Holden High School

Community Subscriber
Private School
42 students
kristinl [at] holdenhigh.org
10 Irwin Way, Orinda, CA 94563
Program Type:
Alternative school,
Special needs support

Is your child struggling to fit into a mainstream school setting? Imagine a school your child actually wants to attend. Holden is an alternative high school serving grades 9-12. Holden offers engaged academics and a low stress environment. Holden is a safe haven for students looking for a purposeful community and support for future steps. Holden is the small school making a big difference! 

Parent Q&A

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  • I am looking to hear current feedback, info, opinions, experiences with Holden High School in Orinda. My Teen is struggling academically and socially in public high school and we are looking for alternatives. Thanks!

    My child is currently a senior at Holden and has attended since Fall of freshman year. Before that we had struggled with public school and even homeschooling, but it was not at all clear how our child would be able to graduate high school because they wouldn't attend any of the schools we tried. Holden has been a lifesaver. Their first couple years were amazing in terms of attendance and achievement. They hit a rough patch in the Fall semester of Junior year and missed about 6 weeks. The Holden staff were really great in working with us and not giving up on our child. They are now on track to graduate in the Spring. They have a small group of close friends. We really couldn't ask for a better high school experience for this particular child. I am happy to talk with you further about our experience. Email me at francesmontell [at] gmail.com

    I am not personally familiar with Holden High School, but I am familiar with Orinda Academy (OA) in Orinda. OA is a small independent high school. As a parent I appreciate the support of the OA community – the teachers, staff and administration take the time to get to know the families and most importantly each individual student. They recognize that each student has their own approach to studying and learning and they work with each student to accommodate their needs and develop a learning plan that is challenging. The community provides a safe place for students to be who they are and encourages students to explore their interests. OA is focused on preparing students for their future by encouraging students to advocate for themselves, by providing learning opportunities outside of the classroom through Educational Adventure Week and clubs, as well as offering music and art programs.

Parent Reviews

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Try Holden High in Orinda.  It's small, artsy and flexible, and can support learning differences.  My kid is dyslexic and also 2E and he loved it.  We left the area, but we know kids who went there who were dyslexic, had anxiety, OCD, and ADHD.  It's also near the Orinca BART, so easy to get to by public transport. 

This sounds like it could have been written by me back when my daughter was in high school.  After my daughter who meets this description almost to the T tried a few other school environments, she finally landed at Holden High School and it fit her like a glove. 

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 just said the same thing to a different parent with different but I think it applies to you too:   I hope you’ll also look into Holden High in Orinda.  My daughter went to school there and it was a wonderful environment for her.  Your daughter’s issues are different, but all students there get a huge amount of individual attention from a deeply caring staff, and benefit from the work they put into making the school a safe, welcoming place for all the kids.

It's been a few years, but my son had an amazing experience at Holden High school. I swear it was designed with ADHD students in mind. All assignments are posted on a board in the central hallway, copies of handouts are available in filing cabinets in the computer room, and there is lots of direct support for kids to manage their own homework and projects. My stepson absolutely thrived at Holden, moving from constantly anxious and stressed (poor guy had to do summer school every year for5 years) to confident and capable. 

I would be happy to share more about our experience with you if you message me. 

You may want to check out Holden High School also. It’s a very small school but it provides a lot of individually focused support. It was a good alternative for our son with ADHD and social anxiety. We were able to get BUSD to pay the tuition for Holden using a great lawyer. 

Run don't walk to Holden High School.  The school was a lifesaver for my 2E out of the box academically, now in college, curious young adult who couldn't manage public high school.

Holden High School in Orinda might be a good fit. Very small (about 40 students total, grades 9 - 12) but not 1-on-1. Classes are around 5 - 12 students each. They are very responsive to learning and mental health needs of all kinds. My child went there for all 4 years and did very well. 

