By Porcha Dodson, Co-Author, Beyond The Brochure
Los Angeles is often described as one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse cities in the Unites States. A melting pot where people from all social and socio-economic classes can create a comfortable space for themselves and their families. The topic of diversity and inclusion has always been a top priority for many private elementary schools in Los Angeles. Most accredited schools have a diversity mission statement that fits with the school’s educational philosophy. Diversity initiatives at private elementary schools are in place. Efforts are made to recruit and retain minority students. Why then, do some minority families feel like there are very few, if any, support services for them at their schools? Why are some diverse families feeling like they are excluded from social events both at the school and outside of school?
A recent dinner with friends who work in some of LA’s top private schools led me to think about this subject, one which I’ve spent a considerable amount of time working on when I was Director of Diversity at The Curtis School. Over dinner, my colleagues and I pondered the question, “why are so many minority students and families still feeling isolated within their private school communities”? The name of a very well-known music industry super-star and his family were mentioned as parents who are feeling isolated at their children’s school. In this case, race, not class is the dividing issue.
I spoke with a private elementary school family who had recently fallen on hard times as a result of the recession. The woman’s husband had to take a job in another state. The woman felt totally isolated from her peer families at her child’s school and was no longer invited to many of the social gatherings, party book functions and play dates where the family was often first on the list of invited guests.
This is one example of how minority families can feel isolation due to a change in socio-economic status. Although this situation is unique in its own way, it illustrates the fact that at some schools, additional time must be spent on developing effective retention strategies for minority families and incorporating more sensitivity training into professional development workshops.
The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) encourages schools to educate their teachers and staff on how to be sensitive to all students and work to develop these practices and lessons into everyday classroom instruction and the admissions process.
Last week, a good friend shared with me that there was an amazing new family from out of state that had just joined her daughter’s third grade class. The mother was friendly and always made time in her busy work schedule to volunteer and be an active member of the classroom community. The family lives in a gated community in Inglewood because the father had accepted a job at the last minute at a huge law firm in LA and this was the first house they found. The mother tried hard to set up play date after play date, but seemed to continuously have no luck. Finally, one day she called a mom that she was friendly with and asked if they could get together. The other mother’s response was, “Sure, but I heard that you live in Inglewood and we DON’T DO Inglewood”. Needless to say, these same patterns continued throughout the course of the next year and finally the family ended up leaving the school. In my experience, this is not uncommon. Minority families an be isolated due to socio-economic status, geographic differences, race or other factors. Let’s face it, race still matters.
If you are a minority family applying to schools, there are a few things you should look for during your tours, interviews and visits to the school. Do you see diverse students, teachers and staff at the school? Does the school have a diversity committee that allows parents to join? Once your child is at the school, if it does not have a diversity committee, talk to your head master about setting up one. In addition, help organize a parent-driven committee that is responsible for acknowledging and creating campus-wide programs that celebrate each cultural holiday (Chinese New Year, Black History Month, Cinco De Mayo and more). A guest speaker series that focuses on social justice and inclusivity is also a format that is used successfully by many private elementary schools in Los Angeles. All of these practices will help ensure that diversity is welcome and celebrated throughout the school community, making the campus more inclusive to every family.
If you are a minority family applying to private schools, The Alliance, as it’s known among private schools, can help with all aspects of the admissions process.
Royalty: Kate Middleton and Prince William
Royalty in LA private elementary schools? You bet. Surely you do (or soon will) recognize these archetypes from your private school:
- The scrawny kid with the voice so shrill it curdles your spinal fluid who lands the lead solo in the holiday concert
- The overweight, slow-witted, petulant non-athlete who starts on the 5th grade basketball team
- The obnoxious bully who pummels half the class yet it’s always the victim’s fault
- The classroom cut-up whose “experiment” proving that a lead weight sinks in water beats out the invention of nuclear fusion for first place in the science fair
What do they all have in common?
How did these wunderkinds reach such exalted heights? Innate talent? Hard work? Upbeat attitude?
No, they are PRIVATE SCHOOL ROYALTY. Yes, like Lucky Chucky (aka Prince Charles), Balding Billy (aka Prince William) and the red-headed step-child (aka Prince Harry) that so captivate the British tabloids, these private school children get the plum spots on sports teams, choruses, plays, and classroom roles of various types solely by nature of their pedigree – who their grandparents and parents are and how much they contribute, or in many cases, how much they COULD contribute. You see, the really savvy private school royalty give a taste of what could be, and then watch the school do somersaults to make their blessed offspring worthy of the family name in the hope that even more of the royal coffers – might we even say the crown jewels – spill into the school’s annual fund, capital fund, and, the holy of holy: endowment.
In the old world, endowment was by birth. In 1776, these words changed all that: ”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Two-plus centuries later, in the private schools of Los Angeles, it seems the old world has returned. Thomas Jefferson had no idea what he was up against.
Love and Happiness
|Love and Happiness|
Question: As you know, preschool directors can play an important role in helping families with the private elementary school application process. If a family knows they will be interested in private school, how early should they begin this discussion with their preschool director?
Answer: The conversation usually takes place a year before the child graduates from preschool. When a parent has an older sibling already in elementary school, they know to initiate the conversation early. All families should start early. When the family is applying to schools (one year before the child will enroll in kindergarten), the discussion with the preschool director is as simple as letting the director know the name of the school that is the family’s first choice and then requesting a recommendation letter from the director. I have also had parents who request a recommendation letter from the child’s teacher.
Question: As the former Assistant Director of Temple Isaiah (a preschool where a number of families apply to private elementary schools each year), you’re very familiar with the competitive nature of LA private elementary schools. What specifically can a preschool director do to help families prepare for this process?
