Holden Students Thrive in Non-Traditional Learning Environment


    Holden High School, Orinda’s only private, non-traditional school, specializes in meeting the academic and social-emotional needs of unique teens with learning differences and/or social-emotional challenges. It opened in 1969, with a mission to allow students to co-create their educational journey in a revolutionary learning environment.
    With less than 50 students, the model works.
    Meet incoming seniors Nicole Johnson and Ari Gold, who started at Holden in the ninth grade.
    “I have been enjoying Holden,” said Johnson, who lives in Pleasanton with her mom, dad and best friend, Hamilton, her pug. “I like the small size of the school; it makes it not too overwhelming.”
    Johnson said she can’t choose a favorite teacher because, “I tend to enjoy every teacher, as they all have individual teaching styles.”
    She does have a favorite subject.
    “My academic favorite is English, because it makes the most sense to me out of all,” she said.
    Johnson credits Holden for helping her to ask questions and to ask for help.
    “I was unable to do that at prior schools. There was really nothing holding me back besides my own fears. I just had to get over that and the teachers at Holden are so open to questions – it made me feel okay asking,” she said.
    After graduation, Johnson wants to work for an animation studio as an animator or a concept artist, “stuff along those lines, just anything creative.”
    Parents Susan and Steve are proud of their daughter.
    “Any parent will tell you there are many challenges along the way with kids in school. We are no different from other families,” said Steve. “Susan and I think it is important to listen to your kid, trust the answers and try to figure it out from there. When Nicole finished eighth grade and we were looking for traditional high school options, Holden provided a pathway.”
    Gold, of Orinda, said she absolutely loves Holden.
    “It is the best school I have ever gone to because of the individualized attention and fantastic and caring staff with an ability to be empathetic and supportive,” she said.
    Diagnosed with dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia, Gold also struggles with anxiety.
    “Holden is really attentive to that,” she said. “My teachers help me to overcome my challenges, especially in math. I have a lot more confidence than I used to.”
    She wants to become a therapist, “because I struggle with anxiety and have worked very hard to overcome it. I would like to help others do the same.”
    Gold said her anxiety heightened during the pandemic.
    “I graduated from middle school online and then started Holden remotely. At first my anxiety was so bad I couldn’t even turn my camera on during class. With help from the staff, I was able to overcome it, and now that we are in person, I am involved in academic activities, including student council and I have a lot of wonderful friends.”
    Gold’s mother Gina, a single mom, said she’s had to wear many different hats. She gives tips for parents with kids who face various challenges.
    “Try not to panic when you find out your child has a struggle of any kind, whether it be emotional or academic,” she said. “It’s important to listen and to validate the experience your child is having and to stay positive and know there are resources available. Sometimes you have to think outside the box to solve a problem. You may have to ask a lot of questions and be open to different solutions.
    “I strongly recommend Holden to parents, because of their individualized attention and strong focus on social and emotional growth.”
    Gold sometimes wishes she could turn back time.
    “I’m sad I only have one more year at Holden,” she said. “It’s such a supportive place.”

Charleen Earley can be reached at editor@theorindanews.com.

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