Which Middle School?

Parent Q&A

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  • Considering Piedmont middle school for our 5th grader next year…he is in OUSD and hasn’t been motivated at school and eeks by with the bare minimum but still gets good grades. He’s also been pretty moody and generally doesn’t like to go to school. Looking for a place that will inspire his interests and curiosity and spark a love for  learning.  Curious if this group knows enough about Piedmont Middle School to weigh in if you think it’ll help him vs Park Day or St. Paul’s

    My 6th grader loves Piedmont Middle, but he is both socially and academically motivated. Piedmont is obviously a public school system, and as such offers standardized education - at a high level - but in general it's not juicy creative learning, though there have been some interesting projects. From reading the many BPN posts on Park Day and St. Paul's, and from having attended private school myself, it sounds like the teacher attention would be more individualized at private than at PMS. Are you considering moving to Piedmont, or did you receive an IDT? If the latter I wonder about taking a spot from someone who is self-motivated and would love the opportunity to flourish in Piedmont. I'd say that Piedmont education is standardized, while the private schools sound more customized to each child. My child thrives at Piedmont Middle, and as parents we are happy with the school as well - it's the right place for us. It suits his personality, but not that of all children - some prefer private to Piedmont, and some genuinely prefer Piedmont to private, and have moved between the two. Assuming you've toured all three, which environment resonated with your child most? 

    While I can't draw comparisons between the schools you are considering, I can share my experience as a new Park Day parent whose daughter joined this year as a 6th grade student. I have really appreciated Park Day's approach to learning. A recent example includes a humanities project in which the students had an opportunity to demonstrate their learning through a project of their choosing. My daughter used the innovation studio to create a wooden tree sculpture with LED lights and talked through how her project illuminated themes in the book around fairness and the fundamental right to express oneself freely. Another memorable project was a student who sewed a dress. I love how students are able to deepen their learning in ways that resonate most with them and utilize their interests/talents (i.e. sewing) or learn a new skill (i.e. using a power saw) in doing so. It is experiences like these, in my opinion, that are the building blocks for growing lifelong learners. 

    Best of luck in your search!

    I imagine you've already made this decision, but if not--we've known families who've gone in both directions between these schools in recent years. Reasons for not doing PMS were lack of racial diversity/less socioeonomic diversity and larger class sizes/less differentiation than private can offer. Reasons for going to PMS (from private elementary) were cost, IEP/504 supports, and a wider range of extracurricular options, sports, and electives than small private schools can offer. Assuming you plan to move to Piedmont if you go that route, there is also the sense of community factor--kids at Park Day and St. Paul's come from a much wider geographic area. Many PMS kids walk to and from school and to nearby activities. If you have an IDT and would be coming from further away to attend PMS, that may be a con, since most students there do live in the city.

    One of our kids is at PMS, yup that's what the middle school is called. My impression is that PMS may not be the place to "inspire his interests and curiosity and spark a love for learning".  But I do think that PMS does try hard to understand and help with the emotional challenges of middle school. Also our son can walk to school as well as to many after school activities which is a plus for developing some independence. Outside the schools, Piedmont has a lot of kids participating in Scouting, chorus and robotics as well as the typical baseball and soccer programs. We have friends with children at St Paul's. St. Paul's might be more of the kind of place you are looking for.

  • I know this topic has been discussed many times especially for elementary schools. I haven't seen many comparisons / reviews specifically for middle school and these are our top three choices.

    We're having a hard time figuring out the differences among these 3. They all seem very similar except for SPES whose campus is more urban; PDS which doesn't have letter grades at all; and BPC which has the most robust music/arts/drama program. 

    Honest feedback from current / recent families on what you love and don't love about each school would be so helpful. 

    Academics seem similar and they all seem to be excellent schools in terms of academic and social emotional approach. What has your experience been with the admin team, communication level and approach and the community engagement? A strong sense of community and belonging is important for us. A well organized and stable leadership/admin team would be nice to have. 

    Child has visited all three and like them all, and so do we. The distance from our house is about the same for all three schools.  BPC is slightly farther away but not by much. I don't think the child will be going to any of the schools with any of their best friends. Does any of these three schools sound like it would be a great fit for our child?

    A bit about our child:

    - They're a solid student and does well in school. They have pretty good ability to retain and apply knowledge, but they're not studious and have never exhibited particular passion, gift or talent. Math has always been easy for them and they recently started commenting that they are being made to do math that they know how to do already. (It might be the teacher — they don’t like the current teacher.)

    They seem slightly above average, mellow, but we also worry whether the kid is just coasting. We want to see something light up, but that has yet to come. They do what they are asked to do in school but aren't passionate about something that makes them want to do more. Maybe we don’t have a passionate child. *shrug*

    - They enjoy music and play a couple of instruments. Again, they're not gifted and aren't super into it, so they aren’t really good at the instruments they know how to play, but they like to sing and fiddle with their instruments from time to time if the mood strikes and makes up little tunes, if they want to. We aren't pushy and don't make them practice. We are not looking at the child becoming a professional musician, and we are content that they seem to appreciate music.

    - They hate sports. It's a real effort to get them to be active outside. None of us likes to play or watches sports, so no surprises there.

    - They are a social creature and lean toward an extrovert. 

    - They like acting and request for Berkeley Playhouse summer camp every year. 


    We have a current 7th grader at Park and a high school student that went there for middle school.  BPC was also a school we had applied to and really loved.  At the end of the day our son chose Park Day and it has exceeded all of our expectations. The faculty and administration could not be more welcoming and accommodating to new families. The head of school is incredible.  She stands at the front of the school each morning and greets the students and talks with parents.  I’m not sure If this is commonplace at other middle schools but it points to the community that is created there starting at the very top.  I've seen her at performances, games and school social events. She always shows up for the kids. The entire administration is excellent and very responsive and open. Everyone, from the admissions office to the high school transition specialist to the head of DEI goes the extra mile. Not because it's their job but because they truly care and are passionate about what they do and the environment they have cultivated. The entire faculty and staff at PDS lead with kindness, compassion and inclusivity.

    Although Park doesn't have "letter grades" there is a portal you can check that will give you percent grades for core classes.  The drama, art and music classes are great! My older son is a theater kid.  He loved drama at Park and the teacher.  I was  always so impressed with how much he got out of it, especially since he does a lot of theater outside of school. The program is great and they are constantly going on field trips and outings to see shows. That year they did A Midsummer Night's Dream and put on a  cabaret at the Aurora theater in Berkeley. The music and art programs are also very strong!

    Park Day does a great job of exposing kids to new and unique experiences.  They have so many clubs that it would be hard not to find something that sparks an interest. Even if the interest is fleeting, having exposure to all of them is really powerful and helps kids learn what their interests are in a safe, unintimidating environment.  Their affinity groups also offer another level of belonging and are particularly strong.

    It sounds like your child will thrive at any of these schools but I will say that Park Day really respects and trusts their students' voices which is very empowering. They put an emphasis on compassion, empathy, community, equity, and collaboration in a way I don't think other schools do.

    They are all great choices!  From what you shared, however, I think BPC would be a great fit.  Math and science are extremely strong - your kid will be challenged - and as you mentioned, the music and arts departments are high-quality as well.  (brief disclaimer - the only reason my kids don't go there is the commute, but we are familiar with BPC through private music lessons with the K-3 music teacher, Owen Roberts, and of course family friends whose kids do attend.)  Good luck with whatever you decide!

    My child graduated from Park Day last year, and goes to an independent high school in the East Bay with students from all these schools. The high school is known for having a strong academic curriculum, and I asked my child if there were any trends from the different schools in terms of what students were like. From the teen vantage point – and my child has good friends from these three schools in her 9th grade class –  all the kids are nice, friendly, and work hard. Paths have crossed in chorus, drama, Latin class, and of course, just as part of the regular school day. When I asked what my child thought was special about Park Day, she mentioned that Park Day is really accepting of different identities, that the teachers are nice and supportive, and that it feels like a community. For her, top of mind were not the things we loved as parents – the curriculum, the projects, the strong Social Justice through line, the warmth of the administration and our trust in them, the opportunity to share passions and identity through the student podcast, etc. What it boiled down to for her is: “I was so comfortable there, and that’s amazing to have especially at school.” I can imagine what a hard choice this is if you and your child like all three schools equally. Wishing you happiness as you decide, I don’t think you can go wrong.

    Hello,   I am a parent of an 8th grader and a 6th grader, both happy and engaged students at Park Day since Kindergarten.  I've met many happy middle schoolers from St. Paul’s and BPC as well. Park Day has been a home away from home for nine years. They spend the day with a bunch of adults who really care to get to know who they are and what they are all about.  The teachers and administrators are warm and welcoming, parents and caregivers introduce themselves and like making connections on campus,  it's a fun and interesting community of humans and we've made many very dear friends and so many memories.  Park designates families to host newcomers so they are not alone as they adjust to a new community.  There are picnics and parties and ice cream dates. The existing community is intentional about brining the kids and parents together as one unit at the beginning of sixth grade to start building friendships.  

    School communication comes from a portal called ParentSquare.  You can always find what you need when you need it. Class parents streamline important information once a week.  The head of school and school counselor host coffee meet ups to check-in with the community several times a year.  Three times a week parents are welcome to gather around the coffee cart and get a little adult conversation in before heading out to do their day.  Our current head of school started right before our family entered middle school and the last 3 years have been the most organized and clearly communicated years of our tenure there, though our fondness for the school has never wavered.

    My kids love the music program and the teacher passes on his passion for music to his students. My 8th grader chose it to be his full-year intensive. They both surprise me with their understanding of musical language and concepts.  My kids happen to enjoy PE.  I will say that the teachers at Park meet kids where they are at. They make things very fun.  It’s not your Presidential Physical Fitness Test kind of place.  My daughter loves the entire Arts program and will have a big decision when she has to choose an intensive.  I wish she could do all three.

    In regards to grades, while there are not specifically 'letter grades' students do receive score and comment feedback most often using a rubric with a points system to help guide and strengthen their understanding. Kids are encouraged to work with their teachers during the Consultancy block if they want to untangle what was challenging for them, or to review drafts or study plans before turning something in or taking a test.The school uses an online grading system for helping students (and families if needed) track assignments, and feedback on assignments is communicated there or on the assignments/assessments themselves.  

    Park is innovative and creative in their approach to whole child learning.  One of my favorite things about this year were the field trips. Each kid purchased their own Clipper Card and off they went. They traveled to San Francisco art museums, downtown Oakland climbing gyms, service learning days, Alcatraz and more. Getting my kids out and about is not something I excel at and I was happy they were getting more social experiences with their classmates. 

    We’ve had a very positive experience at Park Day.  I wish you well wherever your family ends up!


    Our 6th grader started at Park Day this last year and it has been a great fit.  I can’t speak to the other two schools, but can share our experience at PDS.  

    After a few years in a large OUSD school, we moved to a small private school for the last few years of elementary school and saw him thrive.  With that in mind, finding a school with a strong sense of community was important for our middle school search.  

    Nearly a year into PDS, both parents and our kid would say it has been a good fit.  He entered not knowing anyone, and is a quiet, reserved kid.  Entering new spaces for him is never easy.   Through advisory, clubs, and other avenues, Park Day seems to do a good job of fostering a sense of community among students, and our son now has a group of friends he is excited to see each day.

    Academically he has always been a student who has done what is expected of him (and perhaps coast), and so finding a place engages him has been important.  He is engaged in all his classes, and we have seen him gain incredible confidence.  One of the things Park Day stresses is having students take ownership over their own learning, and we see this as he advocates for himself, speaks up in class, and takes on new challenges.  For a quiet, reserved kid, these are an indication of how much the teachers work to foster a community where students feel safe.  

    Overall, as new parents to Park Day, we have been very happy with the academics, and adult/student community.  Park Day has been the right move for our family.

    The sense of community at Park Day is arguably its greatest strength. We began there in 2nd grade after my wife passed from a chronic illness. I was understandably anxious about joining a new community! I'm SO grateful to the PDS parents, administration and students for welcoming us warmly with open arms - my kids have been thriving there and becoming committed to social justice causes in our world. I'm specifically in love with the "Coffee Cart" that takes place during student drop-off hours every Mon/Wed/Fri morning: Parents get a chance to hang out on campus and check-in with each other over a lovely beverage and some pastry. It really strengthens the community and is a living model for the students, too. What a fun, special place! Best of luck with your school search. :)

    -Jerry S.

    Current BPC parent here. I don’t have experience with the other schools, but we love BPC. If your child likes theater, BPC could be a great fit. Sixth graders have two hours of drama class every week as part of the standard curriculum. And there is an after-school drama club as well. The academics are more rigorous than what we saw in public elementary school. The math faculty in particular is fantastic. There is a competitive math team that your kid might enjoy if they like math.

    There is a very engaged and supportive parent community. Families seem to really love the school and get to know each other really well. The staff is very supportive and goes above and beyond. When my daughter left her violin at school during a school break, the head of school picked it up and dropped it off at our house. You probably can’t go wrong, but BPC is a great choice. 

    Hi, we have a 7th grade girl at SPES who transferred from Crocker Highlands Elementary (OUSD) at the start of her 5th grade school year. We considered two other independent schools (neither were Black Pine or Park Day, so I can't speak to those), but SPES clearly stood out to us for a number of reasons. I should mention that I grew up in the Bay Area and was fortunate to attend independent schools from K through 12. While I received an amazing academic foundation, the schools I attended didn't push me a little out of my comfort zone and weren't authentically diverse (my classmates were ethnically diverse, but certainly not socioeconomically so). 

    We were immediately excited about SPES because the school provides not only a rigorous academic curriculum but would also inspire our daughter to be inclusive and encourages her to contribute to and learn from a genuinely strong and diverse community. The latter two were particularly important to us because we want her to be aware of and appreciative of varied socioeconomic circumstances. 

    Our daughter, somewhat like your child, was sort of coasting doing the bare minimum through 3rd and 4th grade. It took her maybe a few months to adjust to a new setting, but towards the middle of 5th grade at SPES she became way more involved academically. She responded well to a more intense academic environment - math in particular. She's always been social and has made a lot of friends - the vibe is incredibly inclusive and warm. 

    You asked about community engagement - I would highly recommend that your family attend any of SPES upcoming Friday morning chapels. They may be called "chapels", but they're more school-wide (students, teachers, admin, staff, etc.) weekly meetings in which students sing, act, present graphic art, or speak about a curriculum-based topic. The chapels are more of a celebration than anything else and certainly make the student assemblies I had as an elementary school student pale in comparison. 

    The music teacher, Guy de Chalus, is a terrific educator and sort of one of a kind. Even if your child isn't super into playing an instrument, Mr. de Chalus will make it interesting. The head of school, Cheryl Ting, is very approachable and accessible.

    We've met some great families who have become close friends and candidly the community at SPES has made our lives fuller. 

    Best of luck!

    I have two kids at St. Paul's, one in 5th who will stay for middle school and the other in 7th who started at St. Paul's in 6th. 

    To answer your specific questions: 

    • Our experience with the admin team has been tremendous. They are a communicative, responsive, and a delightful group of people whose dedication to individual students and the school are beyond compare. I feel like my kids are individuals at this school, not just a part of the class. The entire admin/leadership know my kids (and us parents) by name.
    • The level of communication is just right. We receive an all school and room parent communication each week. Teachers send out twice monthly newsletters detailing what's going on and what's upcoming in the classroom. There are also portals for parent-to-parent communications, which is for reminders and extracurricular activities (not just sports, but class meet-ups and other class-related social stuff). 
    • Community engagement at St. Paul's is like what others have described (summer buddies, picnics, family camping trips, parent walks around the lake, coffee circles with the heads of school, parent education nights). What sets St. Paul's apart are the weekly chapels and community evenings. If you haven't visited for chapel, please do. This is when students shine as a community of their own. Each chapel is hosted by a grade level or affinity group, and they own the presentation. These events are educational (even for me!), entertaining (so much music and be prepared to participate), and uplifting (these kids show up for each other and raise each other up every week). The community events are twice per year and showcase the entire school. The music directors shine at these events and so do students who play in the school band and take leading roles on stage. 

    A few things that set St. Paul's apart from other schools: 

    • The sense of place and sense of self that I see in students and alumni. This is demonstrated by current students who serve as ambassadors, alumni who frequently return to speak at events, and my experience with a variety of students through chaperoning field trips and shuttling groups of athletes to games. 
    • Yes, this is an urban school with urban challenges, but these are embraced as opportunities. St. Paul's engages in and with the community, not only for the good of the students, but also for the good of the community. Younger students have reading hours with seniors that live nearby, 5th grade volunteers at the botanical garden weeding and planting, older grades are stewards of the lake learning about the ecology while cleaning it up. 
    • Where I see the school truly shine is how they incorporate what's being taught in the classroom to the immediate surroundings and how they connect this across subjects. Examples are studies on the civil rights and the black panthers, and the above-mentioned use of the lake as an extension of the classroom.

    With most things related to middle school, St. Paul's takes nice transitional steps. This is true for the emphasis on letter grades, which starts light in 6th grade and increases in 7th. Teachers are very transparent and communicative about grades and grading. It's more like learning how to earn/manage letter grades. 

