kids'') who are pr! etty driven to succeed academically. So if your child likes a competitive academic atmosphere, it is available, but it's nice that there is also a lot of support for sport and the arts. The ''good schools'' reputation has driven up Albany housing prices way beyond what they would otherwise be.
However, Albany schools don't seem to be in danger of becoming little islands of privilege like Piedmont - Albany Middle and High accept a lot of students from outside the district, many commute from poorer areas in Richmond or Oakland. Students are from a wide range of families, my son made friends with kids from every ethnic and socio-economic background. Again, I see this as a great advantage over his previous school, which was rather uniformly affluent and limited to European and Asian/Indian kids - a weird thing that happens in our old area is that the white and Asian kids don't mix much either - but they do all kind of! idolize inner-city ''ghetto'' culture - I guess it all seems glamorous when viewed from the distance of the suburbs - none of that pretentiousness seems to go on in Albany, the student body is truly mixed. The small size of the school also helps - everyone gets to know you. My son was also amazed that at AMS kids felt comfortable coming out as gay or bi-sexual, in his previous school district a common insult would be to call something ''gay'' - as in ''That's so gay!'' In general, kids seemed to feel safe and supported in the school environment, something I attribute to the guidance of the teaching staff. My son's 8th Grade Social Studies class had a whole unit dedicated to the history and causes of prejudice in the US that really seemed to sink in. So, to sum up, I see AMS as a school where kids not only absorb high levels of academic knowledge but also gain exposure to real class diversity (rare these days in ''good scho! ols'' I think) and a positive, tolerant outlook toward others in a safe and respectful environment. Satisfied new Albany parent
My kid will be at Albany Middle School this coming year. I have to be at work at 8 am (no exceptions) and I'm concerned about how to coordinate our schedules since classes do not begin until 8:45. There doesn't seem to be any bus that goes within a reasonable distance to school (I'm especially thinking of the winter rains) and we live too far to walk. How early can kids be dropped off at AMS? Any ideas? concerned mom
There is the morning music program that runs every morning from 7:15 to 7:50am. I believe all of those students just hang around the atrium (indoors just outside the library on the first level) until school starts at 8:55 (it's 8:45 on Wednesdays). Seems like a number of early arrivals just hang out there. While it's not an official supervised time, it seems like it would be fine to let your daughter arrive there earlier. Or if there's a friend she can go to school with later, that's another possibility. The kids really become more self sufficient in the middle school environment. Liz
I am a parent of Albany Middle School and it is a wonderful school & district. They have somewhat been affected by budget cuts but has a very strong PTA group that works really hard for the school and children. Foreign Language is offered. Albany Middle is a wonderful School. Sherron
On-site afterschool at AMS?
We have a 5th grader who will be going to Albany Middle School next year. Does AMS offer any kind of on-site afterschool programs for students? Do any of the various off-site afterschool centers coordinate with AMS? (The ones we're familiar with stop at 5th grade.) Any suggestions you can provide would be appreciated.
There is no real ''child care'' at AMS, but there are a few options. On site, there are after-school (and sometimes before- school) courses offered through their ''Kids College'' program, but you are not guaranteed a slot, and it does not run all year. The Albany Teen Center does not stay on site, but they do meet the kids at AMS and transport them to the Teen Center (behind Ocean View school on Buchanan). (click link for more info)
If your child needs tutoring, there is also (sometimes) an on-site tutoring program, but it is by teacher referral only, I believe. R.K.
After-school programs at Albany Middle School are a big change from programs for elementary students. You must make arrangements piecemeal.
Often, AMS PTA September meeting invites after-school program reps to discuss their offerings.
AMS offers an after-school tutoring program in the library, run by Dara Birnbaum (who runs Albany Village after-school programs). Kids can try out for AMS Girls Volleyball, Boys/Girls Basketball, Boys/Girls Wrestling, or join Boys/Girls track. AMS Kids College offers programs from cooking to Spanish to art (sign up early).
Albany Library has after-school homework help, and the city Teen Center has counselors, games, and activities. Albany YMCA also offers basketball and other after-school programs. Some kids join Little League, Soccer or other organized sports programs with after-school practices several days a week.
If you arrange a homework group, friends can study together after school. Merry
Also recommended: YMCA Kids Club for Middle Schoolers
Re: Middle Schools with a strong math/science department
My daughter took 99 percentile scores on STAR test (math and language), while she was attending Albany Middle School. I don't know whether it was because of the school program or because of the environment. There are many gifted children in that school, whose parents have PhD in Math, Physics, etc. My daughter is not competitive at all, but she learned good study habit there.
