Berkwood Hedge School
Berkwood Hedge is a wonderful school community in central Berkeley. My daughter just finished kindergarten and I highly recommend the school for you if you are looking for a place where you can become part of a thoughtful, caring and fun community where your child can thrive academically, socially and emotionally. It is a well-run progressive school with a great variety of educational experiences. It is all good: high quality engaging academics, a deep focus on social emotional development, outstanding arts, fantastic caring staff at all levels of the organization, high parent involvement, fun opportunities to develop strong ties with the community. Although the outdoor space is small, it is well managed and the PE teacher is wonderful. The school has strong effective leadership in its director and board. Our daughter has made strong connections within the community (students across grades, the teaching staff, administrative staff, the director and other parents). I feel good every day dropping her off knowing that she is being cared for by people who truly value who she is as a person. M. Parks
I'm aware how competitive independent school admissions are for East Bay Schools, and I'd
like to get the word out about the Berkwood Hedge School in downtown Berkeley.
This school is a hidden gem - and in the time we've been there we've made note of how each
child seems deeply engaged as a learner, and deeply respected as an individual. The
combination of rigorous academics delivered to children by creative and thoughtful
teachers is unique and invigorating. There is no doubt that children at this school feel
well-attended to on multiple levels. The school excels academically - but the focus of
this school is not solely resting on intellectual development, but with development of the
whole child. The intrinsic non-academic aspects of childhood - the needs children have
on social and emotional levels - are given room and attention at this school. You see the
results of this are that children feel seen and safe - and within this can be freed up to
engage as fully as possible as learners. As parents, we witness this at multiple points
during the day - kids huddled excitedly over a book in the library, or working together to
solve a design problem in the classroom, or eating their lunch while they listen
attentively to the school storyteller who is sharing a tale from an ancient culture, or a
child deeply focused on making a sculpture from recycled materials during open art or
writing a story during Writer's Workshop. The weekly Community Meeting, which includes
parents, gives us a chance to witness kids speaking eloquently in front of the group -
sharing their ideas and accomplishments with clear voices and impressive composure.
Its impressive but its also deeply touching seeing kids coming into their own
power with earnestness and authenticity.
There are very few k-5 independent schools left in the East Bay - but this school
preserves the sweetness of childhood, and collaboration and friendships between upper and
lower grades by maintaining the K-5 grades without some of the complexities that 6,7,8th
grades bring to the mix.
If you're a parent considering an independent school education, I urge you to check out
Berkwood Hedge. If you are a parent who wants your child to be seen, cherished, and
helped to learn from the inside out, there's no need to look further.
Thanks so much!
I am writing to recommend Berkwood-Hedge School to you for your son. My child has been at BH for 3 years, and it is a wonderful, engaging, creative and dynamic school. My child, and we, have been very happy. The teachers are kind, intelligent, empathic and teach in a unique and approachable way. There is nothing punitive about the school ! It is a warm and nurturing environment, and the teachers and staff take all and any concerns seriously There is a large focus on social-emotional learning, and there is a focus on positive communication. Each child is seen as unique, and they are met where they are at. There are wonderful art and music programs, which felt ''missing'' when we look at the public schools. The PE program and teacher are great - and the kids have a lot of fun and get great exercise and development of many skills. There have been some changes since we arrived, as a new Director came on, but the school is weathering the changes. The KG teacher, Hanan, is very wonderful and was so welcoming to our family the whole year in KG. I highly recommend you visit the school and take a tour. Best of luck with your process... Lauren
As an African-American woman, I too was determined to find schools that had diversity -- socio-economic, ethnic, gender, and above all, racial diversity. I went to a private school in New England where I was the only black person and I didn't want to mirror that experience for my children. In truth, you aren't going to strike an even balance in any school in the Bay Area. Not wanting my personal experience to shadow my child's, I ultimately followed my child's lead. I saw which schools he felt most comfortable at upon visiting. My husband and I attended the Open-Houses, Science Fairs, Brunch at the PTA's homes (to assess the cultural ambience). We went to Diversity events- if the school invited us, we attended! It almost felt like a full-time job but considering the monetary commitment we were about to make, we did what we had to in order to make an informed decision.
Our end result? We chose Berkwood Hedge. We liked how warm and candid they wereÂ— allowing parents who toured to stop in on any given Wednesday to attend their all-school assembly. We saw a number of African-American and African-American mixed race families in attendance. The head of school is an African-American mixed race woman, one of their math specialists and Dance Teachers (who we learned, danced with the Alvin Ailey Co.) is also African-American, there's also an African-American woman in the office, in the Art Studio, a man welcoming families in the morning. It's a very small school so it was comforting to see so many other brown and black faces around the campus. I am comforted that my son gets to see A. Americans in leadership roles during these early years. He also gets to learn from a number of male teachers and staff. And that speaks to their racial diversityÂ— culturally the school is very diverse with families and teachers from Lebanon, Croatia, Japan, Indian, German, Spain, Israel, Mozambique, to name a few. Of course I only found that out once we were enrolled but I wouldn't overlook this tiny gem. It is known for it's progressive education and student-led curriculum. One year, Spirit teacher, Hanan, saw a growing interest in hair and texture among the kindergarteners. She modified the curriculum to include a unit on hair and pigment. We love Berkwood Hedge. I am not sure where my sons will attend middle school or high school (where the racial diversity is bound to be less given the size of our local independent upper schools but given their experience at Berkwood Hedge, I feel confident that they will walk in to any school with the swagger that Berkwood Hedge alumni are known forÂ— that of a self-assured creative and critical thinker in tuned in social justice issues and academically grounded for success. Mama to a Berkwood Hedger
I would love to hear current experiences of Berkwood Hedge- it seems that there has been a lot of teacher turnover in the last two years, and the kindergarten class may be under-enrolled. Historically I've heard great things about the school, but I'm wondering how the school is doing now, and about prospects for the future. Last reviews on this school were 2 years ago. Thank you!
HI - I am a current Berkwood Hedge parent with a kindergarten (Spirit) child, and can share a bit about my experience. I trusted when we applied and enrolled in this school that it would be thoughtful, creative, intelligently designed program, but I had no idea what a unique and special place Berkwood Hedge is. Now, as our first year in the school is coming to a close, our family's hopes and expectations have been exceeded. The culture of the school supports learning in the broadest (and most specific) senses - and I have seen children enthusiastically learning about an impressive array of topics with genuine curiosity. And while the ''hard knowledge'' is impressive - this is not where the only value of the school resides. The culture of this school - and the community as a whole - is smart without being rigid, sensitive without being sentimental, and creative without being loosey-goosey. The children at this school are a solid bunch, and I hold in my heart and memory many moments of kindness that I've witnessed between various students (not just my own). The Berkwood Hedge environment seems to support students feeling their own passion to learn, their capabilities to grow, and their knowledge that they are in a community that truly supports them as individuals. It's quite remarkable, and we feel lucky to have our child learning in this setting.
The school has, indeed, been in a time of transition. From my angle as a new parent, this transition has had little impact on my experience or my child's experience. The staffing changes have not left me holding worries in any way about the school's sustainability or future of ongoing excellence. A Berkwood Hedge Parent
Hi there - I am the mom of a current K kid -so what I can contribute is limited in scope, but I hope it will be helpful nonetheless.
Overall, we are very happy with the school. It actually has exceeded our expectations in terms of providing a safe space for socio-emotional learning in addition to academics. If you have a spirited child (as we do), it's definitely one of the few schools that know how to support both kid and parents. The teachers are competent and confident, and very motivated to work with the parents. That was a breath of fresh air for us with our ''troublemaker'' and helped us take new approaches to parenting as well. In addition to that, the breadth and depth of the academics is quite impressive and has kept my kid engaged and motivated to continue learning. He also blossomed in areas I never thought possible, such as art and dance.
Staff turnover can appear disconcerting from the outside. However, the school has taken time to reach out about each transition and subsequent selection process of new hires. This transparency has truly inspired our confidence. Happy BH parent
Our son has been in the kindergarten class at Berkwood Hedge this year. We toured a number of schools and ultimately chose BH because it felt like a very warm, loving environment and we were impressed with the work we saw the kids doing. We have not been disappointed! The director, Love, is very caring and approachable. We've met with her several times about our son and it's clear that she's very attentive to the individual children and cares about their needs. We've had a wonderful experience with his teachers as well. I've been a teacher myself for years and I don't think I've ever met a teacher who is more patient and gentle than Hanan. We really see the effect that this kind, nurturing environment has on the children. The older children really look out for the younger ones and all of the classes mingle and play together. Our son is sure that everyone at BH cares about him. After two challenging years in preschool, he has come to love school - and nothing matters more to us than that!