    One last thing that I want to praise is the current 5th grade class that will advance to 6th next year. They are an amazing group of kids who are inclusive, supportive, and truly kind to each other. I'm not just saying this, I actually think they are next level special. Good luck!

    We are a happy BPC family who joined in 6th grade from a public elementary school. We've loved the strong math program, incredibly dedicated teaching staff, thoughtful administration and general kindness of the community. Our outspoken and assertive kid loves the Socratic dialog encouraged in most classes and has developed great relationships with teachers. She weathered the socially dicey middle school years with a strong group of friends, including many kids who have been at BPC since early elementary school. Since your kid likes acting, they will probably appreciate that drama is taught as a class every year. The extracurricular band program is demanding but excellent. Another response mentioned that at Park Day the head of school stands outside in the morning and greets people -- same at BPC! He also showed up at the airport at 10pm to greet the 8th graders coming back from their study abroad with a box of donuts and is a fixture at performances, sports games, etc. We couldn't be happier with our choice.


    We have a current 7th grader at St.Pauls (she/they). I can't speak much to the other schools, though I can say that we we impressed at the very outset of touring and learning about St. Pauls. They truly "walk the walk" when it comes to building community (both w/in St. Pauls and between grades) and with the larger urban Oakland community. The parent community is actually welcoming (sometimes schools advertise this and the actual community is quite different). They take a pro-active and thoughtful approach to any behavioral/social issues that arise and are respectfully communicative with parents (not too much email bombing and not too little information). They clearly and succinctly communicate their approach as an administrative team and I have consistently trusted in the thoughtfulness and frame of their responses. Middle School is a challenging time for so many reasons, and I can say that the social system has been such a breath of fresh air where "a" popular group doesn't really exist b/c all the students find their niche and navigate whatever folx are not in alignment. They also have well attended/managed student affinity groups, who also present during Friday morning "chapel" (which isn't religious, but an opportunity for the lower and middle school to come together and share grade wisdom, or have presenters etc.) St. Paul's also exhibits value's alignment with their academics where it isn't just about the content but how that content translates into how the kids consider being thoughtful and aware humans in the world around them (environmental, current events in the greater world, etc.). You mention sports and this isn't a huge focus obviously in terms of intense competition, but there are options to sign up to play a sport but the focus is more about learning how to be on a team and the skills that can be accumulated in that environment than winning. I honestly think St. Pauls is a place to find passion or what ignites, mainly  b/c there is so much encouragement and support about exploration and finding what makes you tick.

    Best of luck in your decision! 

    My 7th grader started at St. Paul's in 6th grade after attending an OUSD school K-5. It's been such a wonderful experience for him.  The emphasis SPES places on the middle school transition is remarkable. Most notable is the way in which the teachers partner with and support one another in the classroom, which enables them to give the kids more individualized attention. Development of executive function/organization is also at the forefront.

    The student body is incredibly diverse in just about every way. My son was a little nervous coming into the community in 6th grade alongside kids that have been together for years, but he has found the kids to be really, really kind and accepting. He's formed some sweet bonds with his new buddies.

    Additionally, the staff is very diverse. Much more so than his OUSD school. I love that my son is seeing teachers/staff of so many backgrounds in positions of authority. School administration has been wonderful. I've found the head of school, Cheryl Ting, and head of middle school, Marcus Chang, to be open and approachable. My son is neurodivergent, so we've interacted quite a bit with the learning specialist, Chad Waddell. The coordination between him and my son's teachers has been fantastic.  Any challenge my son has had has been met with compassion, support and solutions.

    The music program is phenomenal. The middle school music teacher, Guy de Chalus, introduces the kids to different genres from different cultures. I love that some kids will leave SPES having heard and learned to appreciate music they quite possibly might never have experienced otherwise. My son is not particularly musical, but he's really loved drumming and rated music as his favorite class this past trimester. He noted he likes learning about the origins of the music. 

    The 6th grade science block on Lake Merritt was so fun! I enjoyed learning alongside my son. I love that the city is an extension of the classroom and the kids are learning to be stewards of their city.

    I think what I love most about SPES is the culture of kindness and inclusion. The kids are encouraged to be their authentic selves. The school does a great job walking the walk in nurturing that culture. I couldn't be happier with our experience at SPES.  My only wish is for it to be a K-12 so we could experience the magic for a few more years.

    Best of luck to your family!

    Thank you so much for your helpful comments. We have chosen a school and are excited to begin middle school. All three are incredibly wonderful schools / communities, so we feel very fortunate to have these choices and we really can’t go wrong here. 

  • We are beginning the middle school exploration for our fifth grader. Their current school does have a middle school and the child is quite content but I feel that we should look at other schools to make an informed decision about whether to stay or attend a new school. We are wondering whether a more academic environment than our current school may be better to prepare the child for high school and college, but we are also torn because our child seems to enjoy the project based approach.

    Are there things that helped you decide on middle school? Any tips on things to look out for when touring, questions to ask? What were things that made the difference for your child’s MS experience and beyond that you wish you had known earlier? 

    Any general tips as we start this journey?

    Our child is outgoing but anxious, passionate about performing arts (music, drama, dance), dislikes sports (especially team sports), indifferent to visual arts or crafts, loves math and creative writing and has a mild case of ADHD. They like to organize or involve themselves in clubs and causes. They’re currently struggling with self esteem and anxiety, although they are truly highly intelligent and creative. 

    Schools we are currently considering are Black Pine, Park Day, Aurora, and Head Royce. Thank you. 

    Based on your description of your child, I'd give some serious thought to staying at your current school--sounds like you have a child who may benefit from consistency and stability moving into middle school. Reasons to move would be that you don't think your current school's middle school program is a good fit for your child's needs and/or you think it's time to mix up the friend group. I think the best thing is to know your child and how they will respond/react to different settings (size of program, range of opportunities there, makeup of the class, etc.) Also be very upfront about the mild ADHD so you can get candid responses from schools about what kinds of supports they provide and what they expect parents to provide. Look for a school with (at minimum) a counselor and educational support specialist on staff.

    Of your list, Head-Royce jumps out as the outlier as far as their approach to middle school, so I'd probably start there. If you visit and think that's what you're looking for, the other three schools are probably not what you are looking for (and vice versa). They are all great programs but have very different approaches to academics and social-emotional supports for the middle school years. I would also throw Prospect-Sierra, St. Paul's, and Redwood Day into the mix, depending on where you live--all three have lovely small middle school programs that are similar to what you'll find at BPC or Park Day, though each school has different strengths and offers different extracurriculars and supports. Also ask about where students go on to high school--it's still a long way away, but the years go fast, and it's helpful to know where your child's friends might be headed. Good luck with the search!

    It sounds like you are making a thoughtful search with good options all around. There is absolutely something to be said for staying put at a school where your child feels content. And, it’s exciting to take the time to explore other options if you have that ability, to help you confirm your best Middle School path. 

    Our kids went to PDS (loved!) and we moved over to Head Royce at Middle School (also loved!). Our kids were looking for expanded language options which became a driving consideration and our kids have really developed a passion for their pursued languages. We as parents also liked the idea that at HRS we might not need to consider looking/applying for High School if we decided to stay in the independent school world. 

    PDS is such a loving and kind community. As noted, we didn’t stay for MS, but after a period of interim leadership, a vibrant and well-lauded permanent admin team came on and we heard so many good things about the team and the continued positive impacts at the school.

    At HRS, our kids were welcomed by the most amazing 6th grade team of teachers. They are exceptional and rarely a week goes by still without us making reference to at least one of their 6th grade team. There are lots of options for clubs at HRS and they are flourishing post-Covid. Have a passion that’s not covered yet? Find a couple other interested students and you’re very, very likely to have a faculty member jump on board. Sports is low-key but fun at the MS level. We were *never* the sport parents, and yet now both my kids are on an upper school team that they LOVE…who knew, seriously? The teams feel social and accessible and we never thought that would be a big something and yet it’s been a great part for the kids. The art faculty are also wonderful and there are vibrant music, drama and dance opportunities (club, audition or class) in MS. 

    I think your child is in good company regarding anxiety. I don’t know that many kids these days that came through the pandemic completely centered and grounded. Listen out for how schools are talking about their emotional support for kids, and is it specific to the modern day middle school kid? Both schools have Learning Specialists that might be available to give you a sense of the supported landscape of neurodiversity at their respective schools. 

    You have a good selection of schools, and your child seems happy currently. That’s a great spot to be in. Listen to what the schools are telling you. It’s shiny and polished, but they will still tell you who they are. Get a sense of the parent body that’s also looking at the school. Everyone should be on good behavior, but you will also get a sense of what does the family makeup feel like landing at that particular school. 

    Best of luck!

    My daughter went to middle school at Park Day, not having gone to elementary school there.  She also has anxiety and mild ADHD, and loved creative writing (poetry).  While Park Day didn't have clubs, as a school at large, and all the classes were focused on socio-political issues, guiding the students to be active thinkers and active community members.  It is also project based.  It gives fantastic attention to socio-emotional development as a standard for all the kids, and was a very happy place for her.  It prepares students excellently for whatever the range of HS they attend after that (many go onto elite private schools, and some to public schools).  

    One of the best things we were able to do for our daughter was to send her to Julia Morgan School for Girls for grades 6 - 8. It is on the Mills College campus.

    JMSG fosters academic excellence, creativity and social engagement. But it is not a stressful program.  Our daughter made friends there.

    Boys and girls are so developmentally different at this age that they benefit from single-gender education.,

    One of the Julia Morgan teachers went on to found the East Bay School for Boys, with which we have no personal experience,

    I recommend if it’s not broke don’t fix it approach. Middle school has nothing whatsoever to do with high school. They develop and change a lot during this period. Being in a comfortable school community is the single most important factor. 

    I 100% recommend the Athenian School for a student such as your child. It is far, for sure, but they have a bus from Berkeley (or they used to). It is rigorous, but not dull, since it’s experiential. Every Friday the students have a day long cross-curricular, program that leverages the learning they’ve been doing during the week. If your student is advanced in certain areas, they offer accelerated sections and 8th graders can also take upper school classes when appropriate. They also offer electives/clubs centered around the interests that you mentioned (music, drama, writing, leadership/activism). Check it out! We were very happy when our child (now 20) went there. 


    On tour, take a look around and see if all the kids are looking happy and  engaged during free time, and not a lot of kids sitting around looking like they are disconnected. This will help get an idea of how well the school does at helping the kids make connections with eachother.

    Ask about parent involvement because a school that has an active parent involvement generally means that parents are seen as a valuable member of the school's team.

    See what types of clubs the school has since this can be a reflection of what the student body is like, their interests.

    If it is important, ask where most kids go after leaving middle school.

    Find out what kind of field trips the classes take which may show where the priorities of the school are.

    Check to see what the backgrounds of the teachers are, if they have a specific grounded education in the subjects they teach or if they have a background in general teaching with a personal interest in a subject that they go on to teach without intensive subject training.

    Black Pine Circle might be a great fit. The class population for each year is about 70 students, split into 3 clusters to make it an even more personal experience. The teachers really get to know your kids well and it shows in the report card comments (and 6th grade doesn't give letter grades to allow for the adjustment to middle school.) There are a lot of group projects with enough time to finish them. It is a challenging enough program with great social-emotional supports at every level.Teachers, administrators and all support staff are there to support every students' needs to help them learn. The social emotional learning tools are mostly incorporated into the day to day rather than provided as a separate unit - they walk the walk.

    Drama and art are part of every year's curricula with experienced and passionate teachers offering really creative projects.

    PE was only 2 days a week (for better or worse) with a PE teacher that is outstanding, prioritizing acceptance of everyone at their own level and sportsmanship and encouragement instead of competitiveness and single-mindedness for winning- he takes this very seriously.

    The music teachers are great, too- all are very passionate and great at what they do.There is music incorporated in to every  school year with nontraditional instruments including steel drums and ukuleles! (Just be ready for early morning practices and last minute practice changes if in jazz band as an outside activity. But it is worth it!)

    It has an awesome after-school, award winning Math Club. This is a reflection of the outstanding 7th grade math teacher and his team. He can be seen as intense by today's standards but he meets students at their own level, challenging those who he sees as capable, guiding those who need the extra care and guidance. His expectations are perhaps "old school" but he has high expectations in terms of paying attention and doing the work. But he is there, making himself available to those who do the work but need more help. Additionally, there is a math support specialist if more support is needed.

    And last but not least, the sense of community is pretty fabulous. The school offers morning coffee social gatherings for parents to mingle, w/ heads of staff present, evening presentations, communicative grade level "room parents", monthly community matters meetings via zoom, family organized camping trips. Really nice folks, all around.

    Athenian is really something special, especially the middle school.  Because of the flexibility and variety of the curriculum, compared to other middle schools, they are really able to meet each different kid where they are at.  I can't say enough good things about the place.  They did an exceptionally good job navigating the pandemic for example, the school leadership was thoughtful, proactive, transparent, and quickly pivoted to finding a way for the kids to learn safely and in person.   There was stellar communication from the school throughout, and we are forever grateful to have our kids at such a stable, well-run, caring, unique school.  We didn't know if the commute would be a challenge, but it wound up being a nonissue as lots of kids take the school's bus together from Berkeley and Oakland. 

  • Hello we are in the process of searching for a middle school for our daughter and considering Head Royce, Redwood Day, and Julia Morgan.  Can anyone give their feedback, positive or negative.  For Head Royce and Redwood Day would specifically help to hear from families who joined in middle school, and if there was any difficulty integrating into the community or academics, as I know many children will have been there since kindergarten.  We have a smart, quirky kid, loves school and super intellectually curious, though does not have good executive function so I do worry about taking on the workload of middle school with a lot more homework, so that will be an adjustment.  She also doesn't have the best social skills, so I'm hoping for a kind, inclusive community.  She loves friends once she makes them (usually does better with bookworm type friends like herself) but she's definitely not going to be the queen bee.  Would love any input on academics, culture, and anything else.

    Our child, now in 9th grade, went to Redwood Day from 6th - 8th. They are on the introverted end of the spectrum, but made multiple good friends over the years and felt they were readily and easily welcomed in 6th grade by kids who had been there for many years. Since the typical cohort of kids in any grade is around 40, the returning 5th grade kids who start 6th are *eager* to have fresh faces and expand their community (the new students, for my child's 6th grade year, totaled 24). Yes, there is more school work and homework than what our child had in (our local, public) elementary school for 5th grade, BUT the RD teachers/staff are phenomonal about teaching students how to plan, how to parcel out their studies, how to use a calendar, how to use study guides, etc. They give them these "ladders" to achieve success! As a result, our kid was set up very well for 9th grade. (Oh, and did you know that RD has a staff member who helps guide 8th graders and their parents through the process of looking at and applying for (when appropriate) high schools? His role is like a college counselor and his knowledge, guidance and wisdom was invaluable. Plus he's a(nother) great human being at RD--there are so many!

    Students at RD are put into advisories at the beginning of 6th grade. They stay w/ their advisor throughout MS. They meet at the start (and end?) of each day. They participate in challenges throughout the year (like House Cup challenges in Harry Potter) and get to know one another very well. If your kid is lucky enough to get Ms. Stoler (a history teacher), you and they may be singing her praises regularly, as I still do. She was one of many fantastic, dedicated, responsive teachers. I can only think of two teachers, during the entire 3 years, who rated a "meh". 

    Other than the pricetag and commute (at least for us), I have only very positive things to say about RD. They are super communicative, thorough and clear (especially the head of school, John Loeser). They are amazingly inclusive, respectful, and are champions for (and weave throughout the various curriculums) social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion. Your child will receive a really well-rounded, age-appropriate and life-appropriate education (eg internet safety, sexual health, etc). 

    Good luck in this process and decision!

    Signed, a lifelong fan of RD 

    We have a 6th grader at Julia Morgan and have been extremely happy thus far. Our daughter is sweet, kind, but a bit reserved and lacks confidence both academically and socially. She also works hard but struggles with executive functioning skills. JMSG has been a fantastic fit for her. The community, in our experience, has been incredibly inclusive, warm, and supportive. She has gotten to know literally all the girls in her grade (they shake up the cohorts each trimester) and from what we've observed, it's been very un-cliquey (i.e., they have a group text thread going that literally involves all 6th graders, she seems to eat lunch with different groups frequently). The school does a lot to help with the executive functioning transition -- they have a weekly Workflow class where they actively teach organization / homework management techniques, and all students are given a planner which teachers then reinforce logging assignments in. There's a huge push for the girls to try new things -- my usually shy child has done chorus, improv, and multiple sports so far this year -- and she's bonded more with classmates given those extracurriculars. There are a lot of quirky kids who seem to find a warm and welcoming home there. And finally, I think we underappreciated the value of JMSG being just a middle school before we started: Everyone's coming in new, the teachers/faculty are steeped in research about middle school girls and how to best reach them, and there are no younger or older-kid dynamics to navigate. Wishing your family the best in making the right choice!

    Regarding Julia Morgan: My daughter attended for all of middle school. It was overall a very negative experience for her. Despite what the administration says about managing bullying and mean-girl behavior, it is alive and well at JMSG (don't be mistaken about this). 