In responce to Rowena who wanted to know about the eighth grade problems at AMS this last year: there have been more problems than at the past few years but the problems involved a small number of students rather than the majority. I am a parent of an eighth grade graduate and will be sending my son to AHS next year. It has been a tough year and he has had trouble but we have really tightened our reins and had some really goods talks. I have to say I'm really proud of him and how he has learned to handle some difficult situations. I've seen alot of the kids who were dabbling in trouble really turn around and make better decisions and I appreciate how hard it is. The administration at AMS is to be commended for their effective handiling of some difficult situations. I hope this helps....there are mainly great kids ...it's the few bad apples that give a bad name to the bunch.
I just wanted to respond to your concern about the behavior of the 8th grade students at Albany Middle School this year. I'm very sorry that the behavior of a few and the management of their behavior over the school year has given the school a bad reputation. The graduating class this year had 276 students. The school has taken in out of district students and is overcrowded. In addition, the discipline at the school has been inconsistent. Given this situation it is surprising that the problems the school faced this year weren't worse.
I have lived in the district for close to ten years and have worked with this class of students from the first grade thru the eighth grade. I have found the majority of these students to be a wonderful group of kids. I have a child who just graduated from the 8th grade and will be going on to Albany High School in the fall. She has shared with me some of the ups and downs of her middle school experience and knows a number of the kids who have been getting into trouble and it's a small number.
If I were deciding on whether to send my child to Albany High School next year I wouldn't base my decision on the behavior problems faced by the middle school this year. There were a number of factors involved with the escalating problems, which means that the same problems will not necessarily spill over into the high scchool.
If your child has been attending private schools at the elementary and middle school level he or she is probably use to small class sizes and a more individualized programs and instruction, neither of which is offered at the public high school. If your child has learning issues then the public high school may not meet his or her needs as well as the private. But if it's the social situation you're concerned about then I can assure you that there is a large and diverse population of wonderful kids to choose from and lots of activities and programs to get involved in.
Does anyone have any experience with Albany Middle School - academics, electives, teachers, administration, etc.? We are thinking of seeking an out of district transfer from the Berkeley school system. Anon
My oldest son attended Albany Middle School when I was a graduate student living in "the village" (around 1993-1995). He had a marvelous experience there, with many excellent teachers (particularly Robin Davis, who encouraged him to write, and who he still stops in to visit when he is on a break from college). Unfortunately, when I graduated and moved out of the district to El Cerrito, my younger son (who had been attending Marin Elementary in Albany and was ready to begin middle school) was denied an interdistrict transfer at the very last minute (first day of school). It was quite traumatic for my son. We had been told all along that he would be able to stay in Albany. Lucky for us, in my opinion, Longfellow in Berkeley took him (school had already begun there earlier in the week) and we have been using the Berkeley schools ever since, using an interdistrict transfer (he's now at BHS). On one hand, I resent other parents who use "fake addresses", but on the other hand, I know the "legal" way can sometimes not work, as was our experience. So, good luck!!! Barbara
This has been my experience, I don't claim to speak for anyone else: I think AMS is a wonderful school for steady, compliant, solid A or B students. The teachers are hardworking, generally thoughtful, dedicated, and positive. They like kids and teaching. I don't think I've run across any burnouts. They have a high level of training and experience, which means that a much higher than normal proporation of district monies goes to salaries. Like most teachers, they spend a fair bit out of their own pockets.
The atmosphere is calmer than at all the Berkeley middle schools, and students are generally respectful of teachers. The kids are generally pretty bright and cooperative and interested in learning, which makes being a teacher or fellow student easier. Kids don't get hassled for race or having lesbian parents or being nerdy, as far as my kid reports, and though there is minor harrassment like being bumped on purpose during passing periods or hassled for a lunch table, middle school unkindness seems less than at Berkeley schools. There's ethnic diversity, but less class diversity than Berkeley. I've seen kids sent back to Berkeley for poor performance/behavior.
That said, it's not particularly responsive or supportive as an institution (or district) to the needs of learning disabled, gifted, or weird kids. (King might be better for those; that's a compliment.) Teachers seem - generally - overwhelmed, not available for enrichment or outside help, unable to differentiate curriculum, especially after Grade 6, when students change classes. They are a fairly reactionary lot from what I've heard, resistant to new ideas about and styles of teaching (despite involvment in things like BAWG), mainly because most of what they do works for most students. I get the impression that there are more flashes of creativity and brilliance in teaching and learning at King, for example. However, though we've had some big diappointments at AMS, I think my kid was still happier here than might have been possible in Berkeley. My kid seems happy with the learning this year (Grade 8) and very happy with the friends made and kept throughout middle school. (My kid would have been miserable at Longfellow or Williard, perhaps not self-confident enough for King.)
