Choosing a Middle School

Questions & Responses:
Moving from BUSD to private middle school(10 responses)
School for "nerdy" boy?(11 responses)
Private Middle School (1 response)
Archived Responses: 



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:

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. 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 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, 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:, 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: 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 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