This interview is sponsored by Berkwood Hedge School, a progressive elementary and middle school in Berkeley.
Berkwood Hedge School, a progressive independent elementary school in Central Berkeley, is opening a middle school this fall in the Northside neighborhood (just north of the Cal campus). The middle school will open its doors in early September with grades five and six and will expand to include grades seven and eight 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.
A Dialog with Love Weinstock, Educator and Head of School
The Head of School, Love Weinstock, has been an educator in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 30 years. She 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 designed to teach 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. We must 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.
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 not creating a middle school version of Berkwood Hedge School, we are creating Berkwood Hedge Middle School, and that is different. We are taking our core values and applying them to a new model designed to meet the needs of young adolescents as they transition from a lower school to high school readiness and beyond.
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 shift our focus to help children build a foundational relationship with the Earth instead of telling them what to do and what not to do. 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 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.
The change 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 the Entrepreneur and Internship Program at the Middle School.
I think of it like this: knowing your passions, knowing the world, and what it needs from you is the pathway to entrepreneurship. 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 Internships, so they are going beyond volunteering to becoming part of an organization.
By the eighth grade, students will have enough experience and coaching to develop their unique visions of how they want to change the world. For some students, it may become 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.
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 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 need to dominate others, but instead, they exercise that power for the greater good.
What would you say is fundamentally most important for middle schoolers?
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.
Plan your visit to Berkwood Hedge School
Tours for fifth and sixth-grade admission this fall are available throughout the summer. Applications for seventh 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.
Berkwood Hedge Lower School Campus: 1809 Bancroft Way, Berkeley (Central)
Berkwood Hedge Upper School Campus: 1798 Scenic Avenue, Berkeley (Northside at the Pacific School of Religion)
Thank you to Berkwood Hedge School, a progressive elementary and middle school in Berkeley.