My help as a parent was welcomed and appreciated in Grade 6 and not after. Parents are asked and encouraged to volunteer with scoliosis screening and ESL luncheons, but I don't know how much input or involvement is valued regarding matters of curriculum or budget. I volunteered for something in Grade 7 and felt my participation was regarded as token. It's pretty easy to make appointments to see principal, vice-principal and counselors, I think, and even by drop-in. Most teachers return phone calls within a few days, few the same day, and all but one have been phobic about e-mail, in my experience. It took the principal two weeks and a follow-up to reply to a concern by email, and she's the technology person for the district. There is no homework line or homework web page, and the school and district web pages are abysmal. There is only one tech support person for the district. Computers are not incorporated in the classroom in innovative ways, and often aren't properly networked to printers. I'll look forward to seeing how others' experiences compare.
My child has attended AMS for 3 years. My experience is that it is probably no better or worse is many way than other schools. The teachers have classes that are too large to allow for any individual attention. With 30+ kids in a class, if your kid does average work, they will be totally satisfied with that and not expect more from him/her. Teachers don't have time to give kids much attention or assistance outside of class. If they are failing, someone will intervene (but only at that point). Teacher communication to the home is minimal; many teachers will not return calls, but a few are very consciencious. If your child has any special needs, you will have to fight hard to get them met. 504 plans and IEP's are not fulfilled without extreme effort on your part. Having said that, if you child is a good student, they will find the atmosphere acceptable. It's a good, safe school for kids who can fit in easily, and don't need much from their teachers. It's much less diverse than Berkeley. Socially, the kids seem to be typical middle-schoolers....conformist, stratified, and judgemental. There are skateboarders, "geeks", jocks, "preppies", etc., and they don't seem to mix much.
This is my son's 2nd year at AMS and for him I think it is a good match. He had an incident with another kid and I spoke to the principal about it. She was very responsive and it resulted in my son going to a counseling group at AMS, which he seemed to like. They (administration) seemed concerned that my son was not only academically doing well, but socially too. The group was a way for my son to connect with other kids and to get a break (30 min.) from school. The group lasted a quarter and when it was over the counselor called me to let me know how things were.
In response to the request for information about Albany Middle School. The following comments are based on 4.5 years of involvement at AMS. Our son spent all of middle school there, and now our daughter is there. For our son--a talented but unconventional person, AMS was a nightmare; for our daughter, AMS has been adequate (but not outstanding) as an educational setting for a bright kid, and comfortable socially.
On the upside, the school is relatively safe. The school facilities (gym, labs, library, etc.) are OK. The school community is fairly diverse, with a goodly number of international students from the U.C. Village. The 6th graders take a wonderful trip to the Marin Headlands. This is a terrific experience and we applaud all the teachers (and parents) that have made this happen. The school garden has been a good experience. There is "Kids College" each semester which offers some fun classes for kids to pursue after school. And, finally, there is a the AMS band (but not orchestra) program and the marvelous band leader who nurtures young musicians and fosters a real enjoyment of music and the teamwork of a band. The biggest asset at AMS are those truly gifted teachers who commit themselves to their work and the students. Like any other school, however, there are some teachers who should have been released long ago.
We have not found the amount of homework assigned to be excessive. Be aware, however, that there is a responsibility ramp up that really kicks into gear in the 8th grade. At that point, kids are expected to be on top of homework timeliness, test make-ups, project completion deadlines, following instructions to the letter, and so forth. If there is any communication gap between you and your child about what is or is not getting done, you may be surprised when a "progress report" comes home informing you for the first time that your child has been less than diligent about doing homework--and that a very low grade may follow on the subsequent report card. We worked very hard to open up lines of communication with the school. There are some mechanisms in place to help with this (weekly progress reports signed off by teachers, for example), but a lot the communication will have to be initiated and carried through by the parents and the student.
Also, in 8th grade the stringency of grading seems almost punitive rather than helpful. I have been surprised at a seeming "no mercy" policy with respect to a child's effort and the grade that followed. In math, the grade is purely a product of total points for exams, quizzes, homework, etc. There appears to be no teacher "fudge factor" for kids who are trying hard but are still not getting great grades on the exams. I think factoring something into the grade for effort can be a real motivator for kids who need a bit of a boost to their self-confidence in order to kick start their performance.
The apparent "get with the program" philosophy is another element of AMS that we have found problematic: Our son is a brilliant writer but he got a number of poor grades in English at AMS merely for style and some creative deviation on the assignment. Creativity and giftedness are not necessarily fostered, towing the line is. The issue of conformity can be a problem in the social arena as well. Through the imposition of various school rules and policies, kids are expected to act in proscribed ways that don't take into account well the normal deviations in kids' behaviour due to cultural, gender, or developmental differences. There have been various attempts at dress codes, but guidelines seem to be enforced on whim: E.g. when an administrator just happens to see the too short skirt -- but ignores all the prohibited spaghetti straps and midriff tops running around the playground. Go figure. Some of the dress code policies have been downright silly. For example, the prohibition of bandanas of any sort (even pink ones worn by girls) because they signify gang involvement or wannabe gangster attitudes...
