This story is brought to you by Berkwood Hedge School.
Berkwood Hedge School, a progressive independent elementary school in Central Berkeley, is opening a middle school this fall in the historic Northside neighborhood. The middle school will open its doors in early September with grades 5 and 6, and will expand to include grades 7 and 8 over the following two years.
The elementary school has been around for 75 years. Its program emphasizes project-based learning, academic excellence, social-emotional learning, social and environmental justice, and community involvement.
The Head of School, Love Weinstock, recently shared her thoughts on what will make Berkwood Hedge Middle School different and why the school is expanding now.
After 75 years, why is Berkwood Hedge School opening a middle school? What is different about your middle school?
First, there is currently no middle school in the East Bay that is designed around teaching children about their relationship to the environment. In addition, as the oldest progressive school in the area, the first Green school, and the first racially integrated school, it is imperative at this time that we extend those values to middle school students. It is important that we build a school that honors children’s identity and is built around who they are, what they want and what they need from the world. But also, helping them figure out how they fit into this bigger world. We have an opportunity to build something from scratch based on the needs of young adolescents. We are not bound by a model other than our own long tradition of being child-centered.
Tours for 5th, and 6th grade admission this fall are available throughout the summer. Applications for 7th grade for the 2022-2023 school year will be accepted beginning in August. For more information, visit www.berkwood.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, we have an incredible site [at the Pacific School of Religion]. I believe that the environment plays a crucial role in learning. We have a site that facilitates our vision — proximity to UC Berkeley for partnerships, near Tilden and Codornices parks for access to wild spaces. Many of our families live in the neighborhood, so the children will have a chance to learn and serve in their community.
How do you see the transition from Berkwood Hedge School as an elementary school to Berkwood Hedge Middle School? Is it a continuation of the current model? Is it something new?
I think it is both/and. We are taking our core values and applying them to a new model designed to meet the needs of middle school students.
What are those values?
Kindness and empathy, courage, creativity, and curiosity. Connection and community, and really an ethic of excellence in all that we do, whether it is how we show up at the basketball game or the effort we bring to a paper we are writing.
Why are you bringing environmental learning into this urban middle school?
If we do not have our health, we have nothing. It does not matter what we know or what we can do — if our planet is not healthy, our bodies and our minds will not be healthy, and no skill set in the world will make up for it. We have a moment right now when we need to change the human trajectory for this planet, and we adults have not been able to do the work that needs to be done. It is young people who are going to make that difference.
What can we teach to young adolescents to prepare them to make those changes?
We have to stop focusing on what to do and what not to do instead of helping them build a foundational relationship with the Earth. We need to cultivate their deep empathy for all living things and their relationship with nature. You cannot love something unless you know it, and they are not going to know nature by sitting in a classroom talking about it. They need to spend time in nature and realize that they are a part of it, not apart from it. In that way, their behavior will shift organically and it will not be about the rules we adults set. It will come from their hearts and a deep commitment to making the world a better place for everyone through stewardship of our planet.
Tell us a little bit about your thinking behind the Entrepreneur and Internship Program at the middle school. What is that going to look like?
I think of it like this: what is the pathway to entrepreneurship? It is knowing your passions, knowing the world and what it needs from you. We will start with our Identity Project in sixth grade, which will lead to a deep service project. The following year students will advance to Internship, so they are no longer volunteering at an organization, they are becoming part of an organization. By the eighth grade, they will have enough experience in service and interning to develop their own vision of how they want to change the world. For some students it may be an independent advocacy project that happens through research and presentation. Others are going to be on-site somewhere, developing a plan for how they want to change the world in partnership with others. So every child is going to go from an identity project, to a service project, to an internship, to “what are my superpowers and how am I going to use them to make a difference?” The difference does not have to be big. The point is to let young people know that they have the power to make a difference, no matter how old they are.
Say more about that.
We are at a time when people in general, not just young adolescents, are disconnected from each other and from themselves, so our primary role is to empower young people to connect with themselves, with others, to feel powerful inside as they move through the world. When a young person, or an adult for that matter, feels powerful, they do not have a need to dominate others, but instead they exercise that power for greater good.
What would you say is fundamentally most important for middle schoolers — what DO middle schoolers need?
Fundamentally, voice and choice. Middle school students need to feel like they matter, like their voice is genuinely valued. They need to feel known, because it is a time when they start to have a different relationship with their families, lifelong friendships start to shift, and their bodies start changing. We are in a culture that dismisses the needs of young people. We can learn a lot from listening to young adolescents; they will teach us what they need if we pay attention.
This story was written and paid for by Berkwood Hedge School. Every day Berkwood Hedge School cultivates childrens’ natural creativity and intellectual curiosity through our compassionate guidance and expertise, within an environment just right for their age, emotions, and needs.