Though I have little experience with Bayhill or Orinda Academy, I highly recommend Holden High. It is small, extremely supportive and many kids are like yours. My child is really beginning to thrive, is highly engaged in her classes and has found kind, supportive friends and teachers

Please check out Holden High in Orinda. My teen with mental health challenges, after trying several other high school environments,has thrived there.  My teen feels supported there and valued. The distance learning curriculum at Holden has been great as well and includes weekly therapy, ongoing support from an academic advisor and community meetings. The school even offers family therapy and parents support groups, all included in the curriculum. Holden has been a lifesaver for our family. 

I second the suggestion for Holden High. My teen went there all 4 years of high school, graduating last spring. You won't find a more responsive and supportive place for a teen struggling with the issues you describe. If you contact them, they can put you in touch with a current or recent parent who can talk to you about your specific situation. Good luck to you and your daughter! 

Hi, really sorry your daughter (and you) are going through this. One of my closest friends enrolled her daughter in Holden, and she has found it a really supportive environment her teen who has a range of mental health and academic challenges.

Could look into Holden High in Orinda.  My friend's son with ADHD, anxiety, and depression went there and had a good experience, graduating a few years ago.  I went to see him once, because we were meeting for coffee at a local cafe (and he got the time wrong), and there was a kid outside playing the guitar and helpful kids inside.  At the time they opened a few hours early and the students could hang out in the lounge.  

My teen just graduated from Holden High School and I highly recommend it for your daughter given what you've described. It is very small (40 students total for grades 9-12) and extremely supportive. My child is also very bright and struggles with anxiety and depression. If it weren't for Holden, I'm not sure how they would have graduated from high school at all. Check them out at https://holdenhigh.org. 

Please check out Holden High School, a small school in Orinda that provides extra support for students with anxiety or depression, as well as a manageable work load. Our son just graduated and Holden was a wonderful, transformative environment for him, where he learned to handle his anxiety and thrive. The school is small (40 students) and provides a small, nurturing community where each student is seen as an individual. One of the school's co-directors is a licensed therapist who supervises interns who provide weekly check-in sessions for every student.

The school attracts students who are looking for a small, personalized high school for a variety of reasons. Dealing with anxiety and depression are just some of the reasons students attend. Students who want to explore independent interests, take community college classes, learn through practical experience, or explore the arts all find a place at Holden. There is a learning specialist on staff, and the small class sizes (3-12 students) ensure that learning differences can be easily accommodated. Students can also take advanced classes (or extra honors work) in different subject areas, and while receiving additional help in another subject area. Homework battles disappeared, because there are homework labs in the school day to complete a lot of the work, the workload is reasonable, and the school encourages students to take charge of their own learning.

Finally, Holden was well-prepared to transition to zoom-based learning, and had switched to zoom-based classes in mid-March. No one knows at this point what the fall and winter will bring, but Holden will be well-positioned to provide a caring, personalized, and effective learning environment for high school students during the pandemic and beyond.

Please feel free to contact me personally if you'd like more information about the school. I recommend Holden wholeheartedly!

he school has a licensed therapist on staff (one of the co-directorwho pro

Try Holden High School in Orinda. This alternative school offers part-time “elective class only” options to supplement home school or independent study students who want some group activities with their peers. Our son goes there in their full time program and really enjoys it.  

Have you checked out Holden High School in Orinda? They've got small class sizes and lots of different electives. Lots of the classroom teaching is project based learning. (I'm not sure about all of their tech offerings, but I do know they have a ProTools class that teaches digital music production, and a photography class.) 

The kids at the school and the staff are super friendly and very inclusive. Maybe schedule a tour to see if it vibes with your family? 

Holden has been a god-send for us (says this avowed athiest). My stepson was struggling in high school, academically, emotionally, you name it. We knew we had to get him out, no matter what.

Holden is small, which might not be foe everyone, but has worked well for him. Classes are very small, seminar-style, and students have a real sense of agency and involvement. All assignments get posted on the hallway bulletin board, and copies of handouts are available in the computer room. Feedback on assignments turned in comes primarily in gaining or losing lunchtime off-campus privilege. This might be challenging, but there is no centralizes tracking of grades and assignments for parents to track -- responsibility lies with the student, who has so much support from both teachers and their assigned counselor. (Parents can always call in and ask, but students are empowered. Such a change for our ADHD, never-turn-in-work kiddo.)

