Alternative Schools & Independent Study

Parent Q&A

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  • Hello,

    Do any of you know of any small alternative or private high schools that would take an 11th grader who has done poorly academically in her previous school (ie has poor grades)? Looking for something in the Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito, Richmond area.

    Thank you very much in advance for any recommendations.

    The schools I know of are:

    Millennium in Piedmont- they are open to students outside of Piedmont

    Fusion Academy Berkeley (private very expensive)

    Orinda Academy (Orinda)

    Holden High (Orinda) 

    There are also some charter schools such as in NEA in Alameda

    They are all slightly different in focus. Some are free and others very expensive. 

    Good luck!

    My two teens are thriving at Maybeck. It’s academically rigorous but lots of support from teachers and staff. They really want your child to succeed and will develop flexible plans with your kid. Only 125 kids—very small. Lots of support for kids to be themselves! 

    Sounds like you are looking for Holden High School in Orinda. Super small (around 40 students in grades 9 - 12) and very supportive of students' academic and social-emotional needs. My child would not have graduated high school without Holden.  

    I recommend Mentoring Academy in Berkeley.  It is a private, and very small 8-12 grade school.  The learning pace is based on the individual, which is great for my son.  It is a very nurturing environment.  On top of all these, Mentoring Academy is an accredited school that offers A-G courses, which is a UC Admission Requirement.  

    Mentoring Academy has moved to Berkeley, I found them through my nephew who is now at Midjourney doing AI Art!  My son started 2 years ago after being traumatized in public schools, we even tried OSA charter school during Pandemic but it failed him again.  He needed mentoring, one on one tutoring, 40 hours a week with no homework because they helped him at school which helped this single dad!  Mentoring does groups trips to give them experience and helps develop their whole schooling.  If you need to give them a possibility beyond the public schools that are under staffed and lack the ability to help our kids, then mentoring will give them hope they need.  

    Mentoring Academy was a great alternative high school for my son. The head of school, John Muster, really had a good sense of what he needed after a challenging freshman year at another HS. The school is located on University Avenue in Berkeley. 

    I am a parent with a student in Mentoring Academy on Bonita and Berkeley Way in central Berkeley.  The non-profit school is very small and specializes in meeting the student where they are at. My teen had a very difficult time in the more traditional private middle school setting. At Mentoring Academy, he has a mix of both individual and group classes. He really likes the flexibility the teachers have and the social aspects too. Please give them a try. Contact John Muster johnmuster [at] 510-517-6609

    Greetings.  You don't say why your kid is struggling in school, and that's important because some of these small schools do better with certain issues than others.  If you're kid is struggling because of dyslexia, for example, then Bayhill is going to be the best fit.  Orinda Academy can handle mild learning differences (LD) and ADHD, Holden gets kids with mild LD, ADHD and anxiety issues. These two are in Orinda, so not in your area, but they're just off the BART. If your kid is on the spectrum: Fusion, Tilden, Mentoring Academy.  Mentoring is pretty cool, the kids do international trips.   A lot of 2E and gifted kids end up at Maybeck.  These are the private schools that I know of. 

    My kid is at Fusion and just the other day he told me that he thought Fusion was the right fit for him because it eliminated all distractions. This was a real milestone; for a while he hated it because it didn't have all the excitement of a big high school. Now he has friends and things to do outside of his academic life, so he (finally!) appreciates it for what it allows him to do.  Two years ago we didn't think he'd finish school. Now he gets As and Bs.  This isn't a pitch for Fusion, per se, just that for some kids the right environment is huge.  Also, there can be an overlap in what the schools can do, so for example there are spectrum kids or dyslexic kids at all of these schools.  Which one is best depends on what your kid needs.  Good luck!

    It feels like there is a wide range of things you might be looking for. I am a Berkeley resident with an 11th grader enrolled at Millennium High School in Piedmont (note it is a public school). Our challenge at the Berkeley Middle School he had attended was poor performance and pretty limited support from the school (he was not doing well, but doing well enough to pass while fading back and just doing the minimum and a gap growing year by year- just for context on our specific challenge). We would periodically hear from teachers that he needed additional help outside of school but they would continue to give him decent grades and had no interest in coordinating any outside support. Millennium is small (which was a better social fit for him) has some different flexibility on completing work, has small class sizes (at times, I think, as small as half dozen kids- so no fading into the background), and continuity of at least some teachers across his entire time at the school. In addition, he does have access to classes at Piedmont High School, so for the subjects he is really interested and engaged in, he has had some access to more variety.

