St. Mary's College High School
We went through this process two years ago, so I know how stressful it can be. And yes, full tuition at independent schools is out of control. That said: schools are pretty forthcoming about what fraction of families receives financial aid, and how to apply for aid. They should be needs-blind for admissions purposes, but it's impossible to tell unless you work in admissions. I don't know if this helps at all - but after touring and talking to folks at several private schools, we honestly could not pinpoint differences at graduation. Yes, the Athenian school has that airplane - but unless you live on campus or near the school and can stay after hours, you just can't work on it. Yes, CPS has the small school feel and many kids end up with early admission to college - but you only get in if you're in the 92nd percentile (or higher) on the standardized test. Lick is super-competitive, but they are dead serious about how many kids they admit from any one school (and that commute is daunting!) In the end, remember that (1) kids graduate from all these schools, (2) HS is what you make of it, and (3) you have to consider your finances. Take a step back. You'll pay college tuition soon.
Where I'm going with this: if you're considering O'Dowd, please give Saint Mary's in Berkeley a look as well. O'Dowd is a diocese-run school, whereas Saint Mary's is independently run by the Christian Brothers (they are a Catholic order, but they fundraise and run the school on their own.) It's a coed school, unlike DeLaSalle. We came from Prospect Sierra and didn't know what to expect about the religion classes, but they are not overwhelming, and my son loves his religion teachers. It's an academically rigorous school (college prep!) with plenty of honors and AP classes offered, and with the school administration actively trying to limit how many courses students take, so they don't burn out. The student body is intentionally diverse - racially and socioeconomically. There are plenty of clubs to choose from for extracurricular activities, or your son could start his own. Sports play a role, but this is not a "meat-head school" that offers full rides mainly to athletes. Tuition is around 18K. We don't have experience with tuition assistance, but many families have opted for Saint Mary's over O'Dowd because of what they received in assistance. It's at a 7-minute walk from North Berkeley BART. The best part: during Enrichment Week in March, teachers offer one-week programs that are non-academic. This includes trips, activities such as cooking, watching movies (on a theme), or local adventures such as ziplining, paintball, etc. Juniors and Seniors can take driving class or SAT prep. My son has travelled to New Zealand in freshman year, and to New York in sophomore year. This year he applied to go to Malta or France (no guarantees that he'll go, but everyone has the opportunity to apply.) These are all extracurricular and come at a cost, but we're talking about spending money on "experiences" rather than "things" or "high tuition."
Sorry if this is TMI about a school that is absolutely not on your list. However: if you are intrigued and/or have questions about Saint Mary's, I would be more than happy to chat.
Good luck with High School admissions!
Archived Q&A and Reviews
I would love to hear any newer feedback about St. Mary's College High School in Berkeley. Is the same principal there that people loved in 2011? How is the academic rigor? What is the overall personality of the school? What extra curriculars are there besides just sports? Very grateful for your honest feedback! Values More than Books ...
I can not be happier with St Mary's. My child would do well academically at any school, but I felt he needed a community that knew him. My expectations have been more than met, and I have other friends at the school, who have different needs and are as pleased as I am. One of the first things they tell you at Parent Orientation is to Leave Your Child With Us. They ask you to not pick up after school, let your child stay, explore, meet, they are in a safe place and looked after, this is the time to let them feel good about discovery and trying activities outside their comfort zone.
My child is in Honors Classes, but does not feel overwhelmed, I think the trimester system (no projects over breaks etc) is great for him and us. They also foster a sense of community, community service and during enrichment week students are encouraged to pick a project that is helpful. My nieces have built houses in New Orleans, taught on reservations, and in El Salvador, lived with farm families who are trying to stop clear cutting.
Obviously no school is perfect, and I believe you pick a HS for your individual child, but, that said in the few months we have been at St. Mary's I have patted myself on the back many times for sending my child there. I too believe HS is more than academics, it is the time to grow and become the child who will be a successful ''almost'' adult in college.
