Saturday, May 25, 2013

Berkwood-Hedge - Berkeley, CA

For many years, I've considered Berkwood Hedge a sister school of Park Day School. For almost thirty years, I have worked on several occasions with the teachers and administrators of the school, and we share in common many educational practices and beliefs. The result of a merger in 1975 of two very small Berkeley Schools, Berkwood School and Hedge School, it moved to its current location and now enrolls approximately 120 students in grades K-5. The Berkwood School was Berkeley's first racially integrated school (1946), while Hedge School (1960) developed as a teacher collective, a perfect reflection of the 1960's Berkeley body politic. I met with the Director of the School, Love Weinstock.

Known for its developmental approach to teaching, Berkwood-Hedge is a school with empowered teachers who deeply know and understand their students. The staff spend a good share of their meeting time discussing individual students and how best to meet their needs. For years, they have pursued best practices that will enhance the classroom environment and engage students. Rather than leading with the "progressive" label, Berkwood Hedge would more aptly describe themselves as a constructivist school, where they continually assess students and draw upon the experiences of children to help shape the curriculum.

Love Weinstock, Director
Berkwood Hedge School
Love Weinstock is in her first year as the Director of Berkwood Hedge. She is a veteran Bay Area educator whose expertise in social justice and equity education is a perfect match for the progressive philosophy at B-H. In my many interviews with educators during this tour of schools, I have heard several define progressive education as that which starts with the motivation and interests of children. Love feels similarly and she would describe Berkwood Hedge as a progressive school insofar as it offers a learning environment to meet each student where he/she happens to be along a developmental continuum. Love also emphasizes the community aspect of progressive schools, where teachers, staff and parents are in continuous collaboration for the well-being of the students. When I visited the school, I noticed parents scattered around the school serving important volunteer roles, as teachers were busily attending to their classes. One is struck by the atmosphere of community at the school- it is not just lip-service that is paid to this component - it is an integral part of building a successful school environment.

When I asked Love how the progressive philosophy best manifests at Berkwood Hedge, she cited the three-day "teach-in" that occurs each year, which is focused on a particular social justice theme. In past years, themes have included peace, the environment, understanding learning differences, and world geography. Each of the the three days, the kids experience workshops, presentations, performances, games and other events that are geared toward a deep understanding of the theme, and built to engage kids at their appropriate developmental level. It has become a time-honored tradition at the school

"Sign-ups," which occur three times during the year, provide teachers and students an opportunity to develop classes that arise from the interests and skills found in the community. The third "sign-up of the year is run entirely by the fourth and fifth grade students.

Love has been impressed with the level of student engagement in the Berkwood Hedge classrooms. She talks about how few discipline issues arise because the teachers have created such engaging curriculum: "There is little reason for kids to act out; who they are is honored here at the school, and they know they have the respect of their teachers, who keep their social and emotional development at the forefront."

The day I visited the school, I navigated my way past the chicken coop, around the playground, dodging running kindergarteners and wheeled toys. Love stopped often to introduce me to the students and engage in a brief conversation. It truly is a fun and enthusiastic place where joyful learning is taking place. I am always impressed with and inspired by the commitment of the Berkwood Hedge teachers to keep their eye on what is best for the kids. Clearly at this school, even when things get busy, the children come first.

1 comment: