Deciding Which Private School

Parent Q&A

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  • My son is 4 years old; will be 5 in January. We're looking at where he should go to school for kindergarten and beyond, but ... the options are a little intimidating. So many great places in the East Bay - I'd love to hear personal recommendations if possible. We're looking for a private school in the east bay; Berkeley/Alameda/Oakland/Albany/Emeryville/El Cerrito? We don't live in a great public school district. About my son... he's a very exuberant and extroverted kid! He's very hungry for knowledge, and can already read but he has a lot of trouble sitting still and being quiet. He's drawn to sports and music, and shows some real natural aptitude there. He likes to get his hands on things and definitely learns by doing; he wants to touch and explore and be outside as much as he can. He loves books and will make up songs and stories. He is fascinated with technology and would spend hours on our phones if he wasn't forbidden to use them. Still, doesn't stop him from asking. He doesn't have a tablet or device of his own, although his dad and I work in gaming and tech so that's a big part of our lives. I want somewhere he won't be chained to a desk; where he'll be able to fidget and touch and learn. Somewhere that can develop his love for music; his dad and I are not musical but come from a family of music and theater people. He's a quick study with languages and went to a Spanish speaking daycare until he started preschool. I'd love him to have a focus on foreign language; I grew up in bay area public school and didn't learn Spanish until I was a teenager which I feel was a huge loss. Not sure what else will be helpful to add; I'd love to hear real personal experiences from  people, especially if what I've said about my son resonates with your own childrens' experiences. Thank you.

    Please check out Walden center &school in berkeley! It is an arts school, beautiful small campus, a lot of project based learning. Both my kids went there and are excelling in high school. Very strong in art and dance/movement/acting! 

    My 5-year-old is finishing up her second year at Wildcat Canyon Community School in El Sobrante (formerly East Bay Waldorf) and we couldn't be happier. We attended preschool for part of the 2019-2020 school year (until the world shut down) and were back for kindergarten this year, so I feel like we can speak to the early childhood experience.

    First things first: the program is still Waldorf-inspired and so there are no formal academics in kindergarten (and based on your child's birthday, they would likely start in kinder this fall and stay there for 2 years; the kinder program includes kids from ages 4.5 through 6.5 and most kids do two years). The kindergarten curriculum includes singing, dancing, painting, drawing, lots of physical activity, and chores (the children chop vegetables, knead bread dough, sweep their classroom, etc.) They learn handicrafts (sewing, "finger-knitting") and in the latter half of the year they've been doing some woodworking. They also celebrate lots of festivals from all around the world.

    This year, the children spent almost all their time outside. The school abuts Wildcat Canyon and has over 90 acres of land of its own, so there are lots of places to play! Our daughter comes home muddy most days and happy all the time.

    Happy to talk more if this sounds like it might be a good fit. Feel free to PM me.

    I highly recommend looking at Escuela Bilingue Internacional. It fits a lot of what you’re looking for. It’s Spanish immersion, but the kids also start Mandarin in the 3rd grade. This is what initially attracted us - our son also went to a Spanish language preschool and we wanted to continue. The IB curriculum is also student led, hands on and inquiry/project based. I’ve found it to be very engaging for my high energy, curious boy. They do have a wonderful music teacher and program during the school day as well. After-school my son has also tried both piano & guitar lessons as optional add ones in the aftercare program. Importantly for us, we’re also found the overall community to be wonderful - very welcoming and down to earth.  I definitely hear you on how overwhelming the school process can be. When we were looking at K we were living in SF and looked at many public, private & charter school options both there and in the East Bay. Talking to parents definitely helped - you’ll find a great fit!

    One more option to add to your list is TRIS (The Renaissance International School), whose Elementary campus is on Park Boulevard on the Oakland/Piedmont border. The music program is top-notch (both vocals and instrumental) and thanks to its immersive trilingual curriculum, your child would be able to continue with Spanish while also adding French. At the Elementary level, there is at least one Spanish-speaking teacher, an English-speaking teacher, and a French-speaking teacher in each classroom. As a Montessori school, it's good for kids who need to wiggle and can't sit at a desk all day, since the kids are able to move around and have more freedom in terms of the work they decide to do. The school community is also very close-knit and not pretentious. The very small outdoor space is the one downside from our perspective, but otherwise it seems like it might be a good fit for your family. 

    Our precocious, high energy, and extroverted child is thriving at Aurora School which allows our kid to fidget and have a lot of movement throughout the day. Before we even brought up the subject, our teacher proactively reached out about offering fidgets to our child during class. We are very happy that the child gets a lot of outdoor time, hands-on/inquiry-based learning, woodworking, music, and STEM. The social emotional curriculum is excellent and we feel that our child is intellectually challenged, encouraged to develop athleticism, and is learning to be a kind and empathetic person, while simply having fun at school. The new PE teacher is incredible and kids love her. The community is truly kind, caring and committed to diversity and inclusion. The school offers Spanish and music. Kids write and perform the work (play, poetry, etc.)  Our child is currently building an airplane in STEM and a birdhouse in woodworking. Language is not Aurora's focus, although they do offer Spanish. The Spanish teacher is also the music teacher, and he is wonderful.

    EBI would be my recommendation, if bilingualism is your primary focus. We have friends at EBI who are very happy there. We applied to EBI and really liked their IB curriculum and diversity. We chose Aurora, as we're already bilingual (not Spanish) and did not feel the need to add another language and we really wanted our child to be at a school with trees and nature. EBI campus is not its strength. Park Day and Aurora came really close and in the end, we chose Aurora based on how warm and welcoming the community felt and the small size. However, we think we would have been happy at any of the three finalist schools for us (Park Day, EBI, and Aurora) and I think you should check out these three schools. Good luck!

    I would highly recommend checking out Crestmont School.  It's a wonderful, inclusive, nurturing environment.  It really focuses on the whole child and especially in the younger grades Social/Emotional Learning.  The social/emotional learning is built into the curriculum and really the school as a whole.  Crestmont also manages to have strong academics in addition to all the other.  There's music, spanish, science, and PE every week.  We've been happy there for years (from kinder to 5th grade) and are only leaving because of a move.  It's a great school with a caring staff and a true sense of community.

    Park Day is a terrific school.  Our daughters are now 11 and 8. They have different needs and aptitudes. Park Day has been a fantastic match for both of them.  If you're looking for a school that will tend to the whole person, help cultivate a life-long love of learning, build your child's resilience and model kindness and compassion, you really couldn't ask for better.  Plus, terrific hands-on learning opportunities, design-focused modules and lots of outdoor space.  Spanish classes are part of the mix from very early on, but needless to say, if you're really wanting to prioritize the learning of a second language above all else, an immersion school is the only place where that can truly happen.  Nothing beats being forced to speak another language 5 or 6 hours a day.  Hope that helps. Good luck with your search.

    I would suggest checking out Crestmont School in East Richmond Heights (near the northern border of El Cerrito). Our eldest has been there 2 years and his 2 siblings will start Kinder there in the Fall. The classes are small and learning is individualized. They really know our child and have worked closely with us to identify and support how he best learns. They do offer Art, PE, Spanish and Science. Since it's a modern co-op I feel very invested in his eduction and part of a really lovely community.

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  • Park Day, EBI or Redwood Day?

    (6 replies)

    Hi, 

    I am deciding between EBI, Park Day and Redwood Day for my soon-to-be Kindergartener.  For background, my son's dominant language is Spanish (we speak mostly Spanish at home).  Thus, EBI's language immersion would be great to reinforce what he has learned at home, but not essential.  

    My son is introverted and sensitive.  I suspect he might have ADHD, but I am told he is too young to test/diagnose.  I don't think he would thrive in an environment that is overly rigid (i.e. a traditional type of teaching environment). 

    I would love to hear about your experiences at any of these schools.  Thank you! 

    We had a child attend Redwood Day lower school and I would strongly recommend you look at EBI or Park Day School instead. Redwood Day is about as traditional as they come. It's definitely more rigid and inflexible than either of those other schools (I'm familiar with all three). There are a lot of worksheets assigned for homework and the teachers and administrators were not very flexible, supportive or accommodating for our student with learning differences. You are so smart to think of these things now and save your family a lot of stress and grief down the road. Best of luck to you and your son.

    I have 2 kids at EBI ( 1st and 6th).  My 2 kids are very different, 1 who is smart and quiet and the other who is creative, strong willed and an aspiring comedian at age 6:)  The Spanish immersion, IB(international Baccalaureate) program has worked well for both of them.  We came to EBI for the Spanish but have stayed for the IB program, additional Chinese language instruction and the diverse, supportive globally minded community. The benefits of IB from my perspective are the wholistic teaching approach for each unit yielding a final project at the end.  For example How We Express Ourselves is the current unit of inquiry for 1st grade which is taught across all of their subjects: Spanish, English, Math, Art, Music, PE, etc. The teachers use many tools( visiting author, learning about different music genres, art illustrations, etc)  to engage the children resulting in a final project .  This unit the kids are authors creating books expressing themselves and will present their books to parents using everything they have learned over the past 6 weeks.  For diverse learners the teachers utilize various tools like fidget toys, small group learning centers, etc. to engage them wherever their learning style may be at so that everyone can learn in their best way possible.  They also have learning specialist, socio emotional support and provide detailed personal learning plans for each child which you review with the teachers 3x's per year or more as needed. In summary, we feel very supported and love the interactive, rich education that EBI is providing to our kids. 

    Hello, my family’s experience at EBI has been great. We moved from South America in 2017 and chose EBI because we wanted our kids to keep their Spanish (that was the only language they spoke when we moved here). My oldest started at Kindergarten and my youngest in Preschool, and we are into our 5th year at EBI. The IB program sounds suitable for your child, kids develop and learn tons in a non traditional way. Teachers are very caring and the community is tight and supportive. The staff went far and beyond through covid challenges. Happy to chat more, send me a PM if interested :)

    Among the 3 schools you listed, Park Day seems to be most progressive and less traditional. Redwood Day is a great school but it seems traditional. EBI lower school also seemed traditional when we toured, and while the school and the community are wonderful, the lower school campus lacks green space. Park Day has an incredibly gorgeous campus, and I think for kids with ADHD, it'd be a great place to get outdoor space as much as possible. We looked into all three schools you listed, and Park Day was at the top when we were making our decision.  We also have friends at all three schools and our impression of each school has been confirmed by our friends' experience. We ended up choosing a smaller progressive school in Oakland that's not on your list, because this school truly excels in kindness, warmth and a supportive environment that is ideal for new comers, shy, neuro-diverse children. However, we would have been happy with Park Day and are planning to apply to Park Day for middle school. 

    Hi! I am current parent of an EBI student and we've in the school for the last 10 years. I have a 7th grade and a 5th grader currently and we commute all the way from Pittsburg to still continue to attend the school. We are committed to the school and the overall community because its not only warm and inviting it is very nurturing while teaching students to think and question as they grow in a space that that they feel comfortable in. You mentioned that you suspect your son has ADHD, the interesting thing is that my son was just recently diagnosed with ADHD and came somewhat late because EBI does a really great job with class size and support that we caught it later because he was thriving in class. Our concern happened in a class he was not as interested in (he likes math and science and writing creatively has always been a challenge) that we finally sought out a therapist. EBI creates a scaffold around a student so well that it would have gone missed if we weren't the type of parents to really expect straight A's. Lastly, once I notified the school I have partnered with Dr. Gary Malare (their director of well being) and he regular checks up on my son. EBI also assigns a  advisor in Middle school that serves somewhat as a mentor to the kids during their duration of middle school. My son has great relationships with other grades in his cohort and also with his current advisor that gives us any info/concerns that she observes in quarterly meetings.  Lastly The great thing about EBI is the community. We all know each other since the school has the spanish requirement make attrition low and also in coming kids are rare if they dont speak spanish.  But when they do have new kids the community welcomes them. There are 3 new kids in my sons grade last year and they all acclimated well. There was a kid that came back this year that use to go to school up to 3rd grade but the parents worked overseas.  He picked up right where he left off.  Last week we cooked a meal for a fellow parent that unfortunately had her husband pass away so we signed up for a meal train. Their covid protocol has been amazing which allowed the kids to come back to school much earlier than other school in the district.  I can go on and on about why EBI because you dont just get a school, you get a community of caring kids, lifelong friends and an administrative/education team that really listens to you. Let me know if you have any other questions by sending me a message.

    We send our child to Redwood Day and absolutely love it. We've found it to offer a thoughtful balance of academics, enrichment opportunities, and social emotional education. Teachers really get to know each kid and support them. We haven't found it to be overly traditional, certainly not when compared to other local schools (like BUSD, the IB language schools like EBI, Head-Royce, etc.). At Redwood Day, younger elementary kids take Spanish a few times each week for one semester, and mandarin the other semester. They choose to specialize in one language after a few years of trying both.

    In terms of whether Redwood Day would be a good fit for a child with ADHD, the particulars matter - how severe is the ADHD, is the child able to sit and participate reasonably well, etc. I think that goes for any school environment, though some schools have a reputation for supporting neurodivergent kids more than others. Park Day has a reputation being more welcoming towards kids who need a little more support, which has upsides and downsides. Same with Head-Royce, which has more resources to support kids who fall outside of the norm. No private school is required to provide services to kids who need it, unlike public schools. So, any significant need at a private school is likely to require outside support. 

    We've heard about kids with ADHD who have thrived at Redwood Day, and some who have not and ended up switching schools. I think it comes down to ADHD severity, what the parents expected from the school in terms of support for the ADHD, and how much families accessed support outside of school. 

  • We're a family of four moving from the East Coast back to the West Coast, to the Oakland/Berkeley area. As such, we're looking for a strong elementary/middle private or charter school that's *diverse, *progressive and has *strong but not too demanding academics for our almost 10 yr old, who will be entering 5th grade in the fall (I know we're late in terms of application dates, but we just found out we're moving and are letting the kids finish school where we are vs moving them mid-year...we're hoping to get on a wait list, find a school with openings or that takes late applications). Our child has attended a very strong, large diverse public school on the East Coast and in doing so, teachers have very recently recommended that she move to a smaller or private setting as they believe she's being left behind and is falling through the cracks in the larger setting. She's an average learner who works more slowly and needs one-on-one instruction and explanation of concepts (we're currently testing her for a mild case of Dysgraphia). In addition, she's very sensitive and benefits from teachers who are better able to connect with her emotionally. (In contrast, her older sister navigates a large public school very well as she works independently and quickly/easily and as such, will be attending Oakland public schools).

    I've looked at Park Day and Redwood schools and while they seem wonderful, they don't seem all that diverse ... we're looking for a school that's more balanced in terms of race and ethnicity, i.e. having as many or almost as many students of color as they do Caucasian students (we're a multiracial family of Caucasian, Black and Latinx descent). Would love any recs that you all might have....thanks so much for reading and for your help!

    St. Paul's near Lake Merritt in Oakland sounds like it might be just what you're looking for. (Despite the name, it's not a religious school.) St. Paul's has an incredibly diverse community that prioritizes creating safe and welcoming spaces for BIPOC students, staff, and leaders. (This year's admissions materials say the school is currently 70% students of color and 60% faculty of color, which sounds consistent with our experience.) It is an urban campus, and can't match the grounds of Redwood Day or Park Day. Instead, SPES leans into the Oakland community and actively uses nearby Lake Merritt and its surrounding parks as part of its program. My child is in the rising fifth grade cohort, and while I don't know if there will be openings, the class does have a range of learners who move at different paces, and the school has a learning specialist who supports students who need extra help. We've been very happy with the school both academically and with respect to the social-emotional supports. I also deeply appreciate the intentionality with which SPES approaches the curriculum to ensure that students hear a diversity of voices and stories and understand the links between what they are learning and the city around them. Good luck with your search!

    We just went through the private school admissions process for my daughter and I recommend St. Paul's as well. We also considered Redwood Day and Park Day and found St. Paul's to be, by far, the most diverse (although all of those schools have very inclusive, progressive approaches). For what it's worth, my daughter has a similar-sounded personality to yours as well as some mild academic challenges where she benefits from more teacher attention (hence our move to private), and we've chosen Julia Morgan School for Girls. It's middle school only so wouldn't help you for this fall but worth exploring in the future!

    You should also have a look at St. Paul's in Oakland and Prospect Sierra in El Cerrito. (Prospect offers transportation from various locations in Oakland/Berkeley.) And Black Pine Circle in Berkeley. All 3 are K-8 progressive private schools.

    I have a 7th grader at Prospect Sierra and can't say enough good things about it. It meets a lot of what you are looking for. Have friends at St. Paul's and they think it's pretty great. Staff and student body are more diverse than your average East Bay private school.

    I suggest you consider a school like School of the Madeleine in Berkeley. Whether it could be considered progressive as a catholic school is up for debate, but I do think you're more likely to find the diversity you're looking for than at a secular private school (which often don't have a significant population of Latinx students.)

    Do you want diverse or do you want private? Pick one ;-). Private schools in the Bay Area are not diverse. You may find more diversity than average at St. Paul's, as one parent mentioned.  One of my kids went to St. Paul's for elementary school and this attracted me to the school at first.  But the kids of color at St. Paul's tended to be the children of doctors, lawyers, and celebrities. To me that seems like a kind of cosmetic diversity. 

    If you want to walk into a school and see diversity, visit any public school in Oakland or Berkeley. You'll see not only plenty of brown and black faces in the mix, but also kids whose parents come from every corner of the earth, from all income levels and with different customs and languages and viewpoints. What you won't see is a homogenous blend of privileged kids who happen to be different shades of color.  My kids went to Berkeley public middle school and they had a great experience and made lifelong friends with a diverse group of kids. We found many excellent teachers and terrific support for learning differences at our local public school. 

    Check out Northern Light in Oakland. It’s tiny, but awesome. Most students of color, very warm and inclusive and welcoming vibe.

    Crestmont school in Richmond has been great for us.  Very small, very individualized learning setting which has worked well for my multiracial child.  My child's class of 10 was 70% kids of color and the BIPOC kids ran the spectrum (some mixed race, some asian, some latinx).  There were also 2 gender nonbinary kids out of the group of 10.  It has a strong and diverse parent community (it is technically a coop) and the voices and roles of many parents of color have been strong and in front at times, and at other times less so.  The teaching staff is small (I think about 12 total) and I think 5 or 6 are BIPOC. 

    St. Paul definitely has a reputation for its racial diversity too and worth checking out.

  • I know that selecting a school is a very personal and child-specific decision-- But does anyone have any major red flags they want to share about The Berkeley School? Golestan? Prospect Sierra?

    Admissions decisions come out this week and we need to accept an offer by March 24. Just curious if any parents out there have strong feelings they would want someone to know about any of those schools? I would love to hear any dealbreakers before we commit to a school.

    THANK YOU!