There is some staff turnover this year, but it's less to do with the school than with life. One teacher got married and is moving to another area. Another teacher is retiring. They will be missed, but we're very happy with the teachers the school selected to take over their classes and feel confident that the school is as strong as ever. a very happy Berkwood Hedge parent
We have had a wonderfully positive experience at Berkwood Hedge. We have two children who are very different from one another in terms of their interests and academic needs, and both of them absolutely love their school. I think that the most important thing an elementary school can do is to help children love learning and feel confident in themselves as learners and as people, and this is perhaps the biggest strength of the school. As my children progress through the grades I am seeing the payoff of the school's gentle approach to supporting children to become mathematical thinkers, writers, and critical thinkers about a whole host of key issues in the world. My children are getting an extremely well balanced education, with art, dance, drama, music, and PE treated as core subjects rather than as ''extras.''
Berkwood Hedge is a kind and gentle place, and that also matters tremendously to my children. They feel completely safe and loved by teachers, students, and families.
It is true that there is going to be significant teacher turnover next year, and given how amazing the teachers are and how much each individual teacher's input matters at such a small school, no one is happy about this. But the people coming in as head teachers are all current or former teachers at the school in different capacities, which is likely to make for a pretty smooth transition. They have all shown themselves to be top notch teachers who share Berkwood Hedge's values and goals.
We feel lucky to have found Berkwood Hedge and feel that our children are having a wonderful elementary school experience. Happy BH Parent
As the parent of a Spirit (kindergartener) at Berkwood Hedge, I can say that I have been thrilled with the year we have had. The Berkwood Hedge community is an extraordinary one that values every member of the community and truly supports all of our children. The teachers and the whole staff are wonderful and so involved in the lives of all of the students, not just the ones they personally teach.
Recently we had the pleasure of attending the end of year dance and music recital as well as ''family fun night'' as first timers. Both were amazing experiences. To witness our children and their peers expressing themselves so joyously and unselfconsciously during the recital took my breath away. To see them rally in support of each other - winners and losers - at family fun night made me so proud of our community. Our children - all of the children at Berkwood Hedge - know how to love, honor and support each other. Social justice and inclusion at its very best.
I cannot speak for the past and though things do change, I can whole-heartedly express my belief in Berkwood Hedge and fully expect a bright future for our family there. - Berkwood Hedge parent
My daughter is just finishing kindergarten at Berkwood Hedge. I cannot say enough about what a happy year it has been, how joyful and eager my child is to learn, and what a special place Berkwood Hedge is. (She recently complained that snack and lunchtime are too long because they don't get to learn during those times!)
It is a beautiful environment, where kids of all grades interact and support each other personally, and in learning and creativity. The teachers are amazing, unbelievably responsive to any parental questions or concerns, and fantastic at meeting the kids where they are and fostering curiosity. We've watched as our daughter's confidence has grown as she has learned both academically and socially. Kids are really nice to each other and parents, and open discussions happen with the kids when needed to help them make good decisions with how they treat others.
A very thoughtful approach seems to be taken with all decisions at the school, so while it does seem like a time of some changes at the school, we have not yet been adverseley impacted by any of the changes and are not worried about them. It's a truly special place for both the kids and the parents, and I'd think pretty hard about passing up an opportunity to send your child there if you can. Happy Berkwood Hedge Parent
Both historically and currently, Berkwood Hedge is a great school. Our family feels really lucky to have found it. It supported our shy, very academic firstborn through the older grades and sent him off to middle school as an open-minded, curious, confident, and kind kid. Our youngest is still at Berkwood Hedge and has become an incredible reader, writer, activist, buddy to younger students, and basketball player while at school. The teachers are amazing and while we are losing some great ones for a variety of reasons, we are also getting some fantastic new additions.
Two new lead classroom teachers for next year have already been at Berkwood Hedge this year. My son has had one of them as an assistant classroom teacher and as a Spanish teacher; he adores her and I've very been impressed by what he has learned with her this year. Next year he will have an amazing teacher who is returning to Berkwood Hedge after several years of training teachers and supporting children's literacy. I just happened to meet a woman whose adult son had this teacher when he was in second grade and this mom, 20 years later, couldn't stop gushing about what a fantastic teacher she is. My kids have had excellent teachers every year at Berkwood Hedge and I feel completely confident that will continue.
The school is a special place and you can feel it when you are on the campus. The year is nearly over, but call the office if you would like to come for a tour. Or visit the Facebook page for some quick snapshots -- pictures and stories -- of the types of things that make the school a wonderful place to be. Hope you'll join us! A happy parent
I have nothing but praise for the staff and community of Berkwood Hedge School.
Having completed our first (Spirit/Kindergarten) year as part of this community, I feel grateful to form part of such cohesive, inclusive, loving and comprehensive group. My child is thriving, not only because of the staff support and the thoughtful pedagogy, but because the entire community has as its goal to serve the children's educational, emotional and developmental needs. It is more than just a school. We see it as an extension of our own family in terms of philosophy and values.
As any family can experience, change is inevitable. However, we as parents, dwell not on the reasons why a teacher may have had to move on; but on how the school and community handles the replacement of such teachers. We appreciate the involved process which includes parents and staff.
I am thankful to have such a loving community caring for my daughter's educational, emotional, social and developmental needs - as well as our own as parents. Rod
Kindergarten enrollment varies from year to year. This year the school had so many kindergarteners that the school had to turn away applicants for next year's first grade. So while there is definitely room right now for next year's kindergarten, I wouldn't see it as a sign of the health of the school. There are some recent teacher changes (one moving across country to get married, a retirement, etc.) but the school has generally filled the lead positions from within, maintaining the continuity of the curriculum and program. The retiring first grade lead teacher's role is being filled by the current first grade co-teacher. Our daughter is in first grade this year and we've seen first-hand that she's terrific and will do a great job as the lead teacher next year. At parent-teacher meetings we notice how thoughtful the teacher's evaluations are; they show that they really "get" who our child is. Our daughter has been very excited about math this year and picks up concepts quickly, and the school's approach to differentiated learning has meant that she has gotten extra challenge that she was ready to take on. And while our child had a hard time with transitions or diving into group activities in preschool, the small school size has suited her well, and she now will stand up to do a short presentation at the school's weekly "community meeting." We've had a great first two years and are looking forward to our daughter's next year with the excellent second grade teacher. 1st grade parent
I am a current Berkwood Hedge parent of a first grader and I can say wholeheartedly that we have had an incredible experience over the last two years. We were looking for a small school that values diversity, social justice, environmentalism, and social-emotional learning in addition to a solid academic curriculum. What we didn't anticipate was being welcomed into a school community that is thoughtfu and deeply caring. My child has developed friendships across grade levels and it is not uncommon for younger children to develop friendships with children in 4th and 5th grade. The children are enthusiastic and there is a culture of caring and collaborative problem-solving that extends through the curriculum into the play yard. While the school has had its share of changes, I have been impressed with the thoughtfulness of the response and it has not affected the positive experience we have had at the school. We are grateful to be at Berkwood Hedge and to enjoy being in such a supportive community.
Re: Schools that foster creativity?
I strongly recommend that you have a look at Berkwood Hedge. My son is in the Kindergarten (called Spirit) class and he has many of the same interests as your daughter. The Berkwood Hedge School is a school that truly nurtures creativity. They have a stellar literacy program that includes storytelling in the oral tradition (BH actually has an on-staff storyteller who tells stories to the Spirits and anyone who will listen during lunchtime each day), a fall Storytelling Festival, a Parent facilitated library, a Readathon, and the list goes on. My son came to Berkwood Hedge telling stories but his pacing and cadence has changed so much (and we're just half way into the school year)! He has evolved from wanting to dictate the stories while I type them to wanting to illustrate them and attempt to write the dialogue (much like a comic).