My stepson spent a day at the school, and surprised himself by how strongly he wanted to go there, even though he would have to leave a pretty strong friend group at his local high school.

I would be happy to talk off-line if you have questions.

Holden High School in Orinda.  My kid sounds just like yours.  Holden is a private, college prep school that provides a calm, nurturing therapeutic environment and individual support and works closely with students (and parents) to ensure that they fulfill UC A-G requirements, if that is their goal.  Reasonable tuition as private schools go, and some financial aid available. 

Great, supportive environment for kids who aren't having a good experience in larger public or private schools. Students receive lots of individual attention. Holden puts a lot of emphasis on being a close-knit, accepting, and tolerant community. Small classes, flexible curriculum, highly-trained and experienced teachers. Really a gem of a school within walking distance of Orinda BART.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

  • Editor Note: Holden High School was known as Contra Costa Alternative School prior to 2007

Dec 2015

Re: Unmotivated, unfocused bright 16 yr old boy who hates cookie-cutter school

I feel for you and your son; I speak from over a decade of very similar
stories - my daughter is currently enrolled in her senior year at
Holden, and two years ago my son graduated from Holden as well. This is
not a cookie-cutter school; the outstanding staff continue to amaze me:
they make an indisputable difference in the life of each student that
attends. Equally as impressive is the peer group; the kids are able to
connect in a profound way that enables them not only to become
self-motivated, but vastly more important, the relationships enable each
student to experience a feeling of belonging in this truly unique
community. I wish that every child was given this same opportunity to
learn, to succeed, and to mature; what a different world we would
Kim W

May 2015

RE: Unmotivated & lost, but smart, at BHS...

My son, also smart and active in sports, became lost after attending Oakland public schools since K. There are so many reasons high school is challenging for teens. We felt he needed a smaller school environment and Holden Alternative High School in Orinda came highly recommended. There he found his love of learning again; in a very individualized, nurturing environment; and discovered his passion for life after high school. Worth checking out, Holden could be a good fit. Parent of now happy and independent high school graduate

Sept 2014

Holden High School saved our family. After my daughter's horrible Intermediate school experience we began looking for an alternative high school. I luckily found Holden High School in Orinda (formerly Contra Costa Alternative School). She ''shadowed classes for a day and fell in love with the school. We've had some ups and downs with her for the first 2 years and Holden's staff is so involved and understanding. Our entire family has benefited from the ''Holden'' experience. The staff know how to teach those kids who find themselves not fitting in at the traditional high school. I teacher an a District Alternative High School in my area (Lamorinda) that has an independent study program through the public school. I can see how these kids need help and attention. My daughter does better in a more socialized environment the the independent study program and Holden is a wonderful fit. Some have said the academics are not up to snuff with the Acalanes district standards. What I have found is that you get what you are willing to put in. If you want to work hard you can. I strongly encourage those families looking for an alternative high school to consider Holden. My daughter is a senior looking at colleges and has blossomed into a wonderful young woman. Holden is a lifesaver and life partner to their students and families. K.

Feb 2014

Not every kid fits into the mainstream educational system of Lamorinda. Whether they misfit socially or academically, Holden has created a place where they will fit in. Our son has attended Holden for just over a year; the transformation in him has been unbelievable. The supportive and caring staff at the school has been the source of this transformation. Before attending Holden, our son was so overcome with anxiety he could not attend the local public high school; he now is excelling in all subjects, has 100% attendance, and is on track to graduate in a few months. What a difference a proper placement makes! Thank you Holden, you have saved all of our lives. kimberley

If your high school student is struggling in a traditional high school setting I would strongly recommend Holden High School in Orinda, CA. Classes are small, therefore giving your son or daughter the individual attention he or she needs. The students at Holden are there for various reasons. This can be from the unwillingness to cope, bullying and struggles with learning. Barely finishing middle school, even with the help of therapy and other resources, my daughter refused to attend high school. Depression was an issue. We had no support from the school district. Thank goodness for Holden. My daughter attended Holden all four years. They prepared and gave her the tools to thrive and the willingness to learn. Because of this she received scholarships. She has her life back and is now attending a four year college and pursuing a bachelors degree in Computer Science. Wonderful staff that cares about the success of each student. Everyone is treated equally and with respect. Holden is part of her family now. For more information about the school log into their website: http://holdenhigh.org/ or call (925)254-0199 Grateful Parent

