Guest Blogger Kim Hamer: Parent Faux Pas At The Secondary School Fair

A Pretty, But Misguided Gift For Admissions Directors 

Two weeks ago, I attended the  Secondary School Consortium event. Think Kindergarten Fair for Los Angeles private schools grades 4 – 12.  

 
It was an evening event in a crowded, small room.  Here are a two mistakes I observed parents making.  
 
My first observation was that there were quite a few 5- 6th grade kids there who were with their parents. This was an adults only event.
 
Then, I noticed one mom had sprigs of lavender tied together with an organza ribbon. Her daughter had on a purple top.  The mom guided her daughter to several tables to meet the admissions director. The daughter then handed the lavender to the admissions director.  The two admissions directors she handed them to that I saw were NOT the kind who would appreciate sprigs of lavender. 


I was appalled that these moms thought it was OK to ignore the “adults only” rule that the admission directors as a group set!  


I was also appalled at that one mother thought it was a good idea to have her daughter, who is not even supposed to be there, introduce herself and hand the admissions directors her gift in a blatant attempt to make an impression! 
 
She did make an impression and it is one she will have to work past just to be even with the other candidates! 
 
These events are not for kids and they are NOT the place to try and make an impression.  Please don’t make that mistake!


Kim Hamer is a former private school expert. Her children attended PS#1 School in Santa Monica and Windward School. 

Why ARE Private Elementary Schools In LA So Hard To Get Into?

I stumbled across this post by a mom on Urban Baby recently:
 
“LA private school process sucks, and there are fewer schools than NY (at least within reasonable driving area of wherever you live) so there are fewer choices. They are full of siblings and celebrities and then a few diversity admits. If you are white and unconnected, good luck with the most popular schools. On the next tier, you can find spaces…”
 
This mom writes what many parents in LA think: that it’s impossible to get into LA’s top private elementary schools unless you are a celebrity, a minority family or your kid is a sibling. 


What this mom underestimates is the sheer number of white families in LA private schools who have family money, but not necessarily “connections”. Some may be legacies, others are not. 
 
While there is no doubt LA private schools are uber-competitive, it’s not impossible to secure a spot for your kid. Every year, all types of families get into the best private elementary schools in LA. We wrote Beyond The Brochure to help parents navigate the admissions process and understand what really happens behind the scenes, how decisions are made and what you need to do to get your child into a great school. Your positive attitude and a sense of optimism are an absolutely necessary component to getting in. A belief that your child will get into the best school possible will help sustain you through the process. And, it will certainly come across as you interview at the schools. 
 
The biggest problem is there are not enough spaces for families who want their kids to attend the top private elementary schools. So, schools must choose among applicants based on subjective and objective factors. Subjective factors can be as subtle as a family’s perceived commitment to private school, family wealth, a strong letter of recommendation or a good “fit” between child and school. Objective factors mean things like an equal number of boys and girls in a class. 
 
My co-author Porcha and I recently spoke at 10th St. Preschool in Santa Monica. The question about whether wait-list letters are “real” or just a polite way of saying “no” came up. We know families who have kids accepted off wait-lists every year. But, some schools don’t send rejection letters. They use wait-list letters as their way of saying “no”. We understand that Crossroads, PS#1 and Echo Horizon don’t send rejection letters, but only acceptance and wait-list letters. This is a polite way of trying to avoid alienating families.  And, some schools send out wait-list letters but have such a high acceptance rate that their wait-lists rarely open up.
 
During our talk at 10th St. Preschool, panelist and former education consultant Kim Hamer, brought up the issue of celebrities. “They are really not your competition”, she said. She pointed out that many schools don’t want to deal with the high-maintence demands and security concern of famous families and their children. And, being wealthy does not mean famous families are always financially generous to schools. Of course, celebrities DO get their kids into private schools. They just aren’t the real competition for most families.  
 
Diversity is a priority for many private elementary schools in LA. They seek diverse families, both socio-econonic and ethnically diverse. However, not all diverse families get in. I know of one diverse family who tried to get into The Willows for several years, to no avail. The same considerations about a good fit between child, parent and school still apply for diverse families. The admissions criteria don’t go out the window just so diverse families can be seen on campuses. 
 
Financial aid is another confusing issue. Kim Hamer points out that schools are seeking middle class families who can pay some, but not all of the tuition. For example, a family who takes home $80K after taxes could qualify for financial aid. The schools can find plenty of families who can’t pay any tuition. They also know there are families who can pay full tuition if they adjust their lifestyle. 
 
It’s our believe that the admissions process is an “insider’s game” for most families. But, anyone can play the game if you understand it’s rules!
 