A few months ago, my son decided that he wanted to be an elephant and to wear his elephant helmet to school (he's worn Papa's tie around his waist once or twice because he wanted to have a tail). I explained to him that it likely wasn't allowed and he could show his teacher prior to entering the classroom but she would probably ask him to remove it. We arrived and the incredibly wise (and almost ethereal), Hanan, greeted us with a chuckle. She rubbed his head and said, ''Aren't you the cutest little elephant. Come on in!'' The day was not over and I braced myself for the end of the day to pick up a little boy who was crestfallen by all of the ridicule, elephant hat stuffed in his backpack, traumatized by the cruelty of elementary school children. Instead I had the sweetest little elephant run into my arms, all smiles, eager to tell me all about his day. He had a number of ''big'' kids say hello to him on the way to the gate (ageism just isn't an issue at Berkwood Hedge-- the children all play together and the Spirits are paired up with a 5th grade (Fire) buddy that they work with once a week).
Formal acting, if I'm not mistaken, isn't introduced until the 4th grade and a production is put on in the 5th grade. But if your daughter is in fact anything like my son, she is always in character. The Spirit class has costumes and the children are welcome to wear them and play during ''Free Choice'' time. I can go on and on but you should just visit the school for yourself. See the children's art on the walls, and in the classrooms. Check out the library. A plus if you can see Elisa, the math specialist in action-- talk about innovative methods of teaching! My husband and I are extremely pleased with what a rock solid and well rounded education our son is getting. Creativity is intermingled with the academic curriculum. Instead of being something extracurricular, the arts are part of the learning process ie. counting beats during music is a lot like learning syllables in class and both involve counting and written symbols (letters and music notation). I am witnessing my 5 year old make those connections! I can't explain it, the faculty at Berkwood Hedge just GET it. But again, you need to see for yourself! Mama to a Creative Spirit
Please come visit Berkwood Hedge in central Berkeley at Bancroft and Grant! It has been a great fit for my art-loving boys and I've been blown away by the exposure and experiences they've had to storytelling, descriptive writing and poetry, and drama. In K, the kids got deep into poetry (learning about how poets look at things in fresh ways, experiment with how and where they place their words, and ''show'' rather than tell with their language) with a variety of class readings and amazing writing of their own. Music class happens twice a week, but is also incorporated into the classrooms (the great new 2nd grade teacher loves to sing with the kids), community gatherings, and afterschool enrichment offerings.
The studio space is lovely and the kids get to do amazing things with clay, paint, photography, fabric, and more. Open studio during lunch allows kids to build and create with found objects. The annual community storytelling festival (Telling Tales) held each October brings incredible performers and storytellers to the school and inspires the kids to write and perform themselves. And the 4th and 5th graders get weekly drama classes. The 5th graders actually have drama twice a week and write their own play (!!!) that they put on in May. Please come for a tour or Open House to see for yourself! In addition to inspiring creativity, this great school has dynamic teaching overall and fosters a warm and inviting community. Sarah
Walden vs. Berkwood Hedge?
I'm overwhelmed by the sheer number of schools that need touring! I am wondering if I can narrow down some of the schools... can anyone give me their perspective on Walden versus Berkwood Hedge? I've toured one (BH) and really liked it, but am wondering if they are very different... should I bother with the other? Thanks. Overwhelmed and Low on Time
Berkwood Hedge and Walden are similar in size but are quite different programmatically and academically. I would encourage you to visit Walden so you have something to compare it to. BH is a progressive school firmly rooted in developmental practices. They value the documentation of learning both in the classroom (displays of work, student made books, presentations), as well as in the thorough narrative reports that parents receive each year. Depending on what is important to you and what is right for your particular child, your choice will become clearer after you have the opportunity to observe and examine them both. Good Luck!
Walden is great, especially for younger kids. There's a lot of running around wild, no shoes, and lots of general sassiness. The downside for us: no director, so when we had serious issues with a teacher -- and that teacher is a ''big personality'' -- the other teachers didn't go to bat for us (or for our child). Our kids did get a lot of art instruction, but as they got older, there was a huge amount of stress placed on them and their ability to perform onstage. Lots of drama there.
Berkwood Hedge has a much more balanced, professional, tantrum-free environment. There is emphasis on the arts and on working cooperatively (both kids and teachers), and they have a director who is able to hear concerns in a non-loaded way and thus really help families. The kids are happily engaged, active learners. Ask to see both school's handbooks. -Done both
I can't speak to Walden, but have found Berkwood Hedge to be a wonderful school for my 2 kids. They started there in K & 3rd and so now after 2+ years at the school, we've had exposure to all the classrooms. The teachers are outstanding -- innovative, thoughtful, and inspiring. The new Director was hired in an impressively transparent process (parent participation was welcomed and encouraged) has been an outstanding addition to the school. She had big shoes to fill (the retiring Director was also an inspiring leader) and has done so with both respect for what came before her and fresh ideas. As you picked up on at the Open House, it feels great to be at Berkwood Hedge. It is a supportive, respective environment that values the excitement of learning and makes you feel welcomed into the community. Hope you will join us in the fall! A happy BH parent
One of the reasons we chose Berkwood Hedge was that the teachers are so solid across the grades. There is a cohesiveness to the school while at the same time individual teachers are able to bring their unique gifts to the table. And the new director, Love Weinstock, has been embraced by the community and is so right for the school (though we did also love Jane Freedman, now retired). Berkwood Hedge and Walden are both small, long established Berkeley schools, but our impression after visiting both was that they are quite different. I see great reviews of Walden but we feel we made the right choice for our family. Happy Berkwood Hedge Family
My son started kindergarten (the Spirit class) this fall at Berkwood Hedge. Initially, we weren't quite sure what a ''progressive'' education entailed. I gathered that my son would not be singing the national anthem every morning and filling out ditto sheets like I did as a child. But I wondered what their process for learning was and I wondered if it really worked. What did, ''meeting a child at their level'', really mean? Shouldn't there just be a bar and children strive to reach it?
We also had quite a bit of concern about kindergarten being dubbed as, ''the new first grade''. We wanted our son to be challenged but not pushed. We liked the idea of education being, not so much the thrusting in of information or memorizing multiplication tables, sight word flash cards, etc. We also weren't interested in learning for the sake of learning. We instead felt that education should be the bringing out of what is already in the child. My son entered as an early reader and he could do basic addition and subtraction with the use of manipulatives but I was quickly beginning to see that he was already in this rut of scratching the surface of a topic and then asking, ''what's next?'' There was the danger of him getting bored easily or in him only reading, writing, or counting in order to impress adults. We want him to love learning, to dig and to thirst for it. Not because we say so or because we expect it of him but because he has a very personal and profound need for understanding. We wanted a school that would be willing to take what a child learns and put it in context.
First and foremost, ''meeting a child at their level'', means that the Berkwood Hedge faculty are seeing and treating your child as an individual. the teachers at Berkwood Hedge recognize that there is no on-size-fits-all formula when it comes to education. We process information differently. We know that there are a number of possibilities to, ''sum equals 10''. Whether it 's 7 and 3 or 6 and 4, we still arrive at 10. Likewise, there is in fact a bar (we'll call it ''10'') and Berkwood hedge is committed to seeing to it that every child meets that bar and working together as a community to figure out just how to make that happen. Trying to discover what combination will yield that, ''10''. I think that what differentiates Berkwood Hedge from many of the other schools that we visited is that the ''bar'' isn't fixed. BH doesn't run the risk of academic performance being ''standardized''. As soon as a student has reached 10, he's being posed with the next challenge, ''sum equals 20''. ''Meeting a child at their level'' applies to everyone. At Berkwood Hedge, students who are advanced in a subject aren't given paper and crayons and asked to draw until everyone else has caught up (something that I dealt with as a child in public school).
Berkwood Hedge has already kindled my son's interest in learning. He tells me things in spanish. When we go to the library, he beelines for the non-fiction juvenile section for books on insects. He wants to know what is at the center of our planet and he makes drawings of ''other solar systems that we've never heard of''. Where blocks were once used for building structures for habitation, he now builds ships (that you can sit in) creating triangular bows. He tells me that he ''honors'' me for making the family such a great dinner. He's learned that Zev is a boy's name that means wolf and that it comes from a place where people speak Hebrew. He wants to know more about that place (it's on the map in his classroom). He is growing so much as a young person. he was very shy and I can already see him coming out of his shell. Last week he came home with a library book from the school library. I asked him who he went to the library with and he replied, ''I went by myself. I just gave her the book and told her my name and she checked it out for me''. The library is open during lunchtime-- a time when my son just wants to play-- so hearing that he elected to go to the library during his lunch break , floored me. Berkwood Hedge is his school and it is intimate enough that he knows everyone (students in every grade, teachers, and administrators alike). Our family could not have wished for a better school! A Spirited Mama
Re: Hands-on, no-homework private/charter elementary?
