Mirman School: A Gift For The Gifted

Mirman 1

 

Mirman School evokes a sense of mystery among parents looking for a private elementary and/or middle school in Los Angeles. It’s a school for brainy kids who need a place where they will be challenged to the full extent of their capabilities, where they will be encouraged to explore their deep interests and where they’ll find a peer group doing the same. The school’s mysterious quality may stem from the fact that even before you can apply, your kid must receive a minimum IQ score of 145 on the Stanford Binet LM test, or they can take the Weschler Intelligence test. The school provides a list of licensed psychologists who can administer the test. After test results are provided to the school, families can proceed with the admissions process. A passing score on the test doesn’t guarantee admission, but offers the opportunity to apply.

 

These days, change is in the air at Mirman. Dan Vorenberg is Mirman’s new-ish head of school, taking the helm just less than two years ago. In that short time, he’s walked a delicate balance between remaining true to Mirman’s mission—and enviable track record– while making changes that will enhance the school’s core mission. Right away, he got to work with staff, faculty and parents to bring about changes—some big, others small but important. At a school with an established 52-year history, this takes careful balancing.

 

Mirman 2

 

I met Dan in his office on a cloudy afternoon. This was my first visit to the school and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Kids who seemed overly serious? Stressed out parents hovering nearby? The answer, like something out of an SAT test, was “None of the above.” I was immediately impressed by the low-key atmosphere at the school, located on a serene six-acre campus off Mulholland Drive. The lower and upper school buildings, surrounded by trees and stunning views, anchor the campus, which is truly an urban sanctuary. With views of the city and valley, Mirman has a Lower School (ages 5-9) and an Upper School (ages 10-14). The Lower and Middle Schools are in separate buildings. Outdoor sports areas, including new athletic fields, round out the facility.

 

As we walked through the school, Dan stopped to chat with kids, getting quick updates from one girl, asking a young boy how things were going. He knows their names, their interests and what they’re about as individuals. The kids seem genuinely happy and energetic, totally engaged in their classroom work and socializing outside the class. Dan, who possesses a wealth of experience as an educator, wants Mirman to be a combination of “Love and achievement.” “Highly gifted isn’t always about math, but can be a kid who is interested in mythology or robotics,” he explains. Mirman, he tells me, offers a place where it’s cool to be smart and where kids understand and challenge each other. Mirman serves students who have narrow interests as well as those who are still figuring out what inspires them. The school, he says, meets kids where they are academically, at whatever level that is. Academic excellence will always remain at Mirman’s core.

 

Mirman 13

 

Mirman students are all very smart. Yet within this category (up to an IQ of 180), there are kids who have deep, narrow interests and those who have a myriad of broad interests. The school is designed to teach them all. It feeds their intellect and imaginations. There are young Einsteins who seem older than their years, leaving for college earlier than their peers. But, mostly there are kids who need a curriculum designed for their giftedness. There are kids who are stronger in one subject than others, for example math. There are kids who need tutors to get through classes. Just like any school, there are a wide range of individuals, except at Mirman, they share one thing in common: high IQs.

 

Mirman 8

 

There are no grade levels at Mirman. The school is based on student’s ages (ages 5-14). Kids work in classes called “Rooms” rather than grade levels. The Lower School curriculum is the equivalent to grades 1-5 in other schools. The Upper School is comparable to grades 6- 9. This structure allows fluidity for kids to move between rooms, depending on the level he/she is working at. For example, an eight year-old might learn math with kids who are ten and 11 years old, but work with his/her own age group for other subjects. In the Lower School kids are taught by their homeroom teacher and specialists for languages, art, music and P.E. Students receive individual instruction and work in small and large groups, based on ability and interests.

 

Mirman 10

 

Dan brings 31 years of experience in private/independent schools to Mirman. With his background, he is comfortable taking a big picture view of Mirman’s future. He is incredibly well-versed in various educational philosophies, from traditional to progressive. He’s also a kind, friendly and approachable dad of three kids, with a true affinity for children and education. Mirman is a traditional school and won’t deviate from this core educational value.

