German bilingual school resides in historical building in Berkeley Hills

The German International School of Silicon Valley currently offers a bilingual education for kindergarteners to fifth graders, and it has recently moved into the former site of BUSD's Hillside School.
Michael Ball/Staff
The German International School of Silicon Valley currently offers a bilingual education for kindergarteners to fifth graders, and it has recently moved into the former site of BUSD's Hillside School.

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Tucked away in the leafy Berkeley Hills, a newly relocated school has added to the air of multicultural diversity in the school system.

With a cozy cottage-like feel, Berkeley’s historic Hillside site no longer bears empty hallways but instead provides a haven for families looking for bilingual education for their kids. The site is now home to the new German International School of Silicon Valley, and the new school has agreed to lease and eventually buy the national landmark site after it was owned for 86 years by the Berkeley Unified School District.

“Our main goal is to expose kids to a second language — we are very big on building a global community,” said GISSV Marketing Coordinator Pamela Mead. “Our students get an opportunity to have an international outlook.”

Before the bilingual school decided to reside on the historic property, the previous public educational institutions that inhabited the site eventually closed down because of a fault line that runs alongside the site.

According to the district’s spokesman, Mark Coplan, the fault line poses nominal risk, if any at all, but the California code of public education prevents any California public school from being opened at the site. As a result, the building was accessible to the German school since it is a private school and unaffiliated with the district.

“Before the GISSV purchased this property, the last school that was running at the site was the Hillside School,” he said. “(The school) was closed down by the district about 23 years ago because of the seismic study that was done to reveal the fault line.”

But over the summer, the international school opened up the facility to both German-speaking and non-German-speaking families, as well as anyone interested in a high-quality bilingual education. Students in the second grade and above needed some German background to attend, but prior to second grade, knowing German is necessary to enroll.

Currently, the school is home to kindergarteners to fifth graders. The administration is aiming to add one grade each year until it becomes a K-8 school. According to Mead, there are about 75 students enrolled, with approximately 20 spots left.

“The classes at German International School of Silicon Valley are smaller, which is better for the students since it provides a better learning opportunity,” Mead said.

The original private bilingual school was established in 1999 in Mountain View, and the San Francisco chapter was opened in 2011. Before relocating to Berkeley Hills, the Berkeley chapter was established in Kensington in 2007, where the school was renting property from a local church.

However, Mead said tight space and lack of publicity for the school elicited a change of location. The relocation to the historic site will allow space for more students and will give the bilingual school more exposure to the public, she said.

Contact Ailya at [email protected]

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