The description of what you are looking for in a school fits very well with what our family has experienced at Berkwood Hedge. The biggest strength of this school is its teachers, every one of whom seems beautifully in tune with both individual children's development and the social and emotional needs of groups of children as they progress through elementary school. It is a place where both children and adults can bring their passions and interests into the curriculum. My third grader has come home recently discussing the impacts of plastic downcycling on what can be reasonably recycled, and he was the person who made sure our family watched the presidential debate so he could better understand the U.S. political process. But as important as those topics are, and as passionate as he has become about them, he was even more excited about creating Balobbyland, an imaginary world for centimeter tall creatures (and in so doing he became more fluent in multiplication and measurement). The teachers really ''get'' children, and this is evident in the excitement with which the kids take up challenging projects and ideas.
Art, music, and PE are treated as necessary and important parts of education rather than as extras, and my children love all of their specialist teachers (in addition to those three, there are also Spanish and environmental science specialists).
The social environment of the school is really sweet, both because the school is small and because of how the teachers work to support social development. My kindergartener comes home telling me about her third grade friends. The fact that a crew of third graders will happily play with the kindergarteners at recess (and teach them how to braid, do cartwheels, and a host of other things) is both surprising and heartwarming to me. There is a real sense that everyone at the school cares for everyone else.
You mentioned preferring no homework, and there is in fact some at Berkwood Hedge. But I'm a no homework supporter myself, but I don't find the limited homework inappropriate or overly time consuming. The teachers use homework judiciously, for specific purposes. Good luck in your school search! I hope you find a good match for your family as we have for ours. Happy BH Parent
Re: so many good schools to choose from - which one?
Greetings, I'm a parent at Berkwood Hedge (of a second grader and kindergartener). I saw your posting and can only speak personally about Berkwood Hedge, and we've been so impressed by the combination of strong academics, the social justice curriculum, and the arts, I don't know where to begin! Berkwood Hedge really specializes in an integrated curriculum that's tailored to each child's specific learning needs. My kindergartner did a study on hair earlier in the year, which incorporated children's literature with hair themes (involved many variations of Rapunzel); music (a rap about keratin); math (the students graphed hair types, made a chart); science (each child examined their own hair and their classmates' under a microscope, then drew depictions of what they saw, followed by scientific discussions about the structure of hair molecules); and art (each child created multi-media self portraits with a focus on their hair.) My 2nd grader is currently delving into fractions, recording various numbers and parts of numbers found around the house. She's also dissecting owl pellets to learn what owls eat. They both LOVE reading!
Every fall, the school embarks upon a storytelling curricular unit, bringing local storytellers into the classroom and sponsoring a storytelling festival with internationally renowned tellers. Daily lunches are accompanied by a storyteller (my daughters know more Greek myths and Coyote tales than I do!) The tie-in to reading and oral communication is emphasized; the school really works on helping each child find their voice in writing, in speaking, in the conflict resolution and social justice that's practiced on a daily basis.
The community is amazing. The school has one class per grade, but the curriculum and many school-wide programs are designed with a mixed class focus. My kindergartner has a 5th grade buddy and a 3rd grade reading buddy. ''Sign-up'' workshops allow 2nd graders to play chess with 4th graders, 1st graders to learn soccer skills with 3rd graders. Please feel free to contact me if you have any other questions. Sincerely, Julia
We are currently at Berkwood Hedge School and love it. Yes, the storytelling at lunch time is wonderful and is part of a very rich literacy program at the school (including an annual storytelling festival). Vera Balarin, my 4th grade son's math and science teacher, also teaches at Black Pine, and is beloved by kids and parents (I think you will find math and science at Berkwood Hedge to be excellent). Academics in general are very strong at the school while still very tailored to individual children, balanced with a focus on socio-emotional development. I also love that there are many opportunities for the different age groups to interact in synergistic ways, including reading buddies, open art studio at lunch, and periodic mixed aged workshops where kids can choose different learning experiences. Graduates are often described as kind, confident, critical thinkers and problem solvers. Teachers and administrators are loving, talented and smart, and the parent community is welcoming. Less visibly, the school is one of the most established, well run and respected by educators. Really, it comes down to what your heart tells you is the best fit. If you haven't already, please watch this video of parent and student voices: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5sshcRSbT9M Happy to talk more if you'd like. Jodi
My family was at Berkwood Hedge for a while. BH has a lot of nice things going on due to some very active parent committees and some teachers with outside interests that they bring into the school. I believe they are sincere about their social justice mission. They also have some nice traditions, like the Wednesday am all school meetings, that go a ways toward community building. For the most part I liked the faculty and the parent community. The school has a warm, nurturing vibe and my kid loved it there. Now for the bad: We and some other families felt there was a problem with cliques (among the parents). A lot of people, us included, thought the school was a bit soft on bullying, with different definitions of what that meant. There seemed to be a consensus (that I agreed with) that there were communication problems between staff and parents. I saw one teacher get angry and yell at a parent from the doorway of the classroom--apparently there have been issues with this teacher before. It made us wonder if the teacher could be fair and impartial with the kids. There's a learning curve to being a parent with a kid in school, so sometimes it's hard to see what is a problem with the school and what is just normal adjustment. Anyhow, wherever you go, you'll probably like the school and learn to live with what you don't. They're all good schools with solid reputations. Livin' on the curve
Our family has been part of both the Black Pine Circle community and the Berkwood Hedge Community. During our time at each school, we've been pretty involved. We left Black Pine Circle and are currently a part of the Berkwood Hedge community, which tells you something already. We are SO happy with this school and are heartbroken that our time with the wonderful families and staff at BH will have to end at the end of next year when our daughter graduates. In our dreams, Berkwood Hedge would extend through the middle school years.
You mention math at Black Pine Circle. What I'll let you know is that our experiences there in the lower grades demonstrated no real challenges in the areas of math for our child, or other humanities for that matter. What we saw was that the exceptional math experiences at BPC occur in the middle school. Our daughter never really felt challenged by either math or reading while at BPC. The explanation we were given when we asked was that the teachers needed to bring everyone together to a similar level. While at Berkwood Hedge, our daughter has been given an overall understanding of math that my husband and I wish we had been given at her age. She hasn't just memorized facts - I'm sure you know that's the easy part. She's actually learned how numbers work together and can play with that knowledge.
You also mention that you'd like a larger community. I'm afraid Berkwood Hedge, as it only covers 1st through 5th does not fulfill that desire. I would describe it as a small, tightly knit, yet VERY welcoming community. Black Pine Circle had a much larger community.
Finally you also mention that you'd like your child to be "seriously challenged in the humanities." I'm not sure how to specifically address this. But I can tell you that when we chose to switch schools to Berkwood Hedge, we knew we were getting a truly diverse, progressive caring community. What we didn't fully realize our daughter would get is an education in how to write that has surpassed anything I've seen/experienced elsewhere. This school creates mature and confident writers of both fiction and non-fiction. I wouldn't be surprised if any of these children went on to become published authors, they certainly are given the foundation for it. One thing you may not know about is the "Book This Evening" program put on by the Library Committee every year. Each year an author, and sometimes author/illustrator is invited to speak to families and children. It's been a great event, and after the last visit, my daughter was talking about it for weeks! I hope this helps you understand a bit more about Black Pine Circle and Berkwood Hedge. -Berkwood Hedge Parent
I have a kindergartner at Berkwood Hedge this year and I wanted to speak to the part of your question about how the school academically engages and challenges its students.
My husband and I were originally drawn to the developmental curriculum of the school, and continue to be impressed by it as we experience it day-to-day.
One thing that has stood out to us about our daughter's literacy development this year at Berkwood Hedge is that she has been encouraged to write what's in her mind, to be courageous in what she tries, and the result is that she now sees herself as a writer (and, in turn, a reader).