Answer: Personally, I like to be proactive in this process and I plant the seed as early as when the family enrolls in preschool. For families who start preschool when the child is 2 or 3, I let them know that this is something to keep in the back of their head and even recommend they start looking at different school websites to check out their educational philosophies. As children get older, a year before graduating, I let parents know about schools open houses, dates and times. I also meet with individual families and might make recommendations depending on the child’s mode of learning, personality or needs, as well as the family’s philosophy. I try to help families find the right school match for them and walk them through the process.
Question: How much parent-education do you plan to provide at Green Beginning about how the application process works?
Answer: I plan on providing information on an ongoing basis. There is the initial parent meeting where information is provided about elementary school options. There is also information sent via email so that parents are able to attend and make appointments to visit different schools. And there is the more formal panel with information provided by a guest speaker. Next year, I am hoping to have you, Christina, as a guest speaker so you can share your wealth of knowledge from Beyond the Brochure.
Question: What if a parent thinks their child should attend a very traditional school, but you think a more developmental school would be better for the child?
Answer: I always advocate for what I consider will be best for the child. In this situation I would discuss why I think a traditional school would not have the best-fit program for the child. In addition, I also have my teachers visit the different schools so that they can have a feel for the various private school programs and can offer feedback to the parents.
Question: In your opinion, what is the biggest mistake made by parents when they are applying to schools?
Answer: The most common mistakes I have seen are:
▪ Applying to a school based on “who goes there”! Many top private elementary schools have an elite group of parents, even when the school makes a strong effort to have a diverse body of students. I have known parents who apply to schools because of “perceived status” and not because it might be the best-fit program for the family. In the long run, this decision hurts the child and the family.
▪ Putting their eggs all in one basket or putting in too many applications. Believe it or not, there are parents (and I hope not to ruffle anyone’s feathers!) who feel a sense of entitlement and apply to just one school because they are sure they will get in. Later, they are crushed with disappointment or anger when they get a rejection letter. On the opposite spectrum are parents who get a bit anxious and apply to as many schools as possible. In my experience as a preschool director, schools like knowing they are the first choice of school for the family who is applying. Admissions directors have relationships with other fellow admissions directors and the word sometimes goes around.
▪ Poor attitude during the parent interview. Schools like to have parents on board who are in alignment with the school’s philosophy, and who are willing to volunteer and participate in school events. Parents who appear to be “too demanding” can be rated poorly by admissions directors and can be viewed as uncooperative or trouble makers. A demanding attitude might work against the family and give the impression that the family will not collaborate with the school. Therefore, the school might pick a different family based on their willingness to be a part of the community.
Question: There is a form that preschool directors fill out and send directly to all the elementary schools where a family applies. Do you discuss this form and the particular child with the private elementary school admissions director? Note: a copy of this form is in our book.
Answer: Not all the time, the assessment form is self-explanatory. However, there are times where I have had to make a call or request a call from the admission’s director at a private elementary school. An example of this case might be: a developmental delay in a specific domain that might give the impression of the child’s lack of readiness to move on to the next step. I might also call the admissions director if I know that the school for which I am filing out the form is the first choice for the family.
Question: Can a preschool director be an effective advocate for a family and their child help them get into a school (s)?
Answer: Absolutely! In general, preschool directors should establish relationships with local public and private elementary schools to learn about their programs and help families find the right match. When good relationships are established, preschool directors will go out of their way to help the family get into the school of choice by putting in a good word for the family, making phone calls, sending emails; and writing recommendation letters for the families.
Veronica Cabello, M.A., is the Founder and Executive Director of Green Beginning Community Preschool in West Los Angeles. She is the former Assistant Director of Temple Isaiah Preschool and has more than 25 years experience as an educator. She has a 12 year old child. To see a review of Green Beginning Preschool, visit The Twin Coach blog.
I was excited to be asked to write the following guest blog piece for Aristotle Circle, a website and educational resource. Aristotle Circle was founded by Suzanne Rheault, a Wall Street veteran and mother of two who was frustrated by both the process and lack of resources when applying to Manhattan private schools for her children. Aristotle Circle matches parents and students with experts in New York, Los Angeles and other cities to help give families a clear path through school admissions. Aristotle Circle also donates up to 10% of its profits to provide expert services for low income students through the “I Have A Dream Foundation”
Musings Of A Private Elementary School Mom In Los Angeles (And Her Husband) By Christina Simon
Shortly after we enrolled our daughter in a private elementary school in Los Angeles, my husband, Barry, told me he thought he was a scarce commodity at the school: a dad who worked at a “real job”. Terms like “hand me down money” and “born on third base, but thought they hit a triple”, have been tossed about in our conversations. You get the picture. At the time, Barry was CEO of a company with thirty locations around the globe. He wasn’t exactly working 9-5. It was more like 24/7.
Barry thinks that parents who don’t have to work at “real jobs”, and instead create “vanity projects” appear to dominate LA private elementary schools. Wineries, artistic endeavors, clothing stores that are shuttered quickly and oversized, money-losing, signature projects are rampant.
I remind him that a lot of families work hard to pay school tuition. He thinks it’s a small percentage of the families, unless you include the grandparents who pay tuition for their grandchildren. Who really knows? But, it can make for some hilarious social situations when we find ourselves nodding supportively as a parent talks about their “business” or a “huge deal” they are working on. We feign interest, knowing it’s not making or breaking the family finances.
Now that we have kids, my family recently visited NYC for a pre-reception to celebrate Barry’s 25th Harvard College Reunion next year. Barry has suddenly decided, along with his college friends (who also have kids) that Harvard is a really good cause to give money to.
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