    Hope this is useful.

  •  Hello, we are BHS veterans looking for an individualized learning environment for our son to complete high school. He is 19 years old which a cut off age for some schools.  He also has learning differences and is hearing impaired.  He is functioning at about a 9th grade level. The pandemic has impacted placement in private school as there seems to be shortage of teachers to serve students. Fusion and Tilden Academy that do 1:1 tutoring are not able to accept him.  Any other options in the East Bay? Is there a space where students whoa re not at grade level can work 1:1 or in small groups and do high school courses?  I've now bought the Keystone Private school curriculum and having him tutored at home.  It's a bit lonely.  If there are any homeschooling parents, I'd love to learn more about meet ups  and other opportunities especially around themes like science in the East Bay.   Thank you!

    Have you tried Connecting Waters Charter East Bay? My son is 8 and goes to their resource center once a week for in person classes. I see many high school age kids there and in looking at in person class availability many are geared towards high school age. Not sure of the age limit, but since they’re a public charter school they accept iep’s if your son has one.

  • We had to pull our 5th grader out of school (independent school in Oakland) for the rest of the year due to unaddressed bullying. We are looking for any advice on enrolling him in an independent study program for the rest of the year. He is way ahead in academics but we'd like him to have some continuity in his record, and we need flexibility in his daytime routine. Any advice would be deeply appreciated! 

    Go to for quick info on pulling out of school and creating a small private school and a button to sign up for their seminar about how to homeschool. 

    Sounds like my 8 year old son’s experience. I also pulled him out of OUSD in November to homeschool for bullying and he’s academically advanced. I enrolled him in Connecting Waters Charter Eastbay. Its been great since he was accepted in January. They provide structure, support, in person classes, and funding for academics and extracurriculars. I had no idea how to go about homeschooling as I went to private school and my husband public school. I felt like I did the wrong thing at first by pulling him out because at first he missed his classmates and even “his bully”, but after 3 months at CWEB, I know I did the right thing for him. He’s so much happier and has plenty of time and energy to do his extracurriculars which he could never do at OUSD. He can’t even fathom having to sit in a classroom and listen to a teacher talk for 5 hours, learning absolutely nothing he doesn’t already know, and getting bullied on the playground and in the bathrooms. I tried to support OUSD for 2.5 years, but their lack of action and concern, not to mention the teachers own personal agenda is not worth my son’s happiness and education. 

    We’ve been very happy with Connections Academy this year (for 5th & 2nd grade). Each child has a teacher and a virtual classroom, with daily assignments and opportunities for daily zooms, online or in person activities. My 5th grader operates pretty independently. Not sure if they’re currently accepting but know students have joined since the school year started.

    Oakland Unified offers a K-12 independent study program--it's worth reaching out to see if there is space at this point in the year. It is largely virtual right now but in pre-pandemic times also had some face-to-face components for students. I'm sorry you and your child are dealing with this!

  • Hello - Our 15 year old boy has been in RTC and wilderness for the past few years. He returned home in March and is doing OK - some bumps but does not warrant another stay in RTC or wilderness. Our problem right now is that because of his history (some oppositional behaviors), we are having a difficult time finding a HS for him. The district cannot offer anything appropriate, Holden has not accepted him. We are not sure to go from here. Any advice would be helpful.

    You might consider Tilden Prep. It is one on one schooling and could be just what you need for the transition period. Fusion is a similar setup. 

    You may want to consider the Floyd Marchus school in Concord. My son with similar issues attends and they are well equipped to work with him. 

    We were lucky that our child did get into an alternative school but it was close. I know many families use Fusion. I toured the on in Berkeley and met with the Director. I liked it. If you can afford it I would check it out. It’s possible if they have a positive experience and transition schools like Holden will consider him next year

  • "Alternative" high schools

    Dec 11, 2019

    Any suggestions for high schools (anywhere in the country) that are constructively preparing kids for a climate change world while simultaneously preparing them to be competitive for traditional college applications.  Maybe school combined with a farming curriculum?  We are curious what is out there that has really thought through revising curriculum to get kids ready for the coming economic/social/etc changes.  Thanks.

    I would suggest you look into Midland in Los Olivos, Ca. It's a boarding school with all the usual advanced classes in math, science, history, etc., but it also has a huge organic farm and horses and the goal of fostering self-sufficiency in the kids. They require all incoming 9th graders to bring their own axe with them for chopping wood! My kid is applying to a handful of boarding schools for next fall and Midland was my favorite of all that we have visited. I think he's probably hoping for the super posh Thacher or Cate, but I would prefer Midland by a large margin. I can't speak to how it actually is to attend there as we have only visited, but I can tell you I was extremely impressed with the kids there and the teachers and administration.

    look into the Putney School in Putney Vermont. I worked nearby at another school for many years. Farming, 

    self-sufficiency, x-c skiing are all part of the curriculum. 

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Alternative for 14 year old who hates school?


Aug 2014


My 14 year old HATES school. She does well in school, is very responsible, but just hates it. She starts getting depressed at the beginning of August, thinking about school starting in the fall. She is basically depressed until June. She hates it all: the homework, the cliques, teachers assigning assignments that seemingly go nowhere (that is, she cannot see a goal or a reason for the assignments), dislikes most teachers and only tolerates other students.... She is friendly enough, but goes through the day in a sort of non-committed way, resenting the whole institution. Part of me wants to shout, ''Suck it up! The rest of us do!'' But the other part of me wants her to be happy, value education and learning, enjoy her day, feel stimulated and engaged....

Is there such a school? A school where she does not have to sit and be bored six hours a day? She goes through all the motions, gets A's, but is so depressed that I am worried about her. She has three more years of high school. This seems to be a SCHOOL issue, as she is not depressed in other areas of her life. She is active in sports, has hobbies that she enjoys, is funny and sweet. But she hates, hates, hates school and it is a dark cloud in her life (and mine, by association).

Any ideas of alternative schools that will not treat her like a robot? Can't fathom three more years of this

One alternative I highly recommend is Tilden Preparatory School (on Solano Ave in Albany, also a branch in downtown Walnut Creek) for middle through high schoolers. My child was there for middle school last year due to a chronic illness and it was a godsend. Students there may be Olympic athlete hopefuls, musical prodigies, have chronic illnesses or learning disabilities, or just in need of a more intellectually-engaging environment --- but each student's classes are tailored to him/her and to his/her schedule. My child took algebra, history, science, english and latin one-on-one with fabulous and stimulating teachers, all with advanced graduate degrees! Wow! It went from a potentially completely wasted year to a year of stimulation and learning, accomplished at his own pace (which was very fast once he was finally feeling better, and I credit sending him to Tilden Prep as part of what finally led to his complete and full recovery). There are full time as well as part-time students, electives like photography, and some academic group classes, as well as optional club meetings and discussion groups at lunchtime. It might just be the stimulating alternative your child could thrive in. Thankful Tilden Prep parent

I really encourage you to meet with the Directors of Tilden Preparatory School on Solano in Albany.

If it wasn't for this school, I'm not sure my son would have finished high school. They truly understand the issues we face with our kids and get why they have lost faith in education.

My son had an amazing one on one teacher named Myles, who connected with him in a very special way. My son says he will never forget him and will always hold him in high regard. I am eternally grateful to Myles and to this school.

I wish you luck as you navigate this difficult time. I wish I had found Tilden earlier than I did A supportive parent

Check out Maybeck High School in Berkeley. Very academically stimulating and has a personal touch. Classes are very small and taught seminar style. More like college than a traditional high school. Happy Maybeck Parent

My heart goes out to your girl. My kid, just starting middle school, found school torturous for many of the same reasons. We opted to homeschool and now have her enrolled at Tilden College Prep, which is also serves high school kids. It is an alternative school in Albany & Walnut Creek that basically one on one tutoring with group electives and clubs. The teachers customize curriculum to meet your child's interests while also meeting standards. They even have AP class options for high schoolers. It is not cheap, but neither is private school, that still has unpredictable social dynamics and hit or miss curriculum. If your daughter is as smart as she seems, she can have less hours with the teacher and work more independently to get through the coursework. They have open enrollment as long as they have teacher availability. Also, you may want to check out support from Jade Rivera. She is a huge advocate for girls that are gifted and are struggle in traditional schools. I believe she has a scholarship option - 4 free sessions - to counsel, support, and commiserate with your daughter. If not, she has a sliding scale for those that need it. I encourage you to check her out: anon

Maybeck High School in Berkeley is the most respectful one I know. The faculty actually treat the students like people who can be responsible for themselves and their own learning - and student representatives are part of the disciplinary system for those who have trouble with that. The classes are rigorous and engaging, the student body is inclusive and diverse, and the students end up feeling both confident in their own sense of self as well as well-prepared for college. Maybeck Mom of 3 Alumni

Not sure if private school is an option or not. I went to Maybeck in the early 1990s and loved it.