Our daughter had been very excited about learning to read and write in kindergarten. Pre-kindergarten, she could write her name and read a few sight words. Yet within the first few weeks of school, she began to write messages when she wanted to tell us something, such as ''Les go! Mama Nau! Ples!'' when trying to get me out of the house to go to the park. She then began reading all of what she was putting down on paper, and telling us enthusiastically, ''If you can write, you can read; if you can read, you can write.'' Just this last weekend (mid-way through the school year), she wrote a story that included phonetic spellings of ''trail'' (her attempt was ''trele''), ''suddenly'' (sudinly), ''diamond'' (dimind), ''sparkled'' (sporkld), ''magical'' (majikl), and ''oridnary'' (odunere). What has stood out to us about Berkwood Hedge's approach has been that she has steadily grown in her literacy skills while experiencing this work as a meaningful activity in authentic communication and expression.
We've had a similar experience with what she has learned in her math skills. She enjoys it and understands key concepts that have been introduced to her for the first time at Berkwood Hedge (for example, understanding how to count by looking at groups of numbers, 5+5=10, so 5+6 (or 5 + 5+1) = 11).
I continue to enjoy observing how the school teaches (and feel that I learn in the process as well). The school also provided a comprehensive written report of our daughter's literacy and mathematical progress mid-year (in addition to a parent-teacher conference), which was very helpful to see. (There will be one more conference and written report for the second half of the year).
There's much more I could say - positive experiences with art, music, P.E., storytelling, content of the themes explored in class, afterschool care, parent community, field trips- but I wanted to share one part of our experience related to how the school has challenged and engaged our daughter academically.
Best wishes to you as you make your decision about which school feels like the right fit for your child. It sounds like you have many good choices! Happy Berkwood Hedge kindergarten family
It depends on your child. For our child (as well as our family) attending a small school was a wonderful experience. He attended Berkwood Hedge School, a small private school in Berkeley, from K-5. He came away with solid academic skills, a deep awareness of social justice and lifelong friends. The staff members of small schools are well aware of the areas that can become problematic for certain kids. They are well versed and highly skilled. It's good to remember that enrolling in ANY school - big or small - requires a certain leap of faith. Best of luck to you! Small School Fan
Re: Private or Public School for 5 yr old speech delay
I'm sorry you are having a hard year. Please check out Berkwood Hedge School in Central Berkeley (www.berkwood.org). Here's a video with parents talking about their kids' experiences at the school, including the school's ability to meet kids where they are with their learning and allowing them to learn at their own pace. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5sshcRSbT9M It's one of the most established, well run, highly respected by educators and not terribly well known schools in the Bay Area. My child is thriving there. Jodi
Just a couple of things to consider as you make your decision. First, if you have not already, insist that your child be tested for an IEP (individualized education program). You should do this in writing. The school must provide such testing within 60 days of your written request, free of charge (if you do this via a private educational psychologist it is very expensive). If the testing reveals that the child has specific learning difficulties, the school must provide services.
Second, it is probably best if you choose a public school -- perhaps even remaining at your own with the IEP in place. Public schools must provide any special services your child needs (e.g. speech therapy, occupational therapy, learning assistance, etc.) free of charge, based on the testing. Most private schools do not provide any such services -- you would have to provide them yourself at extra cost (on top of extremely expensive tuition). It's possible that you could still get the services from the local school district, but then you would have to shuttle the child to and fro.
My child had an IEP around handwriting issues. He received both resource help and occupational therapy. The nice part was, students went in and out of the classroom for all sorts of things -- music lessons, resource help, computer practice, etc. No one took any notice of it, and there was no stigma attached. I didn't have to take him anywhere special, it was just a regular part of his day. It helped him enormously. Karen
Re: Private schools in Berkeley
Our daughter loves her school, Berkwood Hedge. We have found a wonderful community of thoughtful, compassionate students, parents, teachers, and administrators. This is a school that really lives by its progressive mission statement to the fullest! One of the things that always inspires me is hearing the students honoring their teachers for great lesson plans or fun homework at our community meeting, which happens every Wednesday morning. Kids love coming to school, and I often hear a parent report that their child pretends they are not sick, because they don't want to miss school!
We also appreciate the small size, one class per grade level with up to 20 students in each grade, about 100 students total, because it means the students, teachers, and parents all know each other and create relationships of trust long before the child may even be in that particular teacher's class. The small size also allows for a lot more freedom and mixing of class levels, which a lot of the kids really enjoy. This school really feels like an extended family that is supporting our children as they begin their journeys in elementary school.
Since you are moving from Spain, a close-knit community might be really helpful while you get settled in Berkeley.
Berkwood Hedge is very committed to providing financial assistance, and many families receive financial aid, so it would be well-worth applying for assistance. http://www.berkwood.org/ Tamsen
I'm looking for comments on Berkwood Hedge School, there doesn't appear to be anything recent in the archives. We are considering it for our son who will be entering Kindergarten in the fall. We like how the school presents itself, but does it really walk the walk? anon
Our family has been very, very happy at Berkwood Hedge. We chose it because it felt creative, the classrooms felt alive and the kids seemed engaged. Over the last couple of years we have found this to not only be true, but that we also appreciate so many other things about Berkwood Hedge. Unlike many schools that seem to start with a traditional education model and add interesting aspects, Berkwood feels like it started with a clean slate and consciously picked educational curricula, activities and philosophies that are kid-centered and engage the students in their learning in meaningful ways. The school successfully builds community, raises awareness of the kids' place in the larger society, and helps shape them into responsible citizens of the world. We feel the school is very accurate in how it presents itself. pika
We just landed at Berkwood Hedge from the Waldorf School in Baltimore Maryland. We had thought that we'd do a seamless transition to the East Bay Waldorf school but found that they were not anything like our beloved Baltimore Waldorf school. We were in a panic, because were were a mid-year transfer of two to 3rd graders, and needed a school FAST.
From the start, Berkwood was kind, accommodating, and had no problems with accepting our son, who has been DXed with anxiety. They got our kids in, in a matter of days. Yes, they do walk the walk, in spades. I had to put our kids in after care, because they do not want to leave at the end of the day. I can't imagine a better environment than that.
We adore it for it's wonderful social community. Our kids have dropped in and integrated in the school with ease....and it's only been a couple of weeks.
That said, remember that no school is forever, and if you find that it's not right for you, you can change schools in 1st grade. Wendy
Berkwood Hedge definitely ''walks the walk'' and more. I have three children -- the youngest is in kindergarten and the oldest has moved on to middle school, so we have been involved in the school for a long time now and we love it.
My three kids could not be more different -- socially and academically -- and each one of them thrived/is thriving at Berkwood Hedge. The teachers really see each child as an individual and helps them along their own learning and social paths. All of my kids access the developmental curriculum with confidence at their levels -- one kid is very strong academically and she is challenged and so happy and the other has learning disabilities and he is confident and excited about learning and is making great progress.
I also can say that my oldest moved on to a big public school and is doing so well there. He has the confidence to navigate the typical tricky social situations and contributes a lot in class even though he is shy. He was very well prepared academically and handled the increased homework and test-taking with ease.
There is so much more to say, but we couldn't be happier with the teachers, the staff, the strong community, the curriculum, diversity, etc. If you want to talk more the moderator can give you my contact info. Happy Berkwood Hedge Parent
As a parent of a happy 3rd grader at Berkwood Hedge School, I can wholeheartedly say that the school walks the walk! Berkwood Hedge has a decades-long track record of providing a solidly grounded developmental, hands-on education to kids and is a safe, fun, exciting place for kids to learn and grow. There are also many little things that I have come to appreciate that weren't much on my radar going into the school...at lunchtime: a storyteller who engages the kindergartners so they sit and eat before running off to play, an ''open art'' studio, ''sign-ups'' where kids choose 4-week sessions which run the gamut from science experiments to crafting to aikido, a ''mix-it-up'' lunch every few weeks which enables the different grades to mingle. There is a Wednesday morning meeting where the school community gathers for announcements, honoring, and usually a song learned in music class, and I am always impressed at how confident and articulate the kids are, even the youngest ones. The staff and teachers are loving, kind, smart, experienced professionals, and they are interesting people who are engaged in the world. And they all know each child's name...how nice is that? Jodi
hi there. not sure what you mean by 'walk the walk'. if you mean, do they prepare the kids well academically and socially? yes, they do. bh kids are accepted just about any middle school their parents want them to go. there is a lot of teaching that goes on in and out of the classroom about diversity, tolerance, fairness, and kid power-style conflict resolution techniques. if you are talking about social justice, there's an active diversity committee with lots of education events, social justice concepts in teh curriculum, etc. so, depending on what you are looking for, yes, they walk the walk. it's a very warm, sweet nurturing little school. it's the one my kid chose when we were doing the tours. bh mom
Our kids (grades K and 3) are new to Berkwood Hedge this year following our move from out-of-state over the summer. We were looking for a school that would be a good fit for both our kids (and their unique interests and skills), would provide a welcoming community for our family, and that would support and foster that wonderful ''love of learning.'' I'm very happy to say, we made a great choice. It still amazes us how smoothly our kids transitioned to Berkwood Hedge. They are, very visibly, happy, engaged, and excited about school.