 

Mirman 14

 

As we sat talking in his office, he didn’t hesitate to answer my questions about the changes he’s initiating. Big picture, Dan told me he is working to broaden the focus of the school and opportunities for students by enhancing sports, arts and community, while staying true to Mirman’s mission of academic excellence. Mirman will always offer kids the chance to explore complex academic issues, but Dan believes that music, arts, sports and a sense of community should also be central to the school’s mission. The school’s strong, sometimes intense, intellectual atmosphere, he believes, is enhanced by a broader curriculum. Academic renown is the defining feature of the school. The focus at Mirman will always be on the students first and foremost, with a community of involved, engaged parents to build on the foundations of community that exist at the school. It is expected that Mirman students will go on to excel in high school, college and in their chosen fields. For Dan, it is as important that they also become thoughtful, caring and contributing citizens of the world.

 

Mirman 11

 

Dan has made staffing changes. In addition to the arrival of several new educators and administrators, he hired a new admissions director, Jen Liggitt, and there is a search underway for a new head of Upper School. There are changes happening with the faculty too. He has introduced regular assemblies that bring students together, helping to build community and his team is working to integrate some aspects of the curriculum.

 

Mirman 7

 

Walking around the newly expanded athletic fields, one of Dan’s first projects, he points out that among the kids playing soccer there was one student using the goal post to write with a pencil and paper. At Mirman, this sort of thing is totally fine and nobody told the kid to “join the game or leave,” as might happen at another school. As the fifth head of school, Dan is excited about the school’s unique characteristics, its quirkiness and its potential for entering the next phase of growth based on the Mirman founder’s vision and inspiration.

 

I’ve always heard from Mirman parents that the school is really about the students and to a lesser extent about their parents. Giving highly gifted kids what they need to excel and create an environment for them to do so is what the school does best. Parents matter too, but because the school requires an IQ test, the family—who they are or what they do– may take on less significance than at other schools.

 

Says one former Mirman parent:

“I loved the small class sizes, the attention to an individual student’s needs/abilities, the ease of movement between levels based on student’s readiness, their very strong alumni culture (my kid loves to attend the Thanksgiving alumni breakfast hosted by Mirman every year and it’s amazing how many older alumni show up to that thing), how none of the kids feel “different” or “special” or go around boasting because they’re all in the same boat. Most of all so many of the amazing teachers stand out to me, especially Mr. Kay, the choir teacher, who puts on the most amazing concerts.”–Former Mirman parent, currently at Harvard-Westlake.

Of note, The Mirman Concert Singers performed at the 2014 Heritage Music Festival in Montreal, winning the Outstanding Choral Award for the highest score of all choirs.

 

The brain is a mysterious thing, and IQ is only one measure of its wonders, but Mirman isn’t so mysterious after all. It’s a school where really smart kids can exercise their gifts in a variety of ways, find their peer group, and develop into future leaders.

 

Mirman Outdoor

 

Admission to Mirman is competitive. The school receives several hundred applications for about 40 openings for the entry year. There are very few openings in older grades. In addition to IQ tests as the basic qualification, other admissions considerations include, school readiness, intellectual curiosity and working above grade level.

 

Mirman has a generous financial aid budget of $1 million per year. Students who graduate from Mirman attend a variety of secondary schools like Harvard-Westlake, Crossroads, Windward, Viewpoint, Marlborough and boarding schools like Exeter, Andover, Choate and others. You absolutely must check on the school’s great looking and informative new website at www.mirman.org –it’s definitely one of the best school websites I’ve seen!

 

 

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    Today is Throwback Thursday (TBT) in social media. So, I'm posting this piece by Jenny Heitz from the archives. It's not often you get an insider's look at a school like Mirman. --Christina   Mirman is one of those schools that has a certain mystique surrounding it. Because it accepts only highly gifted children, there…
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Relativity High School: A New 9-12th Grade Private School On A Movie Studio Lot

Photo: Relativity High School
Photo: Relativity High School

 

There’s a super-interesting new high school on the L.A. Center Studios lot in downtown L.A. Relativity High School is a school for students who want to pursue a career in the multi-discipline entertainment industry. Relativity High School is a gifted & talented program affiliated with The Dwight School in NYC. I haven’t seen the school and I don’t typically post about high schools, but this one looks unique and just the type of school that might interest L.A. families! The school’s tagline says it all, Relativity High School: Hollywood Meets A World Class High School. 

