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  • Writer's pictureVicky Keston

Middle School (formerly Junior High): Public vs Private

Parents often ask me, if I can only afford private school for one phase, which should that be? Elementary, middle, or high school? I always answer middle school, formerly known as junior high. I still believe this, with my elder child wrapping up 8th grade and my younger child on the brink of entering middle school, which starts at 5th grade at their K-8.

What is Middle School?

A quick watch of the Wonder Years series reminds us that middle school used to be called junior high, and ran from 7th to 9th grade. Most middle schools today run from 6th to 8th, but a growing number of private schools start middle school at 5th grade. To add confusion, most Montessori schools classify elementary school as 1st thru 6th grade, so their schools might end at 6th grade. Why does it matter? Primarily, it’s important in these scenarios to understand where you’d like your child to attend middle school so that you can apply the first year of middle school, when the majority of spots are available.

Why Is Middle School Important?

Middle school is typically when kids hit puberty and early adolescence. By 8th grade, most kids hit a growth spurt that might make them taller than their parents! While from the outside, they might look older, on the inside, they are swirling hormones, frequently hungry, growing at night, and with changing circadian rhythms that make an early bedtime more difficult.

Middle school is also a time when students learn study habits, known as executive function skills, that are important for high school and college. For instance, students should learn how to take notes, how to study, and how to organize their time to complete homework and projects on time. Middle schools often prioritize group projects to teach team skills. Many students receive letter grades for the first time at middle school, and have their first tests. Schools may also teach classes on puberty and sex education, with private schools typically teaching with a specialist, whereas public schools may or may not have an expert on hand. Specific to San Francisco public schools, math education can be different in public vs. private in terms of access to Algebra I in 8th grade. While private school math curricula vary, some schools do offer math acceleration to make Calculus accessible during high school.

Between the awkward preteen/teen years and executive function development, the smaller environment of a private school can be particularly helpful. Many private schools offer half the student – teacher ratio of public schools and more resources to teach study skills and puberty education. Private schools can further add resources and rules around behavior, keeping school a safe space.

How to Make Private School More Affordable for K-8?

With many private middle and elementary schools in San Francisco approaching $40,000 to $50,000 per year, affordability becomes an issue. For many parents with more moderate incomes, financial aid is an option. If reasonable belt-tightening will not allow you to pay for private school, apply for financial aid! Schools offer a range of packages, from token help to almost full tuition, and it is worth the effort if you fall into an income that cannot cover private school tuition. This blog article covers more information on the financial aid process.

If you feel that you would not qualify for financial aid, but prefer to prioritize other expenses, there are also less expensive K-8 schools to consider. For instance, San Francisco has a handful of independent K-8 schools in the price range of $18,000 to $23,000 per year, as do the suburbs in the area. For those comfortable with a Catholic education, the K-8 schools run by the diocese range from $8,000 to $12,000 per year.


Want more input on schools?

Vicky consults with families to help select public and private schools in San Francisco in an environment of non-judgment. Season packages include a discussion to review key decisions, such as which school to choose as a first choice, and review of the letter. Her own children have attended both public and private schools, and her elder is also in the process for high school. New clients can email to learn more about her services, or see her website to learn about her season packages.

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