I get the impression the school is less ''alternative'' now than it was- more ''college prep'' (even though the academics were amazing when I was there from a stimulation perspective).

But anyway I think people still like it and it definitely instilled a love of school in me- would still be in school but for $$ - JD and LLM later... Class of '93

I'm sorry your daughter's having such a tough time. Check out Maybeck High School in Berkeley. My jock-ish son is a sophomore there and he loves it. I've long been impressed with the strong sense of community and tolerance for every sort of kid; there are goths, geeks, genderflexible, mainstream, foreign exchange students, punks, even an evolution-denying Christian. And they all get along! Amazing, I know.

Tolerance is taught and expected. Community is built from the get go with the beginning of the year all-school camping trip (where there are workshops and summer reading is discussed), and the year end camping trip. All students are expected to contribute, from participating in workshops to washing dishes.

My son struggled with time management his freshman year - he's involved with a competitive sport six days a week - and his grades were flagging. Towards the end of the year, he finally realized that his teachers were on his side; wanting him to be successful, and that their availability at lunch and email updates to me were to help him be successful. What a breakthrough!

And then there are the Special Programs. Every Spring, approximately seven different programs are offered for a two week period. The teachers design and lead the programs. Last year's included a trip to Ashland for the Shakespeare Festival (they went to plays, met the actors, made fake blood, etc), caving in Belize, and more locally, mural making, a photography course (lots of field trips and learning photoshop). The cost of the programs varies quite a bit, but there is financial aid so that every student gets to be a part of an international trip. At the end of Special Programs, the community gets together for ''Slide Night'' - to share learning and experiences and reconnect.

After a year of being a Maybeck parent, I attended the graduation, along with much of the entire school community, and, again, I was floored: Each graduate gave a speech - some short, some long, but everyone was heard and celebrated. There was so much love, and so many amazing, thoughtful, funny, and grateful things were said. This event cemented my respect and affection for Maybeck.

Wishing you the best in finding the right school/community for your daughter.

You might try exploring the vibrant homeschooling world. There are many of us who homeschool our kids for just these reasons and therefore can allow our children to pursue passions and love learning. You might look at which has an east bay campus. She may also be a great candidate for junior college classes. poking around Hoagies might also help, including letting them fly


Looking for independent study program for high schooler

Jan 2010

My 15 year old recently left high school due to acute anxiety and depression. I am now looking for an independent study program so that he can complete high school at home. I cannot afford private independent study programs. Does anyone have experience with this situation, or know anything about alternative ways to educate a high schooler? I have tried Berkeley High independent study program but they are not taking transfers. Mom at a loss

The California Virtual Academy is an accredited independent free public school program. They have a curriculum as well as a teacher who will meet with the student on a regular basis. Here's the link to their website to get you started: They even offer special services, such as speech-language therapy, when needed. Good luck in finding the right match for your son. Frances

If you're looking for public school options, there are two home study charter schools that go through high school, Connecting Waters and Basis. I haven't used them so I don't know any details, but I do know that they both offer a curriculum of subjects you work through at home, with periodic teacher meetings. Jennifer

My older daughter attended 10th through 12th grades at Venture in San Ramon, it is an independent study public school that took us as transfers from Contra Costa county. She had an excellent experience there and is now a college sophmore at a UC. My younger daughter is currently enrolled at Vista, which is an independent study public school in San Pablo. You could check them both out and see if either would work for you. my kids couldn't stand high school either

There's a terrific book that can help guide you in analyzing your child's needs and searching for alternative education methods. It's ''The Picky Parent Guide: Choose Your Child's School with Confidence'' by Bryan Hassel and Emily Ayscue Hassel. A treasure trove of information, it's available from We decided not to go the independent study route and finally found the perfect school for our 9th grader, who loathed traditional school: Envision Academy in Oakland. Search this BPN site for previous postings on this school. Best of luck--your child is lucky to have you as an advocate. Nancy

