Do Stars Shine Brightly At LA Private Schools?
The Daily Truffle posted a list of celebrities who graduated from Los Angeles area schools. Although L.A. is thought of as a city of transplants, natives can be found hiding in the manicured landscape. And I should know, since I’m one of them.
Having grown up in Beverlywood and attended Crossroads from 8-12th grades, I was amused by the Truffle’s list. It was, of course, heavily weighted toward the obvious sort of celebrity (I saw no brain surgeons or physicists on the list, although I’m sure there are some who graduated from my alma mater). And it made me think about the celebrity kids I went to school with, as well as the exposure to the celebrity culture my daughter might have as she makes her way through the L.A. private school scene.
I graduated from Crossroads in 1986, along with a good number of immensely bright and talented people, some of who are now mildly famous. Take, for instance, Anthony Wilson, an incredible working musician who plays guitar all over the world, or the bluegrass singer Gillian Welch. Matthew Tyrnaur, a roving editor for Vanity Fair who wrote, directed and produced last year’s documentary, “Valentino, The Last Emperor,” is a huge talent. How about Richard Rushfield, a terribly sardonic writer who, after publishing a couple of books, has finally hit his stride with the recently released American Idol: The Untold Story. Another example is Crossroads alum Maya Rudolph, who’s simply one of the funniest women ever on SNL.
Here’s the rub, though: for every superbright, very accomplished, fabulously erudite alum there are the duds who ruin it for everyone. While I can crow about my talented aforementioned classmates, there’s a Crossroads wall of shame, too. Poor Gary Coleman graduated in my Crossroads class. Performance genius Peter Sellars’ daughter, Victoria, went to Crossroads as well (her nickname was Pebbles, she has since been in porn, say no more). And, finally, just to utterly destroy any sense of pride I might have had, mental giant Brody Jenner (of reality show “The Hills” fame) graduated from Crossroads, too. Not exactly a sterling endorsement.
Perusing the list further, I came to the conclusion that, if you want your kid to have mega studio contacts, sending the tyke to Crossroads or Harvard Westlake is probably a sound move. There’s a ton of kids of Hollywood power players at these schools, and since Hollywood is merely an extension of high school socially (although played for higher stakes), there’s value in who you know. When I looked at Buckley’s “star” alums, though, it seemed resolutely “D” list: Paris Hilton, Alyssa Milano, Melissa Rivers.
The determination I’ve made is that sending kids to school with celebrities is probably unavoidable in Los Angeles, but not really a positive. It’s one thing to get a great education and then go out there and conquer the world, but that’s not what celebrity kids do. They are a distraction from the education, a sort of private school sideshow that titillates the ordinary students, but ultimately adds nothing to the academic experience. I may have graduated with Gary Coleman, but I do not remember him in any of my classes. He was like a celebrity ghost.
Now that my daughter attends Mirman, I wander around the campus sometimes, looking for the evidence of celebrity. I haven’t found it. It may exist there, somewhere, but at Mirman academic accomplishment seems to trump all. Whether they’re figuring out a math proof, composing a poem, or performing in a play, the school’s emphasis is on who you are as a person and what you can produce, not where you came from and who you know. And who knows? Anna just might be sitting next to a future Nobel Prize winner, or the inventor of the next Facebook, or maybe just a really good, really nice kid who will be her loyal friend forever. You never know.
Editor’s Note: The Willow’s School has had it’s share of notable celebrity kids. The daughters of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore were students there. So was Courtney Love’s daughter. And Steven Spielberg’s kid. There is currently a major, A+List celebrity family at the school. For privacy reasons, I won’t mention the name. But, it does make for fun “star-sightings!”
Types Of Admissions Letters:
Just the thought of them makes many parents anxious. Speaking the words out loud can elicit a cold sweat. For the last 8 months you have been through the ringer known as the admissions process. The results of your efforts and the school’s decision will be mailed to you soon. So, now is the time to prepare for your next step. The good news is that it’s easier than the admission process itself.
There are three kinds of admissions letters school send out:
Acceptance, Wait-listed and Non-Accept.
Acceptance Letters: Remember applying to college and how your joy would be determined by the size of the envelope you got from a school? That is not always the case with private school acceptance letters. Sometimes they are just that: a standard letter, not an 8 x 11 envelope. If it is just an envelope, it will be followed with a thicker, larger envelope that will contain a contract, probably a fee schedule and a handbook. The most important thing you can do is READ the contract. Next week I will go into the types of typical clauses you’ll find in a contract and how to choose the right school if you are accepted to more than one. Note: Many schools have now adopted the practice of emailing parents and the students (if they’re in middle school) of their acceptance, as well as sending a letter. Emails will be received on Saturday.
Wait-list Letter: This letter states, “We like your child but feel other candidates are a better match.” It is painful to read but not hopeless. If you are on a wait-list, it means that you still have the opportunity to get your child enrolled. There are a few key steps to take to help improve your child’s chances of enrollment that I’ll give you in an upcoming issue. Some schools send out wait-list letters instead of non-accept letters. This just pisses me off! Many schools do this under the guise of wanting to make sure that every parent feels good about their school. A school should have the courage to tell a family that they are not a good fit. I have met many a family who has lost all respect for a school when they find out that not one parent who applied received a non-accept letter. It’s dishonest and disrespectful to an adult.
Non-Accept Letter: This is by far the hardest letter to receive and it always comes in a thin envelope. Expect a wide range of emotions to surface: panic (What will I tell my child?), rage (How dare they?) and sorrow (What will we do?). For mothers, it often leads to a feeling of failure. Give yourself time to grieve, for that is what you will probably do and that’s ok and normal. In a few weeks I will share with you what other mothers have said about getting through their own disappointment. So there you have it, the three kinds of admission letters. One last thing to keep in mind is that this is just like getting or not getting a job (or auditioning). You will never know why a school accepted or didn’t accept your child. This can be very difficult to live with at first, but know that calling a school and demanding that they explain themselves is NOT a good idea, even if it feels like it might be at the time.