There are numerous ''non athletic'' clubs and a thriving drama department, there truly is a place for everyone Check out St Mary's, you will NOT BE DISAPPOINTED Great Fan
We recently attended the parent info night at St. Mary's High School in Berkeley. I checked the posts and the most recent is from November 2009. We were very impressed with the principal and now would like to know if his vision translates to the school. How are the teachers? The school community? Where do the majority of students live? What are the strengths of the school and the weaknesses of the school? Thanks so much in advance- Looking for a High school:)
Our daughter graduated from Saint Mary's last spring and had a great experience there. Most of all, she loved the sense of community--she knew who everyone was. Various programs, such as the spring Enrichment Week (where classes stop for a week and everyone signs up for some kind of program through the school, such as travel or service), ensure that that kids meet others outside their usual circles.
Our daughter had good teachers and some not-so-good ones, but overall she learned a lot. When it comes to academic rigor, she felt that you could challenge yourself (she took a lot of AP classes) but that you didn't have to.
Kids come from all kinds of racial and ethnic backgrounds and seem to mix easily. They also seem polite and helpful--if you look lost walking around campus, someone is likely to offer to help you. It's certainly a safe place. My daughter never worried about leaving her backpack lying around (and once, when she left her brand-new phone in the bathroom, someone turned it in to the office).
What didn't she like? Well, the dress code. (No uniform, but a ban on anything they deem inappropriate for school, such as sagging pants for boys or v-neck tops for girls.) Also, there's a relatively small selection of elective classes, compared to some big public high schools. You can take Spanish or French, for example, but that's it.
Saint Mary's is also into sports--many kids are on teams. Our daughter wasn't an athlete but loved going to the big games where everyone turned out to cheer.
I definitely agree with your positive impression of the principal. He's smart, enthusiastic, and genuinely concerned with the ''whole student.'' I don't know how the new trimester/block scheduling system will work, but it looks like the school put a lot of thought into it, and I trust that they will evaluate it closely as they roll it out.
Not being religious at all, our family wasn't sure how Catholic high school would work for us. But the main impact was that the school consistently conveyed a message of ethics, compassion, and social responsibility. My daughter really liked the debates in her religion classes, which by junior and senior year were classes such as World Religions and Ethical Leadership.
All in all, we give it a big thumbs-up. Former Saint Mary's mom
Re: Catholic high school for child with out gay parents?
St. Mary's is a very accepting high school. My child graduated from there and came out senior year. There were other gay students at the school at that time as well. The school teaches tolerance and acceptance of one another. Our child had a fantastic high school experience at St. Mary's. St. Mary's supporter
A gay parent at my daughter's middle school chose St. Mary's after speaking quite openly with the principal about her family, in which the two moms are not only gay but also divorced from each other. She felt welcomed. After two years there she reports it is going well. There are other gay families and she also mentioned that her daughter's "Legalize Gay Marriage" t-shirt was completely acceptable school attire.
Hello, Could parents of students at St. Mary's please provide insights into the teaching at St. Mary's high school? How are the teachers -- dedicated, passionate, knowledgeable, understanding? How are the academics, esp. math, science and writing? Does St. Mary's do a good job at motivating the kids to love learning? Are there choices for AP classes? How is the homework load? Which college do they attend after St. Mary's? Also, how are the kids? Are they supportive of each other? Thank you so much!
I think the academics at St Mary's are OK. Not bad; not fabulous. My son is happy there and has achieved B+/A- grades without working super hard. This year as a junior he's in 2 AP classes and has had to actually work hard some of the time. Philosophically the school gets it: kids need life skills and skills for life long learning beyond high school and college, more than they need to understand the biology of protozoa......
How good a class is depends on the teacher. St Mary's is well known for their sports, and each of the first two years I felt like my son had 1 or 2 teachers who really just wanted to be coaches and their classroom work came second. But each year he's had some teachers he really liked who left him excited about their topic. Math was not good the first two years and now he has a teacher he likes and he's doing well.
When my son was applying I read a letter on BPN from a mother who said each of her 2 daughters had had teachers at SMCHS they thought were good and teachers they thought were really bad, but each daughter had a different and often opposing evaluation of who was good and bad; so some of it is personality match etc. I don't believe it's challenging enough for the super, super bright and super academic child who will graduate from an Ivy League college summa cum laude, but I think it's good for average bright kids.
Where they go to college is posted somewhere on the web site and in the orientation material.
It's diverse and safe and small enough that the faculty really do know each kid and care about each kid. That trumps hyper-academic for my family. mother of a junior who is happy at SMCHS
Hi. My daughter was graduated from St. Mary's in 2008. She now is attending USC. I think that St. Mary's prepared her for college as the transition was pretty easy for her and her grades are pretty good.
Yes, the school has AP classes, maybe not as many as other schools, but the usual ones (e.g., English, Physics, etc.). There were many students who got into big name schools back east (Brown, Cornell, NYU, Vassar). You can check with the school regarding its AP offerings and what schools its students have been accepted to.
As with all schools, there is some variability w.r.t. teacher ability and motivation. For my daughter, she was really pleased with her English, math, history, and economics teachers, and I agree with her assessment. There were a couple of science teachers who were so-so, and a couple who were really good. Though initially she was not happy about taking religion classes, these ended up being among her favorite classes. They were well taught and diverse (comparative religions, historical perspectives, etc.), and not dogmatic. Students were encouraged to express various opinions and points of view. She ended up liking them because they were more abstract and thoughtful and provided good opportunities for analytical thinking.
The school is small, so there is a sense of community there that may be harder to achieve in a larger school. The students are supportive, and my daughter gave me several examples over the years. She still sees her high school friends when she is back home.
My daughter spent a little more than an hour on homework most nights. Sometimes more. She said that her friends at Berkeley High seemed to have a lot more homework than she did. My daughter did try to be efficient about getting her homework done. I'm glad that the homework load was no heavier as she was able to participate in sports (club soccer and school sports) and other student activities. Janet
Re: Switching Schools as High School Junior
Sounds like two more years at BHS is not in your child's best interest. HS is such an important time on many fronts. My child went to St. Mary's HS and had the best 4 years I could have asked for. There were students who transferred in as juniors and were welcomed into the community. Since St. Mary's is a small school, newcomers are welcomed easily and add to the student body. You might want to consider looking at the school. It is a Catholic education (I am not Catholic) but it is also an education that is more global in reflection than in religion. parent of St. Mary's grad
Re: Public vs. private "real life" experience?
You are looking at VERY different private schools, Bentley, CPS are in a similar category and St. Mary's is at the other end of the spectrum when it comes to ''real life'' experiences and diversity. St. Mary's does not have the same socio-economic make-up that the other two have. Many students that go to St Mary's are there on scholarships and would otherwise not be able to afford going to a private school. These very reasons make St. Mary's a wonderful 'private' school because you get the best of both worlds. You really need to look at the major differences between the first two schools listed and St. Mary's and then decide. I don't think 'real life' experience fully exists at these schools where the students are predominately wealthy. parent of St. Mary's grad
Hello, Hoping to get a glimpse from those who currently have children attending St. Mary's College H.S. Can you share the best and worst experiences in regard to academics, social life, teacher quality, etc. ? My daughter will be going there starting next year; I'd like to get some tips -- to start out the year. Thanks for your help. Anonymous
I have two daughters at St. Mary's, one about to graduate, with very different personalities. They both love the school. The best things are the supportive student community, the emphasis on character, some truly excellent teachers, a variety of AP classes, the fact that faculty know my daughters and interact with them in positive ways, and some good counseling. The school does do a wonderful musical each year, and they have some excellent singers and actors. The music teacher is good but the level of musical ability among the students is not so great. My kids are very music oriented so they get the advanced music from programs outside of school. Sports is a very big deal, and for students into that, it seems like an excellent program. The school is very diverse, and interestingly, does not seem as balkanized as some schools. Students interact well.
We are not religious, but I asked my older daughter what her favorite class was at St. Mary's yesterday, and she said ''AP Physics, and Parables.'' Parables is one of the religion classes, and they take one each semester they are there. She loved it because they read parables and discussed their meaning. For a while, she wanted to be a philosopher! The good religion classes really stimulate them to think about ethics and values, and I think that is great. Kids should all have a chance to do that in school. They should also have a class on financial planning and checkbook balancing, and my daughter seems to be in that class now, a pleasant surprise. The pre-college counseling is good and they have an opportunity for an intensive week of professional SAT preparation their Junior year at a very reasonable price. There are also excellent opportunities to participate in community service projects here and abroad.
