Guest Blogger Samantha: Our Waverly School Experience

The Waverly High School campus
 

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. 


 
 

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Fourth Grade: Year Of The Mean Girl?

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!

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Guest Blogger Jenny: I Want My Manny! At Private Schools, Mannies A Status Symbol

A Typical Manny?



In Los Angeles, there’s so many ways to raise kids. You can go free range, attachment, home school, Ferberize, stay at home, work from home, work full time, have a live-in nanny, a part time nanny, a babysitter, or… a Manny.


The actual definition of a Manny isn’t complicated: it’s a nanny who just so happens to be a guy. But, for some reason, Mannies attract attention aplenty, and their general criterion seems quite different from that of their female Nanny counterparts.

Look at the line up at the private school carpool lanes, at any pretty park in L.A., or on a nice day at The Grove, and you’ll see a plethora of Nannies. Many of them are immigrants, most already seem to have children of their own, and almost all possess the maternal confidence that only experience (and, to a limited degree, perhaps gender) can provide.

Judging from the many online mommy group bulletin board Nanny queries, the requirements for a good nanny involve being able to work long hours, clean in the off times, cook on occasion, care for other women’s kids as if they were their own, and change diapers. Requiring very little per hour, but still being able to drive, is a bonus.

Compare those requirements to the Mannies I’ve seen. One I know is Yale educated with a theater background. He’s super cool, loves to read The New York Times, and will rough house with the kids. He, of course, drives. He demands to be treated as a peer, because he really is a peer. Maternal skills, diaper changing, and cleaning are not required. I have no idea about pay.

What’s the real value added for the kids? Probably the playtime. Let’s face it: many parents work very long hours, and don’t have much energy to spare for marathon handball competitions. Add to this the fact that parents are having kids later and later, and suddenly an energetic young male who will give endless piggyback rides so that Geriatric Dad doesn’t have to seems like an excellent idea. Although this might not hold true; Lenore Skenazy, of FreeRange Kids fame, admits that her assumption that a Manny would play outside with her sons more turned out to be wrong.

Of course, the irony of the Manny idea is that this is a generation that tends to view any male interested in their children as a potential predator. I guess if the male in question is young, sporty and ivy-league educated, this concern is unwarranted (by the way, this concern probably is unwarranted, and insulting to males generally, under most circumstances).

So, when the Nannies show up to school to pick up their charges, no one thinks a thing of it. They’re like part of the scenery. But when the Manny arrives, he’s cool, or cute (perversely evil minds wonder what other services he might supply besides childcare), or like a novelty act. He is a strange childcare status symbol, indeed, part Pied Piper, part Peter Pan, supper club approved, and all pedigreed.

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.

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Guest Blogger Janis: From Village School To Harvard-Westlake To Harvard University

On my last birthday, my son sent me a letter that began, “I’m sitting in my dorm room overlooking Harvard Yard.  I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for all you did.”

It’s not true, of course.  He did it himself. But I will admit, there was a little guidance from his mom.

Someplace along the toddler way I realized that I was going to do my darndest to make sure he had a good education. A teacher by training, work, and temperament, I was surprised to find that I was drawn to the pricey world of private education. There are excellent public schools for sure, but money would have to be spent one way or the other for a first class education. We bit the bullet and tuition rose to the top of our monthly budget.

When my son turned 4, he announced he would not be returning to nursery school. He wanted to go to a real school.  Okay.  And what real school takes a child at 4? There are several, it seems.  And I chose one.  Village School in the Palisades.

Needless to say, we  chose them before they chose us.  They were perfect. They were nurturing and playful and encouraging and yes, academic.  I hadn’t heard of the concept of educating the whole child then, but I understand it now.  And they had it.  I mean, he was only 4.

Of course, it did occur to me he might not get in.  In fact, I probably fretted obsessively over it. There are just so many spaces.  We did everything imaginable. I brought cupcakes. We had a friend of a friend who knew one of the administrators write a letter. I don’t know if it helped, but at least somebody who knew somebody knew us so we couldn’t be all bad.

The interview with the children consisted of playing games and then sitting in a circle with a sweet, pretty teacher who asked questions like, “What is your favorite movie?”
I heard my son had answered, “The Buddy Holly Story.” Oh, I thought, we’re finished.  But they must have enjoyed it.

The parents were interviewed separately and we were professional and enthusiastic and yes, we certainly would volunteer. I suggested my husband could play banjo at the annual Hootenanny, and I would be delighted to help out in the library. We were wait-listed. 

Eventually, the call came and Village turned out to be an excellent choice for us.  Excellent! The administrators were hands on and knew and cared about each child and family.  My son was blossoming.  We couldn’t have been happier with the teachers and the other families.

And then in 3rd grade, there was a kid who was being a jerk to my child.  Not in front of the teacher, of course, but a jerk nonetheless. This was not acceptable.  We met with the teacher and the principal and suggested that perhaps this wasn’t the best fit, after all. Perhaps we needed a different school.

We began once again to look at the local private schools.  One in particular caught our attention. It was well known for its high academics. Our son had to take a test to even be considered. We spent a day there and he sat in on classes. It’s a wonderful school, very exciting scholastically, but quite different from little Village School. 

However, when the questions were put to him: Was he unhappy at Village? Were the kids more like him at this new school? Was this something he’d like to explore? He thought long and hard and decided no, he liked it just where he was. He said there would always be mean kids and he might as well learn to deal with them now.

By then, however, Village School informed us that the child in question would not be returning in the fall.  In our haste to try to control things, we had forgotten we were not alone.  A good school will always have your back.  A child, if you listen to him or her, will tell you what they need.

The teachers continued to keep the curriculum varied, fun, and interesting. I found the CTY program through the Johns Hopkins School for summer enrichment. And my son joined the school basketball team.  Everything went swimmingly.

When the big change came to go from 6th grade to 7th, we interviewed all the usual suspects of private high schools.  They each had very different personalities, but early on my son decided on Harvard-Westlake.  In my heart I believe an especially good letter of recommendation was sent from Village School and with his test scores and grades, the acceptance letter came from Harvard-Westlake and the next 6 years began.

I am a teacher and a mom. And like every other parent I want what’s best for my child. I may have chosen the basic path, but it really was my child who called the shots.  Maybe we can help, maybe we can nudge, but we can’t control.  Things tend to work out the way they are supposed to.  Trust your instincts. Trust your child.

Janis Adams has raised and educated 3 children who have attended some of the top schools in the country, including Village School, Harvard-Westlake, Loyola High School, Harvard University, UCLA, UC Berkeley, Harvard Kennedy School and University San Diego Law School. She is on the docent council at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the owner of Academic-Achievers Tutoring, www.academic-achievers.com.  You can contact her with questions at Janis@academic-achievers.com

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