FAQ – FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
WHAT IS SOCRATIC TEACHING?
Another name for Socratic teaching is Inquiry Based Learning. Our faculty and curriculum emphasize the construction of well-formed questions as the most effective way to learn (regardless of age). We don’t eschew the pursuit of information and content, rather we accept that subject mastery is the fruit from the tree of curiosity! A true education is defined by a student’s ability to master key learning techniques to use throughout the rest of her/his life. Our students develop “voice” by probing into issues, asking questions, and discussing differing opinions and ideas under the expert tutelage of a caring and experienced teacher.
HOW “INDIVIDUALIZED” IS THE TEACHING AND HOW DO YOU UTILIZE DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION?
Every learner brings different competencies and challenges to school. Our small class size and Subject Matter Specialist Teachers allow us to constantly assess each learner’s strengths and challenges. Our goal is to move each child into what Vygotsky called the “Zone of Proximal Development.” We ability group rarely, and when appropriate (Spanish in 7th/8th Grade). Our mission is to find that intellectual place where a child is challenged and thriving. At Black Pine Circle School, we KNOW your child, emotionally and intellectually.
HOW MUCH EMPHASIS DO YOU GIVE TO BASIC SKILLS AS OPPOSED TO CREATIVE ASPECTS OF LEARNING?
It may be correct to say that although a great deal of attention is paid to “basic skills” very little emphasis is given to them. Reading, writing, and arithmetic skills are taught, and taught thoroughly, by all our teachers, but “emphasis” is always on those intangibles of learning, e.g., the excitement of discovery, the exploring mind, the inspiration of beauty and ingenuity. Our teachers are there to impart these creative aspects above and beyond the “basic skills” training which simply provide the tools for the real business of schooling.
WHAT ARE YOUR CRITERIA FOR SELECTING TEACHERS?
Teachers are selected based on their educational background. By this we do not only mean “Education” courses, but education in the true sense, a genuine cultural experience, professional training, and an extensive knowledge and love of certain subjects. All teachers hold higher degrees, either in the field of education or their specialty.
We most value intelligence, warmth of personality, sense of caring for children, and interest in the problems and concerns of young people. We look for people who exemplify “Humane Aggression and Genuine Love.”
We also look for individuals who demonstrate initiative and imagination in developing curriculum; interest in exploring new books, ideas, and methods in the classroom; desire to continue to grow and expand their teaching horizons.
The “X” factor: that intangible quality that proclaims “remarkable teacher!”
WHAT IS THE INTERPLAY BETWEEN SPECIFIC GRADE LEVEL TEACHERS AND SPECIALIST TEACHERS
(e.g. 3rd Grade Teacher and Science Specialist)? (LOWER SCHOOL ONLY)
The Grade Level Teacher, in grades K through 5, is the learning facilitator responsible for the class as a whole, giving it academic, social and behavioral structure. She/he sets the essential classroom culture. Grade Level Teachers are responsible for student progress in reading, writing, literature, math, science and social studies. There is close cooperation between Homeroom Teacher and Specialists who come into the classroom regularly. They often work together on projects, allowing the children to probe an area from several perspectives and in greater depth.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE ADVISOR AND THE ADVISORY PROGRAM?
(UPPER SCHOOL ONLY)
Each student in the Upper School has an Advisor and Advisory cohort (approximately 8 classmates). The Advisor is an ally to the student and often works one-on-one with the student, providing a support system as well as helping them to identify and achieve specific goals. The Advisor also acts as a liaison for parents to check on academic, social, and emotional progress. Advisory Class Period meets each week for 40 minutes. The curriculum for advisory is based on the developmental, social, and organizational needs of each specific grade level.
DO YOU HAVE HELP FOR STUDENTS WHO NEED LEARNING SERVICES OF EMOTIONAL SUPPORT?