Simple Action Steps: NOW is the time to be going back to the schools that you really liked. You will have two weeks before contracts are due, so go back and take a second look at your favorite schools.
1. Call up your top 3 school choices.
2. Ask to attend an event: a pajama story time, a performance or even an auction.
3. When you are at these events, talk to the parents and observe the kids. Are they exhibiting skills, behaviors and attitudes that you want your child to exhibit? Are the parents friendly and open? Some of my clients have changed their minds about a school just from doing a simple visit like the ones suggested above.
When my oldest daughter was in first grade at The Waverly School (in Pasadena, Calif.), she met a family who was considering sending their son there. They asked her why she liked Waverly. “Well,” she said, “there’s the farm, and math, and journal writing, and my friends, and singing, and my teachers … pretty much everything! But why are you thinking about Waverly?”
I was slightly stunned (but proud of my daughter). Here was a six-year old looking an adult in the eye and providing a thoughtful response to a question – and then asking an insightful question of her own.
Yes, THAT conversation is because of Waverly. Don’t get me wrong, my husband and I would like to take a wee bit of credit, but Waverly deserves much of the praise here.
So, how did we end up at Waverly?
Flashback to when my daughter was three. I took on the task of finding a private school with every bit of energy I had – which meant I had reams of files, brochures, and bookmarks on my computer. I networked with friends to find out what others liked and didn’t like. I attended many fund-raisers (now, that was a dangerous year for us – I know how to work a silent auction). I embarked on numerous school tours.
The tours ended up being the most important step in our journey to find the right school. I will never forget when I heard Heidi Johnson, head of school at Waverly, speak for the first time. She just made so much sense. Heidi shared an anecdote about their youngest students in Young Kindergarten taken from one of their weekly trips to the Waverly Organic Farm.
The students were asked to stand in a tight circle and try to hold out their arms, but they couldn’t. Then, they were asked to take a few steps away from each other and then extend their arms. The teacher talked to the children about this newfound experience and asked them how that felt. After they discussed their first-hand observations, they talked about how they would feel if they were seeds.
This simple, real world lesson in how to plant seeds, giving them the room they need to stretch and grow, created an opportunity to learn at a level I had never considered before.
I wondered if everyone else in the room had a gigantic cartoon lightbulb turning on over their heads, like I did. I rushed home and got the application filled out and submitted in record time.
How did we get in? I really don’t know.
What I do know is that friends going through this process ask me regularly what I think of Waverly. Of course, I rave about the school. I co-chair one of its major events every year (a fabulous craft fair – sorry I am in PR and cannot help but plug it), make latkes every Hanukkah for both of my kids’ classes, attend as many First Friday Farmer Markets that I can, and proudly walk my daughters into school every morning since we ALL want to say “good morning” to Meg at the front desk – all while I work full-time.
Actually, I think we got into Waverly because we were right for Waverly, and Waverly thought we were right for the school.
When my daughter asked that family, “Why are you thinking about Waverly?” she was asking more than she knew. She was asking them to take charge of their decision and find the match that made sense for their family. We often think the power to get into the “right” school belongs solely to the school. But, even though a school might offer you a space, it’s ultimately up to you to choose what is right for you.
Samantha Sackin is an executive vice president at GolinHarris. A third generation Angeleno, she and her husband, Tom, live in Highland Park with their two daughters, a Pollinator (2nd grade) and a Traveling Toucan (Young Kindergarten) at The Waverly School in Pasadena, Calif.
4th Grade: The Year Of The Mean Girl?
I’m part of a great monthly parenting group run by Betsy Brown Braun. It seems every meeting, I bring up issues my daughter is having with other girls at school. Rumors, secrets, lies, broken friendships, tears, nastiness and on and on. Everyday seems to bring a new hurt or upset for my daughter. She is funny, nice and smart. But, she’s not tough.
My daughter also made a faux-paux recently. She gossiped about some of the “mean girls” to her friend and her friend promptly went and told them what my daughter said. They came and confronted her. My daughter is no longer friends with her former good friend.
The Willows School has periodic conversations with the 4th grade girls about acceptable and unacceptable behavior. It just doesn’t seem like it’s having the desired impact. But, as a mom, I can’t intervene. The school doesn’t encourage parent involvement in kids’ disputes and at some point, my daughter has to learn to deal with this stuff.
In the parenting group, Betsy assures me these are typical 4th grade girl antics. Whew! Call me crazy, but I thought this was middle school behavior. No! It’s arrived early and with a bang. Every day brings a new challenge. I’m optimistic, but lately my optimism is dashed when I pick my daughter up from school. Another incident! My friend and guest blogger Jenny Heitz, put it well when she said, everything you’re dealing with is still better than having the mean girl for a daughter. She’s right. I love my daughter’s sweet, trusting nature. But, she does need to learn, as the school said, to the girls to “watch what they say.”
Yesterday, I had one of my toughest parenting days in a long time. My daughter, after talking with me for more than an hour about how she was feeling, sent me an email. She signed it, “your sad daughter.” I instantly broke into tears. I knew how she was feeling, but I didn’t know how to make the hurt disappear. We talked some more and she settled down for the evening. I assured her tomorrow would be a new day and there’d be an opportunity for good, fun things to happen.
Sure enough, just at the right time today, an invitation to a classmate’s birthday party arrived. My daughter will be attending!
Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. Her daughter started 4th grade at Mirman School this year. She previously attended 3rd St. Elementary School. Jenny has been published recently in the Daily News. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.