Oct 2013

I would like to recommend Holden High School in Orinda for anyone looking for a small, caring alternative high school for their student. This is our teen's second year at Holden and after years of struggling with school work and home work, we have found a school where he is doing well, his grades have improved, his attitude has improved. The staff at Holden really care about each student, supporting them emotionally as well as academically. I would highly recommend that you check out their website and give them a call. www.holdenhigh.org. A grateful parent

Oct 2013

Re: Private high school for disorganized smart kid
Hello- I would like to suggest Holden High School in Orinda, www.holdenhigh.org. It is a small school, with small classes and lots of individualized attention, where each student is recognized for their uniqueness and their unique learning style. The majority of the students travel from all over the East Bay to attend Holden, it is on the BART line.

My student has struggled with being disorganized for many years. Before Holden, when he finally did complete his homework, he would forget to turn it in. There was no organization to his backpack or planner. When we found Holden, (this is his second full year at Holden, after spending grades k-9 in public school), helping him to be organized was one of our first priorities. And within a couple of months this was no longer a problem. His grades have improved dramatically, his attendance is fine, he loves his school.

One of the other many things we love about Holden is that the students are not overloaded with homework and are given ample time during the school week to complete it, thus eliminating homework battles at home.

There is much more I could say about Holden, including how the students are supported emotionally as well as academically, but you can learn more by visiting their website, or better yet, have your child go for a visit.

Hope this is helpful to you. Good luck in your search. A grateful parent

Oct 2013

Re: High schools with extra support for Inattentive ADD son
Worry no more! There is a high school in Orinda, Holden High School, (www.holdenhigh.org) that provides lots of individual attention and a very nurturing and supportive environment. Holden is a small school that serves students from all over the Bay Area, accessible by BART. The staff at Holden recognizes each student's unique learning style and supports the student in developing emotionally as well as academically.

This is our student's second full year at Holden and he is doing well, his organizational skills are much better, grades have improved considerably, and he has matured emotionally.

Hope you will consider Holden to see if it might be a good fit for your son.

Wishing your family the best, A grateful Holden parent

Feb 2013

Re: Junior is failing at Berkeley High
We have an ADHD son who attends MetWest High School in Oakland. It is an Oakland public school but very different from any other Oakland school. It's mantra is ''real world learning.'' All students work at an internship of their choosing every Tuesday and Thursday. They attend school on M-W-Fri. It is a very small school - 2 classes per grade, each class no more than 20 students. Enlish and social studies are taught as an integrated block by an Advisor. The Advisor knows every kid and stays on top of each and every one of them. The Advisor stays with the same group of kids for two years. Reading and writing demands are heavy and were very worrisome to us because writing was our son's greatest weaknesses. He does have a private tutor who along with his motivation to be at this school - because he loves his internship - has greatly helped him develop as a writer. Each quarter, each student must demonstrate their learning through an exhibition, which is an oral presentation accompanied by some type of visual presentation, based on very specific guidelines. Parents are required to attend 2 of the 4 exhibitions each year. The next exhibitions are the week of March 4 - 8. You would be welcome to attend if you made arrangements in advance. They do have space for and are looking for more juniors. A number of kids left last year due to a very bad teacher, who is no longer there. The school is very much a college prep program and teaches the kids a lot about how to apply to college and for financial aid. The school's phone number is 510 451 5902. Check out these links: http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/education=7475688 OR http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/23/met-west/ OR http://oaklandlocal.com/article/oaklands-midwest-high-school-students-learn-through-internships Write back if you want more info and we can arrange to talk. momofjesse

Oct 2012

Re: Help finding an appropriate school for my ADHD son
Have you checked out Holden High School in Orinda? www.holdenhigh.org It's a small, alternative school with tiny classes, great support and academically sound. I spent three years there as a teacher and counselor several decades ago and know quite a few successful young adults who were previously my students.