Discipline at AMS is another issue that we've struggled with. Most of the really difficult issues that plague urban schools (weapons, drugs, gangs, bullying) are fairly minor problems at AMS. And, given this, it almost seems as if school administrators look for things to turn into full blown discipline issues. Generally mountains out of molehills.
Worse, discipline is applied unevenly--and in some very glaring cases, unjustly. We have seen numerous cases of this. One horrible thing that we've encountered first hand is children being encouraged to tattle on others, and then when the accused has asked to address the accusers (through the counseling office, and w/ appropriate mediation), administrators will allow the accusers to remain anonymous, and discipline follows from the presumption of guilt. Parents are usually not spoken to before suspension or other less serious disciplinary measures are meted out. In cases where discipline issues have needed to be sorted out, we have found school administration (the current principal and former vice principal) less than prompt in returning calls, and often not helpful, caring, or creative when it came to working out a win-win solution.
Be forewarned if you have a son. We have seen a consistent pattern of gender discrimination against boys with respect to disciplinary issues. It is very serious, and something the administration has been apprised of, but has not been proactive about correcting. We have found the counseling office to be less than helpful, and in some cases downright naive. Overcrowding has become a problem at the school. There are just way too many kids for the size of the school and the resources at hand. Hope this helps.
A few people asked me why I considered taking my son out of AMS. Besides the proximity to our home, BHMS has a MESA program this year. Also, we were never satisfied with Albany schools in the first place. Pehaps if your child is an over-acheiver, they're fine, but for us and many others I know, if your child has special needs, is low-income, or--dare I say it--of color, then it's another story. We had problems at Marin School (my son's hats were stolen, but I was told he probably lost them--only when I demanded that something be done, did the principal respond and his hats were returned without punishment to the theif; a teacher called my son lazy to his face, and refused to request testing for his learning disablilities) I know other parents (Chicano, like us or Black, all UCB students) who took their kids out of Albany schools because their needs were not met, and they felt some discrimination. Another UCB student recently requested an application for the free lunch program but was told that there was none because there were no poor people in Albany!
Finally, I decided against AMS because of the resource specialist at AMS. I found her to be usnsupportive, judgemental and discouraging. My son's IEP was not thouroughly followed (he didn't get an in-class aid, or have daily access to a computer, etc). When he progressed slowly, she blamed him for not trying hard enough, me for not working with him (although she never asked what I was doing), and his teacher for being too easy. When we told her that my son wanted to take Spanish in the 7th grade and she gave us a horrified look and said "What a terrible idea!" I told her his teacher thought it would be fine, but she said he would never be able to do it, speaking as if he wasn't in the room! By the time left, he was so discouraged, he said, "I might as well give up if she thinks I'm so stupid." His attitude chanded when he excelled in the MESA Summer Academy, learning 3rd year college Mechanical Engingeering concepts and physics. At Bret Harte, his councilor signed him up for Algebra and Spanish, first thing. I didn't realize I'm still hurt by this!
I have a 12 yr old son at Albany Middle School. We just moved into the area from NJ 3 mos ago. Has anybody had experience or opinions on the 8th grade curriculum, especially re: students only required to have 1 semester of science? In NJ a full year of science is a core requirement for all middle school kids. I also hear there is a mtg on 3/24 with the curriculum director re:8th grade. How does one provide the necessary exposure/experiences in the sciences when the public school is so limiting?
Both of my children took full year science at Albany Middle School. It is my understanding that all students who desire to take a full year of science are now able to do so. This was made possible by a dedicated group of parents back in 1996(?) who petitioned the school board to make funding available for this. It used to be that only 2 classes (60 students) were able to sign up for 2 semesters of science and they had to line up on the first day of registration and hope they were one of the first 60 students to select full year science! I would highly recommend the full year science at AMS not just because it is educationally sound but also because Ms. Sorg is an inspirational teacher who has that rare ability to really excite 13/14 year olds about science. To this day, my high schoolers contend that it was the best science class they have ever had.
As for providing the necessary exposure/experiences? Be prepared to supplement your childs science classes in high school and push (the counselors and your child) to take higher level classes as soon as he can. The regular route through mainstream Albany High science classes (Bio-Physical Sciences (freshman), Biology (sophomore), Chemistry (junior)) may be quite boring after a year of Ms. Sorg in the 8th grade!