BPC employs a professional therapist and a Learning Specialist who are both available several hours each week to meet with individual students, groups of students, and teachers. The specific goal of our Learning Specialist and Consulting Psychologist is to assist in providing scaffolding so students better develop emotional intelligence and a deeper understanding of their personal learning profile. Our Upper School also has a full-time School Counselor.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE “SPECIALISTS” AND WHICH SUBJECTS DO THEY TEACH?
The specialists are subject matter experts who come into the classrooms to teach their specialty at regularly scheduled intervals during the week. Besides having achieved advanced University training, many have had special training programs to learn Discovery and Inquiry-Based Teaching. In our Upper School, each class is taught by a specialist in that subject area (e.g. biology, drama, etc). In the Lower School, specialists enrich the basic curriculum in such areas as Spanish, Hands-on Science, Math (math games, problem solving, manipulatives), Technology, Art, Music (Kodaly and Orff training), Physical Education, Gardening & Environmental Education, and Library (the joy of reading and research).
WHAT FOREIGN LANGUAGE DO YOU OFFER?
We teach Spanish beginning in Kindergarten through Eighth grade. Additionally, in the Eighth grade, students experience a two-week immersion program, where they stay with a Mexican host family and attend language immersion school.
WHAT IS YOUR PHILOSOPHY ON HOMEWORK?
Lifelong learners need to experience learning away from school too! Our school is academically rigorous, but never at the expense of encouraging students to live a well-rounded life. Most of our students are engaged in after-school activities (sports, drama, Lego-robotics, etc), and we respect their outside interests, as well as the need for family time and relaxation. At Black Pine Circle School, homework is sometimes assigned as a natural extension of the work done in class, however, we do not require specific quantities, merely on principle. In the Upper School teachers coordinate their assignment schedules with one another so that there will not be an overload at any time. A general time guide is 10 minutes “times” the grade level, Monday through Thursday, e.g., Third Grade times 10 equals 30 minutes of homework. Of course, we expect our faculty to assign homework that focuses on automaticity and enrichment, and not “busywork.”
HOW DO YOU HANDLE BEHAVIOR ISSUES?
In a school like BPC, where students are well versed in community and conflict resolution, behavior issues are authentically rare. In the unusual instance when a behavior issue cannot be handled by a specific classroom teacher, the Division Head or Head of School usually reaches out to the parents about a problem behavior. A rare and extreme disciplinary action is short-term suspension. The Lower School uses the conflict resolution program, “Talk-it-Out,” in grades K-5. Serious misbehavior, such as cruelty or harassment, is given zero tolerance and is addressed swiftly and firmly.
DO YOU PARTICIPATE IN STANDARDIZED TESTING?
BPC is not particularly test-oriented. We give standardized tests (the ERB) at the Upper School level as a way for students to practice for exams they will see later in life, and as a way to understand how our school compares to other similar Independent Schools. Scores are typically very high.
For Kindergarten through Fifth Grade, there is a minimum of testing as a form of assessment in general, except for occasional spelling, comprehension or computational tests. The teachers work closely with the students and are very well acquainted with their daily accomplishments. On- going projects offer ample material for assessment and evaluation. We believe in the Harvard Project Zero philosophy of “Performances of Understanding” as a more comprehensive and accurate assessment tool.
HOW IS STUDENT’S PROGRESS COMMUNICATED TO THE PARENTS?
Report Cards and Parent Teacher Conferences:
In the Lower School, Homeroom Teachers for each grade write two written reports, one at mid-year and the other at the end of the year. Reports include a subject overview followed by an in-depth assessment. Specialists’ reports are included, and consist of a course overview and both an objective and subjective assessment section. In addition, there are two parent-teacher conferences for each child, one in the fall and the other in spring. Teachers are very conscientious about catching a problem early in the semester (an insecurity, a potential learning difference, a burgeoning social-emotional challenge) and calling parents in to discuss the issue. Either parents or teacher can always feel free to request a phone or face-to-face conference whenever they feel it is necessary.
In the Upper School, the primary means of communication with parents is the “Parent/Student Planner” in which, on a daily basis, students note homework, messages and notices to parents, and notes to parents from staff on specific instances in school, of both positive and less positive nature. At the end of each semester, a detailed report on progress, weakness, and strength for each subject is issued, as well as a progress report, which are issued at mid-semester. Additionally, we hold a formal sit-down conference between parents and teachers. However, either parent or teacher may request a face-to-face conference whenever they feel it is necessary.
DOES BLACK PINE CIRCLE OFFER TUITION ASSISTANCE? AND IF SO, HOW DOES APPLYING FOR TUITION ASSISTANCE IMPACT THE APPLICATION FOR ADMISSIONS?
Black Pine Circle School is proud to provide over $575,000 per year in financial assistance. We use a “need-blind” admissions system, where students are admitted (or not) regardless of their family’s financial ability. Over 33% of Black Pine Circle families receive some form of financial assistance.
HOW ARE STUDENTS SELECTED FOR THE SCHOOL?
At Black Pine Circle School, our goal is to create lifelong learners through an inquiry-based education that places equal emphasis on academics and arts. To that end, our school seeks to attract students who can bring a sense of curiosity to academic endeavors and who demonstrate a strong desire to learn. We look for children with a variety of talents, interests, and backgrounds: religions, races, nationalities, family structures, learning styles, and economic status, who can make a positive contribution to our dynamic and nurturing learning environment.
Students will be selected through a process which includes a review of previous school performance, teacher recommendations, an admission assessment, a one-on-one or group interview, and a school day visit (for applicants entering grades 3 through 8).
Admissions decisions are made through a careful and thoughtful process by a committee consisting of teachers and administrators. In reaching a final decision, the School must balance the best interests of the child and the needs of the school.
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR DIVERSITY?
Black Pine Circle School has always strived to have its student body reflect the rich racial and ethnic diversity found in the community. About 33% of Black Pine Circle’s current K-8 student body and 21% of the staff identify as non-Caucasian.
We have three very active committees that explore inclusivity at our school (Parent Diversity Committee, the Faculty Diversity Collaborative, and the Students Multicultural Association). To learn more about how we embrace diversity and inclusion at BPC please view our web page, Diversity at Black Pine Circle School.
HOW DO PARENTS PARTICIPATE IN THE SCHOOL?
We welcome parent involvement! Here is a sampling of some of the committees a parent can join to be of service to the school and participate actively in the Black Pine Circle community:
Volunteer as a Room Parent
Each class has two to four parents who act as liaisons for their class parents and Parents’ Circle (BPC’s Parent Association). Room parents attend monthly Parents’ Circle meetings (2nd Tuesday of each month) and help communicate with and organize volunteers from their class. Room Parents are also responsible for enacting the phone tree in the event of an emergency.
Join one of our Parent Committees
Joining a committee is an excellent opportunity to be involved in BPC school life, help nurture BPC programs, and meet other BPC families.
Diversity Committee: Help celebrate BPC’s diversity with special school events and student and staff recruitment. Committee meets every 4-6 weeks.
Families Make a Difference: Organize and join school-wide community service events for the whole family, such as Coastal Clean-up Day (Sept. 19), Food Drives, and collection drives for the Harrison House, a local shelter for the homeless.
Technology Committee: If you have expertise or an interest in helping BPC meet its technology needs relating to parent communication, website development, or equipment to support our programs, join this committee led by Technology Coordinator, Menna Stern. Contact Menna at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Safety Committee: Members will coordinate emergency preparedness procedures at the Upper and Lower School Campuses and make suggestions on improving safety at school. Members may also coordinate workshops and lessons for students on personal and school safety. To volunteer, contact Meg Wood at email@example.com.
WHAT HIGH SCHOOLS DO STUDENTS ATTEND AFTER THEY GRADUATE FROM BPC?