    I would advise that you speak with as many current and former parents as possible. Our children attended Prospect Sierra and had a mixed experience. In our time there, the lower school was much stronger than the middle school, where the teaching ranged from excellent to poor. Some teachers were creative, invested, and really cared about the intellectual development and skill building of our kids, while others did not and were more concerned with fulfilling a political agenda. The administration has changed quite a bit in the past few years, and I am not current on what that experience has been like. But if I had to do it again, I would have looked at a broader range of school with a stronger academic program.

    My child is in 7th grade at Prospect Sierra. Entered the school in 6th grade. We are blown away by the quality of instruction as well as the thoughtfulness of the social/emotional approach. My child always did really well in math but *hated* it and thought she was not a math person. Prospect Sierra has completely turned that around for her, all without dumbing anything down. In addition to continuing to test well above average, she now loves the subject. I credit the excellent teaching she got in both 6th and 7th grade for that turnaround. The science instruction has also been excellent; it is hands-on (and was impressively so even when we were in distance learning) and manages to capture her imagination very well. She is fired up to do science now too. I read her 10-page, detailed progress report, and it is evident that all of her teachers know her well and are thinking critically about where she needs to improve. I can't say enough good things about the school.

    I've also been very impressed with the clarity and quantity of communication from the school. This pandemic has been so challenging, but compared to the communication I've been getting from admin at my other child's school, Prospect Sierra has been outstanding.

    I read your post and wanted to respond right away, even though it’s late! First, congratulations on having great school choices. I don’t have red flags to share and can’t speak to all the schools you named, but I wanted to share my strongest recommendation for Prospect Sierra. It’s an amazing place and we’ve chosen it twice. Our family has a current sixth grade son at Prospect Sierra and our daughter, a high school freshman, is a recent alumna. We are thrilled to be part of the school community and think highly of the programming the students are getting. Both of our kids started in sixth grade knowing no other students well. We live in Oakland. Prospect Sierra did a fantastic job both times through at August orientation, with staff helping kids connect with each other and those friendships have continued to grow. Our daughter was there during pandemic lockdowns and distance learning and I can’t imagine a school having handled what was a tough situation better than they did. Students find classes interesting and we’ve found that teachers are skilled, creative and caring. They know and understand our kids and many parents have shared their appreciation for the school’s approach to knowing kids and seeing them as individuals deserving of respect and care. My kids have loved their advisory classes and built lasting relationships in them. They have been deeply inspired by the arts and we are grateful that visual arts, drama, and music are so highly valued and such a regular part of school life. Our son has enjoyed staying afterschool for Art Club and our daughter was captivated by the drama program throughout her middle school experience. In addition, our kids have loved the enrichment offerings, which have recently led our son to discover ultimate frisbee. As a high school student now, our daughter has so appreciated how well Prospect Sierra prepared her. She developed strong Spanish language skills in addition to her English, math, and science skills and has been able to excel in high level classes as a result of what she learned there. Finally, it’s been such a wonderful and welcoming school community full of fun, learning, and connections. Students develop so much over their time at Prospect Sierra, as students and as caring and informed members of their communities. Good luck with your decision! We highly recommend Prospect Sierra! 

    My daughter has been at Golestan since the first year of preschool (age 2) and she is in third grade now (age 9). She is happy, thriving, and loved by her teachers. Golestan is a truly special place -- it is a multicultural environment with a focus on kindness and community. The teachers are so loving and wonderful. I never worry about how she's doing at school.  Learning is individualized and children are supported at whatever place they are. There is a lot of room and space to just be a kid and of course, the farm-to-table chef makes the most amazing food so I never have to worry about packing a healthy lunch or snack. It's an intimate environment and class sizes are small. The campus is incredibly beautiful -- they have paid attention to every detail, from an edible garden to patios for outdoor learning. It's just a lovely place to learn in. We love Golestan!

    Hi there!

    Perhaps you already chose a school but I wanted to give a shout out for Golestan. This is our third year at the school and we love everything about it— every time I walk on to campus I feel such gratitude to be a part of the school and wider community.

    The administration is highly communicative, thoughtful, caring for their staff, and innovative. Yalda, their ED, is always available if needed though her team is highly capable as well. We feel we are in the best hands in an increasingly challenging school landscape of Covid risks and fire seasons.  Rather than a transactional feel, Golestanfosters a strong sense of community and belonging among the staff, students and their families.
     

    We couldn't think of any better teachers to entrust our daughter with and for her to look up to as role models. The teachers are so flexible and creative, providing individualized care to each student's needs.  We know they are nurturing our daughter's love of learning, critical thinking and curiosity which are essential for leading a life of meaning, connection and resiliency.  The highest recommendation comes from our daughter who says "I like my school so much it makes me want to stay there forever and ever and ever. And I love my teachers so much!"

    Oh! How could I forget the amazing fresh food, the language/cultural learning, outdoor classrooms, field trips, soccer, garden and music classes! The list goes on! You won’t regret choosing Golestan :) Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. 

    Hi! I have two children at Golestan and highly recommend it. My oldest started in Kindergarden and my youngest started in preschool; they’re now in K and 2nd grade. Golestan is a small school with a warm family-like community. The children are very loved, and are taught a global socially-conscious curriculum. The teachers pay very close attention to each child and have worked collaboratively with us to ensure their needs are being met. Also, they are fed delicious healthy meals that are cooked on site; my children especially love when the food they harvest from the garden is part of their daily lunch or snacks, or when they get to partake in cooking themselves. We wholeheartedly recommend Golestan!

    Prospect Sierra was not a good experience for us in Elementary. By first grade, it was so academic and rigid, that my child got so stressed and overwhelmed they started to fall apart.  Many kids at the school have outside tutors and learning specialists just to be able to keep up - and this starts in 1st grade!  They also did a horrible job with diversity equity and inclusion - although they talked a good game - the unconscious bias against black and brown kids, boys in particular, was rampant.  My child (who is an african american male) would regularly get in trouble for things that white boys were doing (for example - and there are many instances like this - if my kid was in the library with two white kids and they were being noisy, my child was the one who got reprimanded). I know there are a lot of great things about the school too - but just wanted to let you know about some of the negatives that we experienced.

  • St. Paul’s, Park Day, or Berkwood Hedge?

    (23 replies)

    Any insights on St. Paul’s, Park Day, or Berkwood Hedge? We live in North Oakland and I am currently looking at kindergarten options for my daughter. Would be super helpful to hear about your experience with any of these schools including their Covid protocols, academics, and socio-emotional learning. Thank you!

    Hi! My daughter is a kindergartener at Park Day this year. As promised, her love of learning has thrived. She comes home and teaches me about their science units, sings songs in Spanish, and makes math equations to solve – for fun. This weekend, she picked up Elephant and Piggy and read the whole book. Beyond the learning that is going on, I appreciate the community and its values. The birthday parties have been for the whole class – no exclusions - the parent education classes have engaged deeply on issues we care about. Communication is clear and frequent. The letters home from the teachers (filled with photos) are full of information/insight and ways to engage with my child. Additionally, both the after-school staff, and my daughter’s classroom teacher, have reached out to us when they have noticed her having a hard day. The adults care deeply. I have another perspective on Park Day as I am also a teacher at a Bay Area Independent High School. The students who attended Park retain that love of learning through high school: they are motivated by the learning, not the grade. My Park Day alumni students demonstrate exceptional social emotional intelligence – they have a growth mindset, share authentic appreciation of others unprompted, and understand that asking for help and self-advocacy is a strength. The Park Day kids are always involved in various identity and social justice work on camps. They are engaged citizens. Park Day kids don’t just write essays, they have real opinions to share. As teenagers they are kind, the ones I often match with visitors or partner with someone who is having a difficult time. My daughter is already looking forward to being a reading buddy, to doing the 3rd grade play, and to leading an assembly. At Park Day she is secure in who she is, and excited to share more of herself with others. -M's Mom

    I don't have any insights about St Paul's or Park Day, but my daughter went to Berkwood Hedge earlier this year, and we lasted only 28 days before I pulled her and found a school where I knew she would be physically safe and in an environment where she was actually learning again (in her 1st few weeks of school, there was no phonics or reading aloud even though they were supposedly part of the curriculum, and after a year of Zoom school due to the pandemic, this was concerning as I was hoping she'd get back on track with reading and writing). 

    To make a long story short, we wound up being the first family of five families in that one class who left shortly after the school year began. While *part* of the issue was the teacher's inability to manage the class (who I hear recently resigned, and will be replaced in a couple of weeks), the issues in my mind were more top-down; more of a systemic problem, where dysfunctional and potentially dangerous behaviors were normalized, and if your child confides in you about something terrifying and dangerous that happened to them (which thankfully my daughter did), the school's response was essentially (and I'm paraphrasing) "nobody saw it happen, so prove it."

    My daughter ended up feeling worse after reporting something than she had to begin with, and her take away was that she should never "tattle" again if someone tries to hurt her. Not what I want for my daughter or anyone's child. I wasn't about to keep her there until there was physical evidence that I could photograph as proof. 

    While I'm now out 5 months tuition for only 28 days of school (which seems criminal to me), I'm thankful that my daughter is now at another school where she is learning again, not afraid to come to school, and where the administration makes it clear what's acceptable and what's not.

    Any family reading this who is considering Berkwood Hedge should feel free to reach out to me with follow-up questions. I'm happy to find time to chat by phone if it helps even just one other family make a more informed choice for their child(ren).

    All the best with your school search, and be safe out there! 

    We looked at St. Paul's and Park Day but ultimately chose Aurora. If Aurora isn't on your radar, I strongly recommend that you consider Aurora. Aurora draws families who also look at Park Day and Berkwood Hedge as it is among the leaders in socio-emotional learning.  Because Aurora is a smaller school, we felt more personalized attention given to our application and felt very welcome. St. Paul and Park Day are both friendly and welcoming places as well, but it's larger and I felt that we were one of too many applications and the application process felt a bit impersonal. Covid protocols are excellent and academics are engaging. Our child who is 1 - 2 grade level ahead finds academics interesting. They truly embrace the project-based learning. They have ample outdoor and play time incorporated into their learning. Park Day has an impressive campus and is also a lovely school but a bigger community. St. Paul's is very diverse and really embraces Oakland and its diversity. St. Paul, Park Day, Aurora, Berkwood Hedge, Redwood Day are all excellent schools with lots of extracurricular offerings and have a lot of similarities. 

    Our kiddo started kindergarten at Park Day this year. Most importantly, our kid is excited to go every day. She is reading, writing and excited to tell us "math stories" and things she learned about science in Learning Garden. Socio-emotional learning is a huge focus, and I am so grateful for how our kid is learning to name and express her feelings and needs. We are inspired by the focus on DEI, which is age-appropriate but not candy-coated.   

    The covid protocols are protective and reasonable -- they have outdoor classrooms the kids use for part of the day, provide twice weekly at-school PCR testing, and have a dedicated coordinator who is transparent about positive tests and is always available to answer questions about indirect exposures, explainable symptoms, etc.  When we came back after winter break, because of the surge in cases, the teachers sent home detailed login instructions for all the virtual classroom programs, and spent time showing the kids how to use the platforms, just in case we had to go virtual. We didn't (knock wood), but I so appreciated their preparation and attempt to make the transition as smooth as possible. 

    I've been so impressed with the communication from teachers (not just the lead classroom teacher, but all the others in language, music, art, PE, etc), which is super clear and thoughtful. We have great insight into what is happening in the classroom. Especially important is that the administration....they just have their act together, is the best way to put it. They are energized in a way that seems impossible after 2 years of covid. They are mission-driven in making the school the best it can be, but are also professional and clear communicators.  They address issues proactively and respectfully.  They are nimble and they plan for contingencies. We have complete confidence in the head of school, Angela Taylor, who is both an engaging/warm presence on campus and also a thought leader in the independent schools community.  The community is welcoming and diverse.  The campus is spectacular.

    I could go on and on (the afterschool program! The Innovation Workshop!  The hot lunch program!) but the takeaway is that we are thrilled with our decision to send our kid to Park Day.

    Hi!  We have 2 kids at Park Day currently in K and 3 (so as a family we've been there for 4 years).  We also had considered Berkwood Hedge but felt the school was too small for what we wanted - both physically and number of students.  We did not consider St. Pauls.  Overall, we are very happy with Park Day.  With our older child, we have been there pre-COVID, Zoom school, back in person when most other schools were not, and now in not quiet post-COVID times.  We have felt incredibly safe with their COVID protocols.  I feel they have been innovative with what to do and also responsive to how hard on everyone its been emotionally.  They have such a large beautiful outdoor campus that they are able to utilize for COVID safety, but also just in general.  Socio-emotional learning has been key for us, I think with any choice it's about finding the right partnership.  I appreciate all the parent ed opportunities as well as how accessible teachers are to work with you and your kids.  Academics are what I would call average for private schools.  There is a lot of individualization and working in small groups that allows kids to learn in different ways.  Park Day recently got a new head of school that personally I hope will strengthen the academics.  We chose Park Day because of the social justice mission, the design-make-engage curriculum, social-emotional learning, the beautiful lush campus, logistics like hot lunch and before/ after care, as well as the size.   We stay because of all those things plus the community of people there.  No school is perfect, there are challenges of course, but the community keeps us going.  

    Our child is a third grader at Park Day and has been there since Kindergarten.  He had a wonderful experience in Kindergarten, which did a nice job of making the transition from play-based learning to classroom based learning (with a good helping of both at the K level) as smooth as possible.  Both of the K teachers are wonderful and one of them has been at the school for many years.  Social emotional learning is a major focus at Park Day.  The education is very child focused, while not sacrificing emphasis on core educational topics, and includes things like conflict resolution practice, learning how to treat your friends and others with kindness and being a good member of the school and larger community.  This is a core emphasis of the school. The school really does live its mission to "prepare students to be informed, courageous, and compassionate people who shape a more equitable and sustainable world."

    The school has done a great job through COVID. They are currently testing children twice a week and kids are still masked all the time. We've had very few COVID cases and none that have required significant shutdowns to the school. While everything doesn't quite feel normal, it feels reasonably close to that.  The main thing is that the school has remained open and safe and the kids are still getting a great education.

    We've had two kindergartners at Park Day (one pre-Covid and one during). Our kids are now in 1st and 4th grade and the transition into kindergarten was a great experience for both. The year starts with projects on self-identity and a focus on sharing and getting to know others, which continues throughout the year where students work on a monthly self-portrait. They also jump right into investigating plants and animals found on and near campus (the grounds are famous for hosting many squirrels!) and this works in tandem with the gardening and science curriculum. Another family favorite was learning about watersheds and how waterways connect to the bay. And this year, a family donated a weather station so it's been really interesting to hear kids talk about how to read and check, not only temperatures and wind, but also air quality.

    In terms of literacy, kindergartners keep journals and write daily short stories with a picture.  As our kids became stronger writers, they were encouraged to expand ideas, work on punctuation, form letters correctly, etc. At the end of the year, we were able to revisit their journals and see how they progressed as storytellers. Another favorite is the Innovation Workshop where kindergartners first learn about tool safety, then go off to build using saws, nails, hammers, wood, recycled materials, and more. Some days kids come home with huge sculptural masterpieces and other days I would find a simple wooden pull-toy in their backpack or deconstructed electronics reimagined into a new toy. 

    While both my kids are quite different, they both needed a lot of support with the social-emotional aspects of school life. We've sought support for both kids to help them work on social anxiety and self-esteem, and have always found teachers and administration to be thoughtful and proactive in their approach. One of the parts of school that I've always been impressed with is how students across all grades greet each other and know each other by name, and not just by face. It's common to have a 7th or 8th grader pass by my 4th grader and say "hello" and ask how his soccer game was last weekend. The school helps to initiate these bonds early on, and even this first year of Kindergarten, with reading buddies.

    In terms of Covid, the school has a consultant to help navigate changing data and guidelines set by the government. They also host Covid testing twice weekly on campus during the school day and results are posted through the student portal. The PDS campus is unique in that there is a great amount of outdoor space so kids are often seen taking advantage of this during class time. And as a helpful reminder to the younger students, they have redwood tree stumps to help them easily find their safely distanced spots. Classrooms are well thought out in terms of safety with doors and windows open, and air purifiers. Last year, students chose to work with different items for the day in dedicated bins and at the end of the day, these items were disinfected for others to use the next day. For example, building blocks, counting cubes, etc but I don't know the current specifics and if this has changed from last year.

    I hope this was helpful and feel free to contact me directly with any other questions :)

    Hi! Park Day family here. W have two kids at the school - one in lower school and one in middle school - and have been at the school for 8 years. First of all, our new Head of School, Angela Taylor is AMAZING. She began last school year in the midst of COVID and has knocked her beginning out of the park! Part of our enthusiasm for her has come from her leadership during the pandemic. Last year the students had minimal interruption to in-person, on-campus school, and this year there have been no interruptions to in person learning due to the pandemic. Students get tested twice weekly and community members are informed of those school wide results every week in addition to transparent updates (including the vaccination rates, etc.) about the state of covid at school. In addition, there is a bounty of outdoor space so if inside learning feels unsafe again, the school can quickly pivot to outside learning. That saved us last year!! The priority is keeping our kids in person on campus, but never at the expense of safety. 

    The academics have also been strong, and I've noticed that they have turned up the academic dial appropriately this year for my 7th grader as they begin to prepare for high school. Angela has already noted areas of improvement in the academic program (through her observations and also a strategic planning process completed last year) and quickly put new programming in place to address these issues (for example, adding Fundations to the lower school literacy program). Overall, the academic program is engaging for students to dive in deeply at their developmental level with interesting and integrated projects. Our kids are becoming informed and engaged citizens though the social emotional support alongside the academic curriculum. Both of my kids are outspoken about injustices they see in the world, and have stood up for friends/classmates in day to day life when others are being unkind or inappropriate. Finally, both of my kids, who are so very different, are really seen by the adults at the school. They have formed strong relationships with their teachers, and when we talk to the staff and teachers, they always have specific feedback and anecdotes about our kids that show how well they are known and understood. I can't speak to St Paul's or Berkwood Hedge, but we have all been so happy with our experience at Park Day. I could go on and on, but it would be harder to find a warmer place for students to become lifelong learners. 

    My son started 1st grade at Park Day this year, and my daughter will start K there in the fall. We love the school so much and feel lucky to be there. The teachers are wonderful, campus is beautiful, and the philosophy is so positive. My son has been struggling to catch up on reading and the way the teachers and learning specialist have rallied around him has been awesome. They are very focused on meeting him where he is and helping him, while maintaining his enthusiasm for learning and understanding the whole picture of what's going on with him. He's getting the help he needs but their priority is on him as an individual happy child. He is thriving in art, music, learning garden, science projects, etc. He comes home happy from school everyday and really feels at home there, couldn't ask for more than that.