I would highly encourage you to contact Holden High School in Orinda. http://holdenhigh.org/who-we-are/our-mission 925-254-0199

This very small school is amazing and truly is committed to working with kids who have struggled in school for any number of reasons. Their approach is non traditional with the goal of helping each student find success and graduate. Many of the administration/staff at Holden have worked there a long time and continue to do so because they are committed to helping teens who need and benefit from staff who genuinely get who teens are. Give them a call and make an appointment to go visit. They will put you in touch with parents like me who will be happy to tell you more about our experience there. Good luck. I hope this will work for you as it did for us. A parent who understands

Feb 2012

I want other parents of teens who have or are struggling in school with academic success, bullying, depression, ADHD, and learning disabilities, or just need a small school environment, to know about HOLDEN HIGH SCHOOL, (formerly Contra Costa Alternative School). This school was started 40 years ago, and is a small, nurturing, caring school in Orinda for sensitive teens. I am incredibly thankful for Holden High and the talented, caring professionals who work there. My son literally refused to go to school his last semester at public high school. This school has changed our lives, and my son is now hopeful about his future, confident about his intelligence and growing every day in positive ways. Call and go visit, or check them out online. I really cannot recommend them highly enough; they are a transformational school.holdenhigh.org You may also contact me by email if you have questions. joan

Dec 2011

Re: Affordable private school for struggling teen
I would encourage you to contact Holden High School in Orinda, http://holdenhigh.org/ (925)254-0199. It is a tiny non traditional high school for kids like your son and mine who are not doing well in a cookie cutter setting. There are kids from Berkeley, El Cerrito, Albany, Richmond Annex etc. They truly want their students to succeed, so they have different approaches to helping them achieve their goal of graduating from high school and their future from there. I no longer have homework battles because he does it there. I am so glad my friends told me about the school after sending their son there. I am so relieved to see my son doing better, seeing himself be successful and be respected for the person that he is.

They have financial aid which will help offset your expense. They also assign Resource Specialists to each student who are interns and are the kid's advocates. They are able to provide clinical support as needed including the family.

If you contact them they will give you parents that you can talk to. I wish you luck, just know there are options.

March 2011

Holden High School in Orinda has been a godsend for my 16 year old son. My son has executive functioning issues and has not done well in the public school system for years. He was not getting the help he needed in order to keep up with his peers and this had a detrimental effect on his self esteem. Holden is an amazing, small community where all kinds of teens are accepted and supported for who they are. The teachers and staff are amazing in terms of connecting with the students and helping them to grow as individuals. For the first time, I feel that the school has really gotten to know my son, cares about his overall well being, and is effective in parent communication as well. My son now loves school! We couldn't ask for more. Feel free to contact me if you have questions about Holden. rp

May 2010

Re: Looking for a High School for unhappy Orinda teen
Holden High School in Orinda is a wonderful small alternative high school which might be just what you and your daughter are looking for. I worked there for two years and can't say enough good things about the immense support teens get at this wonderful, personal school from the dedicated directors, teachers and counselors: www.holdenhigh.org Tel.: (925) 254 0199 Good luck! Susanne

March 2009

Re: Considering alternatives to public high school
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 www.holdenhigh.org. It is the East Bay's best kept secret in our opinion. Best of luck to you and your son. Sincerely, Jane

Nov 2007

Re: Is boarding school a good solution for low motivation?
Boarding school seems like a wonderful solution when you have a difficult teen - I have had that idea running through my mind many times! However it doesn't always seem practical...especially if your teen is not keen on the idea. I hope you have looked into private school alternatives. My son was having a difficult time at a public high school and we opted for Holden High School in Orinda. They offer a caring relaxed environment to kids that find it hard to make it at traditional schools for whatever reason. One of the aspects I like most is that each student meets with his or her R person (counselor) once or twice a week to see what is up in thier lives and to help them through things. It is a small alternative school that may not be for everyone but it can be a very positive experience for some. nancy (Holden High parent)