Students are accepted into a wide swathe of Bay Area independent schools, as well as the East Coast or high schools abroad. To learn where our 2011 graduating students were accepted, please see Beyond BPC. Approximately 40% of students attend Berkeley High School or another local public high school, and the other 60% attend schools such as College Preparatory, Lick-Wilmerding, Head-Royce, Bentley, Maybeck, St. Mary’s, Bishop O’Dowd, Marin Academy, and the Urban School. Those who are so inclined usually gain admission to top universities after finishing high school. We have former students presently at Yale, Columbia, NYU, Bryn Mawr, Smith, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, etc.
ARE YOU ACCREDITED?
Black Pine Circle School is provisionally accredited by the California Association of Independent Schools, and is currently undergoing the second component in the Self-Study process of Accreditation.
DO YOU HAVE A HOT LUNCH OPTION?
We have an agreement with Nourish You, a provider of hot lunches for families who select the service 3 days a week. We also have monthly “Free Pizza Days” in our K-5 program and weekly “Pizza Lunch” in our Upper School (for a small fee).
DOES BPC HAVE SPORTS TEAMS?
Yes! In fact Black Pine Circle School’s athletics program is well known for turning out top-notch athletes. Over 40 students in grades 4th-8th participate in our Winter Basketball Program, and we’ve been nearly undefeated in the past few seasons. In the fall we offer a very strong soccer program (over 35 participants, grades 6-8th), and in the spring we offer Volleyball (over 30 participants, grades 6-8th). We play against other Independent Schools, as well as local Public and Parochial Schools. We also offer non-team sports such as: Running Club, Martial Arts, and Bicycling.
WHAT KIND OF GREEN SPACE FOR PLAY DOES BPC UTILIZE?
We make the most of our neighborhood by utilizing several parks and recreation centers with great regularity. We have a rental agreement with James Kenney Recreation Center (8th and Delaware Street) for the use of their gym and field. We also rent the field at Aquatic Park and the George Florence Park at 10th and Allston Way. Suffice to say, our students love playing on the BPC yard, as well as having the chance to ramble on the fields mentioned above.
DO FAMILIES CARPOOL TO BPC?
As a close-knit community, we see families carpooling to school everyday. In fact, we have a website component that helps people find other families nearby. We were certified as a Green School in 2006 and reducing our community’s carbon footprint is important to us. About 35% of BPC’s families come from Oakland, 50% from the Berkeley area, and 15% from El Cerrito, Albany, Alameda, etc.
IS BLACK PINE CIRCLE SCHOOL A SAFE ENVIRONMENT?
We pride ourselves on our attention to safety in all dimensions. Our Board of Directors and Administrative Team have made safety a major focus over the last five years and have recruited Board Members with specific skills in this area (Earthquake Preparedness, Physicians, Neighborhood Leaders). We certify all faculty in Advanced First Aid and CPR, conduct monthly Earthquake and Fire Drills and twice yearly emergency drills. We have several faculty trained in Wilderness First Responder, and we maintain medical professionals on our Parent Safety Committee. We contract with Bay Alarm to maintain our building safety and work with the Mayor’s office and Berkeley Police Department to make sure our school is the safest place in town!
WHAT MAKES YOU UNIQUE WHEN COMPARED TO OTHER INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS?
For over 38 years Black Pine Circle has enjoyed a unique niche in the East Bay as a school that combines high academic standards and expectations with a genuine love of and focus on the arts. This means that many students are working 1-2 years above grade level in most subjects, but without the extra stress of focus on competition, testing and grades. Using the “Socratic Method” students develop a love of learning and discovery which helps to develop the critical thinking skills so necessary for life-long learning and success. In addition, students benefit from the ability and appreciation to succeed in many areas of the arts through the enrichment program, which includes drama, visual arts, dance, and both choral and instrumental music. Before scientific research proved there was a connection between music and math or science, Black Pine Circle’s curriculum always intertwined these subjects with great success. Our graduates are noted for their well-rounded education and their appreciation and enjoyment for all life has to offer.