    Additionally, their emphasis on "growth mindset" and being cheerful and positive at all times feels out of sync with middle school. It is a great idea that is pounded home to the point that it became a joke in our household. If my daughter expressed anything other than enthusiasm for her classes, her "growth mindset" was in question.

    There are a few exceptional teachers at JMSG, without a doubt.  I think the academics were fine (not as fine as described, however). Overall, unless your daughter wants a small, somewhat cloying, and idealistic environment, I would consider looking elsewhere. I was very enthusiastic when we visited JMSG and applied. It turned out to be quite different than expected.

  • The idea of language acquisition is very attractive as we consider private middle schools. If we are paying the same amount, an opportunity to become fluent or proficient in a second language is worth it! Since we speak neither French nor Spanish, we are having a hard time deciding. Spanish is more practical in CA but our child is more interested in French. She says it seems more unique / different. EBI is a little closer to our home. We do not know anyone who is already at EB or EBI. Do these schools offer enrichment class and after school care options? Does the campus have a green space? We would love to hear from families whose children went through the language learner track with no prior exposure to the dominant langue language in the respective school. Thank you. 


    we are parents to 2 kids currently at EB. Our 3rd grader has been there since kindergarten and our son just started preschool last September. 
    Before the pandemic, our daughter had a couple of enrichment classes including piano and chess. We are currently not doing any enrichment classes out of caution since we have an infant at home. But the school has resumed enrichment classes and they closely monitor the kids and observe all the required protocols. They currently offer several enrichment classes
    we are very happy with the school and the overall after care program is very well run. 
    Although, I cannot specifically speak to the fast rack experience, I know EB has a fast track program.

    My husband and I want to give the gift of bilingualism to our kids since we both grew up bilingual. Spanish was attractive to us as well but since we both speak French, EB was an easy choice for us. Please reach out with any additional questions.

    Hi, I can't speak to the experience of being part of the language learner track at EBI because my child is in the bilingual track, but I can discuss enrichment and after school options.  My child is in sixth grade.  In addition to Spanish, English, math, science, and Individuals and Societies (a social studies type class), kids in both tracks take art and PE, which are taught in Spanish, and library, design, drama, and music, which are taught in English.  Math and science are in English for everyone, and I&S in Spanish for the bilingual kids.  Kids in the bilingual program also take Mandarin, which I believe is an option for kids in the learner track.  Thirty minutes are set aside at the end of day, three days a week, for Academic Support, which is a time for kids to do homework, get organized, ask questions, etc.  There are also teacher-led clubs offered for middle school kids, which include things like math and science competitions, sexuality/gender alliance, newspaper, improv/sketch comedy, to name a few.  I think these usually meet at lunch.  Also student council, and after school sports activities, including basketball, volleyball, soccer, ultimate frisbee, track and field.  Finally, there is an after care program for middle school students.  And yes, there is a green space, which is not huge, but not small either.  Lots of soccer and other sports happen there and also on the blacktop, which is bigger.  

    I have been really pleased with his teachers this year.  My kid is not the most self-motivated student, but he loves school even though he is being asked to do a lot.  There is certainly still room for improvement, but we feel confident his teachers have helped him identify a path to enduring academic success.  I should also mention that I've been impressed with EBI's handling of the pandemic.  Last year, the school got younger students back on campus safely as early as September, and the older kids by the end of October.  Since early on, we've had once a week PCR-testing on campus, conveniently during the school day, and since the return to campus in January, teachers/staff and kids are getting tested twice a week.  The school has also supplied teachers and staff with KN95s.  It seems to be making a difference (fingers crossed).  


    I have two kids at EBI right now one in 7th grade and 5th grade. They will be in coming 8th grade and 6th grade next year.  We had originally applied to EB and later on found out about EBI when we were still looking at school. I can only talk about the application for us but EB was very sterile whereas EBI was very warm. Also in regards to practicality Spanish is the 2nd most spoken language in the world, and although French is quite sophisticated and unique it may limit real world applications. I am also somewhat biased since the EBI community is so warm and inviting, even with changes to staff we have been quite happy with covid protocols (testing twice a week with immediate results), the campus has some green space, lots of enrichment programs both school ran or club ran such as 4H club. My son has a friend in the language track program and I asked him how that works, he says that he participates in some of the Spanish stuff and in class the teachers enforce Spanish only for the kids. We are not native speakers for Spanish so we also try to reinforce by letting my kids watch Netflix shows with the Spanish audio. My son also chose what after school club he wants to be in and decided on the Science Olympiad. They had options such as investing, math, art, writing etc. They also get an advisor throughout middle school with a cohort of other middle schoolers that discuss things with them such as highschool applications etc and gets to know them during the 3 years that they have them.  We have fairly regular parent teacher conferences and use a system called managebac to track their assigments. Again, overall we have been with EBI since the very beginning and what I really like about the school is you are not just a face but have a relationship with the community (parents are very welcoming if you are into getting to know the parents), the teachers are amazing and the class sizes are small - typically 1:10 ratio with 18-22 students in the grade. Lastly, we drive from Pittsburg to EBI since 2013. That shows you our commitment to the school because it really is quite a commute in the morning, but EBI has been such a great experience and nurturing environment for my kids.

    My child graduated from EB several years ago, so I can only offer general advice and speak to the usefulness of French vs Spanish. We are an English speaking family with ties to Canada, so French made sense as a second language. As an adult, our child values their French bilingual education. After EB, they studied French in high school and minored in college with a study abroad term in Paris. People often say that Spanish is more useful here (and I agree that it can be a useful language for many professions, including teaching and health care), but there are many people in California who are fluent in both English and Spanish. From another point of view, since French is less common it's a skill that can provide unique opportunities. After applying for a competitive unpaid internship at the Cannes film festival, our child was quickly offered a position with free housing and a stipend because of their fluent French. Another young adult we know was the only person in their refugee resettlement agency who spoke French and was called on to work with refugees from former French colonies in Africa. Bottom line, I think learning either language can be useful and having learned one can help you learn another in the future. I'd suggest thinking in terms of the student's preferences and the whole school experience, and evaluate each school independent of the language question.

  • My child currently attends a private middle school with small in-person classes and it's going great. We are thinking of transferring to King next year.  Does anyone have any advice or insight about whether the challenging middle-school years are better served in a small cohort of peers or within larger social groups? I am less concerned about academics, and more with peer pressure, use of social media too young, smart phones... None of that is happening in our current school yet. 

    In my experience, it really depends on the kid, class size, and in-school opportunities to find your people. My daughter attended a medium-sized public middle school (600 students) which was just about the right size overall. She found small groups without too much peer pressure in music, cross country, and debate. The problem was the class sizes were way too big for her comfort level (35-40 kids per class). So those would be some things to consider.

    This is a great question. The experience at King vs a smaller private middle school will be vastly different. And I'll say that the choice really depends on your child. My daughter went to King, then Berkeley High and then a large UC and thrived at each school. Knowing what we knew about King, we didn't send our son there. He instead went to a great all-boys school in Berkeley (East Bay School for Boys) that focuses on teaching the whole child, maker culture, self-advocacy where he would be seen and held to account, among other things. Both are good schools. But not the best options for each of our kids. (And a side note, one of my son's classmates decided that after a year at EBSB he wanted a bigger pool, and transferred to King.) Good luck to you.

    I hear you. If you are concerned about those things (and your child’s school has managed to keep social media, etc. in check so far), I would not recommend King. Students there are exposed to a lot early, and almost all of them have phones. Issues about social media use are inevitable and there are of course many pros and cons to the increased exposure to life’s realities, which kids do need to learn and know how to manage, but the questions are when and how. If I were to do it again, I would have chosen private for middle school, and public for high school. My two cents.

    We are just finishing 8th grade at a small nurturing private school where the teachers really know my son well.  We have been very happy with the school and feel that we were able to put off some of the harder parts of the dominant culture pressure on boys.  Although we certainly got a fair share of it but it's our hope that it was in more manageable doses.  Why I wanted to write back though was our current dilemma... we were really hoping to send him to a public high school and get a break from paying tuition.  Our local high school is 2,000 kids and my son really does not want to go somewhere that big.  We are wrestling with if we can pay for private Catholic since it's more affordable but it's not optimal with their conservative views so  he may have to go to the public school  but certainly the transition would have been a lot easier from a large public middle school.  It's kind of like if you can't afford all private,  the bandaid has to be pulled off at some point and when is the best time.... not sure we picked it.  

    If it’s going great, I would not switch schools. I have an 8th grader at King. It’s been fine for him, but it was not fine for my daughter. She hated it. I would see no point in moving my child, especially for the last year of middle school, if things are currently going well.

    Our older child went to King, had a great time, went on to BHS and then Cal. Our younger child was distracted by the somewhat chaotic atmosphere at King - somewhat the students but even more so the teachers, as she had subs constantly. She went to a small private school and loved that, then on to BHS, which she's thriving in. So it's child-dependent. Regarding peer pressure and behavior - the private school was worse - kids with privilege seem to misbehave more. Vaping in school, smoking weed, all of that. But it was all avoidable; she never got involved and had a very supportive friend group and involved teachers.

    I can respond from the opposite perspective. My child was at Longfellow in sixth grade when they switched to "distance learning" last spring. We switched her to a small private school where she has been able to attend in person classes all year. When I asked about 8th grade she wanted to remain at the current school and not return to Longfellow. (This was before it became clear that BUSD was not making in person classes a priority for next year either, although in retrospect maybe the writing was on the wall.) From my perspective she has also been noticeably happier at the smaller school. 

    As to phones specifically, according to my kid virtually every child at Longfellow had a smart phone and was on it constantly. The new school makes active efforts to keep the kids off screens, and no phones are allowed. (Technically, I don't believe they were allowed at Longfellow either during class, but just from pick up and drop off I can say that they were everywhere.) There is also far less discussion of "dating" at the new school. So from a parenting perspective, if you value keeping the kids off screens and social media, based on our experience I would stick with the small private school. If you've found a middle school where your kids isn't dealing with peer pressure, use of social media too young, smart phones, etc. it's probably worth sticking with it another year if you can afford the cost. 

  • For the last few years we’ve been very fortunate to be a part of a small private school community that has emphasis on diversity and social justice. While it’s been wonderful to have a school reflect the values that we feel strongly about and teach at home it’s frustrating that the academics aren’t equally strong. We’ve had these feelings pre pandemic and the pandemic has really reinforced our feelings. We are parents of a soon to be middle schooler and we are very concerned that the middle school program doesn’t adequately prepare our child for high school, be it a small private school or a large public school. We are seeing Math, Science, and English take a back seat to Cultural Studies and Social Justice classes. For example,  Cultural Studies is every day for 45 minutes. Math and Science are only once a week for 30 minutes. Is it possible to find a school that is academically rigorous and includes our values in the curriculum? Also is there a school with openings for sixth grade next fall? 

    Any parent recommendations? 

    I have a fifth grader at Prospect Sierra and feel like the academics are stronger than our local public option (I can't speak to comparison with other private schools), and there is a strong commitment to diversity weaving in the entire curriculum. (OK, maybe I haven't seen it in math or PE... ha ha.)

    We are a progresssive family of color, and my daughter is in middle school at Park Day School.  I continue to be very impressed with their committment to social justice as well as foundational academics.  All tought to be critical thinkers vs rote learners.  

    Why not just let your child live the curriculum in a diverse public school?

    Public schools always have openings. 

    We have a child at The Academy. The Academy has a very strong academic program, especially in the middle school. Also there is a lot of diversity in the school. In 6th grade, students take Pre-Algebra  (5x/week for 50 min each session), Science (4x/week for 50 min sessions), Latin (3x/week for 50 min sessions), French (3x/week for 50 min session), English (5x/week for 50 min sessions), History (4x week for 50 min sessions), Music (2x week for 50 min sessions), Art (2x week for 50 min sessions), PE (3x week). The classes are small but most importantly you should have your child visit to make sure it's a good fit for them. Also, just FYI...they do get a lot of homework in middle school.

    My son is currently a 7th grader at The Academy in Berkeley and we can't say enough about the school. Our oldest also attended from 6-8th grade and is currently in HS doing very well, and we're confident it's due to the preparation he received in middle school. The rigorous academics at The Academy is actually one of the top reasons we were attracted to the school and we have not been disappointed. The teachers are so committed and dedicated to the students. The curriculum is focused on making sure the students are adequately prepared for the next level. We also love the community and the school has definitely focused on creating diversity as part of its culture, which is also very important to us. Even through the pandemic, the school did a great job being prepared for distance learning, making it an easy transition for us, as parents, and the students. It's a small school but so well rounded and has been a perfect fit for both our boys. I definitely recommend it. Here is the school link if you'd like more information, https://theacademyschool.org.  Best wishes!

    Prospect Sierra school fits the bill.  My child was a student in Prospect Sierra for 9 years, from K-8.  As you already know, Prospect Sierra places a big emphasis on social emotional learning and diversity.  It is also very strong in academics, at least during the 9 years we were there.  I can come up with two major differences between Prospect Sierra and public schools: 1) they teach kids how to learn, not just content but soft skills of learning; 2) they provided sufficient flexibility to students who have superior academic abilities.  My child graduated a couple of years ago from PS and went to a top private high school known for vigorous academics.  Even in this setting, my student got to the top of the class easily. In retrospect, my student commented that PS did a great job preparing its students for high school and beyond. Many projects and activities they do in high schools (private and public) have already been done in 7th and 8th grades in PS. More importantly, PS graduates are already well trained in study skills that make them easier to adapt to high schools. It is perhaps the best school (K-12) in the area.  We were lucky to be a part of it. 

    Hello. If you're looking for a school that prides itself on its academic rigor AND its commitment to social engagement, then the Academy in Berkeley is the school for you. We have been parents there for over ten years and we can't say enough great things about the teachers as well as the small but mighty administration that supports them. Classes are no more than 15 people (yep, 15!) and yet the student body is extremely diverse. Coursework ranges from a comprehensive STEAM program to learning Latin, debating historical perspectives and reading and performing a Shakespeare play. We are also lucky enough to have an incredible Music & Arts curriculum that is meant to enhance studies of rhythm, history & world culture.

    Our first child graduated in 2019 and could not have been more prepared as she entered University High School in San Francisco (another quite challenging program). Our second child will be entering 6th grade next year and has had a different but equally rewarding tenure there. Though schooling-from-home last year was tough on our young student, the school adapted in the fastest and safest way possible to bring the kids back into the classroom putting strict testing protocols into play and insisting on no contact between students. And, of course, masks. All this is to say, reach out to the Academy if you're looking for a unicorn of a school that challenges the student while still supporting the student's socio-emotional well-being.

    By mrkendal on Feb 3, 2021

  • my 10 yo has recently been quite adamant that they are not interested in being categorized by gender.  after learning together, they've decided that the term non-binary suits them just fine.   as they are entering middle school next fall and there are lots of open houses, we went to one of the all-girls school open house -- because in prior years we had discussed it as a possible middle school choice.  in retrospect it was not my best moment, as my kiddo chaffed every time they heard the school leaders talking about daughters, and girls.  schools that focus on gender tend to be, clearly, binary; however, schools that don't address either gender are also often reinforcing a patriarchal system.   it made me wonder whether there may be a better private or public choice for gnc or non-binary kids like them.  we live in oakland and would prefer to stay here for middle school.   any advice? 

    Hello, I have worked as a substitute in Berkeley Public Schools and BUSD seems truly committed to welcoming students of non-binary gender.  Many of the classes I have taught have a student or two who asks to be identified as a different gender than they were assigned at birth.  The teachers and admin in BUSD seem very supportive and welcoming.  The commitment to accepting all kinds of diversity in BUSD is heartening.  There is also a teacher at BHS who goes by Mx. rather than Ms. and uses they/them pronouns.

    First, congrats on getting this far and supporting your child in their gender experience.  I would recommend Park Day School, in Oakland.  My 2 kids, including my trans one, have attended from K through middle school.  Park Day has been on the cutting edge for close to 20 years for serving kids well when it comes to gender expression and gender diversity. When my son came out as trans during middle school, it was a non-event (no big deal).  There have been several non-binary or trans kids in our kids' classes and the teachers tended to know how to handle it, and the kids are awesome with it. The school overall has been going through some difficult transitions over the past several years, but the middle school has a truly fantastic new upper admin team, a fantastic staff, they're doing great with covid safety, and I think they are on the road to re-establishing their usual level of excellence. Feel free to get in touch with me if you'd like to talk further.

    Prospect Sierra.  My daughter graduated in 2016.  There were at that time all-gender bathrooms.  There was a lot of emotional/social teaching and support for all students.  I think PS is a school where teachers, staff, and students welcome and value non-binary people. 

    I went through this exactly with my child, who is now in 7th grade. Looking back it would have been very rough for them to be at an all-girls school, and I'm glad they made it clear to me they didn't feel comfortable. In my experience, both public and private middle schools in the Bay Area are working hard to create communities that welcome kids of all gender orientations. And the kids are leading the way. My child goes to Black Pine Circle, which is terrific in this regard, but he also has non-binary and trans friends at other middle schools, public and private, who feel very comfortable being themselves. The culture has shifted light years from when I was in middle school.