October 2006

Contra Costa Alternative School (CCAS) is a small (40 students) school in Orinda, walking distance from BART. The school is geared for students having problems in public high schools. They have openings for both boys and girls at this time. This school has worked well for my son, who was having trouble at Berkeley HS. Call them at 925/254-0199 for more information. They have drop in open house the last Wednesday of each month, from 6-8pm. Danny

April 2004

Almost a year ago, my son graduated from Contra Costa Alternative (High) School (CCAS) in downtown Orinda (about 1/4 mile from the Orinda BART). The school is very welcoming of alumni assistance and he is now spending evenings there helping with their spring drama production. His renewed involvement is prompting me to recommend this high school to any parent whose teen is struggling--academically or socially. It's a small school, with tiny classes, and the staff pour appropriate and skilled attention on the students. When my son started there, as a freshman, he had been struggling academically for four years, had almost no friends in his life, and was exceptionally tough to deal with at home. Once at CCAS, he opened up to the staff almost at once, began making true friendships with peers, began cooperating at home, made dramatic improvements academically, got involved in drama productions, and eventually served on the student council. My impression is that they work similar wonders with the vast majority of their students. The school takes academics seriously, but puts emotional health first, which I think is a key to their success. Please e-mail me if you'd like to communicate about this option for your teen. I am so thankful that a tutor tipped me off to this school 5 years ago. Mary

Feb. 2004

My duaghter has been suspended from her middle school and the school district will not place her in another school in the district. She has been placed in an alternative school called Diablo Day School. We have heard that this school is for students with sever problems and my daughter does not fit that category. Since it is late in the year, we are having a hard time find an Independent school that will accept her. Any advice on schools that will be willing to take her, or other options? Running Out of Options

You might try Contra Costa Alternative School (925 254 0199), in Orinda. Though it's primarily a private high school, they do have some younger students. Students can have a week to try it, and can be enrolled any time during the school year. Open houses are held the last Wednesday of each month, 6-8 PM. The staff is very supportive of their students. My son has been there for almost two years, after a dismal freshman year at Oakland Tech. Good luck! Denise

April 2003

Contra Costa Alternative School (CCAS) is a small (40 students) school in Orinda, walking distance from BART. The school is geared for students having problems in public high schools. They have openings for both boys and girls at this time. This school has worked well for my son, who was having trouble at Berkeley HS. Call them at 925/254-0199 for more information. They have drop in open house the last Wednesday of each month, from 6-8pm. Danny

Feb. 2003

Re: What to do after the wilderness program?
I'm not sure what brought your kid to the wilderness program, but you might want to check out Contra Costa Alternative School(ccas-holden.org). My son is now at CCAS. He did not fit in at his public high school and suffers from depression. CCAS is very small and works well with kids who aren't thriving in traditional school settings. They also have counseling as part of their program. We are new at the school, but so far it seems like it is the right fit. The staff is very dedicated and they seem to have a nack at reaching teenagers. nina

A parent wrote: ''We decided to take him out of Berkeley High & he is now in a Wilderness trek (3 week therapeutic). I am looking into options for the ''next step''.'' My son, also, was doing poorly in Berkeley High (cutting, failing, etc). We found a private school that is working well for him. It is called Contra Costa Alternative School. (CCAS). It is located in Orinda, a 12 minute walk from BART. The school is geared to those students who are having problems in public high schools. It is a very (very) small school. It might be worth checking it out. Their phone number is 925/254-0199. Good luck. Danny

January 2003

Contra Costa Alternative School is a small private school in Orinda designed for high school kids who are having difficulties making it in traditional settings. Our son went to Oakland Tech for his freshman year and beginning of his sophomore year. He liked it. He did ok socially, but just could not handle the academics. He got lost in the crowd.

CCAS has less than 40 kids in the entire school. There are 5 to 10 kids per class. Teachers and directors are extremely supportive. A great deal of emphasis goes to music, art, drama etc. Good self-esteem and individualism is promoted.

Although my son has only been at CCAS a couple of months, it it clear that he is much happier. For those kids who truly need an alternative setting, I'd urge you to call CCAS at 925 254 0999 or look at their website www.ccas- holden.org Neil '