    The school takes a great approach on social justice issues, they're doing a great job teaching empathy and awareness. What sold us was meeting Angela, the head of school, at an admissions event. She is an awesome leader, and good leaders hire good people. She's very smart and clearly loves her job and school. In terms of Covid she has led us with very transparent communication at every step, sharing a lot of data and also some real talk that is much appreciated. We have had very low instances of cases, bi-weekly testing, and the community is highly vaccinated.

    Good luck, and feel free to send me a message if you want to chat. 

    My son transferred to Park Day School three years ago and it has been a fantastic experience for us. He is a very sensitive kid and was having a lot of trouble with self-esteem, focus and self regulation when he started. They have been extremely helpful in supporting his social-emotional needs and he has absolutely blossomed.

    In terms of Covid protocols, I've been very impressed. Everyone is masked on campus and is required to fill out a questionnaire everyday and show the cleared screed to be admitted to school for the day. The kids are tested on site twice a week and the entire community is incredibly Covid conscious.

    I have also been very happy with the academics at Park Day. I feel that my son is challenged without feeling that school is too hard. They are really focused on developing a love of learning, which I think is so important. I also appreciate that they teach from a diverse range of perspectives as well and teach for multiple learning styles.

    I am very happy with our choice to join the Park Day community, it has been a great fit for my son. Good luck in your search!

    We have children at St. Paul's and have had a wonderful experience overall. The pandemic year was bumpy, but this year school is back in the groove. SPES is on the more cautious side on the COVID front--during the current surge, they're requiring N95/KN95 masks indoors and out and PCR testing twice a week, and were slower to reopen in person last year than many independent schools in the area. For our family this is an asset, but it may or may not be for yours. We've been pleased with the rigor of the academic program, particularly in upper elementary, but it's the social-emotional curriculum, which is integrated across grade levels and between the school day and the afterschool program, that's one of the primary reasons we're there. (The other is the diversity of both the student body and the staff.) Berkwood Hedge and especially Park Day have the upper hand when it comes to the campus; SPES is an urban school with limited outdoor space, and relies on Lakeside Park and the surrounding areas to extend the classroom, which has both strengths and challenges. We chose St. Paul's in part because we liked that it was community-facing; we loved the Park Day campus, but it felt very removed from the city around it. A lot really comes down to what you're looking for in your child's school experience. Good luck with the decision!

    Our daughter currently attends kindergarten at the Berkeley School, and we have had an excellent experience there. Their Covid protocols are really good, and both the academics & socio-emotional learning have been impressive. We love the kindergarten teacher & the student to teacher ratio is ideal. I highly recommend checking the Berkeley School out. 

    We are very, very glad that we chose to send both of our kids to Park Day School. The faculty are top notch, the new head of school is truly visionary and has a keen sense of how to support staff, families, and students at all grades. As you probably know, there's an expansive campus which has come in handy for the pandemic as there is room for numerous outdoor classrooms and eating areas. The kids are currently tested twice/week and the protocols are clear for what happens when a positive case is identified. Masking is universal and enforced (as of this date). I have complete peace of mind with regard to covid. The kids are challenged and inspired by the curriculum--our younger had some trouble reading earlier in the year and it was identified to us and addressed quickly (with our partnership). There's a very strong emphasis on social justice. Also, so much to say about SEL at Park--the kids are supported in understanding their own identities, how important it is to respect each other for who we are. They learn to identify their emotions and to empathize with others around them. The school is in the early stages of implementing a strategic plan that has focused the school community on key areas of improvement. And the before/after school staff and programs are great. I hope that helps!

    I can unequivocally say that Berkwood Hedge would not be a school that I would consider for my child. While there are excellent teachers in particular grades, there is a lack of structure, lack of clear behavioral expectations and responses, and lack of effective leadership in the wider school environment. Our child entered the Earth (2nd grade) class in Fall 2021, and very quickly was telling us about extreme teasing, physical harm, and a chaotic classroom environment. In our daughter’s previous Berkeley public school, there was nothing behaviorally like what she saw and experienced at Berkwood Hedge. She ended up feeling unsafe, overwhelmed by the social and behavioral problems, and didn’t feel able to seek adult help.

    When parents approached the head of school, Love, with the issues, her response was filled with scapegoating and blaming others (including the teacher, parents, and even children’s accounts). Issues were handled in very inappropriate, haphazard and underhanded ways, that avoided actually addressing deeper cultural and leadership problems.

    There are WAY too many details to go into, but out of the 16 families who began that year together, 6 have left. If any parents are considering sending their child to Berkwood Hedge, I am happy to discuss in detail everything we experienced. I suspect admissions will tell prospective parents that this year was an aberration, but I would welcome the opportunity to describe the depth and breadth of issues (and give you phone numbers of other parents who will do the same).

    So, to answer your questions specifically, the socio-emotional learning was ineffective and our child’s class often could not get to academics due to the pervasive behavior problems. As far as Covid protocols, there was no testing at all when we were there (I think they started testing late-January 2022).

    I don't have experience with the other schools, but I hope you find the right fit for your family. 

    We have been part of the Park Day community for the past 7 years and have absolutely loved the school. Our third child will be starting Kindergarten at Park Day this upcoming school year and we couldn't be more excited to start all over again at the lower school! Park Day is truly a special place. The campus is magical, the teachers are incredible, and the community is inclusive in every way important. The Head of School is fantastic and overall, the school feels like it's in a very strong place. Park was a shining light for us during covid. While most other independent schools were only offering virtual learning, Park was a pioneer and welcomed their students back for in-person learning on their amazing campus.  Tents were set up all throughout campus - Park stood strong and did everything possible to keep in-person learning going strong. Park Day is truly a special place and I cannot recommend it highly enough, both for its rich academic programming and deep commitment to social-emotional learning.  

    My daughter loves going to school every morning and comes home talking about all the different things she’s learning and exploring. She has felt supported to make a wide range of friends, both in her grade and throughout the school. The students delve into meaningful units of study that span months.  For example, in second grade the students are deep into poetry. They discuss, study, and recite poetry by Langston Hughes, Emma Lazarus, and Robert Frost among others, and also write and “publish” their own poems. This has been an immersive experience for my daughter and she is proud of what she’s accomplished. Children are playful and kind at the school, and staff and teachers are child-centered, nurturing, and good-humored.  In terms of Covid, the school tests twice a week on campus during the school day and my daughter says the test is by mouth and comfortable. They currently require masks. They may require Covid vaccines of students next year. All staff and teachers are vaccinated. My daughter is learning joyfully at Park Day and it’s a wonderful part of our lives.

    I now have a fifth and seventh-grader at St. Paul's and we've been there since kindergarten. The school is a truly unique place that offers what I consider to be the most well-rounded education available in the region. It builds on what is potentially the most diverse community (by any measure - ethnicity, socio-economic status, LGBTQ+, belief system, family structure, etc.) of an independent school in the Bay Area and combines it with a social-emotional learning program created by its teachers to develop students that emerge as truly aware citizens of the world. Academics are rigorous, but class sizes are small enough that educators and staff to truly know each child and support them with legitimately individualized instruction. That said the school is not so small that it becomes "too small" as the kids progress into middle school (and the fact that it's K-8 means you won't have to go through THIS process for middle school! A huge benefit). There is no trade-off between diversity and academics. Indeed, diversity is the core of their academic program as they encourage students to understand their own identity, and those of their peers, and celebrate unique perspectives, traditions, and belief structures of all kinds.

    As for COVID protocols, the school maintains an advisory council comprised of school administrators, parents, and representatives from the community and includes multiple physicians and an employee of the Alameda County Board of Health. Currently, they test students and staff twice a week and, according to a recent communication from the school, they performed over 29,000 tests over the last two years. Policies are thorough, regularly evaluated and updated as new conditions emerge, and always science-first and evidence-based. Also, last year the school performed significant upgrades to its HVAC system, along with many other measures that have allowed them to remain in-person, and provide after-school care, for most of last year, and all of the current year.

    Please don't hesitate to reach out if have any more questions, I'm happy to answer whatever you need!

    Best of luck in your decision making process,

    Matt

    My daughter started at Berkwood Hedge earlier this school year. Our family was excited to transition her there because of the promise of academic differentiation and their constructivist approach. We ended up pulling her out after five weeks for several reasons. Some of this was due to the teacher’s lack of instructional control that impacted her ability to teach the curriculum. When my daughter finally brought classwork home I was shocked how behind it was compared to the local public schools. She constantly complained that she was not learning anything and was bored. There was little socioemotional learning going on as well. Children were taught to fend for themselves and solve their own problems, which caused high incidents of bullying and some physical altercations. Although my daughter was not directly targeted it was stressful for her to hear constant name-calling and put-downs. As an educator and psychologist, I took her out because I felt Berkwood Hedge was not healthy for her well-being and the poor academics did not justify the high tuition. In addition, when we started there was zero Covid testing provided. Our family also felt little support from the head of school, which was disappointing because besides being a new family to their school community we were also one of the very few families of color in the entire class. My daughter is now thriving, engaged in learning, in a racially diverse classroom,  and is so much happier at her local public school. Good luck with your search and if any other parents have any questions about my experience at Berkwood Hedge please feel free to directly message me. 

    We are a new family at Berkwood Hedge. I had heard of the challenges in the class the family who posted who left mentioned. I don't know enough about their experience, and it is heartbreaking that their child was in unsafe situations. 
    Our family has been in a preschool where the administration handled a situation poorly and parents were shaken, and we have been the recipients of schools' handling things for our kids in ways that have shocked us. This was our experience in public school, and we have had to negotiate with the district due to harmful things done by a well-regarded school's principal. I say this to acknowledge that these experiences are real, and when one is trusting a place to care for their kids, it's distressing and scary. 

    We are having a positive experience at Berkwood Hedge, thus far. We did not join at K, but the K teacher has been there a very long time and is lovely and warm and deeply invested in the kids and community. 
    As our kids have adapted to the school, we've found the school's response to challenges mostly reasonable and supportive. There have been things we haven't loved or surprised us, however, after distressing experiences at a public school previously, we can see that our children are happy, learning, and have space to be themselves. Our sense is that the school is going through its own transitions (adding middle school grades), and it is figuring out how to be a multi-sited school, with a limited administration. That shouldn't be reflected in your kids' experiences, but my sense is this isn't permanent. 
    Our approach to education is less formal than some -- not sure what you mean by 'academics,' especially in kindergarten? We love how immersive and creative the kids' days are. There is a lot of dance and music. Lunch and recess are very unstructured and the kids get to do dance parties and have some free range of the lower school campus. My older child gets a very integrated curriculum, something that felt lacking and flat at public schools. 
    After considering a lot of schools last year, though highly limited since it was mostly on Zoom and even the assessments of kids were on Zoom, which was a horrible medium for getting to know our kids, (for the other schools you mentioned, not Berkwood Hedge), we think we've ended up at the right place for our less typical kids. We are in a place that feels expansive, and our kids with different challenges and temperaments are doing well. All the schools you mention will have strengths and cultures that may or may not tap into what you hope for for your kid. Berkwood Hedge is a small school, somewhat in transition as they expand to middle school (something not all parents are happy about but we are as the curriculum sounds great), and it is not perfect. One is entitled to want one's kid to be safe, thriving and joyful at the school they're at regardless of whether it's private or not! What has stood out for us at Berkwood Hedge, compared to the multiple public and preschools where we've had our kids, is that we have found ways to work with the school when things haven't landed. 
    Good luck with your choice. I hope you don't ever find your kid in a place that is unsafe. It's good to remember you can always change schools. This doesn't have to be a perfect choice. Your kid will change, your expectations will, too. 

    We looked at both Park Day and Berkwood Hedge and ended up at BH.  Berkwood just felt more comfortable and warm.  They go out of their way to make you feel welcome the parent community is the best we've seen.  They have community meetings every week so you feel in the know and the teachers are very responsive and always get back to us within a day or so.  The kindergarten is really special and our child never wants to leave.  

    They just opened a middle school but we don't have experience there yet - Curious to see how that goes - Would highly recommend BH, COVID or not.  Great balance of academics, fun, social justice, and progressive curriculum.  Oh, and they have forest day in Tilden every week when the weather is nice.  

    We actually left Berkwood Hedge a few years ago because we were fortunate enough to be offered a spot at Park Day. While we "liked" Berkwood Hedge we absolutely LOVE  Park Day. From our experience, the academics, socio-emotional learning, and school leadership are just so much stronger at Park Day. We also value the incredible diversity at Park Day which our family felt was lacking at Berkwood Hedge. The campus is magical with so many beautiful trees. My child is so much happier being surrounded by nature and having more room to roam. I could go on and on but overall we are so grateful to be part of the Park Day community. 

    extracurricular offerings

    I'm a Berkwood Hedge parent of both a 1st grader and a 4th grade student, and I also am a preschool teacher and director with over 20 years experience in the field.  When I found Berkwood Hedge, I immediately felt that this school was a continuation of the preschool program I have.  It has a warmth to it and a community that is so strong, and that is what has kept us here all of these years.  My children feel seen and loved by all the teachers and staff at the school, and so do I!  Hanan, the Kindergarten teacher, is someone who has been there forever and is the kind of teacher you dream about, and we have had a lovely experience with all of the teachers there.  

    I specifically feel strongly about how they have handled the pandemic and am grateful for how they moved to be safe for in-person learning before most other schools were.  Their commitment to the children and the families was demonstrated in how they navigated all of the issues and basically built outdoor classrooms in order to have children back in school as soon as possible.  We were thrilled to have our children in person from Oct. 2020.  To me, it showed their dedication to the children's and families' needs that they worked so hard to welcome children back in person as soon as they could.

    The Kindergarten program is full of fun and challenging activities and curriculum, held together by the strength of the teachers Hanan and Silver.  Their deep understanding of young children's learning as well as their social and emotional needs makes the transition from preschool to Kindergarten as easy as possible.  As a parent of a child who was deeply nervous about Kindergarten and not being 20 yards away from me at my preschool, I was so appreciative for the love and care they gave and still give to my children.  My children are thriving academically and emotionally, and Berkwood Hedge is a big part of why!

    We are one of the multiple families that left Berkwood Hedge earlier this year. Based on our experience I can’t recommend Berkwood Hedge. We enrolled our daughter here because the school appeared very supportive and nurturing but after the first weeks, we realized we made a mistake. On the first day, our daughter alerted us of the multiple behavior issues occurring in the classroom. These behavior problems escalated and interfered with instruction. Reading, math, and writing were canceled/shortened because of behavioral issues. Communication was also poor. Several parents only knew issues occurring in the classroom because their children told them. During the first parent meeting, several parents were in tears. Our family made the decision to leave Berkwood Hedge right after the Back to School night.  It became apparent that the teacher and the head of school offered no clear guidance. Another huge factor was academics. We enrolled at Berkwood because of the promise of individualized learning but the academics my daughter was exposed to mirrored her first months of 1st grade and this was a 2nd-grade class. I think the curriculum was also an antecedent to behavioral issues. Berkwood says that it places the “highest priority of safety for all its students” -which our family felt was not accurate. Almost half of the class left because of these issues. I also do not think their Covid guidelines are clear. There was no testing the first few months our child was there. My daughter’s current school protocols are clear and we know how many of the staff and the students are vaccinated. I would not recommend Berkwood Hedge.  

  • Bentley, Head Royce or School of Madeline

    (3 replies)

    I’m looking at schools for my son who will be entering kindergarten. I would love to hear from parents at any of these schools to get current feedback on academics and teachers but also on Covid protocols. Also curious if they all have air conditioning. How are the communities? Friendly? How is drop off and pick up? How are the kids? Well rounded? Competitive? Thanks!

    Just to state the obvious, School of the Madeleine is a Catholic school and likely to be very different than the other two in that sense!

    Just chiming in to point out that the cut off date for private school applications are usually in January. So if you are intending to enroll your child in Fall 2022, you should check first to see if you have missed the application deadline. Good luck!

    I assume you already applied given that the cutoff was in January. I cannot speak to Bentley and School of Madeline but we love HRS. We have one child in 1st grade currently, and another entering K in the fall. The administration has been great throughout the pandemic, keeping safety as a top priority but also really worked hard to keep the school open. I think they opened up October of 2020 if I remember correctly and did weekly testing to ensure we could stay open. The community is friendly and I find all the parents to be very interesting, engaging people. To apply for K you usually do some sort of virtual or in person tour so you can find out that information on the website (again not sure if you applied this cycle or if this is for the following year). We love Head-Royce, would definitely encourage you to look at it.

  • Hi. We are getting ready to move from virtual to in-person and would love to find a private school that has and is planning to continue to have great covid safety measures. For example, an air filtering system, frequent testing, low rates of covid among the students. Geographically between anywhere between Orinda and Concord. We are willing to drive out for the right place. Thank you! 

    Hi there- we left our Oakland public school last year and enrolled our 2nd grader at Seven Hills School in Walnut Creek.  They have been in person since October 2020.  It's been a great experience and we appreciate their COVID protocols.  They have been testing weekly (PCR).  But it sounds like some of that may be relaxed in the new year.

    Our student currently attends Orinda Academy. It’s a wonderful community and the administration has been attentive to the health of the OA community and CDC recommendations during COVID. Some of the protocols for on-campus instruction have been: all students and staff wear masks; everyone washes their hands at outdoor handwashing stations before entering the school; each student answers questions for a daily health screening upon arrival; every room has an air purifier and the school has an updated ventilation system.

  • Our 10-year-old son is currently in 5th grade at Aurora. He is dyslexic, and we are looking for a middle school that will provide a larger pool of kids and still offer learning support for him. We will look at Raskob, but it's so small (like 15-20 kids per grade) that we're concerned he won't have the same social and athletic opportunities that he might have at a larger school. Does anyone know of other independent schools that offer a balance of these two components? Thanks!

    Park Day School is a great option. My son has been there since fourth grade and is absolutely thriving! They have strong support for learning differences and the middle school is larger than the 15-20 students per grade you mentioned (we have about 40in sixth grade this year). I would highly recommend checking it out!

  • Our child will be entering 7th grade this fall and is currently at another private school. 

    Their current school used to be well known for great academics. But after the head of school changed, the focus has mainly shifted to socio-emotional learning for the past 2 years. This came at the expense of academics and now, during the pandemic, has gotten even worse. As parents we don’t see the point of paying that much money for tuition, if the academics don’t  even reach California state standards.

    For their next school, we would hope to find a school with: great academics, a welcoming community and a stable administration.

    Does anyone have any recent experiences with above mentioned schools? TIA!

    My son is a current senior at Athenian, and he started there in 6th grade. He was accepted at all 3 schools that you listed, and chose Athenian. When reflecting, he recently said, “the middle school experience at Athenian cannot be beat. They just make it too good to pass up.”  In my words, I would say that if you are attracted to their experiential Ed focus, then it really shines in the middle school. They are committed to it and they do it incredibly well- no lip service. The upper school is more traditional, although they have all the same enrichment opportunities that the other private schools have. Athenian has done an amazing job during the pandemic, FWIW. Good luck in your decision. There are no bad options!