  • My child is currently in 5th grade public school. He is doing ok academically, and that is because I watch him all day during zoom school, and I make sure he does his homework, otherwise, he is not engaged at all and does not care about academics. He only likes comic books and video games. Even before ISP, he thought school was very boring, and had to be bribed and coerced to do homework. He also did not like the social aspects of public school as boys at such age are trying out social skills, teasing and talking trash, which he had a hard time with. Looking at this whole ISP and middle school next fall, I am wondering if we should put him in private school or keep him in public middle school? I really don’t want to be his “prison guard” anymore, making him do school/homework. But I’ve also heard private schools are just the same with even more homework and more zoom time. It’s a lot of money that I don’t want to spend to end up in the same position as now. Anyone with a kid like him? What did you do that worked or did not work? What middle school is better for kids like him? Thank you!

    This is the right time to think about private school for next year; they're all having admissions sessions coming up. It doesn't cost anything to zoom into a few and gather more intel. If he has a tight friend group moving into the public middle school, that would be a big factor to stay put. Otherwise, to be honest, from the perspective of someone who has one child in public middle school and one child in private middle school, yes the private school is more individual attention, more engaging, and more interesting assignments. That's my opinion and your mileage may vary. This is based on virtual classes. Right now many private schools in the East Bay are rolling out "back on campus" plans but obviously nobody knows what the COVID future will hold and it's a roll of the dice as to whether on-campus is really going to last this school year.

    Since in your district 6th grade is a time of school change, you might want to consider a transfer to a school in the West Contra Costa district, where 6th grade is still in elementary school and there are a couple of K-8 options. In our experience, this made the social component a lot less stressful. It is also so much easier on the 6th grade students to remain with one teacher rather than having five. Good luck.

    I have been very thankful for Park Day School!  Pre-COVID and during SIP.  Strong social-emotional focus, accommodating to each child's needs, smaller classes, even smaller when remote, not too much homework, homework is relevant and interesting.  During SIP they also did a great job of keeping a sense of community and peer engagement.

    I have a child at Fusion Academy which is great during this pandemic because it is all 1:1 and on video when in person isn't possible.  It actually keeps my previously unengaged student totally engaged and doing homework independently for the first time ever.  I think they start in 6th grade, if you're still looking for next year. For this year, I might consider homeschooling with private tutors (some will come in person) for a kid like this. So many of these kids are just losing a year of their education (whether in private or public school). Many of them can't mentally engage over video or do the work independently and will really lose out, but they won't be alone.  For a real education during this pandemic, I think 1:1 is the way to go for many of these kids.

    I would recommend that you keep him in public, but find him a school that is doing a better job with this new format. Use the saved $$ for better bribing "toys!" LOL My 4th grader is at ASCEND and my 7th grader is at EBIA and both schools (both charters, in Oakland) are doing a fabulous job with this online format. Feel free to reach out if you want to discuss more. I'm no longer a teacher, but I used to be an elementary school teacher and I taught in both public and private.    

    Our son is currently a 6th grader at Crestmont in East Richmond Heights. It is going really, really well! We're in distance learning until early Nov., and then we're moving to on-campus learning. The campus is totally set up for it and ready to go.

    Our history is that after being at the same school for a few years, that school became unstable and we did half a year of public school last year. So we actually have two pandemic experiences to compare to Crestmont, and it's like night and day. Yes, he is in Zoom classes, but the classes are fun, personal, and engaging. The teachers keep him on track in terms of showing up and getting his work done. Last year I had to keep him going all day — printing everything out, checking things off the list, pushing him to attend and to keep up. I have done almost none of that this year. He's basically self-sufficient because the program is so organized, immersive, and supportive. 

    I also have a high-schooler, and judging by both my boys and their sets of friends, distance learning works well for almost no one. Kids in general are turning inward toward screens and, if we're lucky, books and games. So I think your kid is normal in that.

    The difference with Crestmont is that they have studied best practices for distance learning since last year, and are profoundly committed to doing this right for the kids and parents. They don't expect us to be teachers or even supervisors at the middle school level. They've GOT this. The teachers are so passionate about keeping these kids' spirits up and supporting them throughout the day, that he feels like he has community. He has already made a group of friends and enjoys seeing his classmates and teachers online. Other notables: 1. They have a resource teacher who catches any kids who need extra help and Zooms them through it. My son is dyslexic and she knows how to help him succeed. 2. They have a lively PE class that gets them up on their feet, and art classes (my son's favorite) as well as a great Spanish teacher who's a lot of fun. 3. Social justice, local history, and projects are woven into the curriculum, so they're learning their skills, grammar, etc., in the context of the racial, gender, and environmental equality history of Richmond; the Black Lives Matter movement; and the topic of learning styles/differences — including supporting each kid in understanding their own. This *relevant* curriculum is a whole different thing compared to slogging through drill and kill assignments uploaded somewhere that I have to print out and force him to do. They also have screen-light Wednesdays so his eyeballs get a break.

    In terms of the social stuff you mentioned, the culture at Crestmont is so values-driven and the community is so tight that I have seen none of that. It's the most diverse school community we've been a part of, including gender orientation. Issues of bias and discrimination are explicitly addressed, so that stuff is not going to squeak in under the radar.

    I honestly wish we'd found Crestmont earlier, and if distance learning is this good, I'm really excited for our kid to get on campus in a couple of weeks! 

    One last thought. I'd recommend reading The Trouble with Boys. It really helped me in my parenting of two y-chromosomes over here! Good luck to you!

    East Bay School for Boys sounds like the perfect place for your son. There is a lot of hands-on learning, including (when school is in person) an amazing work program where the boys get to do metalwork, woodwork, etc. - the school even has its own forge! It's a small school, so the teachers know the boys well and are really invested in their personal growth, and there is a lot of thought put into how to teach boys who were uninspired by traditional schools. The social-emotional learning is great, and the school culture is one of acceptance - there are all kinds of boys there. There is not a ton of homework and the teachers are used to dealing with many different learning styles. Dana, the head of school, has handled the pandemic with thoughtfulness and grace. My son hated public school and was completely unmotivated by it, and EBSB completely turned him around. It was the best 3 years of his life, and worth every penny. He is now a freshman in high school, super engaged in school, and getting straight As. I can't recommend the school highly enough. 

    I would highly recommend you look at Bentley School. We have two kids there (one who just started the upper school and one well into their time there). While we've been very impressed with them all along, we are especially so during the pandemic. They have done a remarkable job, completely re-tooling themselves to prepare for the fall. The teachers and administrations have crafted an engaging and well-paced curriculum (and schedule) that keeps kids' learning, but above all, prioritizes the kids' morale. Our kids' teachers focus much of their synchronous time giving kids a way to connect with each other and to feel part of the community. And as they start to return to campus (just starting now and will resume more fully in January), they will be spending much of their time together on community-building activities and hands-on learning that they can't do while at home. Hope that helps.

    Our kids are in private school (Prospect Sierra) and to be honest, we haven't found the distance-learning program to be worth the extremely high cost of tuition. If you have the ability to do so, perhaps you can supplement his public school experience? Find the one thing he's genuinely passionate about (comic books is a great place to start) and find some way to build on and feed that. Tapping into kids' own interests is often the key to engaging them, even if those interests might seem "trivial" or "non-educational." 

    Our kids are also at Prospect Sierra (have been for a few years) and we are really happy with their distance learning program. Based on what I hear from friends in our local public schools, we are getting a much more robust experience - my middle school aged kids are in "classes" most of the day and have substantive homework and project assignments while their teachers are really accessible when we have questions or get stuck on something. Much of the school has also started going back in person this month too and my daughter is really excited to be able to see friends and teachers, even while wearing masks all day and following other pretty strict safety protocols. 

    Distance learning is not perfect anywhere, of course, and cannot replace the in-person connection but I think having a school that is flexible, better resourced and able to respond to parent needs in this time has made all the difference. 

    I have to say Park Day has rocked this distance learning situation - my 8th grader with ADD inattentive disorder is thriving with the diversity of engaging curriculum -- the innovations and creative projects and structure implemented by Park Day School  have been just incredible ... the new head of school Angela Taylor has brought the teachers together and brought out the best..They have also been driving a strong civics education element in middle school to educate around the system of democracy as well as providing significant support and attention for kids around the national protests and unrest.   It is not perfect -- Zoom is Zoom and my 13 year old is not on top of everything -- but that is his journey, not the school's fault,,,,    

  • Hello all, 

    Our daughter is entering 6th grade from out of town, and we are trying to choose between The Berkeley School, Prospect Sierra, Park Day School and Black Pine Circle. We have to make a decision soon! She is quite creative and always full of ideas, and has no academic challenges. However, socially can go between being quite self-conscious / shy, to excitable - full of ideas - but somewhat inflexible. So while very social, she isn't the most easy-going kid - and can be quite sensitive. She also can be quite anxious - but again - very social. She is currently at a small school, (just 20 kids in her class), and we're trying to find the best fit for her with her social-emotional development in mind, as we are relocating to the area. We particularly want a place with a good drama and creative writing program - her two favorite endeavors.

    Would love to hear of your middle school experiences. While I know that cliques/girl-drama is unavoidable, given our daughter's heightened sensitivity, we'd like a school where there is not too much of this. Or at least where social-emotional development is at the forefront. For example, while I know that TBS is that particularly nurturing, how does that balance against the benefit of having a larger student population from which to make friends, like at PS, where there are many new kids entering?

    She also has been studying piano for years, so we wouldn't mind a place that can nurture that interest, though that is secondary.

    If you have a daughter that sounds like ours, I'd love to hear of your middle school experiences at any of these schools.


    Park Day is all about leading with empathy. And the school culture is such that being the new kid (no matter what grade; no matter what circumstance the new kid is coming from) is handled with intention, and empathizing with what it feels like to be (insert situation -- including being the new kid). It is also done in a way that *doesn't* make the new kid feel different or stand out. It's done with a big group hug, if you will. 

    I have a current 9th grade son at public high school who was at Park Day K-8, and a current 7th grade daughter who also started Park Day in K. While they haven't been the new kid, they have been the ones who welcome the new kids (and their families!). The awareness that teachers and other school staff have about the new kids makes it an inviting and welcoming experience that eases the transition. For example, my daughter was paired up with a new kid over the summer and they hung out a couple of times. By the time we were a few months into the school year, my daughter made friends with a different new kid, and her summer pal made friends with different kids. 

    Regarding middle school drama, you are right that it happens. Two things about that: (a) what's important is the way the teachers and staff respond. Park Day has been doing restorative justice before it was a thing. There is also a strong culture of non-violent communication (OFNR - observe; feel; need; request); and (b) it also *doesn't* happen with all kids. Just as there may be natural group selection of artsy kids, or sporty kids, or gamers, there are some kids who lean away from cliques and hang out with different kids everyday. There are also kids who just aren't into the gossipy/drama thing. 

    What I have appreciated about Park Day is that teachers and staff know and recognize this. They talk to the kids about being respectful (you don't have to be friends with everyone, but you do have to be respectful!); and about making choices and using good judgment. 

    Regarding drama and creative writing: drama is getting its footing. We have a fabulous drama teacher who is new to Park Day is year (2019-2020) and she's doing great work in getting the kids to think about drama not just on stage but also radio shows, developing a script/dialogue, etc. She is also working to have drama be interdisciplinary, combining efforts with the music teacher. The kids do some acting on stage, and for those who don't want to be the front and center talent, there are other roles for them that are just as important such as props, and stage managing. 

    There are plenty of opportunities to grow as a writer, too. Throughout middle school, they explore different types of writing via reading different genres and writing in different styles, too. My daughter started out shying away from poetry, and now she enjoys it and even won a small contest. I also credit Park Day with the long-term impact because my 9th grader who doesn't have daily school work during our shelter-in-place has on his own decided to start journaling every day. He doesn't even like to write! I credit the journal/free writing at Park Day for showing him the joy of writing.

    I hope you find Park Day is a good fit for your daughter and your family. It's an amazing community!

    My daughter is in middle school at Park Day School and I can honestly say, the students are surprisingly open minded, supportive and nonjudgemental. I keep waiting to hear stories of cliques, drama and gossip, but it seems that while there are friend groups, the kids are pretty fluid when socializing. I think this must be a result of the school intentionally prioritizing compassion, collaboration and acceptance of diversity. And while it is intentional on the school's part to create this kind of supportive environment, it also attracts families who prioritize these values. This all translates to a community that puts a lot of emphasis on the social-emotional development of the students, and as a result, we see a lot of sensitive, expressive and comfortably unique kids at Park!

    We've also been very happy with Park's drama and music department, as well as their creative writing program/humanities classes. The academics during the middle school years at Park Day are rigorous in general, but they're able to support different learning approaches with collaborative work and project based lessons.

    Good luck with your decision and feel free to follow up - I'm always happy to sing the praises of Park Day!


    We have a daughter that sound like yours! We were in a very similar situation last year with our big-hearted, anxious, word-loving, somewhat inflexible daughter and chose Park Day. We couldn't be happier.

    Becky, Rachel, Joyce, Carrie, and the rest of the 6th grade team really get our daughter. They see the best in every single kid and push them with patience and love, even when they are inflexible, and even during these tough times the world is currently going through.

    The  6th graders at Park Day start the year with an overnight trip to Westminster Woods and it was a great way to integrate new students like our daughter. For our daughter it is important that she have a close relationship with her teachers & make friends, and we were very impressed with how quickly this happened. We don't think this was a lucky coincidence, Park Day team is very intentional with their focus on the social-emotional. Our daughter is a writer, like your daughter, and Rachel has been so supportive. They have a great latitude on projects to follow their passions and interest. Even during the shelter in place this has continued. Yesterday my daughter and one of her Park Day friends were working on a story together in Google Docs. In short we are very happy, We like everything about the school but more importantly feel like it's the right fit for our daughter. Middle school is not easy, so we are thrilled to have her in a place that supports her emotionally.

    My son graduated from Prospect Sierra a couple of years ago. He is quiet, sensitive, bright, (and also a pianist!). He had an excellent experience at Prospect. There was a STRONG focus on social and emotional health and well-being, as well as leadership in this area. The thing I liked about the program was that they used the inevitable issues that arose among the students as an opportunity to teach skills, empathy, and awareness. They did it in a way that was appropriate to middle schoolers (that wasn't embarrassing, but empowering). It seems to have worked well for our son. The academics are outstanding too.

    Welcome to the area! I have twins in the TBS Middle School who started at TBS in 2nd Grade. Our experience as entrants somewhat midstream was so nurturing and supportive and every time new students have joined their classroom - some even in the middle of the school year - I have witnessed the compassion and support that the new students and their families have received. TBS is an extraordinary school. They walk their talk every day and the way they cultivate and encourage social-emotional learning is amazing. They see every child for who they are, their strengths and their challenges, and work to meet them where they are and provide the structures necessary for an engaged classroom community and school.

    As to your concerns about the smaller size of the student body at TBS compared with the other schools you mention, my experience has been that the value of a small community cannot be overstated, especially during the middle school years when most of us struggled in some way or another at some point. A class no larger than 26 students ensures that every child is seen and supported. There is no way to "hide" from your peers or the adults on campus. In addition, while the small size may seem like an impediment to finding and making friends, our experience has been the exact opposite. All of the students at TBS learn to know and appreciate each other allowing them to work collaboratively and make friends with those unlike them. It enriches their experience rather than detracting from it.

    There is a terrific drama program in the middle school and they put on a play every year. My daughter loves creative writing and has been supported in and outside the classroom to expand on her writing (and even to embrace expository writing as well). I know how difficult it can be to chose the "right" school for our children and hope my comments help. TBS is a wonderful place!

    I know what an important decision choosing a school for our children is and wish you the best.

  • Our (just turned) 11 year old daughter has been going to the amazing Shu Ren International School since kindergarten. Next year, she'll finish up 6th grade there, and it's time to move on to a middle school.

    The school, faculty, and the administration have been amazing at this International Baccalaureate (IB), Chinese immersion program.

    We're located in El Cerrito, and aren't sure Korematsu is necessarily a good fit for her given her personality.  At Shu Ren, not only has she gotten an amazing, personalized education due to IB, but she’s been in an intimate setting with 12-15 kids per class.

    We’re looking for charter/(affordable) private middle-school recommendations that meet the following criteria:

    • Personalized learning
    • Amazing teachers
    • Smaller than normal class sizes
    • A foreign language emphasis, if possible (Spanish is fine, but Chinese is ideal)

    Any suggestions?



    You should check out Canyon. My daughter just started there in 6th grade and she loves it. It's a K-8 public school in the redwood forest! Your daughter would be in a mixed-age class of 6-7-8 and the teacher is amazing! The entire school community is amazingly nurturing and kind. And the academics are also stellar. Feel free to contact me for more info.


    Montessori Family School in El Cerrito has an excellent middle school - a real hidden gem in the Bay Area. Class sizes are small; community is diverse, welcoming, and caring; curriculum is very engaging; and the teachers and administration are amazing. While its emphasis is not foreign language, Spanish is part of the course of study. https://www.montessorifamily.com/

    Have you considered Yu Ming Charter at all?  While it is very challenging to get in in the younger years, some students do leave at middle school, opening up spaces in 6th, 7th and 8th.  The challenge for Yu Ming is finding kids with sufficient Mandarin to enter in middle school.  Sounds like you may have an ideal candidate.