Some ''worst'' things: Over the years they have had some bad teachers. I think that is not unusual. Sometimes they bring that on themselves, or it is a personality conflict: one of my daughters will complain endlessly about so and so, and the other will love him or her. We wanted to take a semester off to go abroad and could not without losing our spaces. Now, faced with College expenses, I wonder if we could have saved the money and made do with the local public--some people have excellent experiences there too. But if you asked my daughters, they would be adamant that it was well worth it to go to St. Mary's. St. Mary's Mom
My child is a senior at SM. It has been a great 4 years. There were times I wondered about some of the rules I deemed foolish, the lack of course electives, lack of creativity, but in hindsight these issues seem small in comparison to what my child gained. SM has challenging classes, the new principal is making considerable changes in offering more classes and electives and when I see the colleges the SM students have gotten accepted to, I am glad we stayed the 4 years. Social climate is what you make it. It is a diverse campus and as long as your child is open minded she will have a great social experience. I highly recommend the immersion trips that are offered to the students during their enrichment week. SM can be a great school if you take advantage of what the teachers have to offer. anonymous
We are beginning to look at High Schools and are interested in private schools as well as our local public high school. Although we were raised Catholic, neither of us has been actively religious for 30 years. We are considering St. Mary's and wonder if there are other families with gay parents who have experience with sending their child/ren to Catholic schools. How much homophobia was there? Teachers? Administration? other kids? other parents? Anyone not actively Catholic who sent their child to St. Mary's????? Thanks for any help
we are not catholic -- in fact, i am an atheist [raised episcopalian], and my daughter is too -- but st. mary's was a good choice for her. she will be a senior this year. it is kind of funny, because she has always had great grades in religion class. that is the place where students can talk through issues of social justice and philosophy.
at least one of my daughter's close friends was raised by a single mom [dad was always ''out of the picture''], but she is not aware of gay families at st. mary's [on the othe hand, she is not terribly social, and it wouldn't matter to her if someone had 2 moms or 2 dads]. my daughter says a teacher told them about a school survey, which said only 25% of st. mary's students are catholic. my impression of the school, as a parent, is that the school is very tolerant and caring. my daughter adds, though, that kids often tease other kids about being ''gay,'' a joke we both find offensive. [but that kind of stuff is likely to be worse in a public school, because there just isn't as much attention to individual students OR individual rights. we pulled my son from ECHS in part because of the lack of attention to him, as an individual.]
hope this is helpful.
I know 3 kids who are at St. Mary's that have gay parents, both male and female. They have found the school supportive and not homophobic.
There are quite a few families where Catholocism is not the main religion, mine included. We are jewish and catholic. The school is supportive in that area as well.
But, remember, this is a catholic school and that is their focus and there is prayer.
My child has loved her 3 years at SM
I would like any information, recommendations about St. Mary's College High School. I like the school, but would like first hand information to compare.
We have a son who will be entering his third year at St. Mary's. He very much likes the school. He has a group of friends that he enjoys and he is involved in other projects besides academics such as the school newspaper, band and baseball.
As in any school, the quality of the teachers varies from very good to not so good which as always is frustrating especially when you are putting out a good chunk of change to send your child to a private school. The expectation at the school is that everyone will go on to college. However, if your child is academically driven and is a high acheiver, I would strongly urge you to discuss this with the school. I do not think our son has been challenged very much up until now though I do think this year will be different now that he has some flexibility in choosing his courses. The community is very diverse with children from all types of backgrounds attending the school.
It is a catholic school which does impact all aspects of the school. The kids take religion every year and every class and assembly begins with a prayer. As a Jewish family, we have found this somewhat alienating, but our son has figured out ways of dealing with the situation that is comfortable for him. In some ways, religion is a class he has come to enjoy because those classes have the most interesting discussions. As our son does not want us to be involved with his school life, we occassionally have contacted his teachers through email if we had any concerns. All of his teachers over the past two years have responded to our emails within a reasonable amount of time. I can't say that they have ever initiated contact, but I have found them responsive when we have contacted them.
We have the advantage of living within several miles of the school so it almost feels like a neighborhood school. As many children attend from outside of Berkely, the traveling to and from the school can be an added burden especially if the child is involved in after school activities of which there are many. Cindy
We're moving North and I'm looking for a High School in the Berkeley area. Any first hand knowledge on St. Mary's or College Prep? If we rent in Berkeley and are interested in Albany High, how strict are the School Districts with requesting a transfer? BHS sounds great, but my incoming Junior needs small classes. Thanks!