Other pleasant surprises that we've found about the school include:
- The diversity (racial, economic, family structure, etc.) among the families and teachers is amazing for such a small school.
- The ''buddies'' are great. As a new family to the school, we got a buddy family that welcomed as as soon as we arrived in Berkeley. Our Kindergartner beams when describing his time with his 5th grade play buddy, 3rd grade reading buddy, and his ''senior buddy'' from the North Berkeley Senior Center.
- All the staff (and many of the kids and parents) know our kids by name and by their interests. Wow -- no wonder they feel so comfortable!
- It takes a lot to be a Bay Area Green Business. Berkwood Hedge is conscious of, and careful with, its use of resources (water, electricity, paper, etc.) and teaches this stewardship to its students. I love that homework papers are always double-sided or printed on reused paper. My kids LOVE the reclaimed materials available for their art projects during lunchtime open studios on Mon/Fri.
- Our kindergartner is joyfully learning to read (he had no interest in even learning all the letters prior to the school year) and our 3rd grader is learning strong research skills and becoming a great writer.
- Our sport-phobic kids love P.E. at Berkwood Hedge. We appreciate that it physically demanding in a fun, supportive setting.
- Our kids are getting more Spanish in school than we expected. It is taught directly by specialists, but also woven into the day by classroom and after-school teachers.
- ''There are no mean kids.'' It seems too good to be true, but that's what our kids say. We think it speaks strongly to the proactive oversight of the teachers, the student-involved conflict resolution program, and the nature of the school community.
We know that there are lots of great school options in this area, but Berkwood Hedge really does seem outstanding. Hope we will see your family there in the fall! Sarah
My son is a 2nd grader at Berkwood Hedge and we could not be happier with the school! He is thriving academically and emotionally. It is truly one of the most progressive schools I have seen in action, where learning is in depth and meaningful. The school community is welcoming and the teachers are wonderful. We have never questioned our decision to send our child to BH and couldn't imagine him at another school. I could go on and on...it really is as great as it seems!! Cara
We have had our daughter at Berkwood Hedge for 3 years. She is thriving in the supportive environment. The community of families is stimulating and warm. The teachers are attentive, and typically have been at the school for many years, which provides the students a sense of stability. We give the school our highest recommendation! cc
I am not sure what walk you are referring to, but I am happy to share my family's experience at BH. We have been at the school since kindergarten. Good things: small student body; the students and teachers all know one another and respect one another, the small campus also makes it easier for the staff to keep track of the kids and intervene when necessary (not so at our preschool where all sorts of naughty things were happening on their lovely large campus). Racial diversity is well represented in the student population. The teachers have all been great for my child, I haven't always agreed with them, but I feel my child has been extremely well supported emotionally. Reading is really encouraged and the school has all sorts of activities to promote this and lots of books in the classrooms. Social learning is big too, kids learn how to work well with each other. The biggest plus for us though is that each child is valued for who they really are. Really. By the time they graduate from the school the kids are happy and quite comfortable with themselves. All the 5th graders participate in creating and presenting a play where they get to shine as - themselves!
Things that need improving -the social justice curriculum is a little vague to me. If you live in Berkeley your child will get a fairly large dose of that kind of curriculum in any school. I was hoping that as the kids got older they would do some service projects, get out in the community a little, but that hasn't happened. They are still sorting out the enrichment programs-there has been a different music teacher almost every year we have been at the school and at this point it is a disastrous program. Spanish as well has been unfortunate, they are trying something new now that I think has promise, but it was just instituted this year, so we shall see. BH follows a developmental model, so if your child wishes to do more academically it can be hard to get support to move at a different pace than the rest of his/her classroom community.
All that being said, the BH community is a very loving and caring group of people. We were looking for a small school that nurtured our child's individuality and valued a wide range of social and learning styles and perspectives, and that BH has done in spades. Whenever I have gone into the classroom the kids all seem to be actively participating and engaged at levels that are comfortable to them. BH mom
Berkwood Hedge is a wonderful school. We transferred my daughter to BH after kindergarten at Berkeley Arts Magnet. Marti, the first grade teacher, was very sensitive to my daughter's needs-- she's shy and not very good at transitions-- and by the end of October, my daughter was quite gung-ho about BH. My husband and I were also warmly welcomed; we appreciate and enjoy socializing with the other parents of my daughter's class.
Now my daughter is in 4th grade, and is running into social anxieties as she wakes up to the greater world of girls' alliances and cliques. It hasn't been easy at home these past weeks; she's not sleeping well and seems to be more self-critical. It's downright painful to see her go through this. I am very impressed with the way that Erica and Vera, the two fourth grade teachers and the fifth grade teacher, Marianne, have been willing to meet with me to help me sort through what is going on and how best to deal with it.
Last year, too, there was some stuff along these same lines and when I brought it up, Seema (3rd grade teacher) was very pro-active in addressing the issue as an issue for the whole class-- not only my daughter's. Over the year she actually changed the class dynamic; the lines that divided the class blurred and everyone began to play with one another more readily.
The teaching at BH is very solid. My daughter has some trouble in math; they've identified that and separate her from the general class regularly for special attention.
And last week, for five days, one hour per day, the fourth grade students were treated to puberty class (P.C.). My daughter was nervous beforehand but by the end of the week, she'd changed enormously. She's now excited about entering puberty. Amazing. The teacher is an outside hire, Ivy Chen, and she's wonderful-- funny, accessible, tremendously informative. On Friday, my daughter came back from school and immediately sat down to send Ivy an e-mail! Yoko
Re: Elementary schools where African American boys thrive
it's just sad that parents of children of color still have to worry about these things. i had the same fears for my (dark- skinned) latino son. he's just started kindergarten at berkwood hedge and we're both happy.
the class is diverse and curriculum reflects that. the staff keeps its ear to the ground so it can address any social issues that come up among the kids and the curriculum is flexible enough that it can accomodate many learning styles and skill levels. the dedicated math teacher and art teacher are both african american, and there are other minorities on the staff.
when i went throught the process last year i remember wishing there was a school which had the kind of flexibility and great academics where all the teachers and kids looked just like him ( and where the teachers weren't demoralized becasue of the budget cuts). in the end the curriculum won out. there is also an argument to be made against keeping kids in a monoracial environment: the world just isn't that way.
anyway, it was sad to read about your friends' experiences. hope you find the right place for your son. anon
Re: Peaceful, Kind, Elementary School in Oak/Berk???
It's great that you are spending this time to consider the nuances of how the culture of a school affects the experience of your child. I am writing to suggest that you visit Berkwood Hedge School in Berkeley. We are very happy there, as are our children. We do not have a television in the house, and we also limit media, but we don't fall into the ''wooden toys only'' group. The families there are a lovely mix of caring, responsive parents with thoughtful, engaged children. It is a small school, so when a situation arises where feelings get hurt - as is bound to happen in any school - the teachers and staff are quick to respond. Even the kids pipe in, sticking up for each other. There is a lovely conflict resolution program that the kids really take pride in utilizing, and the culture of the school is truly one of kindness. One of the overarching tenants of the program is social justice, but this isn't rammed down anybody's throat - it is simply a common thread in the curriculum that shows up in age appropriate ways. Caring for each other, whether it be your friend who is having trouble listening in class, a group of people less fortunate that you, or recognizing the importance of taking care of the environment all come into play.