    I have an 11 year old  sixth grader (currently at elementary school at Fairmont in El Cerrito, headed to KMS next year), and my advice would be to talk to your daughter. It's not clear if she's currently in 5th or 6th, but even if she's only a 5th grader, she might already have a sense of a) how important Chinese is to her, 2) how important it is to start a new school with a new cohort (for example, Korematsu is just 7-8, so all the seventh graders are "new"; whereas Prospect Sierra middle school is 6-7-8, so starting in 7th would make you the "new kid"), 3) how wide she would like her friend circle to be, 4) other factors we don't know are important (such as where school friends or neighborhood friends are going). I'm not saying the decision is totally up to her, but it doesn't sound like you have engaged with her at all about this milestone and transition yet. Keep in mind that private school applications require a student statement/essay - so she's going to have to want to go to the place you want to apply to. You may want to spend time with your child on the campus of some of the schools your family is considering and see what her reaction is. Our child has had the opportunity to take band once a week on campus at KMS and we try to occasionally go to social events there open to the public. Everyone's comfort level has increased with greater familiarity.

  • Hi, I have a third grader and we are just starting to think about middle school, which could start in 6th grade, depending on which school we pick. I would like advice from others on the size of a middle school. How many kids is too big? How many kids is too small? Would a small middle school with 10-15 kids across two grades be too socially limiting? Or does it feel comforting? Is a school with 250 kids too big and scary? How important is it to have a well-resourced school with good elective options for kids? Or is it more important to make sure my kid is challenged in the classroom (he is advanced academically but socially young)? If there is a trade off between academic fit and social fit, what is more important? Is it better to choose a school that goes through 12th grade or change school again for high school?Thanks so much for your advice! I don't know where to start to think about this and there are a lot of different options.

    I only have a sixth grader (still at the same elementary school, which goes through 6th), but from the wisdom of parenting an 11 year old, I will say 3rd grade is too soon to worry about this. Think about it more in the spring of 4th grade, when more of your child's strengths and challenges in the school setting have emerged.

    But, a school with 250 kids too... big? No. I would be concerned that a private school that size would be going out of business soon. Keep in mind that many, many private schools have folded in the past 5 or so years in the East Bay due to the high cost of living here, and there are probably more teetering on the brink each year.

    Mom of three former middle schoolers here.  You will be amazed by how much your kid will change by 6th grade, including right up to the last minute during the summer before they start middle school. By the time they were 12 and 13, my kids wanted a bigger school where there were more kids to choose from.  This is the age when kids start figuring out, independently of us parents, what really interests them, and who they want to hang out with. All three of my kids made lifelong friendships in middle school, and discovered lifelong passions, whether science, music, art, or sports.  An environment that might seem overwhelming in 3rd grade is often the very thing a young teen wants. Chances are excellent your kid will actually prefer a bigger school, but if not, you can always make a change when you get there.

  • Hi all. We are moving to Berkeley! So excited.

    My 12 yr. old son (6th grade now) loves math and science so we are looking for the best school he might get into (both private and public.)

    I've have heard The Berkeley School emphasizes personalized, high-quality education. I'd love feedback on The Berkeley School for STEM education. (I see it used to be a Montessori school and am worried they may not emphasize academics.) Are there other private schools that excel at teaching STEM subjects?

    I see there are 3 public middle schools which we would be assigned to depending on which zone we live in. We are pretty flexible on where we live so I'd love feedback on which public middle school has a great math and science program, in particular. (I'm assuming that middle school also has other great programs as well but we are particularly interested in math and science.)

    Thank you so much for your honest feedback- we really value this resource! Karen

    Black Pine Circle School has an excellent math and science program. In addition to great classroom math teachers, they have a math team.  This team does well in state-wide competitions, despite having only 60 students per grade.  The science program is also fantastic.  They recently built a state-of-the-art science center with classrooms devoted to biology and physics.  Kids have talked directly to scientists from places like the CDC in Atlanta and the Advanced Light Source at UC Berkeley.  There's a very active maker community, which overlaps with the math and science curriculum in that kids do 3D modeling and printing.  Check it out!

    My son went to The Berkeley School for middle school (and we ended up moving our younger child over as well to the elementary school because our son was having such a good experience there). We were very happy with the STEM education and overall academics and found it to be the right balance of rigor and challenge without being an academic pressure cooker or putting academics above the importance of adolescent development. The science teacher there is amazing - passionate, challenging and knows how to engage students. Those were not subjects I would say my son was interested in before coming to TBS. I think also the smaller class sizes allowed these subjects to not be intimidating for students that otherwise might feel intimidated by those subjects or who may be afraid to push their limits. Our son just started (public) high school and is both very well prepared as well as is engaged in math & science. 

    I suggest checking out The Academy in Berkeley and if your son really likes math the Proof School in San Francisco. I have children at both schools. The Academy is a small school, but very academically oriented. I feel my child is getting an excellent education there.  Proof School is also excellent school with a math emphasis....They also have strong science and computer science classes. Many kids at Proof School live in Berkeley and commute on BART. If your son really enjoys math, I would suggest visiting. I've also heard good things about Black Pine Circle. 


    I can’t speak specifically about STEM education at the Berkeley School. I can speak about our St. Paul’s experience for middle school for science and math. Both subjects are valued at St. Paul's and the school works hard so that every middle schooler learns the material at the appropriate level for that individual student. 7th and 8th graders have the option to take math electives that can supplement there regular math class. Our daughter’s math prowess for the material grew to the point where she elected to take the additional math class. As a 8th grader math has become one of her favorite classes and we attribute this to the teachers and their ability to balance rigor with creative and thoughtful lessons. The science curriculum also operates in a similiar manner. The middle school science teachers asks students to think and view the material as a scientist. With a number of project based science assignments/labs students are tasked with both observing and commenting on the material. The students are stretched and asked to think critically on the material they are studying. We appreciate that at the end of the lab/assignment they are asked what would they do next with there answers. 

    Hope this helps.

    • Work as a scientist: observe, research, and develop controlled experiments


  • My daughter is in 5th grade, and has had terrific elementary teachers but has rarely enjoyed traditional academic learning. I know she'll need to work even more on academics in middle school, so I'm looking for a school that will give her other experiences that will help her feel positive about going every day. She loves building things of all kinds, crafts, music and art. She also likes project-based learning. We live in Berkeley and are considering both public and private schools. Any schools out there that might be a good fit? I'd thought of OSA for music or art but it looks like she'd need to already be quite skilled. The East Bay School for Boys has the projects, but she's a girl . . . I'd love any thoughts. 

    You might want to look at the Redwood Day School in Oakland. In addition to great academics, it has art, drama and tech/innovation lab as part of the regular curriculum in MS. On a less regular schedule, it also offers cooking and gardening (more regular in lower school  

    It also offers “activities” as a class which changes each trimester. The “activities” classes can be and have been almost anything from floorball to cooking to mochas & math. The teachers (and done students) teach something they love and the kids get to pick which one they want to take. 

    Sounds like it might be a fit?

    Park Day School in the Temescal neighborhood in Oakland may be a good fit. The school integrates a hands-on, project based approach to teaching math, science, and the humanities. There's a lot of peer collaboration alongside independent work.  Students take art, music, and drama, and there is a weekly elective that lets kids dive deeper into arts, sports, community service, or other interest areas. Park Day is a K-8, and maker-centered learning is baked into the curriculum. For example, in 6th grade, during the living museum project, students create something in the school's Innovation Workshop to bring a research topic to life. Also they combine math, science and art and build an actual “average 6th grader.” It’s  pretty cool.

    Have you considered Black Pine Circle School (BPC) in Berkeley? Both my kids went there for middle school (6th-8th grades). My daughter (now a senior in high school) is also a person who loves building things. She always has several projects underway, even now. In addition to being an academically and socially wonderful school which encourages kids to be creative in their own ways, BPC has a Maker Club that I suspect your daughter would appreciate. The club is run by one of the (amazing) science teachers. The kids are encouraged to be as creative as they would like be. There is a great deal of interesting equipment for the kids to use (e.g. 3-D printers) although all forms of building and "making" are encouraged. I would strongly suggest visiting BPC -- you'll get a real sense of the school and the kids. My kids couldn't be more different from each other and both had great experiences at BPC.

    My son is currently at Park Day School in 7th grade (in 2018/19), we are really happy with the Middle School program this year. Last year was a bit rocky for a variety of reasons, but this year I have been blown away I am by how fierce and brilliant and loving and organized my son’s teachers are. He is learning so much (and thriving in) math, science, humanities and Spanish.  In terms of the arts, while we are happy with the visual arts program, and the new music teacher, the drama program is particularly strong. After getting to experience all of the disciplines, in 8th grade, Park Day students specialize in drama, arts, or music. The arts program overall is quite solid, with all three arts teachers (drama, art, music) often connecting projects to social justice and current events.

    Touring the school and talking to current parents and educators will help you know very quickly whether it may be a good potential match.  Good luck with your search!

  • Can anyone recommend a middle school in the El Cerrito to Oakland area that isn’t particularly academically rigorous and has a strong social emotional program and a diverse student population?

     We were looking for exactly the same thing for our son and ended up at The Berkeley School. It’s exactly what you’re describing. I wish my kid was more academic but he’s just not. What he really needed help with was his social/emotional life and TBS is all about that. It’s been great for him. 

    Hi there - I think Claremont Middle School in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland fits that bill -- it has a very diverse population (both ethnically and economically) and focuses a lot on school culture, restorative justice, etc.  It is/was academically rigorous enough for our kids but accommodates a broad spectrum of skill levels.  We are extremely pleased with our experience there.

    EPIC would be a great choice! It's in the Fruitvale neighborhood in Oakland. So would our school, ASCEND, as it's a K-8. However, I'm not sure if we have any middle school openings. EPIC does, I think. Good luck!

    It may be a little out of your area range...but I really enjoyed having my son at Alameda Academy.

    We love the East Bay School for Boys.  Located a block from CAL, it's got a vibrantly diverse staff and student body and it does a wonderful job of cultivating social-emotional learning.  The academics have been great for our son as well, but more than anything we have been watching our now 8th grader take charge of his academic life, be more caring and responsible, be social engaged and become very skillful about living a life that is creative and meaningful.  A lot of what happens there is great modeling from wonderful teachers who care deeply about the kids.  Good luck with your search - there is an Information Night this Wed. night in case life allows for it.

  • My son is currently in 6th grade at a middle school that relies heavily on an online learning environment and it is not working for him. The kids have somewhat free range on their dedicated chromebooks, which they use for planning and also all-to-often for out-sourced curriculum such as video tutorials and compendiums of different web links. I'm hoping to transfer him to a school for 7th/8th grade that does not eschew technology, but rather, uses it responsibly (e.g. limited time and no, or at least limited, video tutorials a.la. Khan). Any advice for a somewhat quirky and sweet and social boy who loves history and parents who want their child grounded in the basics (e.g. reading, writing, math) in a kind and stimulating environment? Not asking for much;-) 

    Try to get your child into King Middle School!  Having been a happy King parent (and still a King volunteer), I can honestly state that King offers the kind of education -- and support -- for which many parents across the country pay thousands of dollars per year.  Frankly, all three public schools in Berkeley are so good that I don't see any reason for any Berkeley adolescent to attend a private school (unless it's a religious one).

    If you don't live in Berkeley, try for an inter-district transfer. Good luck!

    I read your post and I wanted to suggest the East Bay Waldorf School in El Sobrante.  My daughter went there for 7th and 8th after public school. It was a life changing experience.  In the middle school, they can use technology but the coursework was not on-line or on chromebooks. She could do research on-line for projects. She is in high school now and everything is on the chromebook.  She misses the Waldorf approach where they read historical fiction on each historical period that they were studying and actually listened to a lecture and take notes by hand. They learned how to draw, did woodwork and built their own stools, put on historical plays etc.   If you son likes history, the middle school curriculum at the Waldorf school is so rich and in depth.  Please check them out and ask questions.  There are so many misconceptions about the Waldorf educational approach, it is worth visiting and seeing if it would be a good fit.  They have the rest of their lives to be on computers, so to learn in depth and use all of their faculties can be a great addition to their development.


    Our son graduated from the Saklan School (private PK-8) last year. He would have been easily been sidetracked by tech free reign. They have an amazing academic program, loved his language arts/history studies and teachers. They have laptops but the teachers keep a very close eye (only one class per grade helps), and even in HW Club to keep them focused and on track. Incredibly nurturing and kind environment with advisory and family group programs that help them develop into self reflective and engaged learners. Believe there are openings in 7th for next year. In Moraga, but they offer bus/van from various locations depending on where parents are coming from, and only 15 minutes from Oakland. Happy to answer more questions!

    I'm sorry to hear that your current situation is not working for you. From your description, it sounds like the teachers in your current school are not able to connect with your son and that the curriculum may not be engaging enough. Currently, my wife and I send our kids to the Academy in the Elwood district of Berkeley and we can't say enough good things about the teachers and the administrative staff that supports them. The class sizes are no more than 12-15 students which affords teachers the ability to give students the attention they deserve. Do they use Chromebooks? Yes, but they are used as tools to enhance their day-to-day lessons. Technology and the internet are incredible tools that are purpose-built for creative & curious minds. That being said, a tool only works well if you know how to use it. And that is where we, as parents and teachers, come in. We must teach them how to navigate technology's vastness, be critical of its content, and appreciate it as a knowledge base. And, because of the school's small class size, there is rarely a time when students can meander off on the internet.

    If you're interested in learning more about the school, please check out the website at http://theacademyschool.org/ or give them a call at 510.549.0605. Hope this was helpful.


  • Our family has been happy with the BUSD for elementary school.  As our child is approaching middle school, we are feeling less than enthused.  The complete absence of accelerated classes in the public middle schools combined with larger class sizes are prompting a look at local private schools.  We certainly intend to go to the various admission events but at this point I would appreciate any feedback from parents whose children made the transition, particularly from a BUSD school to The Berkeley School, Black Pine Circle or Prospect Sierra.  Was your child one of the few new students transferring into 6th grade?  Was it hard for him/her to make friends?  
    Please no comments critical of a decision to move to private school.  We are huge public school advocates but want to explore all options for our child.

    Black Pine Circle is very small. Prospect Sierra has an influx of kids I think about 6th grade. 

    they expand from 2 classes at each grade level to 3. Reasonable school, ends at 8th grade.

    Tres expensive and remember their tuition will increase annually. 

    good luck.

    Hi there,

    we did exactly as you are doing.  Our two younger kids moved from BUSD to Black Pine Circle for middle school.  They had a wonderful experience there ....socially and academically.  It was small but had plenty of opportunity to make friends.  My younger is now a senior at BHS.  Both girls transferred back into BUSD for high school.   Here is something they each said to me going back into the public system for high school :  The found  it more difficult in HS socially as many of the peer groups/friend groups get solidified in middle school.  They made friends n high school but they mostly hung out with other private school kids entering into the public system.  My older daughter told me she regretted going to private school for those years even though we though it would serve her better that staying in BUSD.  I dont know if we did the right thing.  It certainly was not something we thought bout or considered when we were making that decision.  We thought since she continued with soccer and other outside activities that connected her with her public school peers, she would have those relationships already in place.  We were not exactly correct in that.  


    We were in the same boat (and looked at the above schools) when we decided to transfer from WCCUSD to the Berkeley School last year for 6th grade. We too had been committed to public education but increasingly saw my son checking out/not feeling stimulated/doing the bare minimum and were concerned about the trajectory that would take once he moved into a bigger middle school during a tricky time of life and could likely slip through the cracks. I wasn't sure whether, as a 6th grade newbie it would feel like he was entering a well-established social and school system but the Berkeley School staff, kids and community have been so inclusive, welcoming and kind from the beginning that my son never experienced any transition issues. I think the school is very conscientious and does a great job teaching and living its values and as a result, newcomers seem to integrate pretty well. The class size has been good too: We were hoping for something not too small and not too big to ease the transition. It seems like the middle school has drawn a lot more new students this year so I definitely would not be concerned about your child being the "only" new kid. TBS also matches up new families with current families so that new students at least have one familiar face when school starts. I have been beyond impressed by how welcoming this community has been towards my family. We actually just moved our (very anxious) 3rd grader there this year and have had the same positive transition experience. TBS has made both of my kids feel excited about learning again and it really is such a nice, no-drama community of good kids and grownups. This was definitely one of the best decisions we've made. My sense is that because these schools see an influx of kids for middle school, they are all probably pretty good at helping incoming 6th graders integrate so it's more a question of finding a school that feels like a good fit for your child and family. Good luck!

    My son moved from Malcolm X (six years of being very happy there) to Prospect Sierra  for sixth grade last year and it has been fantastic. The school does a great job of integrating the new kids and there (they bring in roughly 25 new kids, so it is not a tiny number) and the "old" kids seem to be thrilled to have a fresh group of friends.  My son, who did NOT want to go to private school and desperately wanted to follow his friends to Willard, has been very happy at Prospect and it has been a great experience for him. 

    I am happy to talk to you about our experience there if you'd like.  Please feel free to contact me via my BPN user name.