For more information, click on Relativity High School

 

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Progressive School Los Angeles: A New Private Elementary School

PSLA

Heather Morrison Poland is a mom at Branches Atelier Preschool in Culver City. I met Heather when I spoke at Branches in 2013. So, I was excited when she told me she and a group of parents/educators are opening a new Reggio-inspired private elementary school on the Westside of L.A (location TBD).

 

Progressive School L.A. is accepting applications for kindergarten for 2015/2016.

 

For more information, visit, www.progressiveschoolla.org (see the video of Heather and the founding parents and educators on the homepage)

 

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Nostalgic Memories of My Years at The Buckley School by Elaine Sir

 

 

Buckley Exterior

 

“College Begins at Two” is what welcomed the students every morning at the entrance of The Buckley School in Sherman Oaks, CA.  That wooden sign greeted me from age 8 (when I matriculated) until age 18 (when I graduated).

There is truth and profoundness in “College Begins at Two” — and not in the “Tiger Mom” (or Bret Easton Ellis, Less Than Zero) sort of way.   In a previous post I wrote about L.A. PRIVATE SCHOOLS, I mentioned that I was fortunate to attend The Buckley School “where the teachers held Stanford degrees and PhDs.”  Yes, the caliber of the teachers and the academic rigor were a huge part of the appreciation and enjoyment; however, in retrospect, what I appreciate most is something bigger.  What I appreciate now is that the intent of education pioneer and founder Dr. Isabelle Buckley was to instill fundamental lessons of life’s rudiments.  Not for a student, but for a human– prepping us for adulthood.  Her “College Begins at Two” methodology conditioned her students to achieve a high level of critical thinking, self-confidence and an unquenchable appetite to better oneself and one’s environment.  These are the lessons that began at two.

The succeeding words may seem a bit rah-rah to prospective parents; but these are heartfelt words that flow from my memories.  My Buckley experience was so formative to me that I cannot help but express enthusiasm and broadcast the pros.  My reflections are all predicated on what I received from Buckley, an experience that my fellow alum friends, who have kids there today, indicate still endures.

I’m not saying that Buckley is the right school for every girl or boy.  It is hard for any school’s structure, size, philosophy, curriculum, student body to be the right fit for everyone.  But, it ended up being the right school for me — and here’s why:

 

Passionate Teachers

Among the teachers, 10 hold doctoral degrees and 59 have a master’s degree.  I don’t mention it to be boastful on behalf of the school, rather because I have found a direct correlation between how far the teacher has gone in their education with their passion for the subject they are teaching. Makes sense, right?  Usually, only someone who has lived and breathed philosophy or bio or English lit for 8 years loves it THAT much.  That passion has a direct trickle down effect to their students.  You can’t fake enthusiasm and dedication. My A.P. bio teacher, Mr. Tozer, was a hair shy of Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting.  He insisted that we use smelly and colorful pens when taking notes so we could use all our senses in the learning process.  I can recite the digestive and circulatory system to this day.  (And my career is far from the science field.)

Dr. Holbech, my history teacher never accepted a regurgitated text book answer or a recitation of facts from his students.  He taught Socratically and made us think deeply.  He wanted the political theorists’ concepts applied to examples in real life situations so he could trust we really understood the theories and weren’t getting by via rote memorization.  He was one of the first to teach me not to accept fact as fact,but to question.  He didn’t want book smarts, he demanded intellect.

I have Señora Ippolito’s language mastery tricks to thank for being facile in Spanish, English teachers Ms. Hood and Mr. Robbins to thank for my love of words and books.  Miss/Coach Sherman was feared and loved by all.  She was insanely smart and tough — but students and other teachers loved and revered her because her toughness was backed by merit.  She, of course, is now Dean.  I could go on with examples of many others.

 

Buckley Life Science

 

Accessible Teachers

The teachers were always approachable, accessible and non-intimidating.  They were always enthusiastic to answers questions and to pursue topics further.  The small setting was probably a big factor behind their accessibility — the school has an 8:1 student teacher ratio, so their availability was heightened by mere math alone.