There are certainly families there for whom popular culture is a prevalent part of their lives, but it's my take that the majority of the families (the structure of which is quite varied) choose to keep images of violence out of the scene. We've never had a problem there. In fact, of the 9 various schools we've been involved with (we have 3 kids and have moved two times over the years), we find that Berkwood Hedge is by far the best fit for our peaceful family. Ask if you can attend one of our weekly Community Meetings - I think it gives a great sense of what the climate is like.
When you visit various schools, try to spend time talking to other families. You will always find families who aren't happy at any school you go to, so you have to really trust your own feelings about the place. I know families who have left Berkwood Hedge for various reasons, and I know families who have come to BH and have never been happier. Only you can make the best choice for your own family.
Good luck with your decision. These are important years for both you and your child.
All the best, another peaceful parent
Here's a plug for Berkwood Hedge school if you are looking for a wonderfully nurturing educational environment for your child with chronic medical conditions. There are a number of children at our school who have various syndromes and chronic conditions including type I diabetes, severe peanut and dairy allergies as well as mild disabilities. As a parent of a child with multiple medical conditions, our family has found a haven of support at Berkwood Hedge. The teachers all got on board to educate themselves, staff and students about our daughter's conditions without stigmatizing her. This experience has normalized her emotionally as well. She feels really cared for and attended to, but not coddled or infantalized because of her diagnoses. She's a normal kid at this school have a very loving and well rounded educational experience. Laine
Re: Academically strong and liberal private school
Berkwood Hedge, a K-5 school in central Berkeley, seems like an excellent fit. The academics are awesome--full of substance and creativity. For example, recently the entire school had a week-long geography ''teach-in'' during which each child carried a passport, traveled to classrooms transformed into other countries, and was challenged to think about big questions, such as how nature affects culture. The kindergartners are called ''readers'' and ''mathematicians'' and keep a ''writers' journal,'' all of which helps them believe in themselves academically right from the start. During lunch, a storyteller weaves tales for the children (it helps them sit still long enough to get some nutrition!). Although small, the school has math, science, Spanish, art, music, & P.E. specialists. Often, half the class goes to the specialist at a time, which allows both the group with the specialist and the group with the classroom teacher to get lots of attention. At a Community Meeting on a Thursday morning, you can join in songs about peace and social justice, hear announcements about community service and the ongoing efforts as a ''green'' school, and see for yourself that neither the staff nor the parents value looking like Barbie or Ken dolls. It's a loving and supportive community. We've been very pleased.
Amy (Berkwood parent)
Please share your experiences about the aftercare programs and lunch/recess times at Aurora, Berkwood Hedge and Park Day schools. Is there enough adult supervision? Is teasing or bullying noticed and adequately addressed? What happens on a rainy day? Are younger children separated from older children? What do you think about the quality of afterschool enrichment programs? Thank you for your responses to any of these questions as to any of these schools.
Grateful for Your Thoughts!
The Berkwood Hedge Aftercare staff is lots of fun, caring, warm, responsive and responsible. The administration and Aftercare staff are also very helpful when I need to reach my son in an emergency or because of a change of plans.
During lunch times, teachers stay with the children to make sure that children eat something before they go out to play. Many children also like to eat their lunches listening to a couple of staffers who are excellent story-tellers.
The afterschool enrichment programs are excellent. They are optional, so kids are free to just play if they wish too. The afterschool programs include Homework Club, Steel Drums, Capoeira, Spanish Club, Chess, Sport League, Crafts, Cooking, Wheel day and South American Ensemble. Most programs are included with the Afterschool fees.
The Aftercare is also offered during Spring Break, Winter Break, etc. In addition to on-site activities, there are usually some field trips to parks or museums. When my son was young, there was an all-day trip in which he got tired and fell asleep; I learned that one of the staff actually carried him during the walk back.
Younger children tend to play in the sand/play structure area; older children play mostly in the ''big yard'' area. Because of the buddy program which pairs older kids with younger ones, younger children like to hang out with their buddies at times. Because all the kids know each other, I noticed that children look out for each other wherever they are, at school or during field trips. These friendships even extend after BH years.
There's always sufficient adult supervision, In addition to the afterschool staff, teachers and the administration also keep an eye on children as they come and go. Teachers know each child in the school by name. Also, many children know who is whose parent :) Teasing and bullying are noticed and adequately addressed by the afterschool staff and/or teachers. There's an active conflict resolution program and all the staff is trained.
When it's raining during afterschool, they do activities such as crafts, cooking, board games and free play in the Multipurpose room. I believe that if it's only a light drizzle, kids with raingear are allowed to play outside. This is a great for my very active son; keeping them indoors at any sign of rain is too restrictive in my opinion.
Berkwood Hedge aftercare is a fun, safe place to leave my son. Kids enjoy it so much that they don't want to leave! If you'd like more input about Berkwood Hedge Aftercare and/or Teachers, don't hesitate to contact me.
Re: Central Berkeley Schools
I just heard that the Bay Area's most wonderful private school- BERKWOOD HEDGE- has some openings this fall! For girls in K and first grade especially. Anyone even vaugely entertaining the idea of private school in Berkeley would be wise to jump at this opportunity and get more information! My son is a very attached, emotional child and kindergarten was a real concern for me, but we got a spot in kindergarten last year and feel it is the best (and hardest) decision we ever made. Every day when I pick Julian up from school I am amazed at how happy and peaceful he is. He is inspired to be creative and helpful and kind. The school feels like an oasis in this hectic busy world, not just for him but for us as a family. The whole staff is amazing, and we have had only positive interactions with everyone there, but I must say, the kindergarten teacher is the absolute best in the world! Berkwood Hedge has a strong focus on social justice, and I see my son internalizing this. He is compassionate in his relationships, and thoughtful about the wrongs he sees in the world. He's learned SO much more than reading and math there, his heart sings and buzzes with ideas and opportunity. What a great way to start a career in school!!! We don't know that we'll be in Berkeley forever, but I know that with each passing year that he gets to be there, he's more ready for life in the mainstream. His confidence builds every day. Berkwood Hedge is one of the most diverse schools in the community, with students from all over the world, and offers very generous financial aid to folks who qualify... Why not look into it? It could be the best decision you ever make too! Berkwood Hedge can be reached at 510-883-6990, or if you email me your phone number Id be happy to tell you more about the school and our experience there. There is hope in schooling after all! Becca
I just want to let people know how pleased we have been with Berkwood Hedge School for our son, age 7. He's a loving and sociable child who is strong-willed and opinionated, loves figuring things out on his own rather than being shown or told, and who is not particularly ''bookish''. He can be a handful in the classroom! Berkwood Hedge's emphasis on ''developmental learning'' -- their motto is ''respect for children and how they learn'' -- and on social justice issues are perfect for him. I've spent a lot of time in his classroom, and I see this approach also suits children who are quieter, more academically inclined, more artistic, etc. There's lots of space and support for individual learning styles. The teaching is top-notch, the curriculum stimulating and well-designed, and the community of parents, children and staff genuinely caring. It has a strong and effective commitment to ethnic and other kinds of diversity. We also appreciate the after-school program, which is staffed by some terrific folks, and is well-integrated with the school's educational curriculum and development philosophy. Overall, it's a great school. Jane
Re: Pros & Cons of Cooperatives
The parent commenting on the potential disadvantages of communication and conflict resolution when dealing with teacher cooperatives has a good point, but mistakenly lumps Berkwood Hedge in this category. Berkwood Hedge is no longer a teacher cooperative. Starting in the fall of 2001, the old Berkwood Hedge teacher collective was dissolved and replaced with a new admnistrative structure comprising two full-time co-directors and a board of directors. In terms of my family's personal experience, we have one daughter who graduated from Berkwood Hedge 3 years ago, and another daughter who is in her final year. Our experience in communicating our children's needs to their teachers has been excellent, regardless of administrative structure. Our eldest is now at Julia Morgan School for Girls, where she is thriving, both academically as well as emotionally. We attribute this in part to the wonderful and nurturing (and rigorous) education she received at Berkwood Hedge. Lisa
Four Reasons Why Our Kids Love Berkwood Hedge
1. Excellent, caring teachers who know our kids extremely well and inspire them to learn. Small class size (teacher and aide for 20 kids). Strong integrated curriculum, with good breadth and depth, somehow made magically creative too. For example, a unit on shoes taught our 2nd grader not only math (multiplication, estimation, measurement), but also science, social studies (which shoes from which culture, who doesn't have shoes and why), as well as writing about and drawing shoes.