  • Anyone recommend a private school close to Berkeley for a third grader who has some social anxiety? I've looked at nearby private schools, but it's hard to tell what they're like until you're in--they all seem nice, but a few I've heard are a bit light on feedback about academic progress. If we're springing for private school (not an easy financial choice for us,) I'd want it to be warm/welcoming and have real academics--not too "fluffy." I also don't want to have to drive too far from Berkeley. Of course we're also late to the touring/application game--both in terms of grade level and the time of year (winter 2020.) And then covid makes it more complicated. If you have recommendations for schools far from Berkeley, that would be great too! We are always talking about moving. Thanks!!!

    We are in our first year at Prospect Sierra with our child who has diagnosed anxiety (manifesting in many ways including social interactions), and it has been great all around, including from social-emotional perspective. They started not at a natural entry grade (I don't want to give too many details and embarrass them) but we have found the teachers and other families to be very welcoming. Academics seem good (solid for most subjects, especially writing/English)  and no doubt will be better when we are on campus in person more in 2021. I think you have time to get in an application on the normal schedule, and we are very happy with PS and feel like it's worth the (expensive) tuition.

    Hello
    I would recommend Montessori Family School - they provide an emotionally safe and loving environment for students. Academically, MFS has given my daughter the skills to be thriving in high school. It's a wonderful and warm community.
    Feel free to reach out if you have any questions.

    If you are looking for a strong academic environment that is supportive look no further than The Academy. This is a small school which emphasizes academic rigor through developing and nurturing curiosity and by challenging  children intellectually through developmentally appropriate, thoughtfully constructed and individualized curricula. This school equips children to be independent and creative thinkers. All this in a supportive environment that makes learning joyful. My daughter LOVES being at this school.  She will enter 3rd grade next year. My daughter can also be socially anxious. However, her outstanding, intelligent (emotionally and intellectually) teachers take the time to know her well and encourage her and challenge her in a way that builds confidence while expecting all that they believe she can do (which is a lot). The school emphasizes mutual respect and community responsibility as a way of being by doing.  No fluff here! Just a warm school that emphasizes being serious about the joy of learning. 

    I have been really impressed with the Academy school on these dimensions. The school is like a big family, with very small classes of roughly 12-13 kids per class. In non-COVID times, the different grades played together a lot as well- when my son was in kindergarten, he'd leave school with kids in the 3rd or 4th grade saying "hi" to him. And, perhaps best of all, there's very little materialism or social cliques-- the school feels very warm and welcoming. The Academy is definitely academic and, in particular, really prizes the love of learning, so my guess is it would satisfy your criterion there. There are lots of special schools around Berkeley, and we definitely feel like the Academy is one of them! Here's the webpage: https://theacademyschool.org/about-us/welcome/

    Consider the size of the classes for your child with social anxiety. At The Academy, the single class for each grade  are so small that if your child doesn’t get along with the few children in her grade than there are no other options for them. You’d want to give your child some more choices for friends and some more wiggle room. 

    We love The Berkeley School. We moved my son there for middle school from public (and private was also a significant financial decision for us) because of some ADD-related social challenges that made fitting in quite tough. Best decision I’ve ever made. The following year we moved our other child there in third grade because they started showing signs of social anxiety and I am so glad I did. Because social emotional development is such an important focus at TBS, I have always felt that they paid very close attention to what *my* children needed without my needing to hover to explain anything. I think they really are attuned to each of the students. And even though social anxiety is still a challenge for my second child, in the school environment it is totally different - clearly a place where both my kids felt safe. For kid #1, TBS really helped develop the needed social confidence. In addition to the school staff, for the last few years that we’ve been there, the student body has always just been an amazing kind group of kids (and thoughtful, conscientious, easygoing parents/caregivers). The academics have been great and as far as academic feedback, they do MAP testing which helps and I think have always been straightforward in providing feedback. I have heard positive feedback from friends about Prospect too. Good luck!

  • Private elementary school for quirky kid

    (7 replies)

    Hi, 

    My 5y old is heading to K next year and I am in need of advice on a small size (private) school that has experience with quirky kiddos, that like to do everything on their own pace. My son is still too much interested in playing then on the academics, but seems to be more interested in this if the teacher works more one on one with him. Any leads, advice for a school in the Berkeley/Kensington/El Cerrito area are more than welcome! Thank you. 

    My daughter is in her second year at Golestan (El Cerrito) and loves it. The classes are a combination of grades (K/1, etc) with two teachers each and the kids get a lot of individual attention. In my experience the classes are very accommodating of different levels of maturity and academic readiness. The school is amazing in so many ways. It is very focused on the outdoors (and in fact has been operating in-person this school year thanks to a robust safety policy and mostly-outdoor classrooms), has an on-site chef who feeds the kids delicious, wholesome lunch and snacks daily, and has PE, gardening and art as well as reading, math, etc. Golestan is an outgrowth of a Farsi-immersion preschool and the primary school kids have been learning Farsi, Hebrew and (until this year) Arabic. We have no background in any of these languages but are impressed with our daughter's absorption of the vocabulary. Also, the environment is incredibly loving and supportive with an active (and increasingly very local) parent community. Please message me if you would like to discuss. Good luck!

    You might want to look at Crestmont School. The teachers are good with many types of learners and work hard to be engaging. The class sizes are also small which helps a lot. They also really value each child's individual perspective and have a learning specialist on staff. It is in the Richmond hills, but a quick trip on the Arlington.

    You might want consider whether sensory/language processing issues, anxiety, or ADHD might be at play. That is how my daughter was at that age and learning differences have emerged since then. She is highly intelligent, sensitive, and always trying to be "good," which masked her symptoms for a long time.

    We have a quirky 11 year old who is now at Crestmont School after a harrowing experience at a few other schools that didn't know how to work with kids like ours.  It is great that you are already noticing that your child is a little outside the "norm" - we went to a private school for K that sold us on all their special programs, their beautiful campus and their ability to differentiate learning and meet each child where they are at. But the reality was that they were a hyper academic school where quirky, energetic, spirited and creative kids needed to conform to their model. Knowing at the outset that your child is going to do it their own way is going to save you a lot of heartache later!  :).  We've been happy at Crestmont School because it is a very intimate learning environment and the classes are so small that each teacher really can get to know your child and what makes them tick.  It is a co-op which I thought I would hate because I don't have time to volunteer a lot, but in fact, I love it.  The community is so welcoming and you get full transparency with what is going on at the school at all times.  The head of school is a deeply intuitive, creative person with a very reassuring and calm presence.   I have met so many quirky kids at Crestmont - because of the low key vibe of the school, coupled with the small classes, kids have more space to grow, experiment and move at their own pace.  Definitely worth checking out!  Good luck!

    You could try Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley.  We've been really happy, our youngest is in 2nd grade now.  The kids get a lot of one on one and small group time and there is a lot of emphasis on play and pre-literacy in Kindergarten.  For us it felt like the academics kicked in when our kids were ready and on a foundation of confidence with good motor, social, pre-literacy, and spacial/early math that was fun and age appropriate (building, sorting, etc.) EB is in Berkeley, and our commute from El Cerrito over the years has been fine.  

    Check out The Berkeley School. Small classes with 2 teachers each, some single and some mixed grade classes (K is single). A lot of kindness, compassion and intention here. Differences of learning styles is recognized. Good positive community. 

    I recommend Walden Center & School in central Berkeley. The small size, caring and creative teachers, and focus on creativity, play and art make it place where quirky children thrive. My daughter finished sixth grade this past spring and the teachers always met her and her peers wherever they were academically, emotionally, and socially. My son, currently in third grade at Walden, is very different from his charismatic, stubborn older sister, but I see the teachers giving him the same space they gave her to grow and thrive in the way that works best for him. 

    My daughter is in her third year at Crestmont School in the Richmond Hills and the way you describe her son as a play based person who marches to the beat of his own drum would certainly apply to my daughter as well. She has thrived at Crestmont, able to become a well rounded person and a leader and co-creator among her friends. She is friends with kids of all ages, from Kindergarten up to middle school. There is a lot of outdoor space as well where the kids get to create, run around and play... and as another Crestmont parent mentioned, with class sizes in the 10-14 range and with teachers who are so dedicated to their jobs, there is a lot of individual attention given to each kid to help them to thrive. 

  • Hello,

    I am looking for a private elementary school (not Spanish Immersion) which offers Spanish classes for all grades, including kindergarten. 

    Please let me know if you have any recommendations.

    Thank you,

    Carrie

    Our daughter just finished first grade at St. Paul's.  Their curriculum includes Spanish at all grade levels.  You can learn more about the curriculum here - https://www.spes.org/learning/curriculum

    Walden Center & School in Central Berkeley has Spanish class for all grades, K-6. 

    The Berkeley School offers an excellent Spanish program for K-8 students. We’ve been very pleased with our elementary and middle school experience and appreciate how Spanish language learning is tied to cultural studies in Spanish-speaking countries. Our child has enjoyed cooking projects, Día de los Muertos education and activities, conversation in Spanish, and reading novels in Spanish.

    Our child asked for and received some Spanish projects to work on over the summer and has been in contact with his teacher via email about his progress. That is typical of the  
    individual attention and investment we’ve experienced from TBS teachers generally.

    Here’s a link for elementary Spanish https://bit.ly/2WLDM9i and for middle school Spanish https://bit.ly/3fSxxaZ at TBS. Paula Farmer, Dir. of Admissions, can also provide more details: 

    Prospect Sierra

  • There are many glowing reviews of private elementary schools in the Oakland/Berkeley area on BPN, and I’m sure each school has its strengths. I’m interested in hearing from parents who decided to take their kids out of a Berkeley/Oakland private school. What school did your child attend and why did you decide to switch? What didn’t feel like a great fit? Did you feel like there were certain personality or behavior traits of students who did well or didn’t do well there? How does your child’s experience at their prior school differ from their current one (pre-COVID)?

    Excellent question! We left Ecole Bilingue, but were sad to leave. The good part first: EB offers excellent French immersion. Our child's progress in French stunned us and we met families from all over the world. Also, the curriculum is very global in its coverage, and the school doesn't feel "ritzy". All this is hard to find here, so we were sad to leave. The decent: EB offers a good after-school program (which could be better supervised), and an acceptable, if bare-bones, social-emotional learning curriculum. For us, the big problem was math and science instruction. EB has revised its math and science curriculum, and brought in one strong science instructor. But EB does not compare in these domains with other top bay area private schools in terms of the amount of instruction, the level of instruction, the number of specialist teachers, student test scores, and extra-curricular teams and opportunities. EB is very focused on providing excellent opportunities for students who are weak in French to catch up; they succeed in this very challenging task but it comes at a cost. EB administrators compare themselves to other Francophone schools, whereas for us, the relevant benchmark was what other bay area private schools charging similar tuition offered. 

  • I know most (especially public) elementary schools aren't able to say what the school year will look like this upcoming year, but I was wondering if some of the private schools in the oakland/berkeley area have started to finalize plans?  The public schools are likely going to be hybrid this upcoming year, but didn't know if some of the private schools were going to be able to offer more on-site learning because of the inherent reduced teacher-student ratio.  If anyone has any insight, please let me know?  (and, if able, what school?).  Thank-you!!  

    We are planning to start at Shu Ren, a small immersion IB school in Berkeley. They are small enough to be able to do in person every day and we are hopeful it will stay that way. I know people are concerned about transmission in schools but the data hasn’t really shown that to be the case and we are worried about our child being away for too long, distance learning is way too hard on kindergarteners. It doesn’t seem to me that public schools will be opening in the fall for anything in person but i know it’s a moving target.

    This is a question on everyone's mind.  My kids are at Aurora School (independent/private in Oakland).  They organized a task force of various experts from the school and families to work on planning with the Head of School.  They have also been surveying families on needs/desires for the return to school.  They have also been doing a lot of innovative remote learning in the interim (which will likely be helpful later in the Fall/Winter if more shelter-in-place orders are issued).  You can learn more about that here: https://auroraschool.org/remote-learning

    While they are still waiting for some more data from public health experts, and feedback from community, I predict a blended model (see Option C on the link below).  Fortunately, preliminary data shows that transmission amongst kids is very rare, so it is more about adults as vectors, which is somewhat easier to try and mitigate.

    https://auroraschool.org/blog/planning-for-the-2020-21-school-year

    We shall see and plans will be firmed up soon.  One nice thing about Aurora is it is relatively small school and can be nimble and coordinated in plans.  Fingers crossed.
    Curious to see what other plans schools come up with.  Best of luck to all.

    My daughter goes to Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley. Right now they are planning to open next year. They are applying for permits to increase the number of classrooms (mobile classrooms etc) as well as breaking up the gyms and multi-purpose rooms into multiple classrooms in order to maintain the social distancing requirements. If those fall through they are planning to prioritize the preschool thru 2nd grade to on campus 100% of the time with 3rd thru 8th doing a hybrid in-class/distance learning. From what I understand from friends in the public school system they've been told that the distance learning will likely go into the fall and as late as January 2021.

  • We're looking at school options for our 2nd grader. We're currently at a public school. We had seriously considered Crowden, since she loves music--but the small class sizes put us off a bit--and the tuition. Does anyone have any suggestions for elementary schools--public or independent/private--in California or another state? Is that too broad? LoL. As the same for many in the Bay Area, we are always considering a move. But we have family here, etc. The ideal school would be something closer to 10k a year (at the most), one that has a strong music program, and one that helps kids feel confident/interested in learning. Obviously, this school doesn't exist in the Bay Area! Homeschool, maybe? Anyone want similar things and had success homeschooling? We need regular socializing. Signed, Irrationally optimistic:)

    We have considered Grand Lake Montessori and Mills College School as an alternative. With more than one kid, we can’t swing it but they are lower cost than other private schools. 

    I think the only schools you'll find for $10K/year or less are Catholic schools. The diocese is underwriting some of the expenses of running the school, so it costs half what the cheapest private schools cost, but religious education is a goal for them, which may not be a goal for you. And the academics and music would be similar or not as good as what you're getting in public school, depending on the school. You could also consider applying for financial aid at a private school you're interested in, although at this time of year you'd probably be looking at applying next January for the 2021-22 school year. As for homeschooling, lots of people do that, but you're going to be paying extra for music lessons anyway if you homeschool, possibly also for things like science and social opportunities, so why not stick with public school and spend your money on after-school enrichment? If your child is still interested in music by 6th grade, you could apply to the Oakland School for the Arts, which is a free charter school.

    We made the decision to homeschool and it has been great. We're enrolled through a charter school independent study program, although some regular public schools also offer independent study programs. Some people also choose to just register themselves as a private school, but we have enjoyed having a little guidance and structure. We have a lot of control over what curriculum to choose, which classes to sign-up for, etc. The school pays for educational expenses like online or in-person classes, supplies, sports and music lessons. Your kids can learn about things that interest them, and you can choose the methods and pace that work best for them. There is a huge homeschool community in the Bay Area, with lots of classes, field trips and park days, in addition to all the after school activities you can already do, so socializing is really not a problem at all. Your child also has more time to pursue their own interests and passions (my kids also love music), without worrying about peer pressure, which has been especially important in the middle school years. If you can afford to do it, I'd recommend giving it a try - especially next year, which promises to be full of chaos otherwise. Good luck!

    I highly recommend that you check out Walden in Berkeley. Full tuition is ~$18k (one of the lowest among independent schools in the Bay Area) but many families receive financial aid. Depending on your circumstances, it's very possible this could bring your cost down to $10k. Walden is known for their strong arts programs- music, drama, and visual arts. Our three daughters went to Walden and had wonderful experiences there. 

    Have you applied for financial aid at any of the local private schools? If 10k is what you can afford, you might qualify for enough aid to bring your tuition down to that level. Many families with moderate middle-class incomes qualify for financial aid with the going rate of tuition being so high and the bay area so expensive. best of luck

    My kids went to a home based daycare where the daycare owner homeschools her own child since school age. Their child is extremely talented in playing the violin and they briefly sent her to Crowden for middle school but the academic course work was so heavy that they only stayed for 1 or 2 years. Now they are back to homeschooling. They are part of the Hickman Charter school serving Alameda County. The school give families money for classes/curricula, organize field trips, and offer in-person classes as well. Trackers in Berkeley has an outdoor learning program for homeschoolers.  

    Rather than simply looking at the "list price" of the private school talk to them about financial aide and see what might be worked out. Go to the point of submitting all the financial aid paperwork for multiple schools. I have friends who are receiving significant financial aid from their private school.

  • Private school with social support

    (2 replies)

    My 7-year-old son is in a large OUSD public elementary and it has become pretty clear that he needs a school with more support around social skills. He has always been an introvert and gravitates towards adults. In the 3 years he has been at his school he hasn't made any real friends. The few relationships he has had have all turned negative in some way, i.e. "you can sit with me at lunch" kind of things.  The school does a good job of talking about being inclusive and accepting but I find that without caring capable adults on the playground to help guide kids towards those kinds of behaviors, inclusiveness isn't going to happen. We are hoping there is a private school in the area that does a good job of helping young kids with this kind of stuff. Does your private school have caring adults on the playground to help kids navigate tricky social issues? If so, please share your experience. Thanks in advance!  

    Our 10 year old attends Sunnyside MicroSchool in Oakland which has been such a blessing for my family after being at two different private schools both who said they do a good job navigating social issues and really didn't. Sunnyside is a very special program for a small group of mixed age kids, up to age 11. It caters to kids who are more sensitive and quirky (sometimes called "2E") and who might have asynchronous learning styles. The teachers are trained in NVC and Collaborative Problem Solving.  With a small community of kiddos, they navigate social issues beautifully.  Things do come up but ultimately the class is like a little family that has strong relationships and care for one another.  Website is http://www.sunnysidemicroschool.com/home.

    I recommend core academy in Walnut Creek. They start in 3rd grade 3-8. Recess time sadly at most schools is when most teachers go on break and there are fewer eyes watching and sh*t goes down. 7 was a difficult age of impulsivity and lack of social skills for my 10yo. Find the right supportive environment ASAP - the self confidence issues and other host of negatives make it worth your effort. 
     

    my kid was having difficulty with annoying older kids at 4 square. The school immediately handled the situation and changed the environment adding more teachers to the area and creating a second game. The older kids were spoken to and felt horrible knowing they had acted like bullies. Many kids at alternative schools have been bullied themselves. What’s been so great at core is having my kid not have to compare himself to others. He is gifted and he is smart but he is also so aware of his deficits and they paralyze him and cause him to act out and be an outlier when he’s in the right environment- there are Little to no problems. School environment is everything!!!!

  • Aurora or Park Day?

    (4 replies)

    Hi BPN!