    Black Pine Circle expands from an enrollment of ~20 (in 5th grade) to an enrollment of ~60 (in 6th grade.)  So 2/3 of the 6th grade class is new to the school.  The newcomers integrate well with the students coming from 5th grade, energizing and tripling the class size. It's a great school!

    Consider expanding your reach to include school's in Oakland. If the diversity you see in the Bay Area is critical, consider St. Paul's in Oakland. It's a K-8 independent school near Lake Merritt. 

    You might in your considerations give thought to the importance (or lack thereof) of academic acceleration in middle school. These years are so much about social development, and where it feels happy counts for a lot. Not sure if you have older children, but as the parents of highly-academically successful kids, our experience was that what happens in middle school is not going to make or break your child's academic trajectory. Our oldest child did the private route and our youngest went to King. King was by far a more rich learning experience overall and there are consistently wonderful teachers there. Overall, King was the happiest school experience either of our children had at any level. All the BHS middle schools do a great job of making 6th grade still feel safe and "small". So, not judging or critical of your process - just suggesting that if you are "huge public school advocates", to be open to the possibility they do serve your needs for these years.

    My daughter moved from BUSD to Prospect Sierra this year. There was a large cohort of other kids (I think about 1/4- 1/3 of the class) who entered at same time, from a variety of places (Berk and Oakland public schools, other private schools).  There are now 4 6th grade classes, about 18 kids each. The school does a wonderful job of making the new kids (and families) feel welcome. There is a 3 day orientation just for the new students before the school year officially starts, where they become acquainted with each other and the culture of the school. She has become friendly with many kids, though only actually considers herself real friends with one other girl, who also started this year (that reflects more my daughter's introverted nature though than the school-- the school creates a variety of groupings which help the kids to get to know each other and feel supported). I think overall it has been a really good move for her, though maybe she would have thrived at King middle school as well. Hard to know. Overall though, she definitely seems happier and I am pleased with what she is learning and doing. She loves that art and drama and language are all part of the regular curriculum (not electives), as she loves all of these subjects and doesn't want to choose one!

    I decided to move my daughter to private school for reasons somewhat similar to yours-- I wanted her to have more academic challenges/opportunities and she is also a kid who needs more individualized attention. She really needs to feel that her teachers see her and get her in order to thrive. She was also very sensitive to any disruptions in the classroom, which were unfortunately frequent in her elementary school career. I say all this because I have another child, now at Berkeley High, who did great in BUSD elem and middle school, learning a lot and really enjoying himself all the way through. And he loves Berkeley High too!  It was really hard for me to get my head around considering private school for my second child, because my first was so successful in public school. But so much depends on the child.  I anticipate my daughter will end up at Berkeley High for high school as well, but for now, she needed something different. 

    Good luck with your decision!

    Escuela Bilingüe Internacional is known for integrating new kids warmly. The school is open to all levels of Spanish learners. There are two tracks, one for the already bilingual students, and another track to learn Spanish. There are also many classes in English. Though Spanish fluency is important to me, the International Baccalaureate program is really the most astounding part of the school for its depth and support of deep learning. 

    Crestmont School is expanding to a K-8 starting with their first 6th grade class for the 2017-18 school year. Our daughter has attended since K and is now in 3rd grade there. We're super excited about the program and curriculum being developed. They are hosting an info session on Dec. 3. You can sign up to attend and learn more on their website. Hope to see you there!

  • School for "nerdy" boy?

    Nov 1, 2016

    I have a 6th grader who is a bright, good student; self-motivated, tests above average in everything.  But he's "nerdy."  Socially awkward, loves to be silly, even when other kids don't.  Really wants to be "one of the guys", but is usually a step behind, a step ahead, or just a step away from the group.  He loves sports, chess, science, & Pokemon.  He's chubby & has braces.  He is also kind, sensitive, thoughtful, and a great ally. But several kids in his Berkeley public middle school are systematically tearing him apart and breaking him down, day by day.  Never has he been picked on or bullied like he is now, and my enthusiastic kid is turning into one who hates school.  We have spoken with the teacher and counselor, but my kid is reluctant to complain.  I can understand that he doesn't want to be a snitch.  Any suggestions?  Is there a (public or private) school where avid learners are appreciated and encouraged (even by their peers), and where social awkwardness is ok, and tolerated, or even accepted as a norm?  I'm reading lately about bullying incidents in kids as young as 11, where they turn to suicide after months/years  of nastiness by peers.  I don't want my son to even need to think about that as an option. Thanks.  

    I would suggest East Bay School for Boys. They may not have openings right now, but at the very least they can offer support, advice, and recommendations. Best of luck!

    In El Cerrito, 6th grade is still part of elementary school, so that might work better for him. Try giving Harding or Fairmont a call to see if they have room, then check with the respective districts on how to go about a transfer. It is unlikely that the middle school (for 7th grade) would have room for a transfer so this may be only a 1-year solution but maybe that would be all it takes to get your son feeling better.

    Does your son like listening to music, does he like to sing or at least 'experiment' with his voice?  If so, you might consider whether the Pacific Boychoir Academy might be a good fit for him. Boys of all types and personalities from Grades 4 through 8 share singing, camaraderie, and performances and tours together, and many of the graduates continue singing in the after-school program and touring through high school. The boys are also taught to be gentlemen, since they perform across the country and around the world, so a lot of the middle school 'yuck' that most of us experienced is channeled into more positive activities and teamwork. The music training is unmatched, and the academics are very good, and the 8th grade graduates go on to many Bay Area high schools, including the most prestigious private high schools (College Prep, Athenian, Lick-Wilmerding) as well as Berkeley, Oakland, and Lamorinda public high schools, among others. My son, now in 7th grade, started at PBA in 5th grade but I would have liked to have had him start in January of 4th grade when he first became interested in singing except that he had such a fantastic 4th grade teacher at our public elementary school at the time. I think there are openings in 6th grade now. You might consider calling the school to see about a parent and a student tour, http://www.pacificboychoiracademy.org/.

    My nerdy son (now in high school) thrived at Black Pine Circle School.  Avid learners were certainly encouraged, and found their peers!  He loved the science, math and Maker programs at BPC.  He is still not particularly socially mature, but a sweet, friendly kid, and lacking in teenage drama.  

    That kind of daily bullying is horrible! I'm so sorry you and your kid are going through this.

    I'd recommend Park Day School. They don't tolerate any bullying - but better yet, there just isn't much in the first place. My kid is a "nerd" too, and honestly a bit socially behind the curve, but has found good friends among the other nerds (and non-nerds!) there.

    Another good place for avid-learner-and-socially-awkward kid might be Black Pine Circle.

    Good luck, and good for you for not accepting this situation!

    As the parent of two "nerdy" boys who survived middle school bullying--one thriving at Princeton and one pursuing his artistic passion successfully--I want to say that your son sounds like a wonderful person who will be appreciated and valued as a friend and human being and have a satisfying life beyond eighth grade.

    But the truth is, middle school is where bullies rule, and you owe it to him to do what you can to reduce the stress and toxic environment. One option is private school. East Bay School for Boys is well-regarded in terms of being sensitive to social issues. Some of the other private schools have bullying issues, but may be more responsive to concerns when problems occur.

    A friend's child was seriously bullied at King Middle School and the teachers and counselor didn't really do anything until the family said they would pull him out and file a grievance. Then the intervention picked up, the bullies were dealt with by the school, and the problem was solved to the point the student stayed for three years. Families in BUSD hesitate to file a grievance and kids certainly shy away from attention, but the truth is, this is the only way sometimes that the intervention procedures can be activated. It's good for our kids to see how they can stand up for themselves, and it's good for the bullies to be called on their behavior. You might talk to the counselor asap and say this is serious, something must be done or you will file a grievance, which by the way is not a mean, personal whine, but part of the district process to be taken seriously. This isn't the jungle, the adults at the school know better and we need to hold them to their public avowal of a safe environment for all students. Outside counseling might help, too, because bullies do inflict harm that deserves support and understanding. I hope your son finds a place where he can be himself and feel safe very soon!

    I'm so sorry to hear that you and your son are going through this. Kids can be extraordinarily unkind.

    I don't know if it's an option given that you are in Berkeley, but I would recommend that you check out the Athenian School in Danville. It's a school that provides a great education and a nurturing environment. Unlike schools that throw out slogans about "being kind and inclusive," fostering community is an essential part of what the Athenian does. 

    There are a number of kids from Oakland and Berkeley who take the bus from the Rockridge BART stop.

    Hang in there -- you will find a place where your son is valued.

    Hi there,

    I'm SO sad to hear that your son is going through this. Which school is he at? I have a nerdy kid at King in 6th grade and was just thinking about what a great place it has been for her and her nerdy friends (boys and girls). If he's at King, PM me and maybe we can strategize ways to get him hooked into her group of sweet friends. Has he tried the different clubs and after school activities? My daughter does organized activities most days at lunch and does several after school classes with like-minded kids. It seems to me no matter which school a kid is at the important thing is to find some supportive friends to navigate the mine fields together.

    I'm so sorry your son is having to deal with bullying. I know you're in Berkeley, so depending on where in Berkeley it may be too far, but you should look at The Athenian School in Danville. The middle school has excellent academics but is also very nurturing. They really care about the students there, and community and inclusion is a huge part of both the middle and upper school. Kids of all sorts, from "nerdy" to "arty" to "sporty" to whatever, thrive there. A lot of kids from Oakland and Berkeley go to the school and there is a bus to/from Rockridge Bart. 

    I am sorry to hear about you son's troubles. It must be very hard on him and you. My son is a bit quirky and we moved him to The Berkeley School and have been very pleased. They truly encourage kindness among the kids and have an amazing student teacher ratio. I would not wait for your son to really hate school before you intervene. Middle school is some of a boys toughest years so if you can make a change do, even if it's for a short period of time. 

    Good luck to you both,

  • Private Middle School

    Oct 9, 2016

    Any recommendations for an alternative private middle school in the Eastbay? Thank you

    You might get more responses if you describe more of what you mean by alternative. Park Day is a progressive school. St. Paul's is known for community service and diversity. Bentley has academic excellence with attention to the whole child etc. They are all alternatives to public school but possibly not what you mean by "alternative". Best of luck with your search. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews



Which Middle School for STEM?

April 2015

Take money/cost off the table. If you had a child who you want to be challenged/guided in all areas related to STEM, what middle school in the bay area would you choose and why? A school that's diverse in terms of students and teachers would be an added plus. Curious 4th grade mom

I'm guessing a Silicon Valley school. I talked to a kid from there once and they had all kinds of electives. That was a while ago, and was Palo Alto, but if you are taking cost off the table I would look into that. My kid's middle school has few electives but does a good job with math, English, and social studies, science, and PE, and we are pleased with it. So much of middle school is just getting organized and growing up a little. anon

I highly recommend Black Pine Circle School! My daughter is currently in 2nd grade at BPC. We couldn't be happier. The science and math in the lower school are great, and only get better in the middle school. The teachers are amazing. The kids are regularly competing in and winning math and science competitions, and were even invited to the White House last summer. They have interesting visitors and speakers on a regular basis- they recently had a parent that works at a solar company come and give a demonstration, and they had a guy from Pixar give a talk about how he uses math to make movies. BPC even offered a coding class after school that my daughter took. It was taught by the director of technology with help from some of the eighth grade students. BPC is also in the process of raising funds to build a new science and technology building that will have room for kids to do science experiments and even a maker space where the school's four 3D printers will be housed. The head of school, John Carlstroem is amazing, and was a marine biologist before he became an educator. Torrie

There is a new STEM Charter school in Oakland called East Bay Innovation Academy. It certainly has generated a lot of positive buzz for a newly opened school. I don't have any first hand knowledge about it but know several families whose children started in the fall. It certainly seems worth checking out..... following this one

Hmmm...As the parent of a now high school student, I found 6th grade very focused on social studies and basic math reinforcement in preparation for upcoming Algebra/pre-Algebra. The state science curriculum is mostly earth-science for 6th grade. Note these are the public school standards, but the many private schools with which I am familiar follow the same basic standards. But, for example, a student can most definitely use engineering as examples in a report on ancient civilizations. That is one of the cool things about the 6th grade emphasis on ancient civilizations is that it allows for in depth exploration into whatever the student is interested.

Lab science starts in the 7th grade, same for public and private, but not all schools are created equal, even within different public and private schools, regarding how much time is spent in the lab.

I'd be interested to hear what others say, because I found that the biggest lessons of middle school are writing and time management. By the way, the state curriculum on middle school is found here: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/cr/cf/grlevelcurriculum.asp

Mom who appreciated the variety of middle school

My son had excellent science instruction at Willard Middle School in Berkeley. He loved it and was well prepared for and enthusiastic about high school biology and chemistry. I credit the teachers at Willard.

Desperately seeking Middle School recommendations

March 2015

Help!!!! Our family are relocating to the East Bay Area from New Zealand in late summer and I am currently undergoing the trauma of a school search for my youngest son who will go into Grade 7 this fall. He is an average 11 year old boy, of average intelligence - not dumb but not highly academic either. As he does have a tendency to lose focus if left to his own devices we have decided that public schools may not be the best option so are looking at private middle schools. Typically ( for us!) the relocation decision was confirmed about a week after the deadlines for most schools so our options now seem to be pretty limited. I would be keen to hear from people who have experience ( both positive and negative) of private middle schools in the East Bay Area.

My impression so far is that many of the schools seem to be academic hothouses and give the impression of being incredibly picky when selecting children. Are these schools really so difficult to get into? And how many should we be looking at to give ourselves a fighting chance of a '' yes''? Whilst we absolutely want to ensure that our son gets the best education possible, it mustn't come at the expense of happiness.

At the moment we are wading through prep material for the ISEE exam - daunting enough given he is coming from a different curriculum but right now we don't even have a list of schools for them to send results to. I can't even begin the search for a home until we have this piece ironed out. I know I might be looking for the Holy Grail but any advice on schools that may still have places, that allow kids to be themselves ( within the bounds of discipline!) but still focus on helping them be the best they can be? Melanie

Hi Desperate, You should definitely check out the Athenian School in Danville. My son is having a fabulous sixth grade year this year so our kids would be classmates next year. The school is rigorous, but not a pressure cooker. We came to the school through the regular admissions process, but a couple of moms told me their kids had completed it from a distance because they hadn't moved here yet and I think they even were admitted well after the deadline. Athenian has a good number of international students in the high school and American students who have lived overseas so there is a global perspective the kids bring, which I like. Less so in the middle school, of course, but my son does happen to have a friend who most recently lived in New Zealand! Really, it is starting to sound more and more like a perfect fit for your son. Feel free to get my contact info from the moderator if you want to talk more. Happy Athenian Mom

Hi and welcome,

Yes, the private school scene in the East Bay Area is daunting. I have enrolled two kids in middle and high schools in the East Bay. There are some differences among the schools. Also, some schools rarely/never have openings for 7th grade. Those that do, however, may find your international roots a bonus for their class. Here is a thumbnail sketch of the the middle schools I know well:

Academic oriented: Head-Royce, Bentley, The Academy These are schools that prize academics and your kid will feel it. As to the first 2 schools which are larger, they have historical reputations as “rich" schools though they have tried to diversify. (There are nice non-snooty parents at these schools too, but in our experience, also a lot of privileged, competitive kids.) You will need high ISEE scores. Head-Royce rarely has any openings.

Progressive: St. Paul's Episcopal, Park Day, Redwood Day, Athenian, Black Pine Circle Good academics, inclusive communities, diverse parents and students. I know that Park Day and Redwood Day have had openings for 7th grade after the deadline before. Can't go wrong with any of these.

One thing to keep in mind. Head-Royce, Bentley and Athenian each have high schools which means you don't have to go through this hellish process twice (you get preference at the high school level). My children applied & went to different high schools, which was great for each of them but was very much like applying to college. You could find the admissions director name on line and e-mail about whether they have 7th grade openings, and that you're moving from New Zealand. The admissions directors each are wonderful/warm at these schools.

Others in our community may respond about their favorite public school and urge you to go that route, and there are some really good ones, but we found that private worked better for us. Esp. for middle school. Good luck! It will all work out

Your description of your son sounds exactly like my son! My son is currently in 7th grade. When we had to make a middle school decision, I posted to this forum asking about private middle schools for average students and someone recommended East Bay School for Boys, Park Day, and one other small school in Berkeley that I don't remember the name of. We ended up NOT applying to any private schools and enrolled him in our neighborhood middle school in Oakland and it has been just fine. His friends get straight A's, while he gets all A's and B's, but he gets the work done, and does not seem to be overly distracted in class (despite being in a distracting environment). So I'm giving you two pieces of info--the names of some private schools that could work for your son, and also insight as to how public school could also be a very viable option for boys like ours. Good luck--sounds very stressful to do this from afar. Mom of 3

The Academy is a 45-year old K-8 school in the heart of Berkeley's Elmwood district. Following a bumpy period of decline, the school has been revitalized, and now operates as a not-for-profit 501c(3) organization with a Board of Trustees and a new Head of School. Buzz Heinrich has more than 30 years of experience in five different Independent schools. He was the Head at Prospect Sierra from 1990-2007. The school offers ''A Classical Education in a Nurturing Environment.'' With a class size of no more than 12, the learning is focused, Socratic and deep. In middle School (grades 6-8) , the structure moves from a homeroom base to a departmental, modular day with the following subjects: Math, English, Latin, Science, History, Physical Education, Art, and French. John Lynch, the Academic Director at Oakland's Pacific Boys Choir School for the past five years, will become the Upper School Dean in July. For many years, the school has enjoyed an outstanding reputation for its talented teachers and inspired academics. Graduates of The Academy attend the finest East Bay independent schools as well as the IB program at Berkeley High. For those seeking an in-depth learning experience in a school with a string sense of community, The Academy is worth a visit. www.theacademyschool.org. Sharon C., Parent and Academy Board Member

Quiet girl - public v. private middle school?