2. Many specialists: music, drama, Spanish, art, great P.E.
3. Diversity and strong parent community.
4. Fun before-school and after-care programs.
Every morning, our kids greet the day with big old smiles on their faces because they can't wait to get to school. By the end of the day, they have lots to tell us (and teach us). They're excited about learning, and - best of all - they're learning how to learn for life.
Can a parent ask for anything more? Simon
I wanted to encourage parents of incoming kindergartners who are interested in finding a small school with strong academics, a commitment to the arts, and a wonderful sense of community to take a tour at the Berkwood Hedge School. My son is a kindergartner there now and I can honestly say that I am constantly amazed at how happy and motivated and excited he is about learning and school! We looked at a half dozen private schools as well as the public schools in our''zone'' (Malcolm X and John Muir)--we definitely feel we made a good choice. Please take a look and see if it's right for you! Happy kindergarten parent... dvd
Berkwood Hedge School is a great place. The staff really ''walks their talk.'' The school has a long history of being committed to creating (and maintaining) diversity in the school community. I think they were actually the first integrated school in Berkeley (long, long ago, of course)! It's worth taking a serious look at. Good luck! BH Fan
Our two kids go to Berkwood-Hedge. Two of it's primary committments are to diversity and social justice and they fulfill both with enthusiasm and grace. They have small classes (15-20 children per class, each with a teacher and an aide), a solid academic program and also music and arts. The banner on the front of the school reads ''Respect for Children and the Way they Learn,'' and here again they definitely ''walk the walk.'' The three teachers our kids have had have all been miracle workers. There are many single parents and families of all configurations, and financial aid is available. High quality before- and after-care are available at the school. Parents are required to participate in some school activities which contrubutes to a feeling of community, and are welcome to participate in the classroom as much as they want or need to. There are even families who live in Hercules and Pinole. One drawback is that it only goes up to grade five. I give it ''five stars.''
former homeschool parent
We just went through the whole public/private school search last year. Ultimately, our son was accepted to Berkwood Hedge and we feel very lucky and grateful that he is getting such a great start in his education. There are many things that I love about the school, but it really comes down to an incredible teaching staff and an extremely supportive administration. Throughout the application process, we always felt important to the school and they sincerely cared about making sure that they were putting the right group of children together in the classroom. The results of this care have been apparent since day one. We have a great group of kids and parents, and all the children play well together. In our class there are twice as many girls as boys and this has resulted in the kids not segregating themselves by sex during recess and after school. I have been really happy to see this and hope it continues.
In terms of the academics, I feel that the education our child is getting is exactly appropriate to his age. His teachers are amazing and I can see him learning math concepts and reading because they make it FUN, something I feel is extremely important. I really didn't want him to be getting drilled on this stuff, especially not in Kindergarten, so I was very sensitive to this sort of teaching when we looked at all the schools. Berkwood Hedge also offers Spanish and art classes, with specialists and taught in smaller groups, and this part of the program has been incredible for our child. He actually told me the other day that he wants to grow up and be an artist like the art specialist at his school and teach other children. (I would not be surprised if he did end up doing that since his paternal grandmother and aunts are all artists.)
Good luck. I would be happy to discuss this further if anyone has questions.
I have two children at Berkwood Hedge - a girl in 1st grade and a boy in the 3rd. We are extremely happy with the school and are beginning to see the special effects of sending our kids to this unique school.
Berkwood Hedge has helped my children: learn to trust others (adults and children), be open to all kinds of learning opportunities, make connections across artistic and academic disciplines and love asking questions and searching for answers. They both love going to school, learning and have a strong network of friends from the school. This week a child in my daughter's 1st grade class suggested they write Pres. Bush about stopping the war. The school cares deeply about social justice. The school is small and so active with many programs! Most importantly, no child will slip through the ''crack'' at BH - every child is an individual and all the kids/staff/teachers know every child. The school strikes a very good balance (for us_ between child-centered/artistic/emergent curriculum and meaningful academic learning. They were able to both challenge my boy who started Kindergarten reading, and inspire my daughter to read this year. The learning is truly individualized for every student. My son has a mild physical disability, and he has never been labeled, teased or hurt by his differences. Instead, his interests and love of reading has given him the self-esteem to create good friends and not be limited by his issues.
No school is perfect, but this school has made signifcant changes over the past 2 years to stabilize the changing administration, attract fabulous teachers, and keep the soul of this progressive urban school as a priority. We love the diversity, the strong arts orientation, and the passion for education that is shared by all of the families, teachers, staff and students. The community is small, caring and commited to so many of the values we as a family also hold. This is truly a very special school. My kids see their school community as an extention of their family. My children are very different from each other and each has unique strengths and challenges. elizabeth
I would like to offer comments on Berkwood Hedge (BH) in response to a request for feedback on parent experiences at the school. My second grade daughters go to BH, and they both love their school. BH is a fairly small school, but it offers a great deal to the students. The second grade curriculum is rich and includes music, art, PE, Spanish, drama, and an elective, in addition to reading, writing, mathematics, science, etc. Students get plenty of individual attention, and emphasis is given to integrating social justice issues into every day learning. Students take field trips that provide good learning experiences, cultural exposure and fun times. The student population is diverse--much more so than in many (most?) of the area public schools, it seems to me. The teachers my daughters have had have been top notch as well as kind and loving individuals. From what I have observed and heard, I expect their teachers in the older grades will offer the same quality of educational experience. BH is a community, a safe world in which young students are nurtured and encouraged to explore the world of ideas in ways that follow their natural curiosity and support their growth and development. If I had a magic wand, I would make it so that all children could have the educational opportunities that students at Berkwood Hedge have. Check it out Donna
I would agree that Berkwood Hedge is a good school, but only for the first few grades. Our daughter had a marvellous social and educational experience at BH until the upper grades (4-6, with 4th grade being "o.k." and 5th and 6th damaging). The problem is with the social setting, where the teachers refused to take any action to protect the children who were "earmarked as vulnerable" (read: different, inventive, non-conformist), and actually told us, "We like to let the kids work these things out." It became such a nightmare for our daughter that we finally had to remove her from the school. The damage done her was enormous. She had been socially abused, excluded and ridiculed, while the teachers stood by passively, later, blaming the children and accepting no responsibility themselves. It took the better part of 6 months of therapy, absence from the school and about a year of home schooling to return her self-esteem, her intellectual confidence and her fear of groups of other children.I do not damn the entire school, as I said. If you would like to talk about it, write to me at. Tobie
I am a parent of a 2nd grader and 5th grader at Berkwood Hedge (I also do admissions there.) To suggest that it is the policy of teachers to allow abuse and let kids "work things out" is very unfair. Children are expected to work things out in the sense of being responsible for their own behavior and their own role in a given situation. But no one is allowed to be abused, and in fact the culture of the school is quite the opposite. No one here allows the "normal developmental stages" of teasing to go unchallenged. Children here don't need protection from their peers because we don't allow children to be singled out.
We start in kindergarten teaching children to understand that we are members of a diverse community, and that all of us, no matter what, deserve to be treated fairly. No school is perfect for everyone, and I'm sorry that this child's experience was not a good one. But to suggest that the school is bad for children in the upper grades, that the environment is damaging, and to imply that this experience is the norm is unfair and does a great disservice to all the families whose children thrived here and continue to do well in middle school, high school and beyond. Again, I'm sorry this child had a hard time, but to suggest to others that their children will have the same experience is quite misleading. Carla Riemer
My 6 yr old son started Berkwood Hedge this past fall and loves it. They emphasize diversity of every kind in their recruitment of students and appear to be very sincere and concientious about it. Their emphasis is on being able to express oneself through verbal skills and writing as well as problem solving. Teachers seem to be concerned with giving the kids the tools one needs to learn rather than rote memorization. We've been very pleased about our son's enthusiasm for school as well as his progress. I have met the kindergarten teacher (Rachel) and wish I had started my son there in time to have her. All reports I've heard about her say she has an incredible way with the kids. Kay