    We are considering Aurora and Park Day schools for our soon-to-be kindergartner.  Both are “progressive” and have some similarities in teaching methods, though there are other differences, particularly in campus size and classroom composition.  We are hoping that we could get some recent perspective from this group on one or both schools based on personal experience.

    Our child is academically bright, but socially/emotionally a bit out of the box and can be headstrong.  We are looking for a school that can accept our child as is and provide individualized attention and support to help our child’s development, as opposed to a school that prioritizes discipline and conformity.  So, what is most important to us is to find a school:

    • that actively fosters kindness, and
    • that is more flexible and individualized, with a big enough box and is willing and able to adapt to individual kids and provide added attention/support as needed.

    Thanks BPN!

    Based on what you value, I would recommend Berkwood Hedge in Berkeley.  they are a small, progressive school that is individualized more than any school we've experienced and have a strong community. Both our boys have thrived there. Please private message if you would like more information. If you have narrowed it down to Aurora or Park Day, I would go with Aurora. I have many friends with kids that have attended and they were all happy.

    My son is a current Kindergartner at Park Day and we have been so happy with his experience thus far! 

    With regard to your question about kindness - the school actively fosters an environment of mutual respect and kindness. Some examples: each morning the kindergartners begin their day at circle time by greeting one another by name and saying "good morning", older kids welcome my outgoing 5 year old son into their games on the playground even though it clearly slows down and changes the flow of play, and age-appropriate applications of respect, equity, and restorative justice are incorporated throughout the program. 

    With regard to your question about flexibility and individualized attention - the small class sizes and excellent teacher to student ratio lend itself to the teachers knowing your child well and treating them as a unique individual. In addition to the classroom teachers there are also speciality teachers, learning specialists and directors who all get to know the students really well. When I have volunteered in the classroom I've see teachers giving students individualized support so that they can be successful with the given activity or task. I think the breadth of the curriculum - including making tea using herbs grown in the school's garden, germinating acorn seeds found on a  class field trip, building cars out of wood in the innovation workshop, singing songs in spanish, celebrating the chinese new year by learning the dragon dance - provide opportunities for all students to get engaged and excited about learning. The school is also very adept in instruction of all the traditional academic areas - our son learned to write uppercase, lower case, and to read within the first half of the school year. Today was the school's annual read-a-thon (5 hours of reading!) and our son couldn't have been more excited to bring-in his books to school and read stories all day. 

    Please feel free to reach out with any more questions and best wishes as you make this decision for your child! 

    Hi- We looked at Aurora and Park Day for kindergartner-to-be two years ago and were also looking for a place where our headstrong, independent thinking kid would thrive. We ended up at Park Day and it is such a great fit! There is a wonderful mix of structure and recognition that all kids are different. The school has helped our kid find freedom of creativity and self and to work well with others who have different ideas and approaches. I am impressed by how much my child is seen and recognized by his teachers and responded to in who he is. I do not see this compromising his experience or that of his classmates. I honestly can't say enough good about how PDS has supported our kid in blossoming socially and in his own confidence. It's really a beautiful learning community. There are indeed more classmates than at Aurora, but to me the class size (16-18 kids I think so far in his classes) creates a vibrancy that is a big part of the specialness of the school. 

    Good luck in your decision. I am sure you will make the right choice for your child.

    Hi,  I have three kids and we have experienced 9 East Bay schools - public and private.  Aurora is one of them.  Aurora is a fantastic school.  My child went to Aurora after skipping a grade and her former school having no ideas about what to do with her so they decided to have her be a teachers assistant and focus on helping other students with learning disabilities - this would have been fine had it been in combination with a strategy to also help her with her own growth and learning.  Fast forward to Aurora which my child fondly remembers as the best school she has ever attended.  Aurora integrates art and music into many subject areas.  The work she did at Aurora was open ended so she could take it as far as she wanted without limitations except her own.  I will forever be grateful to Aurora and how inspired my child was there.  

  • Hello folks, I'm beginning to think about local K-8 private schools for my daughter and am looking for some recommendations. I'm hoping to find a loving and supportive environment with small class sizes in Oakland or Berkeley. I'd love to hear your experiences. Thanks in advance! 

    Hi anon! I highly recommend you explore Montessori Family School, just north of Berkeley in El Cerrito. It is everything you mentioned in your question -- loving, supportive, with small class sizes. It is a dynamic learning environment, a caring community, and honestly a gem of the East Bay that many still don't know about. Best! A Happy MFS Parent 

    Hello there, 

    We discovered The Academy ten years ago, when we moved our older son out of our local public school.  We sought an environment that was both academically rigorous and socially welcoming, a rarity amongst the schools we visited.  The Academy ticked off all of our boxes and we worked with the administration to get him enrolled mid-year.  It was the best school-related decision we ever made for him.  He grew into a hardworking, mature young man and was accepted into the College Preparatory School, where he was well prepared to deal with that school’s rigorous classes and expectations.  

    Fast forward to last year.  Because of our older son’s great experience, we enrolled our little one into The Academy. The school has changed quite a bit since our older son began, but very much for the better.  The administration is responsive and professional, a fair number of teachers have been added on (primarily in the upper school), and the school is overseen by a board of dedicated parents who place intellectual and social development first.  And while these changes have been wonderful, a certain core has remained constant, one that is rooted in a strong sense of community and teaches the children to care and look out for each other both in the classroom and on the play yard.  Our older son, initially a shy and introverted boy, grew out of his shell and felt that The Academy was a second home. Our younger son, a vivacious and extroverted kid, feels as comfortable playing with his classmates as he does playing with kids in other grades and gets a total kick out of the fact that upper-schoolers (he is in the lower school) greet him in the mornings and check in with him during recess.  I highly recommend you check out The Academy for your daughter.

    Here is a link for more information: https://theacademyschool.org

    Best, Shirley

    My daughter started kindergarten at The Academy in Elmwood this year, and we’ve been thrilled at the environment. The school is small - class sizes top out at 12 for the lower grades, and in all of K-8 there’s probably about 100 kids. We love the community. There’s a welcoming spirit among the students and teachers, and our daughter feels so much at home there. Because it’s small she gets to play and interact with the older kids as well as her class, which is a great mix of experiences.

    The engagement of everyone - students, teachers, parents - has been so impressive. The school helps kids grow by learning and interacting. A few weeks ago our daughter sang us poems from a Maurice Sendak book, and she’ll happily tell me how to pronounce the French alphabet or ask me about subtraction problems. We’re always looking forward to what she’s learning next. 
     

    We liked a few schools in the area, but ultimately what made us settle on The Academy was the feeling that the school spoke to us and the kind of experiences we wanted for our daughter. The head of school, John Lynch, is especially good and communicating the school’s goals and vision for its students.

    You should definitely check out Montessori Family School (MFS) -- they have preschool-K in Berkeley and grades K-8 in El Cerrito.  It's a very loving environment that supports kids in whatever phase of development they are in, without pressure to be somebody they're not.  My kids have thrived there.  They have a number of very experienced teachers who are simply great with children.  They are excellent at helping kids develop strong social skills while still being free to express their own individual personality.  If you've heard any of the myths that a Montessori approach is less rigorous academically, don't believe them -- schools like MFS that do Montessori correctly will help your child become all that she's capable of, in academics, social understanding, music, self-awareness, art and more.  If one of your measures of success is the type of schools and career paths that MFS students move on towards, ask the school for that info, and you'll see just how strong their academics are.  My daughter was more prepared than most her peers when she moved on after Montessori, and continues to excel in a very challenging high school.  Children who have strengths beyond the traditional definition of academics thrive here too, as everyone's unique talents and contributions are honored.  The MFS environment fosters developing the whole package of a well-rounded individual who can succeed in the real world.

    I recommend going on a tour at Aurora School in Oakland. I went on 13 school tours of public, private and charter schools but when I walked into Aurora I knew it was our school. My first impression was warmth and kindness. We are now in our second year at Aurora and feel grateful we found this school! It's a progressive school with small class size and the most wonderful teachers! The second week of school, my son was crying when I left. The head of school let him call me on the phone (he didn't feel like he got to say goodbye) and then she stayed with him, took him to the garden/forest area and let him pick sticks, find calmness, talk about his feelings. I've never heard of a principal doing this. She created a safe space for him to feel and talk. Learning can only happen when kids feel safe and nurtured and thats what we love about Aurora (among many other things). It's a K-5 though, so not sure you're open to that. But I was set on a K-8 school until I found Aurora:) Good luck in your search! 

    Our children are in their 4th years at The Berkeley School. We have all loved our experience. The teachers and staff are warm, thoughtful, skilled and want to be there. Our kids, now 6 and 8, feel and are an important part of the community. The school is systematic and intentional in its approach to the curriculum, social and emotional growth, arts and science integration and inclusion. We are grateful to be a part of TBS!

    Our son, Max, has been at The Berkeley School (TBS) for the last two years.  He attended their Early Childhood Campus (ECC) for preschool/TK, and he is currently in Kindergarten at their University Avenue Campus (UAC).  Max is thriving for several reasons.  

    First, his teachers are truly caring, dedicated, competent, and collaborative with one another.  This makes for a dynamic curriculum that is transformative and fun for the students.  The pedagogy is influenced by a Montessori curriculum, an emphasis on learning through civic engagement, and the latest learning research. They also have classroom weekly blogs that keep parents abreast of the wonderful learning that is taking place.  Our son loves learning, and his hard-working teachers have a great deal to do with this gift.

    Second, the facilities at both campuses are impressive.  When our son first toured the ECC, he fell in love with the school.  There’s a climbing wall, the garden space, the play areas all facilitate the power of play.  

    Third, TBS facilitates community building within the classrooms and also across families.  The school year begins with a playdate the weekend before classes begin.  TBS also has school events like Math Night, Grandfriends Day, Fall/Spring Fest, and other socials so that families and other parents can get to know one another.  There is definitely a feeling of community that is welcoming and supportive.

    While our son has been at TBS, we can see first hand his socio-emotional and academic development.  When we see him reading and adding in Kindergarten, we are amazed how much he loves learning and how he is so happy.  More than just his academic development, we are also excited that our son is learning about global issues that places him in context as a citizen (with the capability to be a change maker in various ways). Our family totally recommends this wonderful school.  That being said, we are fortunate to have incredible independent schools in the area. We toured several. The only way to really know what school is the best school is for your family (especially your child) to tour the school yourselves.  For our family, it was love at first sight after touring TBS. 

    I was in the same place last year. Like you, a loving, supportive environment and small class size were at the top of my list. We have found all of that and more at Park Day School. Our daughter loves school and is thriving. Not only is her Kindergarten teacher welcoming and warm, one can tell that the entire school, K-8, values caring and community. It is connected and a part of all they do. The teachers take the time to create relationships with the children, but they help the children develop and think about themselves, their classmates, the larger school community, and the greater community outside of school. She regularly plays with kids of all ages on the playground and in the innovation workshop that is open at recess. The beautiful tree and garden filled campus and homemade meals only add to the good vibes of the school. She feels comfortable to take risks and try new things. Their mission mentions “dynamic and joyful learning” and I see this happening every day with my daughter. I encourage you to come visit for a tour or open house. Best wishes!

    Hi there, my son started kindergarten at Park Day School (Temescal region of Oakland) this year and is thriving. This school is full of loving tenderness and is so focused on children growing and developing as humans. The focus on diversity and inclusion, social justice and leadership is just what we wanted. The education is well-rounded and he comes home super excited about the innovation workshop, music, Spanish and movement from the unbelievable staff of enrichment teachers. In terms of class size, he's one of 14 in a class with 1 teacher and 2 aides. We wanted a place where our son would feel safe and loved, and we found it at Park Day.

    Hi there,

    My son goes to East Bay Waldorf (there’s a waldorf in Berkeley). His current class size is very small with 7 and is very much a loving, supportive, nurturing environment. Not sure exactly what it is that you’re looking for but I ended up choosing this school based on personal philosophy and everything that they do here lines up with my personal values: from feeding them wholesome, preferably home-made nutritious meals, to using gentle, loving kind words (Janet Lansbury- No Bad Kids style), to allowing lots of outdoor play & imagination, and the thing that hit it home for me... a style of teaching that’s appropriate for a child’s developmental age/stage, is engaging, and really allows the child to embody what they are learning. My son does not learn from textbooks or workbooks. He CREATES his own textbook... which essentially is a paper storage of all he’s learned. Example: he’s learning math using little pebbles and the the teacher tells a lovely story about math concepts. example- “Multiplier” (mul-ti-plee-ehr) has two magic sticks / and \ that make magic when he uses them together (X). When multiplier clicks his magic sticks on top of the 2 rocks, 2 more rocks magically appear, making 4. They go off and explore with the pebbles and write 3X2 = 6, 1+3 = 4, etc in their books. It’s an amazing way to learn... the kids just don’t forget these basic principles. I wish I could go back to school here lol. In kindergarten, when painting, they introduce just 1 color at a time, gradually adding just 1 other primary color with the goal that the kids observe and internalize the making of colors, (yellow and blue make green), through experience. The philosophy places an emphasis on a “love for learning”, so I strongly feel that this is a wonderful place for education foundation. Unhurried yet bounded by discipline, structure, and rigorous academics, as well as beauty, creativity, and caring for others and our environment. 

  • We have two children that would thrive in a rigorous academic environment, and can likely afford private schools. We have toured many and the Academy, Bentley, Heads Royce, EBI and EB all looked great and work for us geographically. I've read all the threads for these schools, and seen parents give rave reviews of each school, so I know that we can't really go wrong. But I would love to hear more about some trade-offs, and how parents addressed any limitations of their chosen school. Also, if you're able to answer any part of the questions below, I'd be very grateful.

    The Academy: It was intriguing to hear that all kids are given materials one year more advanced than those of California public schools. Do other private schools effectively do the same thing? Or is this unique to the Academy? Also, were you happy with the aftercare/enrichment options at the Academy?

    EB/EBI: We are thrilled by the immersion curriculum. But, for families that speak a third language at home, was trilingual education possible? Did you need to supplement language instruction in one or more of the languages, and how did you do this? And did pursuing three languages come at the cost of other academic subjects (e.g., math) or hobbies?

    Heads Royce/Bentley: We were very impressed by the facilities and afternoon activity options, especially as we will need to leave our children at school relatively late every day. As these are large schools, was the administration able to accommodate individual requests, e.g., for acceleration in particular subjects, or is this not done? 

    Thank you for reading through this long post! If you're able to talk about the pros and cons of the school you chose, how you chose this school over other options, and perhaps what you did to address any cons, I'd be most grateful. 

    We are an EBI family. Just speaking to your question re families with multiple languages at EBI, there are a number of EBI families with different languages at home.  There also are teachers that speak more than two languages.  Our children speak three languages.  We did not have to supplement any language.  But every kid is different.   You don't mention your children's ages but you should keep in mind that kids start to learn Mandarin Chinese in elementary school at EBI.  So they get English, Spanish and Mandarin at EBI. Depending on your home language, that may mean learning four.  That said, one thing we really appreciate about EBI is that, as a small school, we find the faculty really willing to accommodate and respond to individual and unique student needs.  Maybe that is something to discuss with them. I also would note that in terms of academic challenge, EBI is an IB school.  So it's hard to compare to the California Core curriculum as IB teaches things in a different way and sometimes a different order.

    I have a son at the Academy and he is very happy there. We have been very pleased with his education. My son is adamant that he wants to stay at The Academy through 8th grade. From my experience these are the pros and cons:

    1) The school is small and the kids in my son's class are very close friends. Also, the parents also get along very well. It's a tight-kinit community. Of course, the small class size could backfire if your child does not click with the other kids.

    2) There is a lot of diversity at the school. My son's class is small, but the student's are ethnically diverse. There could be more diversity with the teachers.

    3) The curriculum is 1 year ahead. This has been great for my son, but I know that some kids struggle. If your child isn't at this level going into the school, I wouldn't recommend it. No reason to make him/her struggle.

    4) They have excellent special teachers. K-5 kids have French, Science, Music, PE and Art. Older kids also are taught Latin. Overall we have been very impressed with the special teachers. Although my son feels the music teacher (although she is very talented) could make the class a little more fun. It's a little too serious for him and I wish she would make this class a little more enjoyable to meet the needs of all the kids.

    5) Catherine, who handles the afterschool care is wonderful. She is a very sweet person and has an amazing connection with the kids. She knows them all very well. The negative is that the playground is small and there aren't any organized sport teams. They do offer some fun afterschool classes though. 

    7) My son's biggest negative about the school is that he feels that the playground is too small. 

    Before choosing the Academy, I visited Prospect Sierra, Crowden and Saklan. They all seemed like very nice schools. My son is the one who ultimately chose the Academy. He spent a day visiting the different schools and felt he just fit with the class at the Academy. It was the right choice for him.

    HI, 

    I have been a teacher for over 30 year, my daughter is going to be a senior in BHS. I visited so many school before she started Kinder. I decided for one of the private schools that you mentioned in your email because the high academics. In second grade I moved to EBI because I was unhappy in the importance that the school gave to emotional program and also because the Spanish program was really bad. I also love the IB program at EBI. As a teacher I believed every child is different and you need to look at the personality and necessities or you child first and what school will be better fit.

    If you apply to Head Royce, be sure to get the name right in all of your correspondence with them. It's *Head* Royce, not "Heads.*

    We toured EBI and the Academy.

    For us the Academy was it! The school embodies the values we hold dear – encouraging curiosity encouraging hard work and grit, that learning is fun and independent thinking is a life skill , as is finding solutions through creative and iterative problem solving. The school community believes that children are capable of a lot and that being challenged appropriately is the way to grow and therefore the way to go.  Teaching tends to be Socratic- Kids are taught to wonder, question, experiment and figure things out all the while building on the knowledge they have. Education is revered and there is a culture of respect.

    The Academy is not for everyone- if you don’t really believe that it’s approach is right for you and your child, I would guess that it would be a hard road (though you might come to believe in it).  The school work is rigorous but each child is engaged and challenged at the level they are at- there is no judgment by the school of kids rather encouragement and high but appropriate expectations of what they can achieve albeit through hard work. Our daughter really benefits from the small, intimate and therefore safe environment of a school community that shares and reinforces the same values we have. 

    After care at the Academy is an extension of the educational philosophy where are you will have to try new things work hard play hard learn and grow. There are enrichment classes which are fun and enjoyable but are limited enrollment and are not as elaborate as at other schools. The kids have fun, learn to adapt and manage in a larger group and also do homework together. 

    Hope this helps

    We are an EBI family and will be starting our 6th year this Fall. Our household is bilingual English/Spanish, so I cannot personally speak to the trilingual aspects, but I can share that we know many families that speak a 3rd language at home. If you reach out to EBI directly, they may be able to connect you with one of those families.

