Guest Blogger Jenny’s "LA Times" Letter To The Editor

Jenny’s insightful letter to the LA Times editor was published today in response to the paper’s editorial, “Don’t Expect Miracles” from Sunday’s edition.


The trouble with charters

Re “Don’t expect miracles,” Editorial, Oct. 17

I was saddened to hear of the Inner City Education Foundation’s troubles. I don’t know if charter schools are education’s magic bullet, but I do think that our schools could vastly improve by applying some charter school teaching and operational methods to our public schools. By bypassing union and district restrictions and instituting innovative teaching methods, many charter schools really do thrive.

ICEF became too big too fast. The larger an educational system becomes, the more alienated it seems to be from its actual purpose of educating our children. Breaking up the Los Angeles Unified School District into smaller districts, renegotiating with unions for reasonable terms and creating true neighborhood school districts might deliver the results charter schools strive for.

Although I believe in the concept of excellent public education for all, I gave up on L.A. Unified recently; I switched my child to a private school.

Jenny Heitz

Los Angeles

To read the Times editorial, click on the link below:

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/editorials/la-ed-charters-20101017,0,2237517.story

Read More

Our Wildwood School Tour, Parent Interview and Visiting Day

Our family has always had a deep respect and fondness for Wildwood School. After all, Anne, my step-mom and co-author was the head of its elementary school for four years in the nineties. So, when it was time to apply to schools, Wildwood was at the top of our list. So you may be wondering why we didn’t send our daughter there. I’ll explain.

 

Our Wildwood tour was led by a parent. She was professional, friendly and understated. We toured the classrooms, the most amazing library where we heard a short talk from the impressive librarian and the science lab, which I still remember vividly because it was so fabulous. Everything about the tour was low-key. No over the top statements made by the mom leading the tour, like we found at some schools. The campus was remodeled and is sparking clean and gorgeous. The classrooms are big, bright and inspiring. We were impressed and decided to apply for our daughter.

 

The parent interview was interesting. We were interviewed by an administrator from the middle school, I believe, who was filling in at the last minute for somebody else. She was very nice, but mostly listened to us tell our family’s story. She took extensive notes. It was a good thing this was one of our last interviews, so we knew that when she didn’t really have questions for us, what we needed to do. The parent interview was matter-of-fact, since we were not interviewing someone from the lower school. It wasn’t stressful, but it did seem a bit perfunctory. Still, we felt confident that our family ties to this school would be helpful.

 

The visiting day started early…at about 9:00 a.m. My daughter was getting overly excited as we waited with a few other families. My husband took her for a walk around the campus. A little while later, the head of the lower school came over to welcome families and take the kids for their visiting day activities. The parents waited in a conference room. There was a group of moms from Venice who all seemed to know each other. I don’t know why this always causes me anxiety, but it did. We waited for an hour, possibly a bit more. I was getting a stomach ache. I really wanted to go home.

 

My daughter came bouncing out of the classroom where the visiting day activities took place. “I think she had a good time”, the head of the lower school said to me. With that, we said thank you and went home.

 

Then came the really difficult part. Our daughter was accepted to Wildwood. We felt lucky. We loved the school and its teachers, its campus and the entire program. I was overcome with anxiety, emotion and indecision. It was a choice between The Willows and Wildwood. I knew we would take the weekend and make our decision by Monday. It was an agonizing weekend. I spent hours on the phone with Anne, who would have been thrilled to have her granddaughter attend Wildwood. My husband weighed in, but really left the decision up to me. Back and forth, my thoughts racing. Willows or Wildwood? Willows or Wildwood? The schools are very much alike in a lot of ways, which just made it harder to decide. But, there was one factor that caused us to choose The Willows. In LA, you can’t ignore geography. None of the Wildwood families lived in– or even near– Hancock Park where we live. The school was very honest about this reality. I really wanted a community of parents who lived near me. Wildwood seemed to draw families from from the Westside. The Willows has families from Hancock Park, Miracle Mile and other neighborhoods near us. In the end, this was thedeciding factor.