By the time you reach high school, the administration and teachers already know who you are, your background, your strengths/weaknesses, your interests and could leverage that knowledge to help foster your growth.

 

Buckley Physics

 

Intimate Environment Leading to Lifelong Friendships

The small student body was conducive to encouraging strong friendships and peer relationships.  Most of us had grown up together since elementary school — so we knew each other during our hours of braces, girl/boy scouts, bat/bar mitzvahs, puberty and voice changes, drivers ed and first concerts.   We played sports together, camped together on outdoor educational trips, crammed for finals together at someone’s house and showed up for a late night music show in support of one of our classmates.  There was so much camraderie, so much history.  My experience was that the school itself was competitive — but there wasn’t an undercurrent of competition among the students.  There was no zero-sum mentality.  If there was academic stress, then there was commiseration and camaraderie, not competition. For some, the small student body might seem limiting; but for me, it worked.

Buckley may have a reputation of being a school that housed many rich and spoiled kids.  I think that can be a reality at many L.A. private schools —by the sheer tuition alone, those who have the means are the ones whose kids attend.  And yes, for sure, many of my classmates were fortunate. But, with only a few exceptions, the majority were not entitled or spoiled.  They studied hard, worked outside jobs, volunteered after school and on weekends at various community service projects, protested vivisection with classmates at the Federal Building for animal rights, started a petition to make the school environmentally friendly, etc. Affluence actually faded into the background.  From my experience, being smart was cool, being athletic was cool, being talented was cool, being rich wasn’t a consideration.

To this day, most of my closest friends are from my Buckley childhood; 3 out of my 4 bridesmaids were classmates.  In the land of Los Angeles, where so much can be superficial and opportunistic, it turns out that my childhood Buckley friends are the down to earth ones who would back me at any moment or house my family if we ever fell on hard times.  We have been known to employ one another in the event someone loses a job, and we support Buckley alum owned businesses.  And regardless of one’s success, it’s rare for a classmate to forget about old friends.  My good friend/classmate not only hosted the entire class at his family’s house for our 10 year reunion, but he invited the entire class to his wedding last summer. Real, life-long friendships were formed — and that is a priceless gift.

 

Diversity

Buckley makes a concerted effort to diversify their student body.  Equal female/male student/teacher ratios, ethnic/religious/cultural diversity, and so on.  There was no, “I’m not racist. One of my best friends is black!”  The student population was wonderfully mixed. Indian/Iranian/Pakistani/Korean/Chinese/Thai/Egyptian/Israeli/African/Bahamian/White European/Jewish/Muslim/Catholic/Hindi in my class alone.  We were colorblind—we grew amidst diversity, internalized it and advocated for it before we knew it was a social statement.

In terms of financial diversity, it appears that they are making strong strides to provide financial aid and in so doing augment the socio-economic spectrum that further helps round out the student body—this while preserving the confidentiality of the assistance. While I was there, their financial aid program was just evolving, and yet even then the assistance was rarely known. Ensuring diversity was and is an elemental part of Buckley’s emphasis on providing learning opportunity as well as perspective.

 

Buckley Math Classroom

 

No Limits, No Pigeonholing

It sounds cliché, but this small liberal arts school created well-rounded students.  It’s not like in Clueless (or any John Hughes movie for that matter) where there are the jocks and the geeks.  Here, you were encouraged to do everything.  You could be the MVP and team captain of your Varsity sports team, the lead in the Spring Musical, play in the school band, be Student Body President, a member of the National Honor Society and the editor of the Students’ Voice newspaper — simultaneously.

The school’s climate and the encouragement of the teachers/coaches fostered the confidence to pursue anything and everything.  Many of the students were renaissance students – hyphenates before hyphenates were a thing.  There was no hierarchy of learning.  Art, drama and music were as valuable as the sciences and you were allowed to be committed to all.  I was able to play sports, sing in choir, act in student council, serve as a co-founder of the ecology club (which still exists to this day), and still have the ability to have a blast socially with my friends.