Considering alternatives to public high school

March 2009

My high school sophomore is at odds with his high-pressure Lamorinda high school environment - he's extremely bright, but not engaged with classes/teachers. He manages decent grades but is working under capacity. He is quiet, seriously into computers and somewhat socially isolated, and had some depression last year which has improved with treatment. I wish we could find a place where he'd get more attention, have less pressure and could allow himself to catch fire with his classes. We might be able to handle a private school for a year or two, or would consider letting him try DVC. Looking for good advice from others who have been here. Also looking for comments on the School for Independent Learners or options such as Bentley in this area. Thanks in advance. Lamorinda Mom

Consider Orinda Academy for your teen. Small class size with a lot of individual attention, responsive teachers, nice kids, accepting community. My son is a sophomore there, and is thriving. Anon

My son, too, struggled with similar problems-- wasn't engaged with his high school classes, spent way too much time on the computer playing video games, and was not very social. He also struggled with anxiety. I took him out of his too large and too hectic high school and he is doing much better at the School for Independent Learners in Albany. The directors, Shary and Karen, are fantastic, and so are the teachers. I wish I'd known about this school when my son first began high school. It is wonderful to see him excited about learning. Grateful mom

If you believe your son is capable of working independently, you might want to consider enrolling him at Venture (, an independent study school which is part of the San Ramon Valley public school system. My daughter hated high school and started at Venture the end of 10th grade, graduated last spring and is now a freshman at UC Santa Cruz. If you would like to know more about our experience at Venture feel free to email me. mg

My son went to Miramonte in Orinda for his freshmen year and became very depressed. The kids were cliquish and cruel. He did like his English class because the teacher, Mr. Lytton, was creative and inspired, but my son was not impressed by his other teachers.

We are sending him to Bentley this year and he has a lot of respect for all of his teachers. Also, he is a guitarist and he is thrilled with the music program. Socially things are OK - not great - but the Bentley administration and faculty take the well-being of the students very seriously. Intolerance and the kind of teasing that goes on at Miramonte is not allowed. It may be a better place for your son - I don't know - it is so hard to know what to do when your child is depressed. I hope things work out for you. Bentley Mom

Dear Lamorinda Mom,
go for private school. Your sophmore sounds like the perfect candidate. I have Three kids, all different, and I have had to research all kinds of school. I would be happy to speak to you and pass on anything information I can. Feel free to email and I will give you my phone no. Tracy

My son has had great success at Holden High School in Orinda. The staff is supportive, understanding and dedicated. The class sizes are small so the students get more attention and are less distracted. There is also a counseling component built into the program. Found to be very helpful for teens. A great sense of community and acceptance is felt between staff, students and families. Check it out at It is the East Bay's best kept secret in our opinion. Best of luck to you and your son. Sincerely, Jane


Independent study or intern schools for bored 14-year-old

Sept 2006

I have a 14 y.o. boy who hust started high school in Albany.He's smart but has a bad track record with motivation and doing work. He states school really bores him and the high school is no exception. If he straightens up with his responsibilities and does okay this year I promised him We'd get him into Berkeley High or maybe Bekeley's independant program. I've heard of ''intern schools'' where the student goes to class 3x a week and then sits in on some college classes 2x a week.I haven't had any luck finding any.So...can anyone tell me of their recommendations,experiences about any of these modes of learning? I would ideally like a combination of independant and classroom work. I don't think I could handle an intense or exclusively home based program.Thanx in advance

You might want to consider Venture H.S., which is an independent study high school, part of the San Ramon School District. My daughter also hated high school, and at Venture she can work independently under the supervision of a teacher, and take community college classes also. Their website is

Check out Urban Renaissance on Stanford near the Oakland/Berkeley border ... (click for full review)

Just a second on Urban Renaissance in Oakland. My older daughter attended a similar school in Napa ...

I am a Co-Director at Holden High School, a small private school in Orinda. We work with students like your son who are bright, but have not enjoyed or have been bored by school. Our school schedule is such that students have flexibility to take community college classes:we have a fairly short school day, and we have a requirement that students take at least 1 community college class. If you would like more information, please feel free to email me, call the school to have a brochure sent, or check out our web-site at It may not be the right fit, but might be worth checking out. Good luck in your search! Sincerely,
Kristin Lamoureux
Co-Director at Holden High School