Nov 2014

It must be that time of year again, when parents start questioning public v. private....So here I go. My daughter is in 5th grade at a Berkeley public school. We really didn't even consider private school when she was entering kindergarten. There have been many wonderful things about her public school - very involved parent community, a lot of really great and interesting kids, and some wonderful teachers.

But I am watching as my daughter becomes more quiet, withdrawn, and frankly kind of disengaged with school. She is not one who raises her hand or takes up space. She is definitely an observer. It isn't a capacity thing -- my daughter has always gotten all 3s and 4s on her report card, and continues to do so. But her teacher reports that she hardly raises her hand, and when called on, does not seem to be paying attention. This is from a teacher who is considered one of the best in the school.

The only thing that seems to excite her about school these days are when she is working on a big project that allows for a lot of creativity (like her current project to develop a timeline about her life and world events). She is a very creative kid who spends many happy hours at home writing stories and drawing.

As we think about middle school, I am just worried that this quietness and lack of engagement in school will worsen. I am thinking that now may be the time to consider private school.

We are in the Willard zone, so our choices would be Longfellow or Willard. So I'd love to hear from parents with girls like mine, about what your experience has been like if you chose to stay in public school. If you chose the private school route, did you find a school that worked well for your quiet, creative girl?

Financial aid is a whole 'nother question, but from what I see in the BPN archives, it is best to go ahead and apply and see what you might get. Thanks for any thoughts! anon

Prospect Sierra! My daughter has been there since 3rd grade (now in middle school) and I have seen every kind of kid--quiet, shy, boisterous, bookworm, party animal!--find a happy home. Kids are kind and welcoming. Teachers are extremely attentive to each and every child. Huge numbers of kids get very involved with the school drama and sports programs and that helps them make new friends. It also sounds like PS would be a great fit academically: the kids do a lot of project based learning. I saw my daughter become passionate about doing research. I think the school gets better every year! Berkeley mom

From the ''sounds similar'' angle... We have a relatively quiet, creative, bookish, observant 6th grade girl, who, while never disengaged in class, was liable to float somewhat and could easily have been less than sufficiently noticed and challenged to excel (in areas where she is naturally strong) and develop (in areas where she naturally is not) in a larger classroom/school environment.

So we went with the smaller, private option and our daughter is very happily settled at The Berkeley School on University. The 6th grade has two lovely, lively and learned classroom teachers, and the curriculum is rich, engaging and allows for creativity in student work. There's no just getting by and not participating for any student - the teachers are too on it! The school has a warm, welcoming community--staff, teachers and parents-and much attention is paid to the social-emotional well being of the kids. EC mom

Your post reminded me of my girl a few years ago. She did well enough in school that no one paid too much attention when she started to not only disengage, but feel like it wasn't worth it to make the effort. Her teachers never quite knew why she played by herself most days. Nothing terrible happened, but nothing great did either. We saw her self-confidence plummet.

That all changed once she started at The Crowden School in Berkeley. The program integrates a chamber music curriculum with a full academic program. The students must work cooperatively and are actively engaged in the creative process and problem-solving whether rehearsing an ensemble piece, running a food drive, going over math homework, or designing background scenery for a performance. The academic program makes my daughter want to know and do more, and music has opened up an entire new world for her.

She entered the 5th grade with only a half year of lessons under her belt. The progress she has made with two hours of daily music instruction has been beyond anything I imagined for her. But the true difference is in her confidence. She takes leadership roles, speaks her mind, and feels safe to be herself. I consider her to be a fairly typical kid entering into the middle school years with all usual complaints about homework and a healthy dose of girl drama. But no matter what challenges she faces, she feels like the school has her back. She knows that teachers see her and she loves her classmates on good days and bad. I highly recommend taking a tour of the school to see both the music and academic classes. Since you mentioned it, they do have a financial aid process and if this is the right place for your daughter, you should go for it. Quiet Mouse Singing Now


Middle School for boy into history/philosophy

June 2013


My 5th-grade son is very interested in history, philosophy, and chemistry. I don't think that he is getting adequately stimulated in public school so we are considering private school. He could probably use a higher level class environment at this point. He's very low key and gets along well with others. He is very strong in math. Suggestions? We live in El Cerrito. Thank you very much. His Mom

Check out Black Pine Circle in Berkeley.

Black Pine Circle School in Berkeley sounds like it might be a good fit for your son. BPC is very strong in many areas, including history. They offer an 8th grade Philosophy class and 7th graders learn to ''map the world''. You also said your son is interested in Chemistry and strong in Math. BPC has an award-winning math team and a great hands-on science program. They even have a 3-D printer that students get to tinker with (think ''Maker Faire'' type activities). - parent of 2 BPC graduates

Yes, there is very little social science or lab science up to 5th grade in the state curriculum. In 6th grade, however, the curriculum extensively studies ancient civilizations, and more so when they get to 7th grade; 8th grade is US History.

I recommend attending an info night a Portola or making an appointment to speak to the 7th grade math, history and science teachers. You should come out surprisingly impressed. 7th grade advanced science at Portola is very good, with lots of time in the lab and hands-on work (chemistry, however, is not a big part of the 7th grade curriculum so he won't get much of that at any school, public or private). 7th grade history is a ton of work, studying ancient civiliazations, current events, and teen social issues; your son may be surprised that he can experience history and philosophy overload. At Portola, 7th grade advanced math is very structured with a lot of homework, and it gives an excellent foundation for Algebra I and II, Geometry, and the math required for high school Chemistry. There is also a placement test for students wishing to skip into 8th grade math. good luck


What language for middle school?

May 2013


My daughter's new middle school offers Spanish, French, Mandarin and Latin. I believe that the Spanish and French classes will include students who have taken the language through elementary school, but Latin & Mandarin are new to middle school. When she first looked at the school, she was very excited about Latin, which I think is a terrific (if difficult) language to learn, and I think it would help in terms of being able to understand much of the basis of our language. I probably would have taken it if it had been offered. My husband keeps pushing Spanish, which I also think is a great language to learn, with more opportunities to use it. The catch is that if she signs up for Latin, she's stuck for the next 3 years. I think she may be able to switch if she takes Spanish or French (though I may be wrong about that too)

Here's the question(s). Which language would you take, if you had the option? Or which would you advise your child to take? And why? Should she be taking Spanish now, before she's too far behind other kids, and so she'll be able to use it in the future? Which of the high schools offer Latin or Mandarin? I assume they all offer Spanish or French? We're probably looking at private high school: Bishop O'Dowd, St. Mary's, Head Royce, Bentley, College Prep. DO you know what those schools offer? Thanks for the feedback!

I would let your daughter choose. I think it's great that she's excited about Latin! Language lover who took Spanish, French AND German in HS

hello- to answer part of your question St Mary's is relatively small and offers only French & Spanish. Their Spanish 1 is good for total beginners. 3 years of Latin would be a fantastic background for easily picking up new vocabulary in Spanish (or many other languages) later. I don't know what the other private schools have, but bigger public schools can often offer more choices: Berkeley High has Mandarin and maybe Latin. El Cerrito High has Japanese- and maybe Latin. She could potentially continue Latin through summer program ATDP or a private school in Albany (I forget the name) which lets you take single courses outside of being enrolled elsewhere. anon.


How to decide which middle school?

Feb 2013


We are in the process of choosing a middle school for our son. I'd love to hear how other people make this decision. I've been talking with his teachers, visiting different schools, considering the tuition and possibly moving, reading books... I still don't know. My son just wants to go where his friends are going, but they're headed to a variety of places. How do you know what will be a good fit for your child until he's there already? Middle School Angst

Middle school is a big scary decision, and a lot of things may figure into it. We're in the first year of our middle school experience, and I'm still wondering if I've made the right decision. However, here's what I've learned thus far -- and none of this occurred to me before we got here:

1) I think one of the main purposes of middle school is to teach kids ''the rules'' of high school, in an atmosphere very like high school, but where grades don't matter in the long term (i.e. college selection). My son is very much a routine based kid -- and having several different teachers, with different routines (some have worksheets, some have homework notebooks, some have daily homework, some have occasional projects. etc.) has been a surprisingly difficult adjustment. We've had some poor grades just because assignments (completed and in his backpack) didn't get turned in; we've had a few last-minute slapped-together projects because he forgot to write down the due date. I also understand that this is very typical of sixth grade boys. So, we're working on the skills he needs to do well in multiple classes with multiple teachers. I am extremely glad he is not learning these lessons in high school!

2) My son went from a small, rather sheltered elementary school, to a large, pretty diverse middle school, and it's been a bit of a shock to him. He's still learning to cope with the behavior differences, the swearing and yelling in the hall between classes, the sheer number of kids here and the inevitable noise and jostling. Not overt bullying, more just sensory overload. It's surprisingly hard on him, and I'm really glad we're not making this adjustment for the first time at Berkeley High or Oakland Tech or some such.

So my advice would be this -- try to let your kid out into the big wide world to the extent that you can. Don't choose a small, sheltered private middle school unless your child has a real need (e.g. extreme sensitivity, serious ADHD or other learning difference, etc.). Pick someplace reasonably large and diverse, and make sure that the kids change classes and teachers throughout the course of the day. They'll have to learn these lessons sometime; let middle school be practice for high school, while the grades don't count. If they learn these skills now, they will have more options later. learning along with my kid

We looked at lots of middle schools (actually over both 4th and 5th grade, as we looked at public and private schools and thought about moving to another district). We had our daughter visit the schools we were most interested in when she was in 5th grade. Talk to lots of parents, read BPN reviews. See where your kid feels most comfortable and finally trust your gut, and know that if it doesn't work out you can change schools-even as early as the middle of 6th grade.

Choosing a middle school for our son was a similar experience - lots of research and also lots of angst about what the right decision is. There are number of very viable options out there to consider all of which have their own 'personality' or approach. For our son, we tried hard to consider his needs in middle school, but also the tool kit we'd like for him to have when entering high school. Our son is a balanced personality that can flow pretty easily between academics and the social scene he is in. We felt strongly that an environment that really focused on the convergence of academics, social involvement, cultural awareness and self awareness was key for him. Redwood Day School was our gut instinct when thinking about a fit for our son. We took multiple visits to other schools as well before committing and in the end, the balanced approach for our son we found at Redwood Day has proven to be such a great experience for him and for us.

I know that this process is a little gut wrenching at times, but you are doing the right thing by doing the research and asking the questions. But at the end of the day you know your child and have the best sense of how they may evolve, so trying to consider both the short term transition and the longer view of how middle school will prepare them to move forward is key. trust your instincts. Tamara


Private School for Quirky Middle-High Schooler

Feb 2013


I am looking for a private middle/high school in the Oakland/Berkeley/Contra Costa area that would be suitable for my quirky 7th grade son. He is intelligent and hardworking, though not an exceptional student (mostly Bs). He needs small classes and a good deal of personal attention. His strengths are in language arts and less so in math and science. Mostly, however, he has been unhappy and felt excluded from the social scene at his public school, which emphasizes sports and affluence. A school environment that accommodates different learning styles, and embraces, or at least tolerates differences, plus is affordable, would be ideal. Thanks in advance for any ideas. Concerned mom

I would encourage you to look at Contra Costa Jewish Day School in Lafayette. The school sounds like exactly what you are looking for. Don't know if you're Jewish, but the school has also had quite a few non-Jewish families. The middle school is very strong academically, very small classes, and lots of individual attention. Plenty of ''normal'' kids and ''quirky'' kids and they all seem to accept each other. The school promotes a culture of kindness and inclusion. Also, they have flexible tuition/financial aid which can make the school very affordable. We have been extremely happy with our experience there. Middle School Mom

Hi Concerned Mom! Saw your post and would like to recommend our son's school, The Berkeley School on University. We've been there since preschool and are pleased with how middle school is going thus far (my son is in 7th). What I really like about TBS' middle school program is that the classes are small and the attention from teachers is very individualized...my son has had more difficulty with language arts, and my husband and I have gotten very on-point feedback about this from his humanities teacher and practical suggestions for my son that he has actually taken and has improved (mostly participating in class, taking more time to clarify his thoughts about a particular book, etc). The school prioritizes a safe social environment...lots of discussion about bullying and why it's not helpful...and effective, gentle tracking of the kids' social interactions, as well as great parent support (I've attended at least one evening workshop on parenting kids in the digital age that was really helpful). TBS also places strong emphasis on different learning styles. Hope this helps. Kate

Hello 'Concerned Mom', I am the admissions director at Orinda Academy and I encourage you to check out our website, www.orindaacademy.org. We are a small college-prep, middle school and high school in Orinda. We have a unique middle school program that sounds like it would be a good fit for your 7th grade son. We have small class sizes, an average 7:1 student to teacher ratio. About 50% of our population has a mild to moderate learning difference, so our staff is experienced in helping students that need additional support and accommodations in the classroom. Our teachers utilize engaging teaching methods that benefit all learners. We also have a very inclusive environment where the students are accepting of 'quirky' kids and different learning styles. Please call or email me if you would like to learn more about our school or come in for a visit. You son can also come in and do a half day shadow visit in our middle school. Thank you, Laurel

Hi, Sorry your son's having a hard time - middle school sucks for a lot of kids. We were in your position at the end of Elementary school and looked at many private schools, as well as several of our local public schools.

I'll try to keep this objective so you don't dismiss my opinion, but believe me, it comes from research and experience: Private Schools are businesses. For all of their endless yapping about academic excellence, nurturing environments, Socratic learning and commitment to diversity - they are businesses. Private schools use their interview and orientation process to weed out any kid who looks even remotely like they will need more than average attention. Depending on what you mean by 'quirky' it's likely they may not be interested in your son.

They are looking for nice docile kids with solid academics that they can lift up a grade or two, so that the kid's happy parents will run around telling everyone what a great school they attend - that's free advertising. The level of sports-madness in different private schools varies a lot, but you will absolutely not be avoiding the affluence issue by going private.

If your son is already in 7th grade I would seriously consider toughing it out, at least through middle school. Kids who are not totally average stick out MORE in private schools. The social scene seems turbulent in all middle schools - long-standing friendships dissolving and new ones forming, along with the exciting hormonal drama.

We ended up going to our local public middle school. Judging by our kids peer group I don't think the academic or social outcome would have been much different if we had gone private. Interestingly, two different friends have moaned about how unresponsive their private schools have been when they have raised concerns about academic issues. We would also have been about $70k poorer if we had gone private.

Only you can decide what is best for your child, but when you look at private schools be very clear what you're getting into - it's a business transaction. Is the school genuinely offering a better experience than your public options? Maybe, maybe not. Best of luck. Public School Parent

Have I got a school for you! Both of my kids have been happy, accepted and well-educated at Archway School , in Berkeley. It has everything you're looking for: small classes, warm and accepting environment, personal attention, and, yes, as private schools go, reasonably affordable. I think it is that rare find -- a middle school program with solid academics but where the kids feel supported, accepted by their peers and with teachers who know them as human beings and individuals. Academically, the small size allows the teachers to offer challenges appropriate to each kid -- a kid with a particular interest in an area can get the chance to do some amazing things either as part of, or outside of, the usual curriculum. For a small school, it also serves a diverse population of kids. For many families it's been a place where they felt welcomed after having a hard time finding a good fit for their kids elsewhere.