I actually credit Buckley for giving me the confidence to pursue different things and multitask in my adult years. Be an attorney. Aim for a black belt after I turned 30.  Start writing.  Become a wife and a parent.  It’s never ending.  To this day, I’ve never experienced a glass ceiling or felt confined to a defined role.  Buckley taught me to never be complacent and to always shoot for more.  Buckley reminded me that I am my own construct.

 

Preparation for College

Variety of coursework / AP courses / Art courses
Buckley’s curriculum was built around a core of requirements (science, foreign languages, etc.) with varying levels of difficulty.  Courses were offered at the honors level or AP level — and an arts level if the student required a less rigorous pace.  The visual arts program offered generous options — metal and enameling, ceramics, sculpture, painting, and more, all taught by Ms. Mahony.  In fact, the art room for me was my before-school safe haven.  Ms. Mahony would allow me to come in early and work on my craft before the bell rang and before my friends arrived.  It is also where I would sometimes go on rainy days during lunch to obsess over a piece and could also stay dry.

 

Buckley Art

 

Art Room

I believe Buckley’s wide variety of honors and AP courses is a major reason why I was granted admission to UC Berkeley for college.  Aside from the educational rigor and mental preparation, there are mere mathematics involved in the admissions process.  The UC system calculates your GPA based on a weighted scale.  Because of the voluminous amount of applicants, most can’t be admitted these days with a 4.0 at UCLA or Berkeley; however, if your courses are taken at an AP or honors level, the grade is weighted or bumped up.  You can graduate with a 5.0 and therefore be much more appealing to the UC Board of Admissions.

 

Buckley Digital Arts

 

Ability to Navigate the System

Funny enough, the small and intimate setting of Buckley prepared me for the huge university bureaucracy of UC Berkeley, which has a student population of 36,000. Buckley prepared me at a small scale how to navigate bureaucracy, administration, even politics, how to protest something, how to get a club off the ground, and how not to be intimidated by authority figures.  I learned from a smaller context that you don’t need to sit back passively and accept the status quo, you can question things, be heard by adults and create change.

Buckley taught me that everything is accessible.  You just have to believe it.  My best friend Dr. Nooshin Razani and I started the Buckley Ecology Club (Students’ H.O.P.E. Students Healing Our Planet Earth) from ground zero (drafting a petition, meeting with the principal, asking a teacher to mentor us, etc.).  We saw a void in the school and we sought to fill it.  We wanted something, and we received the administrative support, and enthusiasm from our elders and community to accomplish it.

Then, when I was a sophomore at Berkeley, I had the courage to approach my awe-inspiring and intimidating Black Panther / Civic Activist / Sociology Professor, Dr. Harry Edwards, one of the largest and smartest humans I have ever met.  I knocked on his door and told him I wanted to be his Head Teaching Assistant and laid out the reasons why.  I worked for him for 3 years until I graduated. I realize now that I used the skills I learned and practiced at a small school and applied them in a bigger setting.

People always ask me how I got that job.  It was a coveted position since he was a celebrity of sorts — insanely smart and the spiritual adviser to the San Francisco 49ers.  His lectures were packed with 500+ students.  I owe (or blame) Buckley for having the confidence and know how to ask for what I wanted.

 

FUN!

Last, but certainly not least, was the FUN.  This is probably what I remember most about Buckley. IT. WAS. FUN. The kids were FUN, on campus and off campus.  There was always creativity and music and video making and camraderie.  Our class would get together on weekends or after school to shoot movie videos, comedy sketches, make noise (!) and just have good quality kid fun.

So, that’s it.  Those are the highlights of my Buckley memories.  Buckley taught me how to think, how to question and how to do. I don’t know if that translates into being a “successful” adult, but I feel it prepared me for life.  Even more important than the actual content of the subjects learned was being conditioned to constantly seek to better myself and those around me.  Dr. Buckley’s methodology taught me to think critically, to strut through life with self-confidence, to get things done and gave me a hunger that prevents me from ever strolling through life complacently.   These invaluable life lessons… these are what begin at two.

 

Elaine Sir is a graduate of Buckley School and U.C. Berkeley. She is an attorney and the mom of two adorable little girls. She writes the blog, Elaine Sir. Find her on Instagram. Her photos are beautiful, like she is. 

All photos courtesy of The Buckley School.

 

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