    Pros about EBI are their:

    • IB curriculum (which I was initially skeptical of - what if my child doesn't inquire about math, but has completely won me over as robust and I'm very pleased to see how they foster curiosity and love of learning to ensure even the subjects my child may struggle with they still grasp and advance with grade-level expectations)
    • Spanish immersion
    • Approach to differentiated learning (I've seen how it's helped my children when they were more advance in one area like math and also when they are weaker in another area like reading)
    • After school enrichment programs available (science, coding, sports, arts, music, etc)
    • School Community
    • last but NOT least the Teachers - who are the ones making in particular the top 3 happen day-to-day

    Cons:

    • It's a younger school than the other's you've listed and some of which we also considered
    • Two campuses since we have 2 kids that for 2 years will be at different locations

    Ultimately, we chose EBI based on our experience there - as we began in preschool. When it came time to evaluate staying or leaving for Kindergarten, I was more than satisfied that the IB curriculum does provide the rigorous academic environment I expect when sending my children to an independent school. Regarding how we addressed the Cons, we ultimately considered the Pros significant and important enough for our family to deal with those Cons. As for the two kids on two campuses, we're not the only ones, so we've been able to coordinate with other families in similar boats to do shared pickups where the families meet at one campus after the picking up at the other, so at least most afternoons you do not have to figure out two campus pickups.

    LP

    When it comes to academic rigor, we don’t have direct experience with other schools as both of our children have only attended The Academy, where we’ve been extremely happy. I recall when touring other schools, though, that they made claims that they also teach a year ahead. A couple of years ago, a good friend of mine, became dissatisfied with her son's math curriculum. Out of curiosity, she asked for me to collect some math worksheets and tests, so that she could compare what our children (in the same grade) were learning.  I provided her with samples throughout the year and she acknowledged that The Academy was true to its word. I can also tell you that I’ve been told by parents whose children come from other schools (even during the early years of elementary school), who tell me that it took time for their child to “catch up” to the students at The Academy, so I assume it is true beyond just the math curriculum.  As far as the aftercare/enrichment programs, I can't speak to those, because we don't really use them.  Hope this helps!

    I am writing to say thank you for all these comments! I've learned a lot - starting with minor items, like getting a school's name spelled right (Head Royce!), to bigger items, such as considering pick up from two campuses, or getting used to a small playground. And it hand't occurred to me to ask for math worksheets to get a better sense of math levels - what a great idea (though of course schools teach math in different sequences.)  I also liked the idea that not all schools are good fits for all families - good to know (from the academy parents) - that the focus on academics and one year advancement might not be for everyone. Thank you again for all these comments, and especially mentioning the trade-offs. The positives of each school are well-advertised, by the schools themselves and by happy parents, but as we are lucky enough to live an area with many great schools, it's great to be able to anticipate the negatives too. Thank you again! And of course the more responses the better, as I imagine many parents are also trying to compare schools, as choosing a school is a big commitment of time and money. 

    We were in quite a similar situation you are in, and looked at all the schools you have been looking at as well. Our son was brought up with three languages, and learned a fourth language while living for a year in France. After looking at all the pros and cons of the various schools, we chose to send our son to the Academy and could not be happier. In the end we decided that given that our son was already quite advanced with languages, we would focus on other aspects, such as academics and overall environment of the school. 

    One major advantage of the Academy is the small class sizes, with at most 12 kids per class in elementary school and at most 15 in middle school As they state, they do teach one year ahead, but I don't think any of the kids in our sons class are struggling. We are very impressed with what our son has learned during his first year in Kindergarten. Another thing that was quite important to us was that our son did not get a feeling of being privileged by going to a private school. At the Academy, the socioeconomic status of the parents is not something that stands out at all. Furthermore, they teach the value of enjoying to learn, rather than the value of learning to get ahead in life, if this makes any sense.

    I should also mention that the after school program has been great so far, and as others have mentioned, Catherine is absolutely wonderful. But on top of that kids can sign up for extra classes such as coding, lego, chess, soccer, arts, piano. It is true that the yard is a little small, but the activities make up for it.

    Hi there. Looks like you got great feedback from everyone. I have two children at EBI. We speak a different language at home. Both kids have kept up with our native language at home while learning Spanish and English at school. I think for families who want to get their kids to maintain their own language, having exposure to a new language other than English is a huge help. It makes the kids realize that English is not the only other language and they won’t be shy to speak their native language. EBI staff and teachers have been very supportive for our family in our effort to keep our kids immersed in their native language at home. Even though we do not speak Spanish, the kids are thriving in both English and Spanish at school. On top of it all, we love the international/global perspective of the IB curriculum. 

    We had our child at The Academy, and we were not happy with our experience. Academically, it was fine. Socially/emotionally, it was not. The class sizes are really small, so just consider the impact on your child of having a very limited number of children to be friends with and what happens to your child if they are on the outside. There aren't other options for them. The kids in my child's class had an "I Hate (Kid's Name) Club," and while the teachers always said everything was fine in class, for our student they really weren't. After therapy for our kid and switching schools, we are having a much more successful experience with school. Primary school is about more than just learning academics; there is a lot of social and emotional growth that needs to be tended to also, and The Academy's strict focus on academics doesn't make room for that. Indeed, I got the feeling that many parents at the school were happy that the school didn't "waste" time on things other than the traditional European-style academics. That said, Catherine, who runs the after school program, is great.

    I held off on responding to this for some weeks, as what I am about to post is not what you asked; nevertheless, I think these are important considerations as you look into schools for your children. As background: our (yes, gifted) 19 year old attended public schools K-12, and is now, like hundreds of their classmates, attending a highly competitive university, for which they were completely prepared and where they are thriving. (Schools including UCLA, UCB, all the other UCs, Yale, Columbia, Brown, Harvard, etc.)

    1. Since you didn't mention any issues with your public school district, only that your children would "thrive in a rigorous academic environment" and that you can likely afford private school for them, I gather that you assume private school is intrinsically better than public school. Please consider this assumption carefully; public school teachers, in general, are a wonderfully talented and passionate group, and there is so much value in attending public schools and investing in your community.

    2. Please don't assume that curriculum which is a year ahead of CA public schools is a desirable thing, or will give them a leg up; as it stands, where we spent Kindergarten learning colors, the alphabet, counting, and how to sit still, children are now taught to read, write sentences, and perform mathematics. This is not a good thing; it's developmentally inappropriate, can make even a gifted child feel unsuccessful; it can choke off their intrinsic love of learning for good.

    3. Please consider how much money you could save for college by sending them to public school instead. Please think of how much good donating just a small portion of that cost could do donated to a school's PTA.

    Thank you for considering these ideas along with the others.

    We too removed our child from The Academy due to lack of a solid Social/Emotional Curriculum. The focus of this school is to "teach" the kids a year ahead and issue TONS of homework (work sheets copied from text books). There is no comprehensive Literacy/Language Arts program like other private schools and they use Saxon Math starting Grade 2.  The Science Program is great but they've had 3-4 new science teachers the past 4-5 yrs. If you're an overzealous parent, this is school for you.  Yes, class sizes are small but the amount of incomplete worksheets sent home at the end week was unacceptable. Based on class size alone, you'd think the students would have ample time AND SUPPORT to complete in-class assignments. NOT!! The school is very cute, charming and the after school teacher, Catherine, is very sweet but she needs help managing the kids and all of the social issues they encounter on the playground. Overall enrichment and resources are NOT on same level as other private schools. 

    Good Luck!

  • Hello All, 

    Our family lives and works around Hercules and have decided we will be sending our kids (going into k and 2nd grade) to private school starting in the summer of 2019. Our challenge is finding a great school that is hopefully under 30 minutes away (tough with Bay Area traffic). 

    We hope to find a school that can keep our kids engaged and challenged or “coached up” as needed. As an example, our current 1st grader is very strong in math, grade appropriate reader, but shy and “weaker” in writing and our future kindergartner is the opposite (extrovert, advanced (for 4) reader/writer, “weaker” in math). Finding a school that can help our kids be there best is what we’re hoping for. 

    In general, my wife and I like the idea of a school that is academically strong / rigerous in the traditional sense, with a small class size to allow individualized attention, but still provides a nurturing environment where the kids are comfortable and excited to go to and learn everyday. 

    A bonus would be a school that has a strong before/after school program and summer time options (camps etc). 

    My wife and I have just started our “research” by doing tours -we were very impressed with Bentley (seemed like a caring environment, small classes, academically strong) but it’s just too far.

    The 3 schools that we’ve learned about from BPN that possibly may be the best fit for our family (considering distance and academics) is Palmer (walnut creek-least expensive, but not many reviews) black pine circle (possibly too far-but we are very intrigued based on the strong BPN recommendations by current families) and prospect Sierra (closest and also well regarded of on BPN, but having some administrative changes we were told) (and please let us know if there’s another recommendation).

    Our question to the BPN community is “do you have any guidance for us?” Thanks in advance. 

    There is Canterbury School up on Hilltop in Richmond.  It's pretty small and doesn't get a lot of press but we know kids who've gone there and done very well.  Get's a little too small once they're in MS.  It's pretty academic.  East Bay Waldorf School is beautiful and in the El Sobrante hills, if you're OK with the anti tech philosophy. There's a good Montessori school in Martinez or Pleasant Hill, but I can't recall the name.   Don't go to Black Pine Circle.  It's too far.  It's not worth it--it's just a school. 

    For what you were looking for – rigorous academics In a supportive environment I would look no further than the Academy. This is a small school in Elmwood which teaches children from kindergarten math, reading,  science, social studies,  French, music,  art and of course PE. The emphasis is on a growth mindset and the joy of learning. School encourages creative and independent thinking. It is a diverse environment with financial aid possible. It has a wonderful after school teacher who the kids call ‘mama’who keeps the kids busy and happy while staying disciplined. They have summer camps.  Our daughter is challenged at the right level and she loves going to school.  In fact when we toured my husband and I wished we could go to school there too. And you know what because of the sense of community within the school and because it’s small we kind of do! Check it out at Theacademyschool.org

    Our family lives in Pinole and our son has attended Black Pine Circle since kindergarten.  He’s currently in the 5th grade and attending BPC was the best choice we could have made for him.  Black Pine Circle offers a high quality curriculum with a strong focus on Socratic Methods.  The school’s curriculum is engaging and meets the needs of every child.  Our son comes home eager to share with us what he had learned at school.  BPC offers acceleration as well as additional learning support for students who need more support.  Black Pine Circle has allowed our son to thrive in an array of areas from mathematics to music.  The teachers at BPC are passionate and committed to ensuring students thrive academically and support strong social-emotional development. Every teacher will know your child’s name in the BPC community.  The leadership team at BPC is excellent and John Carlstroem, the head of school is a visionary leader.

    Black Pine Circle offers an array of after-school programs including robotics, chess club, Taekwondo, drama, math club, band, and much more. I would highly recommend Black Pine Circle and it's definitely worth the commute.  Schedule a tour to gain additional insight on BPC. 

    Hi there - as a Prospect Sierra family, I would be happy to speak to the question around our current admin team. It is true that our longtime head is transitioning at the end of this school year after 12 years to take a role at another Bay Area school closer to her house. However, she delayed her transition by a year so that our board could run a thorough and inclusive search process. Last month, they hired Nisa Frank, a highly respected school leader who has a long career in other Bay Area independent schools as our next Head. The community is very excited about her. Please don't let that deter you from applying! PS is a really terrific school community and our children have thrived here these past few years.

    I have two kids that graduated from Prospect Sierra. A few different points: 

    When they were there they had several classmates from your area. You might ask to speak to a few families that did the commute and ask them about their experience. 

    Administrative change: We experienced administrative change while we were there - head of school and head of middle school. It was fine. The school is solid and thoughtful and they have had plenty of notice about impending changes and time to plan for it. They put thought into all of these things and the transition is likely to go well. A friend of mine went from having a child there to teaching in the middle school when there was a change in the elementary school and, working on the inside, she could not have been more impressed by the transition. The current elementary school head has been there for some time now and is well loved. 

    The school itself. We spent 11 years at Prospect Sierra and could not have been happier. No school is perfect and there will be things you wish were different, it is just the nature of the beast. That being said, both of my kids graduated with a love of learning and more than ready to thrive in a huge, chaotic, diverse public high school. They credit Prospect Sierra with that. We chose PS over BPC because we didn't want to have them in a school that had only one class per grade and have always been happy about that. It allows for more social interactions, a chance for certain kids to be separate for a year if needed (and it was) and just more breathing room. The addition of a third class per grade by middle school and the influx of new kids was beyond healthy. The board, teachers and administration at Prospect Sierra was always thoughtful and they continued to grow, change and evaluate themselves over the years which was impressive. It was a happy place. My kids were/are quite academic. Sometimes PS was slow, sometimes it was just right. Sometimes they got more, differentiated work and now, well past it all, it all seems good. 

    I know some families commuting from the south - Oakland and Fremont - found it really hard. I don't know if the Hercules families felt that way. 

    Good luck! 

  • Hi Parents.

    We live in Berkeley.

    My daughter is in first grade at a private school in Oakland.  We love the school and it was great for our first daughter.  However, we are finding that the classroom vibe changes year to year depending on who is in the class.  And her first grade classroom (as was her K classroom) is a particularly difficult deal of cards.  Few girls live near us.  None of the other families of girls seem to want to get the girls together for playdates or other opportunities to build friendships.  And worse, there are actually some mean girls, who have made things worse.  Our girl is exceptionally well socialized in that she is kind, follows rules, does not have off-putting behaviors.  And seriously, this is not just coming from her mama.  Other adults who observe her behavior around other kids are just wowed at what a dear sweet child she is.  And she is funny.  And she is creative.  She has got it all going on, yet doesn't have a single friend in her class.  Meaning a single friend she can play with outside school.  So my question is - do you have a first grade girl in a classroom that is a great social environment?  A school with parents who want to get the kids together and are active and involved in their kids lives.  Public or private, I'm open.  I'd like to know.  Thanks!

    We’ve just started our kid in kindergarten at Emerson in Berkeley and one of the striking things about the school is the priority on community connections— coffee on the schoolyard on Fridays, an equity group, schoolwide events (walk-a-thons, read-a-thons) and that community feel has made for a pretty great social experience (as in be as involved/not as you’d like) that seems to also be in place with the kids (in our experience at least!).  

    In case it’s helpful, our daughter’s first grade class also went through a “mean girls” phase last year.  Now the drama seems to be a distant memory.  They are really just learning how to navigate friendships at this age, and it’s our job as parents and teachers to help them.  A new school may help, but so may time.

    I am so sorry that things aren’t feeling good for your daughter - it’s so heartbreaking to watch our little ones go through these struggles. Sounds like you’re looking for a warm and welcoming and creative place for your daughter to really settle into...I have a first grade daughter (and 3rd grade son) at Aurora - a small progressive school in Upper Rockridge - and it is just such a place. Both of my children have felt so welcomed and nurtured there - by their teachers, their friends, the other families, the administrators! It is a really lovely school that focuses a lot on building community. The whole school (K-5) gets together every Tuesday for assembly (parents welcome), where we sing, sometimes meditate, make announcements - it’s so fun to watch the kids lead the songs (when they feel ready), make announcements about the school or the world. It’s a small school - 100 kids in 5 grades - which helps facilitate friendships across grades  and which also really creates a feeling of community among the parents. Play dates and camping trips and shared after school activities are all actively pursued by most parents (and kids). I can’t speak highly enough about it. My children (and my husband and I) have been really happy at Aurora - it’s a wonderful place! Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

    Warmly,

    An Aurora Mama to a happy first grade girl and third grade boy

    My twin daughters and their dad and his siblings all attended Berkeley’s School of the Madeleine. My husband and his class of ‘68 still have reunions. Our daughters enjoyed 9 years there from K thru 8. The school’s motto is “be good to one another—pass it on!”  The current principal attended, his children are also attending and his wife teaches. Mostly very lovely folks send their kids there and it was a great experience for all of us. Check it out. 

    When you say she doesn't have a friend she can play with outside of class... does she have friends *in* class? Kids she eats with, and plays with at recess? How does she feel about the social element of this class? Your message has a lot about what you want, and what you think should be happening. Are you managing your own expectations around school social life in a way that respects her experience? Maybe she has plenty of friends in class, but the other families are busy after work and on weekends. That doesn't mean she's having a negative experience in class. [Of course, perhaps she is, but I can only go on what you wrote.] 

    I can definitely empathize. My own daughter is awesome (IMHO) and well-liked by adults, but as far as I can tell, she only has two friends. She never wants to invite anyone else over, and she never gets invited anywhere else. Those two families never reciprocate, but they keep accepting our invites, so I guess their kids like our kid well enough. We average 1 or 2 playdates per month. It's heartbreaking for me, but the challenge is not to project what I think her social life should be like onto her. She's totally fine with it as is. The last thing I want is to signal to her that she shouldn't be happy with her life. If *she* starts telling me she doesn't have enough friends, I'll be all in to support new friendships. Until then, I'm working on accepting that my daughter may not be a social butterfly, and letting her fill her time with the kinds of solitary activities she loves to do (art, writing stories, making up songs, etc.)

    I highly recommend The Berkeley School on University Ave (formerly the Berkeley Montessori School). We’ve been there since my daughter was in kindergarten, she’s now in 2nd grade. The teachers are magical and stress full social and emotional growth alongside academics. As a result the children are amazingly empathetic, creative, and curious. My daughter loves her teachers and when I ask her who her friends in class are, she responds “all my classmates are friends.” We’ve also built a great social network with fellow parents of her friends. I routinely get support from fellow mothers, often rely on them for pick-ups, schedule play dates and even group camping trips. If you’re looking to enter into a full community of teachers, students, and their families, I highly recommend the school!

  • Best Private Schools around UC Berkeley?

    (17 replies)

    Hello!  I have just found out that I will be moving to Berkeley or Oakland.  What are some schools that I could look into for first grade for this fall?  I know the regular admissions cycle has passed, but I am wondering if any schools still have any spaces?  Please advise!  Thank you :)

    In my experience, most East Bay private schools have some space for new arrivals through the summer. I'd think about where you want to live and then explore the schools in that area depending on your child's interests.  If you haven't already found the EBISA website, that's a good place to start for a list of all the schools. Then go from there based on what sounds compelling. Your options are more limited if you need financial aid--much of that is already awarded--but even there, you'll find some schools that can still accommodate you. Welcome to the East Bay!

    Check out Black Pine Circle.  Its a progressive, private K-8 school in Berkeley.  Its been amazing for my son and we are sending our daughter there next year.  

    Hi! Montessori Family School has their KT-8th grade campus in nearby El Cerrito, and I believe they have openings. Others for consideration off the top of my head include Prospect Sierra, Black Pine Circle, The Berkeley School. These will have varying degrees of vacancies. Best of luck!!