It does not, alas, offer high school. (My older daughter, currently in her junior year in high school, wistfully said when she was figuring out where to go that she wished there were an Archway high school.) But it might be a good place for your son to spend the eighth grade year while you figure out what of the many many possibilities for high school would work best. Website: www.archwayschool.org, phone 510-849-4747 Kathy


Good middle school for boys

Nov 2012


Hello BPN Community. I am looking for a good middle school for my intelligent, curious, affable 5th grade boy. On paper the East Bay School for Boys is a perfect fit, but I'm not sure the reality there has caught up to their ultimate mission. (I think it will one day be a great school, but for me there are still a few too many rough edges.) My son has attended a perfectly fine public elementary school in Berkeley, and has had several exceptional teachers and a couple that weren't so good. His public middle school is King, and while I'm sure he would be fine there (my daughter graduated from King 3 years ago, so I have some experience with it) I would love to find a fresh, scintillating, progressive (hands-on? project based?) curriculum for these critical middle school years. I would love for him to be in an environment that nurtured his social and emotional intelligence, and gave him a break from what can be a deadening traditional public school curriculum. It doesn't have to be an all boys school. Any ideas? I would also love to hear from people whose sons have been successful at the East Bay School for Boys or at King. Thank you

Look at the Redwood Day School . I have two boys at RDS and specifically chose the school after doing a lot of reading about how far schools have tilted towards grils over the past 30 years (which frankly, they needed to do...though now that I am the mother of two boys, I can see how they have over tilted). Mom of 2 smart boys

You just described Park Day School exactly. My son is there now, we entered in 6th grade and I can safely say that the school provides precisely the environment you described. It has been a great experience for us and my son is thriving! Maggie

In your post you asked for parents who's sons were successful at the East Bay School for Boys and I am one of those parents so I felt inclined to share. When my son was ready to enter 6th grade I thought that he would be fine at another local school however the experience was far less than ideal for him and I felt like he needed an environment that was more hands on and project based, with an updated approach to technology and education, where he was thoughtfully engaged and encouraged to shine and to excel. I'm sure he would have been ok at another school but I wanted him to be more than ok. I wanted him to thrive and to feel confident and courageous while nurtured and guided to be an upstanding citizen. EBSB's mission is to empower the engaged, thoughtful, and courageous men of tomorrow and I wholeheartedly feel that they do just that. I've witnessed my son excel in Math and Language Arts and become incredibly engaged in his interactive online textbook for his World Cultures class. For the first time, he's excited about research and preparing his class presentations. In addition, he's made all kinds of new friends and is super excited to go to school each day. Not only that, EBSB moved into a new beautiful and centrally located facility. If you have any questions at all about their program I encourage you to contact the administration and get a list of parent references. Most of the parents that I know who have son's there will testify that it's the absolute best place around for them and are really very happy. Also, you may want to attend their next open house on December 6th. I hope this helps. Proud EBSB Parent

My eldest son went to The Berkeley School and my youngest son is currently enrolled there in the middle school. I highly recommend this school. It's truly warm and caring with a diverse community of students from all backgrounds. My sons really thrived, both intellectually and emotionally, in the vibrant and supportive classes. The teachers are devoted to helping all their students learn to their full potential. Check it out -- they offer tours throughout the year so that you can visit and see if The Berkeley School is a good fit for your child. I know how difficult it can be to find the right school and I wish you the best in finding one for your son! Lillian


Middle School with Small Class Size

Feb 2012


My kid is in public school and will enter 6th grade next August. I am looking for a middle school for her. She is struggling in school this year. She has mild / controlled ADD. Her school is an excellent public school but very academic and the class size is now over 30 students. My child started really struggling with the academics this year. Her grades dropped in 5th grade versus 4th grade (she used to get B+ and A- average and now in 5th grade she is getting C average and even some Ds). The school gives lots of homework every weekday which takes her twice as long to do as it should. She does not do any after school activities anymore and her self esteem is declining fast. I am so worried about middle school and high school. I am looking for a school with small class size and average academics but I do not seem to find one. Is there such a school (public or private)? I know that there are many academic private schools with small class size for highly achieving kids and small class size schools for kids with disabilities. Neither of these fit my child. I am looking for a mainstream school with challenging academics but not too hard. I am willing to pay for private school and commute to Berkeley, Lamorinda, Walnut Creek or even Danville/San Ramon. Can someone recommend such a school or it just does not exist.

There are many private middle schools in the area with small class sizes. There is a wide range of schools in terms of who they look for as students and what their approach is. I'd start at the EBISA (East Bay Independent School Association) website: ebisaca.org. It provides links to all its member schools, which is most if not all east bay secular schools. Then I'd start by looking at each school's website, and visit the ones you are interested in. Some might have openings now if you want to make a mid-year change.

You should consider looking into the middle school program at Montessori Family School in El Cerrito. It's a small class size and the kids are encouraged to learn and develop in the directions that are right for them. In the high-speed bay area, MFS provides a welcome respite for kids to be kids during this critical time. Laura


Middle schools with different philosophies

Feb 2012

We are going through the 'middle school crazies' and I wondered about our potential choices. We are looking at two different schools with two different philosophies. One is Beacon Day school - relaxed, small, block scheduling, less homework and mastery of a subject before moving on. The other Head Royce - more academic, exciting curriculum, fast paced, rigorous, more homework. If you have had any experience of either school, how did it work out? Did the different approaches end up being a good or not so good thing. How important was the homework thing for instance? Our son is creative, quiet, sensitive, loves reading etc. I'd love to hear from parents who have been through all this and can let me in on your golden nuggets of wisdom!! We are also interested in North Oakland Charter school. Cheers. Parent of a soon to be middle schooler

I have a student in the upper school at NOCCS and it in no way can compare with Beacon or Head Royce! NOCCS kids and families are great, but the upper school program is still new and they have yet to find their rhythm. Depending on which school your child is coming from, this could be a huge disappointment or business as usual.

Are there classmates going to Beacon or Head Royce? That's a huge bonus. The social needs of kids at this age are an important consideration.

While you are touring the various schools pay close attention to where the kids look the happiest and most engaged. Good luck!

Did you look into the East Bay Waldorf School? They have a wonderful middle school. The teachers are dedicated and the holistic curriculum is dynamic, interesting and alive. My daughter will be a sixth grader next year and loves her teacher and the school. She is challenged but the curriculum which really addresses her creative side. She draws, paints and acts out the subject matter on a daily basis. The campus is beyond beautiful, the natural setting and huge play fields are really wonderful. The students hike around the neighboring Wildcat Canyon Reserve and study both German and Spanish, music, movement, science, math, composition, history, practical and fine arts. In middle school they will learn metal forging, copper working, physics, chemistry, Shakespeare, woodworking, history from ancient Rome to current times, and so much more. You should really look into the East Bay Waldorf School. EBWS Mom and loving it!

Under its new administration St. Jerome's in El Cerrito is modifying its junior high philosophy and creating a bit of a school within a school. Next year the 6th, 7th and 8th graders will rotate among three classrooms (currently the 7th and 8th rotate among two classrooms). As the parent of a current 8th and 6th grader -- we are excited for the future. St. Jerome's is small and welcoming and the kids are very caring towards each other. The environment feels much safer than the public options and the cost (registration and tuition around $7k for one child, $11.5K for two and $16.5K for three or more) is much better than the independent school options. The school will be holding a junior high information night soon -- check their website for details.

We love the school (we have been there for 7 years and have a 1st and 3rd grader also) and know that they have room for junior high students. SJCS Parent


Where does your middle-schooler go to school?

Jan 2012

I am trying to get a head start on the whole middle school issue (my daughter is currently in fourth grade at an Oakland charter elementary school which I love) and I am already feeling totally frustrated by the options I am seeing. So I thought I would put it out to the community.... Where does your middle schooler go to school? At this point I am interested in any public or private (but not religiously affiliated) school in oakland/emeryville/berkeley. Thanks for any info you can pass on. Mara

All three of my kids went to MLK Middle School in Berkeley and loved it. They got good academic preparation for Berkeley High, made lots of friends, and participated in after school activities. There is a lot going on at King for lots of different types of kids. Check it out. happy in BUSD

Go to the EBISA fairs next fall. They are announced in the BPN newsletter. Also check out the schools in the BPN website. There are lots of private middle schools in Oakland and nearby, both K-8, and 6-8 (Julia Morgan School for Girls, and the East Bay School for Boys), and K-12. Some people also go to the Oakland School for the Arts (public, but you have to audition). anon

Hi, my daughter will be attending 6th grade at Escuela Bilingue Internacional . It is a Spanish/English bilingual international school that offers the International Baccalaureate curriculum. The children also learn Mandarin as a third language. Students wanting to enroll however must have grade level proficiency in Spanish. This is the first year they will have middle school. My daughter has been at the school since Kindergarten and our daughter is happy and loves school. The kids in her class get along really well and the school addresses concerns quickly and thoroughly. If your child speaks Spanish you should definitely come and check it out. We are having an information session about Middle School this Saturday at 10:30am. at 4550 San Pablo Ave. in Emeryville. Liza

Our son goes to Willard Middle School in Berkeley. He is in the 6th grade and absolutely loves it. The teachers are dedicated and talented. The music/drama program is amazing. The sports program is fantastic and growing. They have gardening/cooking, plenty of field trips, after school enrichment classes and access to computers. A very nice library and librarian. They have P.E. every day and a sweet, well-supervised campus. The principal is very connected with the kids and seems to have a great rapport with his teaching staff. He didn't know very many kids as he came from out of district but quickly connected with other 6th graders during the first week of school. Berkeley Parent

My middle-schooler, a boy who was having social difficulties in BUSD, has been very happy at Black Pine Circle School. BPC is strong in academics, but we have especially appreciated the staff focus on promoting kind interactions between kids. About half the 6th graders are usually new to BPC, with the other half attending since elementary school. Very pleased with BPC

Middle School for son with advanced math & science

Oct 2011

We are beginning to look at middle schools for our son. We are wanting private middle school that will support his advanced math and science.

He is currently taking Algebra as a fifth grader and he he is taking human anatomy astronomy and chemistry as a fifth grader.

He is a mature student who works well with other students as well as adults. His elementary school has him switching classes several times a day so that will not be a difficult transition.

Any Suggestions? Are middle schools all the same?

Since we were in a very good district, we tried public kindergarten for our daughter after 3 years of preschool at our Temple. K was fine so we continued there to first grade. This school's API rating is in the 900s. We volunteered to ''help out'' at math time once a week and what we saw caused us to look for a private school for our child - and she started in third grade at Bentley School , K-8, which is located at the bottom of Hiller Highlands (Oakland/Berkeley border). No school is perfect but we got the main thing we were looking for - a school to challenge our daughter academically. She continued there through middle school (6, 7, 8). The classes are small which can be good, and can be bad!

Then we made the mistake of deciding to send her to the local public, very highly rated high school, for 9th grade. After a month it became clear that in fact Bentley K-8 school does prepare students 1-2 years ahead of the public schools academically. She was bored and not challenged at all. We quickly fixed that mistake and sent her to Bentley High school after about a month at the public high school.

In summary, Bentley K-8 school teaches 1-2 years ahead of the public schools, so if your child is not challenged and likes academics, I would highly recommend Bentley, and the high school seems great so far! (Bentley high school is in Lafayette). Anon

You should look at The Athenian School out in Danville. They place kids in math based on ability, not by grade level. They are a 6-12 school, and definitely have 6th graders in Advanced Algebra, Geometry and higher. I don't know how they will address his ability in science, but you could discuss that with the school. There is a bus that has stops in Berkeley and Oakland, so you don't have to drive out there every day. It's an amazing school in many ways, their math placement policy is only one great aspect. Athenian Parent

Our academically advanced and intellectually motivated kid has been very happy at Black Pine Circle Middle School. It you have a kid who likes working hard, is motivated, and would enjoy being surrounded by a lot of very bright and motivated kids, it is a great fit. The only complaint I hear about the school is that the kids are expected to do a lot of work. That being said, the work is interesting, the teachers are really tremendous, and the work pays off in what the kids gain intellectually. BPC parent

The Athenian School in Danville assigns kids to math classes based on their ability rather than their grade level. It is has grades 6-12, so there should be lots of flexibility for him.

I'd like to recommend The Berkeley School (formerly Berkeley Montessori School) for your son.

Both of our boys were quite engaged math and science students, as well as accomplished classical musicians (something about that math/music connection seems very real to me), and we found the school a wonderful nest of nurturing, with structure, a good social environment, and plenty of room for individual growth as well as group learning and group projects.

My boys went to TBS from preschool through grade 8. The academics prepared them extremely well for any high school they wanted to attend, and the environment, which I treasured dearly, and believe is equally important, allowed them to remain safely inside of childhood for just a tiny bit longer -- avoiding the over-sexual-ized, over-consumer-ized and media-blitzed reality of life -- for just a couple more years.

One son graduated from The College Preparatory School and the other from Lick-Wilmderding High School (very much their choices). One just graduated from UCLA with his degree Chemical Engineering (just because it ''sounded interesting'') and was recruited by Google where he now works (nothing at all to do with ChemE, he's followed his passion for technology). Our other son is a bio-medical engineering major at UC Davis, where he has discovered philosophy and viticulture. Therefore, I'd say they were both well-prepared for whatever step came next in their lives. (Really, with very little help from us - two parents who are liberal arts graduates who can barely solve an algebraic equation). Both of them could have gone to private/very expensive Ivy League colleges, and both, with our encouragement, chose University of California campuses, for which our bank accounts shall be eternally grateful.

I look back on all the school choices for the boys and I have the most nostalgia for TBS and what a wonderful place it was for our kids and our family. It was a sweet time with so much learning, growing, and happiness.

What more could you want? One Lucky Mama

Creative Welcoming School for 6th Grader?

March 2008

We're looking for a new school for my son who is currently in 5th grade. It has become evident he needs a more creative, progressive, open school and classroom group. This is the type of kid who would rather write a song or ride a unicycle than play soccer. Academically, he is an A and B student, with no major learning differences. I have read all the recommendations in the archives and we are looking at places like Waldorf, Archway, Black Pine Circle and Park Day. I realize the class he would go in with has a lot to do with it and his shadow visits would give us a lot of info. Does anyone have any other places to recommend or advice/experience to offer on the schools we're investigating? Joan

The Academy , on Benvenue in Berkeley, may be the school you are looking for. The school is small, one class of 16 students max per grade, academically high-achieving - in fact, hands down the best academics in the East Bay - and full of interesting children with all sorts of off-beat interests. In our experience the smaller student population is one of the school's greatest assets - it means that individual personalities are embraced by teachers and students. We ourselves were looking for a school where our 'different' child could stay different - thanks goodness for The Academy!!! love our school

I believe that NOCCS is a creative & welcoming school for 6 grade. juli

Joan, Have you considered visiting the Pacific Boychoir Academy in Oakland? A middle school for boys in grades 4-8, the academic curriculum is designed specifically for boys, applying approaches such as Levin's ''One Mind at a Time'' and Gurian's ''Minds of Boys.'' The boys not only graduate and move onto schools such as College Preparatory School, Bishop O'Dowd, Athenian and Bentley, but they become some of the word's best singers for their age. For more information you can visit http://www.pacificboychoir.org/academics.html Best wishes, Fernando

Beacon Day School in Oakland is exactly that. The middle school is small and expertly run. The head of school and teachers all know exactly where each child is; the social environment is considered quite important and everyone is welcomed with open arms. The kids seem happy and open and engaged. They might be full for next year already but you could get on their waiting list. Parent of happy elementary student

Private middle school for arts and sports?

Feb 2007

My daughter(10) loves the arts(drawing) and sports(track), is very good at both and is getting much encouragement by teachers and coaches to pursue further in these areas. She also benefits personnaly from both. The sport helps her self-esteem,is a great outlet for her energy and brings her much fun. The art is a great way for her to relax or work through her emotions. She currently goes to a public school (4th grade) where the focus is on math, english and testing. There is no support for her desire to do art or sport. She is not a top performer in terms of grades, but she does not have a learning disability and the potential to be on top of her class has been recognized by all of her teachers.

I am considering finding a private school where there is more of a balance between academic achievement and support for arts and sports. I also think that she would be doing better academically if she was given a more rounded education instead of constant pressure to test well. Can anyone recommend a private school where she could start in the 5th grade and does not have to be a A+ student? Since my daughter is African American I would also prefer a more diverse school. Thank You so much for taking the time to reply. anonymous

Catholic schools have great athletic programs year 'round, inlcuding track and field and cross country. Also, they seldom focus on testing. I'm not sure how much art is done - I think that varies from school to school. If you live in Berkeley, Albany or El Cerrito, you might want to check out the School of the Madeleine at St Mary Magdelene's. It is diverse with respect to ethnicity and religion. Anon

Might I suggest Beacon ? It sounds like a great fit for your daughter. They provide a fabulous developmental foundation for all academics; they take their time and can afford to do so because it is year-round. They have 240 instructional days vs. 180 in public or other independent schools, and for the same tuition as other independent schools. They take great pains to make sure each step is mastered before the child goes on to the next step. By 7th grade kids on average test 2 grades above averages. They have a big arts program too. You would not get the sports there; she would have to pursue track in another venue. But she could go to 4th-8th grade there and then go on to high school. Happy Beacon mom


Finding a school mid-year for daughter who was suspended

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

To the parent of the middle school girl who was suspended and can't attend another school in her district -- You don't mention where you live, but you might try North Bay Orinda School (it's across the street from the old JFK University campus).

Dear Running Out of Options...

There are always more options! Some, however, may require thinking outside of the box and beyond the obvious. Any suggestions that I would have would depend on having more details about your daughter's situation.

What happened to create this situation? Was she just suspended (as your posting states) or actually expelled from the district? What district do you live in? How far are you willing to commute? How much can you afford? Are you open to boarding school or homeschool options? What are your daughter's needs and interests?

Quickly, there are two middle schools in the East Bay that are often a bit more flexible in taking in new students. I can not say that they have space right now, but they would be worth checking out...Community School of the East Bay and East Bay School for Music and the Arts. Both are small independent middle schools.

Should you require further information about alternative programs, please be in touch.


Children's Learning Center in Alameda is a private school that handles kids with a variety of issues. They have two sites: elementary and a combined middle/high school. Talk to Gus Psara, the director, at 769-7100, about whether it's a good match for your daughter and whether they have any openings now. Good luck. Nancy