 

So, who were my daughter’s best friends at The Willows for the first few years at the school? A classmate who lives in Bel-Air and another who lives in Brentwood. Not exactly close to Hancock Park! The classmate who lives on our street, one block away? She and my daughter aren’t even friends. Go figure.

 

 

P.S. A few months ago, I went to a parent education evening at the Center For Early Education. Landis Green, Wildwood Head Of School, was a panelist. He created quite a buzz! He’s super-smart, funny, articulate and a very impressive educator. I left thinking, “note to self: apply to Wildwood for high school for my daughter”. www.wildwood.org

 

Read More

Guest Blogger Jenny: How Does A Private Elementary School Handle Bullies?

Bullying is getting a ton of press these days, mostly due to the use of the internet (whether on social networking sites or live streaming video) to harass victims, sometimes, it seems, to death. In those cases, “bullying” seems a bit too mild a term for what occurred; complete invasion of privacy, harassment, and true criminal intent fits the bill a bit better.

 

 

The type of behavior our kids experience on the playground is usually of a lesser grade, more in line with what we once experienced at school ourselves. Kids get shoved off of playground equipment, excluded from games, called names, are ostracized for unique physical traits, and have their names mocked. Though highly unpleasant, this seems to be a childhood rite of passage, and I’m not sure anyone escapes unscathed.

 

 

My daughter got her first true taste of bullying in first grade, and she got it right between the eyes. Some fourth grader terrorized her on the playground, demanding her immediate removal from the monkey bars (she did not back down). This went on for weeks until she finally asked for help. Although the threat of physical violence seems bad, the worst was coming. The girl terror in her classroom, run almost solely by a very manipulative and obviously miserable little girl, was highly exclusionary and very sophisticated. My child could easily defend herself against a physical bully and win out (a decent life lesson), but she had little to no defense against the whispering rumor mongering wretch who made her whole year miserable.

 

 

This happened at a public school, and when I approached the teacher to complain, she just looked tired and replied she was late for a meeting. Some conference with the girl’s mother and the teacher happened eventually, but the girl terror pretty much lasted the entire year. I had to promise my daughter she would never, ever again share a classroom with that girl. A girl who, much like the girl bullies portrayed in the NYT article Christina previously posted, seemed old for her age, wielded a cell phone at six, and emulated teenage behavior.

 

 

Keep in mind: bullying behavior creates more bullying behavior. Kids learn it from somewhere, and most bullies were victims themselves. I watched this in action during her third grade year, as most of the class (my kid included) teamed up against an overweight girl who had often bullied others herself. It might have been payback, but it was still unacceptable. Thankfully, the teacher called the entire class to task, and everyone learned something, except the victim herself, who kept calling herself the victim even as she continued to shove my daughter off the ends of benches. Whatever.

 

 

So, that’s my experience with bullying at a public school. What would private school be like? I had no illusions that it would be a bully free environment; I went to Crossroads starting in 8th grade, and the social bullying was tremendous. And Anna* had been left with the impression that all kids were mean, so the idea of being the new kid, and thus an easy mark, weighed heavily upon her.

 

 

I’m happy to report that, at least at Mirman, bullying appears to be non-existent. Anna’s transition into the social scene has been pretty easy. There are some kids there who do appear to have poor social skills, and are less than diplomatic about wanting a turn on the monkey bars, but there seems to be none of the Lord of the Flies atmosphere of 3rd St. Anna has been included in impromptu recess theater performances and older girls teach her new gymnastic bar tricks every day. If someone gets a wrong answer in class, it isn’t an opportunity for humiliation.

 

 

Anna informed me (and this just might be Mirman student rumor mill) that some upper school students were busted for bullying, and were actually suspended. I’m not sure if this is entirely accurate, but the information certainly reassured her that she was safe from harassment at her new school. The kids at Mirman might be precocious, but they’re not particularly sophisticated in a pop culture way. The nastiness, disrespect and sarcasm of “Hannah Montana” and “The Suite Life” (shows my daughter is forbidden to watch) just doesn’t gain any points in the Mirman environment.

 

 

Mirman has a Character Counts education program, with six pillars: caring, citizenship, fairness, respect, responsibility, and trustworthiness; students voted to add cooperation, perseverance and friendship as well. If a school truly pushes this agenda, it doesn’t make for an easy bullying environment.

 

 

Plus, The Mirman Parent/Student Information Manual states very clearly: “The school does not condone physical/verbal/cyber harassment of bullying of any kind. Such actions are considered suspendable offenses, Extreme offenses may result in explusion.

 

 

So, since I can only speak for our limited time at the Mirman School, I’m curious: what do other private school parents deal with in terms of bullying (The Willows has a similar policy on its campus). Do the other schools have a definitive policy with genuine follow through? Have there been cases of outrageous bullying at your school? And, if so, how did the school deal with it?

 

 

In some ways, I worry that the extreme zero tolerance for bullying of any kind might just infantilize our kids. Learning to defend oneself from nonsense is a good skill to have; learning to ignore the malicious whispers and persevere builds great character. But, when bullying becomes almost organized on the playground and entrenched in the social scene, it leads to a break down in the natural order of things, and fosters an entire bullying environment where nothing is off limits. In the end, it’s another one of life’s delicate balancing acts: allowing enough adversity to build valuable life skills, while squelching the truly evil stuff before it poisons everything. And that’s the challenge all schools face when it comes to bullying.

 

Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. She has been published in the Daily News. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.

Read More

The Big F-You: Kindness Should Be Expected Of Parents Too!

Los Angeles, CA. September 7, 2010, 9:15 a.m.-- FU******K YOU, a mom from one of my kid’s classes screamed into the phone, before hanging up on me. It was the first day of school. I had just dropped off the kids and returned home before the phone started ringing. And ringing. And ringing. My short conversation with this mom wasn’t exactly what I was expecting on the first day of school. I was just hoping my kids would have a good day and all would go well for them.

 
This mom’s behavior was uncivilized and pathetic. She came unglued. A lame apology that blamed me was emailed several weeks later. You’re probably wondering what happened? Our kids didn’t have a fight. We didn’t volunteer together. We barely know each other. Certainly nothing that would justify that kind of a phone call!
 
We recently asked readers in a poll on this blog if it was important to have friends at your kids school. Most said yes. I agree. I need friendships with other moms at my kids’ school to help me get through the ups and downs of school, parenting. A Girls Night Out is fun too every once in a while! I’ve decided, however, after a few years at the school, that I only need a FEW friends. It took a while to make those really close friends, but our friendships have withstood the test of time…and of school politics.
 
My second year at The Willows, I co-chaired the school’s biggest parent-run fundraiser, the auction. We raised more than $200K. Great, you think? Not according the the head of the parent association (this position also comes with a board seat). After the event was over, I was exhausted, completely worn out. It was early evening when I received her email. It was a write-up thanking the auction co-chairs that would be printed in the school’s newsletter. I read it. The head of the parent association had nice things to say about my co-chairs. Then I read her blurb about me: “arrogant”, “extremely skilled at getting donations”, “a true Dr. Jekell, Mr. Hyde personality”. WHAT? This computer illerate had accidently sent the nasty email to ME and ALL MY CO-CHAIRS. Needless to say, there was collateral damage.
 
My conclusion about all this? When we ask–or demand–kindness, fairness and civility from our children, we must insist on the same from their parents. I’m not perfect! I admit to being difficult to work with sometimes. But, I’m a mom at a school doing volunteer work. To be insulted in the way I have is a sign of entitled wretchedness. Getting that early morning call at home on the first day of school isn’t what you want with your morning coffee. It speaks to a culture of mean-girl behavior.
 
Bullying is a big problem at many private elementary schools, which struggle to deal with bullies and mean kids. If schools insist on nice-girl (and boy) behavior from our kids, they should insist on it from the parents too.
 

 

Read More