There are a number of things I wish I would have known before enrolling our children in the Lower School. Berekely and Albany public schools are wonderful and the curriculum is almost identical (my children still have math and science labs, mindfulness exercises, PE four days a week, drama, gardening, and they actually do much more reading and writing in public school). I still pay extra for my children's music education, just as I did at BPC, and now my children are happily learning piano in their after school program.
With the exception of the wonderful kindergarten and fifth grade teachers, I found many of the head teachers to be indifferent and in a few cases unqualified to be around young children. Many teachers are not credentialed. These teachers are no longer at the school but I feel like my daughter lost several years of education.
The diversity the school touts is almost non-existent. While people at the school are very well-meaning, the lack of diversity comes through in missteps and insensitivity.
I wish I would have known that the financial aid numbers they showed us were made up mostly of the sibling and early payment discounts. Tuition was raised by a minimum of $1000 per student every year we were there. I was told more than once that as long as they are charging less the Prospect Sierra I shouldn't complain.
I wish I had known the needs of our daughter in fourth grade who is gifted would be ignored. We had to fight just for her to have access to more advanced reading materials. Just as the needs of our youngest son in second grade who needs additional help would be put back on us as a family to address. Now all of our children are thriving in Berkeley public schools.
If you live in Berkeley or Albany, my advice is to do your research. There are some good people here. The school has many kind, smart staff. But if you don't have enough disposable income to cover tuition (with yearly increases) for the next 9 years and if your children need anything other than a "teach toward the middle" education, you might consider public schools instead. Based on our experience, do not count on the school giving your financial aid or willingly helping your child.
This is our third year at BPC.
Great academics, teachers, and community.
Kids that need extra help get it, and kids that need to be challenged more are.
The things my kid has learned at BPC are mind blowing considering she's only eight. She comes home every day and tells me about something fascinating- Antarctica, the layers of the earth, Greek mythology, etc.
I also love how friendly all of the kids are- the older kids say hi to and look out for the younger kids, new kids are made to feel included, and there is virtually no bullying.
The administration is very open to hearing suggestions from parents. I've never seen a school where the administration is so approachable.
We couldn't love BPC more.
We were disappointed by teacher quality and the lack of insightful assessment and differentiation. This is a school that is ok for average bright kids but not great for gifted kids or kids with any learning challenges. The best part was many nice parents and kids.
Our daughter went here for two years but we were dissatisfied enough to leave. First, school does not have a good handle on social/emotional issues and bullying/social exclusion seem to be recurring problems. It was definitely a problem in our daughter's class, and five families left out of a class of 19, largely because of social issues the administration refused to take seriously. Differentiation was very limited, and the general attitude of the school was that everyone there was gifted and could be served by the same curriculum. I also thought their approach was not terribly developmental and there was a lot of pressure to have kids reading early, and more homework in the early grades than we thought was developmentally appropriate and more than even schools like Head-Royce. On all of these issues the school administration was not interested in really working with parents, but rather in just explaining why they thought they were right. The middle school program seems better than the lower school program, but we didn't feel inclined to stick around.
My daughter is in 6th grade. This is her first year at BPC. She loves the teachers and school culture. As a parent, you couldn't ask for a better educated, prepared faculty. The middle school isn't very racially diverse; however, my daughter feels like she belongs and is treated well. The curriculum is solid. The first thing a sixth grader learns is organizational skills and accountability. Teachers are involved and more than willing to help a child who asks for it. Their P.E. Program rocks! coach Vince works those kids like Jillian Michaels. My kid is not athletic and is pretty thin. She's learned to do regular push ups, squats correctly, play baseball, run the Cooper, etc. My daughter is performing better at this school than she did at her last public school. She is becoming more of a reader and used to hate writing preferring math and science. She writes poetry now. Since September she's already read, analyzed and written about six major texts like "Call of the wild" , "Green Glass Sea", "weed flower", "Esperanza Rising", etc.. It's amazing to watch her mature. Great school.
Or daughter started 1st grade at Black Pine Circle this year. We are LOVING it. The academics are great- the subjects are very well integrated and overlapping, the teachers are fantastic, and the kids spend a ton of time outside. The music and art programs are fantastic as well. They treat the kids as individuals, and it's fun- my daughter doesn't want to leave, and doesn't like weekends because she misses school. We just moved here from out of state, and everyone at Black Pine Circle has been so helpful and welcoming. I think what really makes BPC great, is the staff. Everyone is so dedicated. The staff does a bunch of continuing education/training. Not to mention how fun they are! I really feel like all different personalities will/do thrive at BPC. I highly recommend Black Pine Circle.
Black Pine Circle has been a wonderful experience for my daughter, now in 2nd grade. The cozy, familial environment at the school created the perfect transition from her smaller preschool. Through the eyes of a child, I imagine BPC is comfortable in every way -the physical campus isn't too big or overwhelming (although there is ample room to run around), the classrooms are limited to 21 students (with two loving teachers in each), and highly conceptual academic skills are integrated into fun, hands-on projects. BPC does not have a "rich private school" feel. Parents are down to earth and value diversity within the school and staff. The community is very supportive and the parent body is active at all levels of school affairs. The school has increasingly prioritized financial aid, thus allowing for more and more socio-economic diversity in each classroom. There has also been a school-wide effort, through the diversity committee, to place more attention on LGBT and cultural inclusivity through after school events, parent education nights, and new curriculum in the classroom. I feel so lucky to be part of this community.
Black Pine Circle is a very good school led by a great principal. our child loves going to school every day and each day is filled with learning and improving. A real plus is its pull-out instrument program taught by two very experienced and patient teachers. It's weekly music class is taught by yet another great teacher. The frequent assemblies offer the students a great opportunity to perform in front of their peers and parents, which REALLY builds up these youngsters' confidence and pride (this we believe is so important to a child's success in their adulthood). Our introvert child is not fazed at all now by performing and talking in front of lots of people. On the minus side, our child feels that the daily math class is taught too easy (at lower grade) and the weekly math specialist class is not that impressive either. But overall we love our school and feel fortunate to have a principal like ours.
My children - 2nd and 5 grade - have been at BPC since Kindergarten. My children have vastly different temperments and social needs - Thankfully, BPC has been a fantastic fit for both. They are thriving and couldn't be happier with their academic and social experiences. Independently they've both reported that "BPC is a great school - filled with great people who really care about kids and their learning!" The best surpirse about BPC is the development of the LOVE of music! Thanks to BPC - both play various instrument and have a passion for all kinds of music. On a family note - BPC is a small, warm close-knit community that embraces all kinds of kids and families. We have been very happy and very pleased with our children's academic, social, emotional, and artistic growth.
I am a parent of a second grader at BPC. We couldn't be happier! The head of school is fantastic--he has a strong vision for the school and what it is intended to accomplish, and he executes it very well (plus, he is a BPC parent himself). The staff has clearly bought into the philosophy and are very good, engaged and creative. The relatively small size of the school makes for a tight community where all the teachers know all of the kids and allows the younger kids to know the older ones, and ask the older ones to learn to mentor the younger ones. Similarly, the small community allows for very good staff/parent communications, and there are a wide variety of activities and roles for parents to play to help (without pressure or obligation) provide the best environment for the kids. The strong music and math programs demonstrate this little schools ability to excel in academics and the arts. We are very lucky that we found this school during the tours. Go visit and see for yourself!