So far this school has been a great fit. Our child is really happy here, academically and socially. Our child joined the lower school after spending time at a local elementary. Our child was reasonably happy at the public school and showed lots of interest in the material they studied. Our main concern was that as our child got older, the public system would not challenge our child enough, nor offer much in the way of differentiated learning. We decided to give this school a try. From talking to other parents, our path is fairly typical.
On the academic side, the inquiry method really suits our child. They study a new theme every six weeks, and our child thrives on absorbing new material at high speed, and going deep into the different aspects of the topic. The teacher starts them off with kid-friendly texts, but by the end of the unit, they are studying the same material from books written for adults.
Other highlights of the curriculum are the French classes (four times a week) and the "challenge math" (once a week), which is more activity-based than the regular math they do each morning, and totally engages our child.
On the social side, our child now has school friends that share similar niche interests and like to explore the world in similar ways - for instance, through reading non-fiction books, or through complex imaginative play. This is something for which I'm really grateful.
Some very general points, which are true of other schools in this area too:
- There are more applicants than places, so you might go on a waiting list, then get a place when someone else pulls out. It helps to be patient.
- The school is emphatically secular and bypasses religion, for instance no Christmas carols. However, there is mindfulness meditation (twice a day), and they initiate discussions using generic terms like "love", "peace" and "wisdom". It's surprisingly easy to build on this at home in more specific terms, if this is something that matters to you.
Overall, our experience at this school has been extremely positive. I can see that this school would not suit every child but if you sense the fit is right then go for it!
GATE Academy has some pretty strong pros and some pretty strong cons. The pros include very small class sizes and several committed, creative, hard-working teachers--although it should be noted that there are a couple of teachers with skill, experience, and/or temperament deficits, and in a school of this size, with only one teacher per multiple age levels, the impact of a less qualified teacher is felt pretty deeply. As has been noted in other reviews, the school community is tight-knit and the families who attend are very welcoming and involved. The school's approach to project-based learning is also a positive; it empowers students to engage deeply with a subject, and to feel a deep connection to what they're learning. On the con side, the school seems ill-equipped to deal with a very wide range of student personality types or styles of giftedness. It is made very clear that they prefer quiet, docile students--and families. The point made in other reviews that the curriculum is a bit haphazard is also fair, as is the anti-technology bias of the school in general, and the limitations of the aged and scruffy facilities.
The review from 2010 is still accurate. The school certainly can be an adequate fit for a certain type of gifted child but this is by no means assured and energy is expended/wasted on covering up the shortcomings.
Class groups are small and most of the teachers are quite dedicated to helping those students who would not thrive in other learning environments. The office manager is wonderful. Parent community is close; opportunities abound for off-campus bonding and mutual support.
Music and art instruction is quite good, as is foreign language instruction at the lower level. Physical education is excellent despite facility constraints. Students have opportunities to learn presentation skills at an early age. The year-round calendar makes it easier to plan vacations.
Classrooms are small, cluttered. Despite beautiful grounds, the overall facility has a long-standing problem with rats.
The science curriculum is ad hoc and sporadic. Self-pacing in math is useful for most students but disguises the lack of structure and instruction in some classrooms. Parents are left to fill in the gaps with outside resources.
The exit rates are recurrent and quite high, leading to excessive disruption of friendships.
A quasi-neoluddite philosophy permeates the school culture. Students here do not use tech that much, if at all. Preaching about pop culture and technology can be overly intrusive and/or annoying. For example, parents are treated to pontification on the drawbacks of using GPS navigation or warned away from the metaphorical movie Inside Out, due to its lack of scientific accuracy. The lack of real-world perspective is peculiar, at best. Many of the (unused) books in the library are quite dated or even obsolete.
The "expert" founders left long ago and a sort of Dunning-Kruger bubble remains for some (not all) of the leadership. No meaningful drive to improve is evident, due to excessive boosterism.
Selection for conformity, mainly by the HoS, leads to exuberant personalities being targeted with inappropriate punishments and forced out over time. Parents who question this have been threatened with non-renewal of their annual contract. The cascading effect of this culture leads to some students being bullied. This is papered over with legalistic gaslighting. Some parents complain of cultishness, others encourage not rocking the boat, so to speak.
We love this school and it has been a phenomenal fit for both my children. Our teachers have been amazing and the cirrculum is very comprehensive and well thought out. We left another highly regarded private school to come here and we can truly say that this is a school that can both accelerate and differentiate - all while taking care of the social emotional needs of the gifted. I think a few years ago the school had a rocky period but it seems on very stable footing these last couple years and has added a fabulous science lab just this year. We highly recommend this school!
Dunham Academy has been an absolute haven for my son. A place where he has been able to learn and grow and bloom. A place where teachers and the parent community understand that academically gifted children learn differently and develop asynchronously. My son's birthday was just a few days past the Kindergarten cut-off date and everyone told me that he was not mature enough for school and he would be better off with another year in preschool. He was an early reader and has a real love for math so another year in preschool would have been a disservice to him. We found the Dunham Academy and a whole new world opened up. In his previous school, when my son talked about the planets and ask questions about them, it was met with "There's a globe over in the library area, why don't you go look at that." Whereas at Dunham Academy, when he showed his excitement about planets, his WONDERFUL WONDERFUL teacher said "Do you want to learn about the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud that is also part of our Solar System?" This school has been a perfect fit...small class sizes, amazing teachers, and classmates/friends who understand each other. We are so lucky to have found the Dunham Academy.
If your child is intensely curious and strongly individualistic, and tests in the gifted range on standardized IQ tests, this is the only school in the Bay Area for her/him! The school walks its talk about individualized education, and clustering with cognitive peers. It allows kids to move at their own pace within curriculum. The teachers "get" asychronicity -- just because an 8 year old kid is gifted in math or in language doesn't mean that they are emotionally or physically precocious as well. The year round program is amazing. It gives the kids a chance to explore deeply for 6-7 weeks, and then take a breather. The head of school understands play -- these are kids albeit with advanced minds, and they need to goof off and have fun too! This school has changed our lives - it's a place where our child is finally understood, well served, and happy.
DA is challenging, but *could* work for the (gifted) child not fitting into normal schools, and that you cannot homeschool (last resort). If your only goal is letting your child heal (traumatic ostracizing) and be among peers this might work for a while, but think twice. No school is perfect, but the historical sky-high exit rates should be reason for concern. Most families leave after a few years from frustration, successfully going to homeschooling, other private or even public schools. Pros: Small (personal) High parent involvement (community) Teachers understand, respect gifted kids (some of them really terrific) Daily foreign language Beautiful setting Gifted peers Cons: Small (many limitations, patchwork, chaotic) Founders left (including founding gifted specialist) Head of school (after founders) leaving High parent involvement necessary (many cooks in kitchen) High drama Very high exit rates Academics could be stronger (very limited science, weak math program etc) Unstable financials Management