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Learning program results in school’s population boom

By Michelle Hopey Special to the Daily Planet
Saturday February 10, 2001

Like most cities, the City of Franklin school is growing.  

Unlike other population booms this one is being embraced with excitement, especially since the increase is the successful result of a unique public learning program. 

The City of Franklin Microsociety Magnet School, currently a K-5 program will expand to include a middle school curriculum next year, making it the first K-8 model offered in the Berkeley Unified School District.  

A microsociety school is a progressive interdisciplinary curriculum program established nationally in the 1980s by a New York City school teacher, George Richmond. It was founded on research data that suggest students learn best by doing, so every microsociety is a student-run miniature “city.” 

“We’re really excited,” said Principal Barbara Penny-James. “Adding the middle school program was part of the original plan, so we’re eager to continue growing – parents, kids and staff are really looking forward to this.” 

The middle school program, as it was designed when approved, will be phased in over three years. Next fall, the Virginia Street school will welcome two sixth-grade classes and add a grade per year through 2003-2004. 

Derick Miller, media coordinator for the City of Franklin, said there are currently 160 students who attend the school. Next year he expects the school to increase by about 70 students for the entire school. Miller said the school has more than enough room since classes currently use only about one-third of the building space.  

As a magnet school, the City of Franklin receives some federal funds in addition to state funding, and is a school that parents elect to send their child to, rather than one where the students’ school is determined by the school district. 

The “citizens” of the sixth-grade community will have their own town square like the lower grades, with a council and mayor, among many more mock real-life businesses and governing agencies, which are all student run. The classrooms and hallways will also be decorated with murals, such as of a town square, to ensure a more realistic experience.  

According to Principal Penny-James, the sixth-grade program will encompass a global theme. Given that, the school will introduce a French program next year. Penny-James also said that when seventh grade is added the school wants add a Spanish program and perhaps a Cantonese class for the eighth grade, so that students are exposed to a number of the world’s languages. 

The sixth grade will have a multimedia and technology program which will include a T.V. studio and a stock market unit.  

“Middle school is known as a dilemma,” said Penny-James, underscoring her excitement at directing the first K-8 public school in Berkeley. “We’re confident that initiating a K-8 school will change the middle-school era to an innovative, positive time in an adolescent’s life.” 

A K-8 program allows parents to keep their children in one school and not have to reroute them from an elementary school to a middle school, which is often tough on a child. 

“Normally sixth graders jump into a middle school and start on the bottom and it makes (the transition into adulthood) even more startling,” said Miller. “ Where as in a K-8 school, sixth graders are more of older role models to the younger kids and in return they gain more confidence.” 

Addie Holsing, a curriculum advisor with a non-profit education corporation Knowledge Context in Santa Cruz, who has been working with the school, agrees with Miller. She said that the middle school years are a key time in adolescent development for creating close relationships and finding ones’ place in the world. 

According to Holsing the City of Franklin’s real world approach is beneficial to the students because it fosters these developments. 

“Real world tasks make more sense to students,” said Holsing. “If they do tasks that are practical, they think there is something there for them and stay interested - that’s the magic of a microsociety school.”  

The fifth-grade students that plan on staying at the school to attend the sixth grade said they couldn’t be happier. 

“This school is a whole lot better than my last school,” said 11-year old Erin Williams. “You learn a lot more, plus you get to have your own business.” 

“I wasn’t here last year, but my mom thought this would be a good school,” said 10-year old, Cassimere Pugh. “I ran for mayor this year, but wasn’t elected and then I ran for secretary and didn’t get that, but I’ll run next year and hopefully become mayor.” 


The City of Franklin Microsociety Magnet School will host an information night on the middle school program at 7 p.m. on Feb. 28. For more information or a private appointment or tour call 644-6260.