    We went through this when we had to find a school when we moved to the area a few years ago after the admissions cycle ended. The process was incredibly time consuming but it ended well. You have come to the right place for your first step. Make a list of all of the schools you are interested in from the list on this site and then just start calling the admissions staff. Many of the schools we called didn't have openings but enough did that we ended up with a suite of good choices. Some good options to call are Prospect Sierra, St. Paul's Episcopal School, Black Pine Circle, The Academy in Berkeley, the Berkeley School, Berkwood Hedge School, Aurora School. We even visited the Saklan School in Moraga, which was lovely but we decided we didn't want to make the drive. 

    We love Shu Ren (shurenschool.org)! It's a certified International Baccalaureate school (of which there are very few in the country) and Mandarin immersion - globally oriented and inquiry based. We were intrigued by the IB curriculum and have been delighted by the Mandarin acquisition on top of it. Every classroom has two dedicated teachers - one teaches in English and the other in Mandarin. Our daughter started after Kindergarten and is doing extremely well now two years later - and I would expect that you can still enroll this late in the year. Classes are small, the new director is incredible, great location... check out the Jefferson campus (they have a preschool on University as well), you won't be disappointed!

    The Berkeley School! There are some places in 1st left.

    "Academic Excellence, Equity & Inclusion, Civic Engagement." You cannot miss there!

    K-8 campus

    1310 University Avenue 

    Berkeley, CA  94702

    Just down the hill from Cal. Lots of Cal families!

    We were extremely happy and grateful for the environment at Prospect Sierra.

    Hello,

    Check out The Academy (K - 8) located at 2722 Benvenue Ave (510) 549-0605 ; Justine Lewis, Director of Admissions 

    Hi there,

    Would you consider a Spanish immersion school?  I want to give a shout out to EBI, Escuela Bilingüe Internacional, a Spanish immersion pre-K to 8th grade school that follows the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum. This is our second year at EBI; we have a child in 1st grade and a daughter in 3rd grade.  We can recommend EBI highly!  We were drawn to the school for the Spanish immersion and the IB curriculum, and we are very pleased on both fronts.  We feel our kids are getting a well-rounded education.  Some of the highlights: native speaker Spanish teachers; differentiated learning; two teachers in the classroom through 2nd grade; an over-arching emphasis on raising "global citizens" (thanks to the IB curriculum); very welcoming and tight-knit community of down-to-earth parents.

    FYI EBI accepts a couple of non-Spanish speakers in 1st grade, so don't feel discouraged if this factor may seem limiting.  Reach out to the school!  (A classmate of my 1st grader joined this year without speaking Spanish and I can have proper conversations with her in Spanish already.  It is amazing!)

    I'd be happy to discuss more with you or answer any questions you may have. Send me a message if you wish.

    Good luck!

    --1307mom

    I suggest you look at Walden Center & School in Berkeley.  I am current parent of a first grader, and I am pretty sure there are still openings for next year.  It is a small, progressive, arts-focused school that has been wonderful for my son (who is not especially artistically inclined).  The music and drama program is fantastic, and he is thriving socially and emotionally as well as academically.  The cost is also much more reasonable than many other private schools because each family has a family job that contributes to upkeep of the school.

    Hi!  Welcome to the East Bay!  Another great school to consider is Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley (EB) - its a French immersion K-G8 school, with a focus on the "whole-child". It's the oldest bilingual school in the East Bay so its program is very well established and strong.  All three of my children are there and we're loving it.  The teachers are great and the community is very special - diverse, caring and lively. There are families from all over - many American, but also about 50 other countries are represented.  I just love how globally oriented and inclusive the school is and what engaged, bright children it is producing.  

    Welcome to the East Bay!

    Our daughter has been enrolled at The Berkeley School since pre-school, and I cannot imagine a better educational environment in which to grow up. Anna will be an 8th grader next year - our final year at TBS! - and I look at the confident, self-aware and engaged young person she has become both with pride, and with gratitude to the exceptional faculty and administration at The Berkeley School. I believe the education a child receives at TBS to be unparalleled in the Bay Area, and I encourage you to reach out to Paula Farmer, our director of Admissions, to arrange a visit to the University Avenue campus for you and your family. 

    Please feel free to reach out to me, too, with any additional questions you might have - and again, welcome!

    Stephanie

    Welcome to the East Bay! It's a wonderful place to live and raise kids. Our 10-year-old twins are at The Berkeley School and we couldn't be happier. It's a progressive independent school that values equity and inclusion and is deeply committed to its mission and to civic engagement. Late applicants are welcome and there are currently spaces available in first grade. The Berkeley School is a wonderful place. You'll be happy you checked it out.

    I would have to second the recommendation for The Berkeley School.  We had started off at another school in Richmond but transitioned to the Berkeley School last year and couldn't be happier.  Its location is easy to get to, has an amazing team of teachers and the Administration is just great!  

    I'd suggest checking out Park Day School, in North Oakland.  It is a wonderful K-8 school dedicated to progressive education.  I've had 2 kids there for a total of 16 years and we've experienced it as a fantastic place with a warm community, excellent teachers, and a commitment to social justice values and a whole-child approach.  I have no idea if there are openings for next year, but it can't hurt to ask, if this sounds like the kind of place you'd like.  

    Best of luck.

    Give the Bentley School a call.  The school is close to UC Berkeley with children of professors in attendance. It's a well-rounded program with strong academics, plenty of art, music, PE, and foreign languages. 

    Hi!,

    My son is going to ShuRen International school, it is an IB Chinese immersion school. We are very happy with the school and most important, my son LOVES it. He cannot wait to be back when we are on vacation... I don't know what is the age of your child, I understand they may have a program for kids who do not Chinese to catch up with the language. Worth a try. I cannot say enough about this school.

  • With only a few hours to go, we are trying to decide between Head Royce, Redwood Day, and Black Pine Circle for our daughter's kindergarten year. We are looking for a good balance between academics and opportunities to express oneself creatively. Also concerned and curious about way down the road--where do these graduates end up for college? She is currently attending a Reggio Emilia based language immersion preschool. I will be grateful for your feedback! Thank you!

    As a former Head Royce grad (along with all four of my siblings) I'd say 100% HRS is a wonderful environment with great and caring teachers with space for creativity and growth. Obviously, I can't compare it to other day schools but there is an excellent alumni community and I felt lucky to have gone there - I felt extremely well-prepared for college and I think my siblings would agree. HRS graduates in our family attended Tufts University, Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Pitzer colleges and many of us have stayed friends with the friends we made at HRS to this day.  Feel free to message me with specific questions!

    Our children, now 16 and 18, attended Black Pine Circle starting in kindergarten.  We loved the school, which combined excellent academics with music and the arts.  Each year Black Pine Circle hosts an event for high school seniors about to go off to college, which my daughter attended last spring.  Many students go on to UC schools, often Berkeley, Davis and Santa Cruz.  Alumni also were headed to private schools such as Yale, Brown, and USC (my daughter).  

  • Hi moms and dads 

         My son is currently at Montessori preschool and are looking for recommendations/thoughts on private schools for K-8 or k-12, preferred non-religious, mid range tuition, <25000/ per year in the following city: 

    1. San Leandro 

    2. Oakland, preferred closed to 580

    3. Berkeley 

    the list is so overwhelming, any thoughts/ideas are greatly appreciated ! 

    Thanks 

    Lien 

    Pear Tree Community School sounds like what you are looking for, especially if you want to stay with the Montessori model. It is located in the East Oakland hills close to 580. www.peartreecs.com We left our local public school in North Oakland to attend. My daughter is in 1st grade there and we are happy. The application deadline is coming up but you may be able to apply late and still get a spot.

    Definitely check out the Rennaissance International School (TRIS) in the Dimond District in Oakland! It is a Montessori K-8. The music and art programs are extraordinary. In preschool and Kindergarten children have 4 teachers ("guides" in Montessori lingo) per classroom: 2 speak English and 2 speak either French or Spanish (you choose which language for your kid) to the children. Beginning in First grade there are three teachers in each classroom - one speaks English, one speaks French and one speaks Spanish. Children receive lessons in all three languages so by middle school they are trilingual! In Elementary they being each morning singing with an instructor for at least a half hour (accompanied by a live pianist). We've been blown away by the dedication of the teachers and staff. We feel like they are truly caring partners in helping our daughter grow and thrive. There are many special events throughout the year to truly connect with the teachers and administrative staff and to make sure you understand what your child is learning/developing and the Montessori method throughout the grades. They have amazing field trips, including international trips. You can schedule tours to check it out. And if you have any specific questions, I'm happy to answer them. We've toured every school I think, some twice(!), and are so happy with our decision to be at TRIS. Good luck with your search, it's totally overwhelming for sure!!

    A tiny bit north in El Cerrito is the gem, Montessori Family School. If you have been happy with Montessori, you really should consider continuing - they do some incredible stuff with the elementary curriculum. MFS is the only PK-8 Montessori school in the East Bay (not to mention it’s just a great school). Amazing teachers, wonderful families and kids, and students who want to learn and show so much admiration and respect for each other. It’s really just a wonderful place and worth looking into.

  • Hi! We are new to the Bay Area and considering Palmer and Seven Hills for our pre-kindergarten son. Some of the reviews on this site are very dated so would love to hear from anyone attending or has recent experience. Also any other private schools that are worth checking out in Walnut Creek/Lafayette area?

    Hi,

    We moved to the Bay Area 10 years ago, and did the independent school rounds. Our three kids have thrived at The Saklan School in Moraga www.saklan.org. Kids come from Oakland, Orinda, Lafayette, WC, PH, Alamo. Amazing academics and social emotional program, less competitive environment and easier to get into at K than some of the bigger independent schools. Our son in now at an independent HS, but girls are still there and we love the teachers,  environment and community. Let me know if you want more info!

  • Dear BPN,

    We are going through the kindergarten application process for our 5yr old, and would love to hear current and recent perspectives for Head Royce, Bentley and Redwood Day.  We have done all the open houses, parent tours, and spoken to folks we know, but it is still difficult for us to feel like we truly know the schools well.  

    We have the basic facts of the schools, but don't know what they are really like.  The things that are important to us are (1) an education that focuses on fostering curiosity and skills rather than knowledge acquisition, and is adaptive to the child; (2) preferably no homework for the lower grades; (3) supportive of dual-working parents; and (4) a warm and grounded (rather than entitled) environment for our family to make connections and friends. 

    Please share your perspectives on the schools, both good and not so good and/or difficult experiences - we find that we often learn more about the schools through understanding others' struggles.  Thank you!

    Seeking Feedback

    We are, and have been, in love with Redwood Day for five years. It meets both of our VERY different children's needs, and our needs as grownups! The community is amazing - kids, parents, faculty, and staff (I've heard from others that the love/care/availability of admin is unique to Redwood Day). It has everything you're looking for except #2. There is homework, but it is very minimal in the lower grades and until 4th is completed on a weekly basis (so you can do it all one night or split it into bits across the week). Also, teachers are very flexible when it comes to homework and the needs of each child. At one point, one of my children wasn't doing any homework and just practicing her reading. I could talk on and on about the school (and really enjoy doing that! :), so feel free to reach out to me through my username. I will leave you what made our decision for us, and what reaffirmed it once we were there. While applying, I could find NO ONE who was unhappy here - NO ONE! After being here for awhile, I realized I also had no complaints. I know that sounds insane, and I could probably come up with some nit picky stuff if I tried, but the school talks the talk and walks the walk like no other institution I know.  It's an incredibly special place. 

    I cannot recommend redwood day highly enough. From the teachers to the educational program to the diversity to the wonderful parent community. It’s a fantastic place that fosters learning.    In my opinion it hits all the things you’re looking for. And honestly I can’t think of one negative thing to say... Except maybe the yellow jackets  that sometimes bother the children during lunch :-)

    Going by the things that are important to you in a school I would highly recommend Aurora school. It's a K-5 independent school in upper Rockridge. Small class sizes, differentiated learning, mixed grades in the same classroom, k/1, 2/3, 4/5, progressive education philosophy. We are in our 2nd year at Aurora and couldn't be happier with the school. The teachers get to know each child and create a supportive and safe learning environment for everyone. There is no homework in the lower grades and no letter grades given out. Parents get 2 progress reports for the school year and have 2 parent teacher conferences. Applications are due Jan 19th but they have a rolling admissions policy so it's not too late to get in contact with them. 

    I recognize that this does not answer your question, but The Renaissance International School does an exceptional job over the pre-school to 4th grade years. It adheres to a Montessori philosophy. So curiousity-driven and no homework are part of the core approach. My children attended through 4th grade and I strongly recommend it for that developmental phase.

    If you visit, pay close atttention to the children's activity and developmental accomplishments in the class room. The school philosopy on a tour can seem very rigid, but the teachers are in fact very caring and nurturing.

    It also has a relatively long school day (aftercare until 6 pm?), so it acccomodates working parent schedules.

    Good Luck finding a school that fits your needs.

  • Which private school for high energy boys?

    (4 replies)

    We have two high energy and studious boys (5 and 7). We are looking into the 3 schools mentioned in the title to transfer to. We’d love to hear about the following at these schools:

    1. Student population diversity

    2. How they support high boy energy

    3. Community connection (parents and students), examples of activities for community building

    4. What areas/aspects of the school need improvement?

    Thank you! Any insight is greatly appreciated.

    My son has attended The Berkeley School for four years and is in second grade. Our experience has been very positive. I especially appreciate that they have two teachers per classroom, so that if a conflict or unhappy moment arises, it is not brushed under the rug, but is dealt with in a very healthy way, while the other teacher is able to keep the rest of the class on track. My son is high energy, has a temper and is also very curious. He loves reading and learning, as long as the teacher makes it fun, which I think they do. The teachers have been so kind and patient and extremely proactive in reaching out to us when our son's behavior has been challenging at school. They initiate meetings and we problem solve together - often with very good results. They are so supportive and positive with him. I appreciate that The Berkeley School isn't a sit-at-your-desk school. Kids are busy, and aren't parked at their desks listening all day.

    Our son is in his 2nd year at The Berkeley School (he’s now in 1st grade) and he’s doing great. I apologize for my long response, but I want to cover all your questions.

    Our family is a mixed race – African, Indian and Caucasian and diversity is important to us. We’ve found TBS to be an inclusive community of all different types of diversity including race/ethnicity, LGBT and neuro-diversity. Last year the school was particularly focused on the importance of racial diversity both within and outside of school and held parent focused programs with different speakers and facilitators on issues of race and ethnicity.

    My son is definitely on the high energy side and TBS teachers do a great job of taking his energy in stride. I feel that TBS is good at meeting children where they are – whether that be high energy or more introverted. Also, the school’s academic standards are high and they do a good job of catering to those kids that are ready for more academically and others that may need educational scaffolding in areas.

    TBS has lots of parent and student education events throughout the year like parent and staff coffee talks where school staff talks about the school’s philosophy on different academic areas like math and science. Also, like other independent schools, there are speakers that come to the school to talk about interesting educational and parenting topics. Last year Allison Gopnik came to TBS one evening to discuss her latest book on parenting.

    We have found a warm community at TBS. We just had our winter festival with a cook-off, bake-off and lots of crafts. The school isn’t large so families know each other and know each other’s children. There’s also a focus on community service which connects members of the community to each other and connects TBS to the greater the community outside the school.

    Just like all schools there are areas at TBS which need improvement. For example, I sometimes see same parents doing lots of volunteering, but I think that most schools also have lots of busy families and have similar volunteer issues. The important thing about TBS is the leadership makes themselves available to parents and are very willing to engage with parents on suggestions or critiques.

    Our family has been really happy with TBS. Good luck with the decision making process, I know it can be stressful.

    We have a 5 year old boy and 12 year old girl at The Berkeley School (TBS) and have had a fantastic experience with both of them.  It's truly an amazing school that effectively teaches to a huge range personalities.  They are incredibly attentive to each child, and I frankly have no idea how they give such individualized care and attention.  Of course, at the heart of every school is the staff, and they have a gifted staff, administrators and teachers alike.  They are all committed and talented educators.  Between our two kids, we now have 12 years with TBS, and I can't recommend the school highly enough.

    We have two boys (8 and 11) who are also high energy.  They are thriving at Black Pine Circle.  I'll try to respond to each question:

    1) The student population is probably as diverse as it gets for a private school.  There are many children (up to 50% in some grades) on financial aid.  The school community (which includes teachers, students and administrators) is ethnically and gender mixed. 

    2) Ahh, boy energy!  The teachers expect many of the children to have lots of energy.  In some classes, the teachers let the kids run a lap on the yard if they can't concentrate.  My younger son was given fidget toys in class (like play doh) and allowed to work on math problems on the rug instead of in a chair. The first grade classroom has wiggle chairs that the kids can choose to use. The PE teacher (Coach Michael) is just amazing--boys and girls just love him.  PE is three times a week 1st-5th grade and 4 times a week for K.  Recess happens twice everyday.

    3) I think everyone at BC feels as though they are part of a community.  We mourn the loss of community members together, we organize family camping trips together, we even plan moms/dads nights out.  We also invite parents and children to do community service together, go to afterschool parent education nights, and to have family maker nights.  The idea is that you can be as involved as you want in the school and in the community.  Some of our very closest friends have been made at the school.  

    4) The areas that need improvement really involve space constraints.  I think the school would benefit from a dedicated music building--younger children play strings and older children are required to learn to play the recorder, ukulele and the guitar.  The band and orchestra programs could use space of their own with great acoustics.      

    Hope this helps in your decision making!

  • Hello parents,

    We are new to the area, just moved from SF to North Oakland. My daughter is currently enrolled in a progressive charter school in SF (Kinder). I need to transfer her within the next month to an Oakland school. We bought in Bushrod thinking Peralta was our school, but found out we are a block out of the border. 

    Where else do you suggest for a progressive education? We are not looking to spend too much on a private school. We did tour Walden and I like it. Anyone have thoughts regarding Walden or other suggestions?

    thank you in advance!

    My two kids went through Walden and are now in an arts school and a private boys middle school. (Two different schools) they thrived at Walden and love Walden! The bar was set high getting them into middle school and thankfully it has been met! Walden teachers, staff and kids can’t be beat. The arts, the collaborate learning, outside time, etc are special. You will not be unhappy with choosing Walden. You can contact me if you want to talk more.

    There are lots of good schools in Oakland besides Peralta. And if you are looking to start Peralta in 1st grade as opposed to kinder, there just might be a spot for you. But also consider: Chabot, Kaiser, and Glenview at Santa Fe (though I guess they'll be moving back to their old site soon).