My daughter completed two years at St. Mary's this spring and has decided to transfer to Berkeley High next fall as a junior. She had straight A's at St. Mary's but was really getting bored with the school after only two years there. We both realized that she was ready for the more stimulating - and challenging! - academic and social environment available at Berkeley High.
Classes at St. Mary's are quite large (her English class last year had 35 students) and the level of instruction can vary widely. The religious instruction is fairly heavy duty and quite Catholic. Science and math instruction are especially weak. On the plus side, the school is economically and racially diverse, and the social environment is warm and welcoming. The kids are very friendly and the school works very hard to teach mutual respect and tolerance. The sports programs are excellent and because it is a small school almost everyone makes it on a team.
One last note . . . almost twenty girls in my daughter's grade are leaving this year. I'm sure your daughter would be very welcome at the school after so many departures. retiring St. Mary's parent
My daughter is on the waiting list to enter St. Mary's as a transfer student into 11th grade. We were told that there were 2-3 spots available for the 12 transfer applicants. If indeed there was an exodus from the 10th grade, why only 2- 3 spaces available? I had an email from the director of admissions yesterday (7/6) assuring me that they were still full.
This was our attempt to leave Berkeley High, which is huge, has many large classes, and a chaotic, insecure environment. Of course, there are many people who love BHS.
To each his or her own. anonymous
I highly recommend St. Mary's for a well-rounded high school education in the Berkeley area. My daughter is a 2003 graduate, and over 94% of her graduating classmates are bound for 4 year colleges, with the remainder going to community colleges. Class sizes are small -- she was never in a class with over 30 students. While it is a Catholic school, she was exposed to world religions including Hinduism, Judaism, and non-denominational teachings to name a few. This, coupled with their strong sports and performing arts programs, made it an excellent choice for us. alumni parent
The feedback (and observations I have made) I have from parents (and their children) of teenagers I have tutored from St. Mary's is as follows: The students who thrive on rigor, challenge, multiple AP/honors classes, simultaneously, have expressed boredom at St. Mary's and found fault with the quality of academics. The students I tutor--and have tutored--who do/did not want unrelentingly intense academics (there is something to be said for preserving your teen's energy stores for college and not squandering all of one's self in high school) have been happy at St. Mary's, relieved, really, not to be bombarded with the honors track workload at CPS or Berkeley High, for example. Such kids (and their parents) have also alluded to the sense of safety, physically and emotionally, that their child feels at St. Mary's. I would also add that if you've a St. Mary's student in need of additional challenge, he/she can always enroll in a class at a junior college or Cal--I recommend the foregoing option to some of the children I tutor to suppliment GPAs or knowledge. I know that, for varying reasons, there does not exist the perf Believer in psychosocial happiness over academics
This is in response to the tutor who said that ''The students who thrive on rigor, challenge, multiple AP/honors classes, simultaneously, have expressed boredom at St. Mary's and found fault with the quality of academics''. I am amazed! My daughter just graduated from St. Mary's and she was constantly challenged with AP classes, community activities, classwork, homework, etc. She was also always able to get one-on-one help from instructors and/or counselors when she needed it. The staff and teachers were usually always responsive and concerned (yes, we did have two teachers over the four years that were an exception to that). I had friends who had kids going to BHS in AP and Honors classes, and when I saw the work that they were doing compared to St. Mary's, their ''honors'' work often was equal to the average work that was expected from St. Mary's students. From what I saw over the years at St. Mary's, the students worked very hard and were expected to achieve high academic standards. Mary
I encourage those of you looking around at different high schools to consider St. Mary's--for a small, highly diverse, friendly, community-spirited environment with excellent academics and sports. This was a huge and difficult decision for a non-Catholic family, solidly committed to public education. We had to give it a try to change a path that was becoming too risky and uncertain for our pre-teen, and we are ecstatic. Call St. Mary's in North Berkeley, just off Hopkins, to visit, or attend the upcoming Open House for families looking at high schools for next year: November 21st, Sunday at 1 pm. For a child who might get "lost" in a really large urban school environment, without a clear commitment to his or her academic path, nor a strong extracurricular activity, we have found St. Mary's the ideal answer---there are now just over 600 students, co-ed. This month we are hosting a French exchange student arranged by the new French dept. chairperson---and our junior will attend school in France for two weeks next March. '