    Walden is a wonderful, small, and often overlooked progressive school with a large emphasis on the arts. Our three children went to Walden and I highly recommend it. It’s a place where kids are able to be kids, learn in a supportive environment with small class size, and have fun while still being well prepared for middle and high school. Kids are taught to think critically and be kind to others. I’d be happy to talk more and answer any questions you have, so feel free to DM me. My kids are now 14, 21, and 24 and thriving:)

    Christa 

  • Hi,

    We are looking at schools for our rising 4th grade currently-homeschooled daughter, and in particular want to find schools that will be responsive and supportive in her tendency to be persistent with other kids when she has an idea she is excited about. As an only child, she does not get to practice negotiating with other kids at home. When she is excited about an idea, she tends to persist, and wears out other kids with her persistence, unless they are just as assertive/excited as her, in which case they quickly come to a compromise on their different ideas. While we work on it at home, we want for her to be in a supportive school environment that will help her gain awareness on how to read and respond to more subtle cues from kids who are more laid back, and practice how to let go of whatever it is she is after. This would need to be done by keeping an eye on her and giving her regular feedback, without making her feel too down on herself. (She is trying to work on it, but loses track of her behavior whenever she is excited about some idea she has on how to play).

    I guess I'm talking about social emotional education? We are looking at a number of private progressive schools, but do any of you have a daughter like that and have found your school to be helpful in guiding her in this respect? (Strangely, she can also be very inhibited in a new environment, but I'm not worried about that, as I suspect that most schools are helpful in that regard)

    I really think your regular public school would be fine. There are many kids (for some reason especially girls) who sound like they have the same energy as your daughter. Public school teachers are generally amazing. In public school, your daughter will get used to being "one of many" and how to make that work in a positive way.

    Have you looked at Walden? Our daughter is there in first grade. I've found their social emotional teaching to be excellent and given their arts integration, there are lots of steady teachers available for feedback.  

  • Hello bpn,

    My 4 year old is currently at a preschool where he has a ton of freedom, and generally uses it to be outside. We are looking into kindergartens for next year, and I am dreading the thought of him doing worksheets, or even doing structured "centers," and only having specific, limited "recess" times to be outside playing or digging. Are there any kindergartens  that would give him more freedom to explore the outdoors? (I am aware of Berkeley Forest school.) We are in Berkeley. Thanks, parents!

    NL

    Singing Stones in Walnut Creek is AMAZING and people come from all over the Bay Area to attend it. I can't really recommend it highly enough. It is on seven acres, has an organic garden, the kids spend TONS of time outside and even every other Friday in an off-campus nature spot (that varies). 

    They are a Waldorf school and they are extremely nurturing and, at this young age, have no focus on traditional "academics." And if you are daunted by the price they have an "accessible-to-all" philosophy and will work with you (seriously, they give me about 75% off of tuition because I'm a single mom and that's what I can afford). If you'd like to speak to me about it PM me your phone number and I'd be happy to. Good luck!!

    The Berkeley School is nice

    Have you looked at the East Bay Waldorf school in El Sobrante?  My two little ones are there in Kindergarten and they spend a lot of time outdoors.  They have rain coats, rain pants and rain boots in case it rains.  On Fridays, they go on a long hike and other days, they spend in the school garden or at various other places on their large property - even a frog pond.  My kids love it there!  http://www.eastbaywaldorf.org/

    East Bay Waldorf — kids spend a ton of time outdoors.

    You might want to consider Walden Center & School in Berkeley.  My son came there from a preschool where he also had a lot of freedom to choose his activities and spent most of the time outside.  The children at Walden, especially in kindergarten, spend a lot of time outside and have a pretty long noon recess.  The school grounds have several smaller play areas (one right next to the kindergarten room) as well as a larger field and sandbox.  They also move around a lot inside the kindergarten classroom and between the various classroom buildings.  It definitely was an adjustment for my son, but I felt good about the amount of time he spent outdoors and in unstructured play with his classmates.

    My daughter attends Berkeley Rose Waldorf School. She is in first grade right now, but completed kindergarten there last year. The kindergarten class experience was wonderful for her. It is a play based class with daily time outdoors and lots of play in the classroom as well. The class has a daily structure but with ample time to play.  I recall the teacher saying in the morning: "Alright children, now it is time to work and play." The school believes children's work is playing and that learning comes through playing. There are no work sheets or desks to sit at in the classroom. Instead the children sit around a group table with the teacher when an activity requires a table/desk--i.e. lunch, snack, artwork, or handwork. The children learn through songs, art (drawing and painting), stories, play, sewing, other handwork, and cooking. Play often includes putting on puppet shows for the other children, playing in and under the little classroom loft that mimics a treehouse with wooden toys, blocks, puppets, dolls, and silk scarves. This all encourages the development of the imagination in children at this age. Learning takes place in an organic way in that instead of sitting at a desk and working, they learn through doing daily living tasks and playing. For example, every week each child brings a vegetable to chop on soup day and it all goes into the pot with broth for a snack that morning. On other days they bake bread, grind grain into flour and do other simple age-appropriate cooking related activities. They also help with setting the table and cleanup after snack and lunch. The morning starts out with jump rope on the back patio. The exercise seemed to enliven our daughter and got her ready for the day but also incorporated counting songs and taught her about rhythm by learning to jump to the songs and the movement of the rope. They take a daily walk to the park for play outdoors and have a little garden that they work in at the back of the school. They learned simple sewing and woodworking by making some little felt objects and a wooden sailboat. They also learned some simple spanish counting songs during the class. 

    I highly recommend a visit to the school. I believe there is an open house on January 20th where you can see the classroom and meet the teacher Ruth Alden. Ruth is gentle, loving, and attentive. There is also a Winter Faire this December 9th that is a great way to see the whole school and have some fun holiday activities and meet others in the school community--which is the other wonderful thing about the school. It has a great group of parents and teachers who open, friendly, and warm. We were new to the Bay area and California two years ago and without this community I think it would have taken us a lot longer to feel at home in a new state. 

    Check out the school's website for more information at: Berkeleyrose.org. My daughter could not be happier at this school. I hope you will make a visit and see what the school is all about. Please don't hesitate to write back if you have more specific questions about the school or kindergarten. 

    Sincerely,

    Bekah Shields, first grade parent at Berkeley Rose Waldorf School

    Hello, 

    You should take a tour and check out Crestmont Elementary School to see if it would be a good fit for your son! They focus on hands on learning outside of the classroom both on and off campus. Our daughter has thrived there both academically and socially! 

    I highly recommend checking out East Bay Waldorf. Their early childhood program is wonderful, very experienced teachers and an absolutely stunning environment. The campus is on 11 acres and it’s right next to wildcat canyon park. My son spent 2 years in kindergarten there and I couldn’t have been happier. He was allowed to be a child, to be in his body outdoors running, climbing, exploring. This is also balanced with indoor time to hear stories, paint, craft, play, cook, sing, the list goes on. 

    Berkeley Rose Waldorf School is truly a wonderful school for anyone looking to let their children be children for as long as it is possible. My daughter absolutely loves going to school, and I couldn't be any happier! In kindergarten her job was to play; through her play she learned so much and is now thriving in the grades. The teachers at the school are AMAZING, they are passionate and give so much of themselves. Best of luck!

    Hello,

    I totally understand.  I felt the same way when my son was in pre-school.  

    Both my children attend Berkeley Rose School.  It's a Waldorf school in Berkeley and the children spend TONS of time outside, especially in Kindergarten.  They do not do academics in Waldorf Kindergardens.  They focus on play, purposeful work, socializing, fine and gross motor development, gardening, cooking, climbing, songs, stories and did I emphasize play!  I would really recommend you going to see the Kindergarten classroom at Berkeley Rose School.  The children are relaxed and happy (parents too!).  

    I second  the recommendation for Crestmont School in the Richmond Hills. I had the same concerns for my son when he was 4,  I couldn't imagine him ever being happy at a "traditional" school sitting at a desk doing worksheets. The thought of kindergarten was completely stressful for me and I  had fantasies of homeschooling. He was accustomed to being outside most of the day playing in the sand or running around the yard barefoot at his very play based preschool. Fast forward 1 year and my active, curious son is absolutely thriving in kindergarten and loves his school, his teachers and his friends. Although they do have centers for a portion of the day, the lessons are meaningful, fun, hands-on and creative. The most important lesson taught is that learning is fun. The kindergarten teacher whom the kids affectionately call Mama Kay is AMAZING and the class size of 16 means tons of individual attention. The kindergarteners have a large sandbox, dramatic play area and loft which are often available during choice time. The teachers understand that young bodies need to move and there are frequent breaks to let off steam. All learning styles are respected.There is a long recess and lunch and ample space for active play. Plus the kids have PE, movement, or gardening daily as well as monthly fieldtrips and walking trips to the local park. We are so happy to have found this amazing community. I encourage you to come check it out. Also, keep in mind that a lot can change between the ages of 4 and 5 and your son may be ready for a bit more structure next year.

  • Hello All,

    My about to be 5 year old son is an outgoing, energetic, curious, talkative and academically strong personality. He is currently attending the Dorris-Eaton Pre-school in Alamo. We live in Walnut Creek and for the kindergarten admission, we applied to Head-Royce, Bentley and Dorris-Eaton. Given that he got admission into all the three schools, our struggle began as to which school would be best fit for him.

    Besides the three different philosophies and educational environment of the above three schools, we are also wondering if we should also consider the different neighborhoods to eventually move or would a commute from Walnut Creek for next 6 years is worth with regards to volunteering activities, play-dates etc.

    Any recommendations towards our selection process would be much appreciated.

    Thanks!

    The commute to any of these three from Walnut Creek makes my head hurt, so yes, I would absolutely factor in where you might like to move in the long run to be closer to one of them (unless one is along a commute you're already doing for work--and then I would consider that). This may be driven in part by your budget, too. Head-Royce probably gives you the nearest options for more affordable neighborhoods nearby but it very much depends on where you work. As you already know, the schools themselves are quite different too, so that might offer you a starting point if you don't have a commute in the mix. Good luck!

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Questions


How to research schools

May 2016

i am starting to look into elementary schools for my son - public, charter, private. i was wondering how one does this...are there websites that compares rates, scores, rankings? google search reveals greatschools.org which i've perused. i've also looked thru BPN, alameda parents network (i live in alameda), and yelp. anywhere else? i have 2 years until he enters kindergarden and would move if necessary/able to. i am looking in alameda, east bay, east of caldecott tunnel. thank you in advance for your recommendations. helen


My first bit of advice is to not overthink it! My second piece of advice is to remember there's no such thing as a perfect school. So unless your child is extremely ''special'' in some way, he/she will very likely do just fine in your local public school, or a charter, or a private school, whether it be in Alameda, Oakland, Orinda, or wherever. I think BPN is a good resource for checking out schools, especially if you have specific questions. I don't necessarily trust GreatSchools and I don't know anybody who reviews schools on Yelp. Word of mouth is probably the best resource available to you. Good luck to you!
Mom of 3 who've been in school for awhile


Private elementary schools -- constructive negative feedback?

Sept 2014

Hello, We are looking for a private kindergarten in Oakland for our son for the 2015-2016 school year and just starting the touring/application process now. We have had no trouble finding parents with glowing reviews of just about any private school in Oakland and Berkeley. However, I am curious whether there are parents who would be willing to share constructive criticism of their schools or parents who have left certain private schools and would be willing to share reasons why. We are particularly interested in Park Day, Redwood Day, Head Royce and Bentley. I'd really appreciate your insight! Thanks in advance, Potential private school parent



I know you are looking for negatives for the various private elementary schools, but I think that you will need to figure out the negatives for yourself. I don't mean that to be unhelpful, I truly mean that the negatives I found at each school are likely positives for other people. For example: a couple of schools we visited emphasized social-emotional development over academics while others valued academic rigor over social-emotional development. A couple of schools have mixed-age classes while others do not. Depending on what you are looking for and what your child needs, you'll find a good fit. When we were looking for a private kindergarten, we looked at Aurora, Bentley, Head-Royce, Redwood Day, and St. Paul's. I think that they are all excellent schools but we only felt drawn to two of them. I recommend starting at the EBISA fair- i felt like you get a snapshot of each school there. I will say that one admissions director was completely uninterested in talking to me at that event or making me feel welcome, and that feeling continued with other people (teachers, etc) at our school visit. Bottom line, it was just not a fit and we did not apply to that school. I'm sure other people love it there. To each their own, but I think you'll get a good sense of each school on the visits. It all sort of seems whitewashed, but the true character of the schools actually shines through, in my experience. Good luck, former searcher


 

How did you narrow down your choices?

Feb 2013

 

Having finally completed the Kindergarten application process, we, like many families, are in the waiting stage. Our family applied to four private schools, all of which seem very strong. I'm wondering how we will choose between them if we are lucky enough to get into more than one. Can you share how you narrowed your choices down, especially if you were unsure before getting your acceptances? Or, should I even be worried about this - do most people only get into one school? It's hard to know how much to think about it now before hearing from admissions, though I also don't want to scramble once we get our letters. Thank you! anonymous



When selecting a school, keep in mind that the school's administration probably wants you to talk to families who are happy with the school. To find out if you yourself are likely to be happy with the school, ask how many people (i.e. children and teachers) have left in recent years. A few families leave because they are moving out of town or because they are unusually hard to satisfy. But if more than a few families and/or teachers leave, that could be a red flag.

The school's administration knows how many families are applying elsewhere. So, ask directly: Are the children I saw during my visit going to be there next year? Has the school's size been stable? Have there been changes in staffing? Do you anticipate changes in staffing?

Also keep in mind that unsolicited reviews on BPN can only be positive, as a matter of BPN policy. If you have a question about a particular school, the only way you can find out not-so-positive information is in response to a posted question. And even then, the information isn't going to be free of bias: At my child''s school, parents earn parent participation credit for posting on BPN and for monitoring BPN and responding to any criticism.

Perhaps all the schools where you applied are great and people are happy there. In that case, you can't go wrong and might simply decide on the basis of location or convenience. Cautious



First off, try not to worry. I know that is much easier said than done-- but the likelihood is that everything will work out well. ( Full disclosure, I have a daughter in the midst of the high school application process- and I find myself thinking about it all the time. So do as I say, not as I do! ) For now, relax and enjoy spending a little extra time with your child. Once you know what your choices are, then arrange to take one more look.

It is not unusual to get acceptances to more than one school, so you may find yourself in the happy position of having to choose. From the time the acceptances are mailed until you need to respond is called ''quiet week'' because the schools are not supposed to reach out to you to try and sway your decision. However, you can and should reach out to them, and you should find that they are happy to answer any lingering questions you might have. You might even be able to arrange a time to have one more visit to the school.

Then, I would encourage you listen to your gut. When you close your eyes and picture your child in that school, or with that kindergarten teacher, how do you feel? Comfortable? Safe? Excited? Happy? Anxious? Nervous? Stressed? You know your child better than anyone, and (s)he is most likely to thrive in an environment that has the right mix of nurturing and challenge, stimulation and safety. What is the right mix? The answer varies with every child- and that's where listening to your gut will serve you well. Don't focus on the literature, watch the teachers interacting with the kids. Pay attention to how the Head of School interacts with parents and teachers. I'm sure you will make a great choice. Happy at The Berkeley School


 

Which private school?

August 2005

 

Hi, We are going to start the private school process in September. Our daughter is very smart in a science, math sort of way but socially is very shy and observes rather than joins. She tends to have one or 2 friends but for the most part enjoys being on her own doing things like reading etc... We have heard about all the schools but would love parents opinions. I do believe she needs some structure and fairly strong academics but I don't want a child in 4th grade with 3 hours of homework , but also don't want her to be bored. Please advise if you know anything and share your thoughts. Another alternative is just moving to Piedmont.



I have a daughter who's entering 2nd grade at Park Day ... read this review ...



Why not consider Redwood Day School? read this review ...



Our daughter is going into 2nd grade at Park Day and pretty much fits the description of your soon-to-be kindergartner. read this review ...



As a parent who has had a child in Bentley and in Piedmont (and examined several of the other alternatives you mention), I would emphatically recommend against Piedmont for a gifted child ... (see Moving to Piedmont for the schools and Bentley School



Dear School-Searcher: My advice to you is to visit the schools especially when class is in session. See if you like the energy level and interaction of the classroom. Also look into schools which may not be on your short list. We ended up at a school we didn't even know existed (at the beginning of the process). You'll have a gut-feel about it and you will make a good decision. tli


 

How to decide on a school

October 2002

 

I have looked at the archives about these three privarte schools but the posts are from 97-99. We are considering these three schools for Kindergarten for 2003. Their websites are vague about tuition costs, scholorship availability, interview process, etc. Most of all we just want to know what worked for you in the decision making process (visiting the school, interviewing the teachers,??) and how you are enjoying your decision. Thanks much for your time. Nilou



Actually, you can find quite detailed information about the Windrush application process on their website. Just click on ''Admissions'' at the top, and then you'll see a sidebar that has lots of links to information about the application process and other FAQs. You won't find information about tuition or scholarships on websites because they usually don't know what the tuition will be until it's decided in the spring. However, Windrush lower (elementary) school tuition is currently around $10,000 and Prospect-Sierra is $12,500. You can expect increases of from 4 to 10% from year to year. To find out more about scholarship availability, you just have to call the admissions office.

As for advice on the decision-making process, you might find helpful two articles that I wrote for the Neighborhood Parents Network, which have been reproduced on their website. One is called ''Sorting Through the Choices'' and the other is called ''Raise Your Hand: Questions to Ask''. You'll find them both at this site: http://www.parentsnet.org/npn_schools.html

I have friends at a dozen different schools, public and private, and everyone has things they love about their school and things they don't. We ended up at Windrush, which felt like the right fit for our family in terms of its educational philosophy, but also because we instantly felt at home there. We liked the teachers, administration and community members, loved the campus, liked the smaller class size, werer impressed by the afterschool program, and liked the relationship between the middle and lower school kids. But we probably would have been happy at Prospect- Sierra, Park Day, Head Royce, Redwood Day, Black Pine Circle, Cragmont or Oxford. There are so many choices. But we chose Windrush, which turned out to be the right place for us (so far)!

Good luck on figuring out what feels right for your family. Natasha B.



Feb 2009

Re gathering info about schools: For private schools, write or call the admissions office. Beginning in the fall, there are two types of programs - "tours" and "open houses." The open houses are large meetings for all parents who might be interested in the school. There's a presentation, some opportunity for questions. It's held at the school. "Tours" are daytime tours of the school, while kids are in class. You go with small groups of other parents. You can ask lots of questions and pick up any literature you don't already have, plus the application packet. You see the premises, the teachers, and the kids in action. After a while, I skipped all the open houses and saved a lot of time. I learned all I needed at tours. I also checked out a few schools I knew I wouldn't commute to, just because they were reputedly "good" or had a certain philosophy and I wanted to have a basis for comparison. Most schools also have lists of parents you can call. One piece of advice: when looking for kindergarten, think of the type of school best for YOUR child, and think of the years beyond K. How far does the school go gradewise, will this be a good third-grade place for your child, etc. Linda