 

Two Lawsuits Shock Exclusive NY, D.C. Private Schools: What’s Really Going On?

Sidwell Friends School in D.C., attended by the Obama’s daughters (and which counts Chelsea Clinton as an alum) was rocked last week by a scandal involving an affair by the school’s former psychologist with the mom of a child he was treating. The mom’s jilted husband is suing the school for $10 million, which works out to about 10 years worth of tuition (kidding!).
In March, news broke that a Manhattan mom sued York Preschool, a $19,000-a-year preschool for failing to prepare her child for the Ivy League. This poisoned ivy lawsuit had the mom blogs buzzing, mostly negatively about Nicole Imprescia, the mom-plantiff.
As a private elementary school mom in Los Angeles, I’m not in the least surprised by these stories, but I am curious as to what would compel a parent to sue their child’s private school.
Are we seeing the start of a new trend? Or, is the York Preschool lawsuit an isolated case of an overwrought, entitled mom losing her cool? Is the Sidwell Friends case an isolated incident of angry husband/dad blaming the school rather than his wife and her alleged school counselor/lover?
Most elite private schools operate within a small community of parents and administrators, where virtually no parent is willing to cause public drama lest they ruin their child’s chances of continuing at that school, getting their younger kids into the school or having their kids matriculate on to another top school. Or, more importantly, upset their standing in the social pecking order.
Is there something unique about the most coveted, uber-competitive private schools that create toxic environments where parents become livid enough to sue? Have these two lawsuits emboldened other parents to think about suing their child’s school when something goes wrong?
Private school scandal and drama can definitely be attributed to the culture of some of these expensive schools. Whenever you mix hefty tuitions that can reach as high as $30,000 per year for elementary school, wealth, privilege, celebrity and parents who are unaccustomed to being told “no”, it creates an accident waiting to happen. Then, add very powerful administrators, young pretty teachers, enfant terribles disguised as grown-ups and kids to the mix and the situation could ignite at any moment. Want to add more fuel to this volatile situation? Factor in the huge pressure on private school parents (largely self-imposed) and the schools themselves to magically produce super-talented braniacs who are athletically gifted, speak numerous languages and will go to one of three Ivy League Schools to continue their family’s lineage and tradition, can make even a normal person insane.
And it does, frequently. In private.
Shortly after we enrolled our daughter in a top LA private elementary school, 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, owned by a major NY private equity firm, 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, housing projects (not the HUD variety), 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 asks whether it’s really that hard sucking up to 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.
My kids’ school is understated compared to some of the other LA private schools. We don’t see the outrageousness found at other schools. I’m talking about play dates based solely on social status, not on the child’s friendships. Or enrolling a child in a school for the parent’s networking opportunities. That stuff is pretty non-existent at our school, thankfully.
When a parent gets involved in a dispute with a private school, it’s typically resolved privately. I don’t expect this to change. There’s way too much at stake for most families to risk a suing a school, no matter how wronged they feel or how many attorneys they have in their iPhone contacts.
Sidwell Friends and York Preschool certaintly aren’t the only schools to deal with disgruntled parents. Bad parent behavior has been created major problems at several LA private elementary schools in in the not so distant past. The operative word here is private. These scandals (involving sex, awful parent behavior and not-so-kosher sex) have remained private, known only to those at the school or in the larger private school community. Most unhappy families simply leave the school. When you’re paying $25,000 or more per year, per child, if you’re desperately unhappy, you pull your kid out of the school.
The high quality of the education is what makes private school worth it. I believe private school families have a common thread that keeps us at our respective schools, even if that thread isn’t so “common” or is sometimes badly frayed. When all is said and done, it’s about the education of our kids.

* This piece was originally published on OpenSalon.com 


Guest Blogger Jenny: The Memories of Mean Girls Endure

I have always fully admitted that I didn’t have a good adolescence. As a smart, somewhat dorky, gawky and bespectacled 13 year old, I entered a fancy, very well known private school. I was a year late because my parents had sort of dropped the ball on the whole middle school thing, so I ended up at Palms Junior High School for 7thgrade (a scary disaster, and then my parents scrambled to get me out of there).

 

My being a year late to private middle school wasn’t helpful, although in retrospect I don’t think starting in 7th grade at Crossroads would have made a difference. The sort of social scene present there in the early ‘80s was like something out of a John Hughes movie, except with palm fronds waving in the background. The popular girls were very tightly controlled by one girl in particular; she had bigger breasts and was meaner than the rest. Apparently, the other girls had to call this one girl every morning, just to make sure their outfits wouldn’t clash with hers.

 

My experience in classes with these girls was either that they completely ignored me or laughed at me behind my back. It really didn’t matter if there was a good reason or not. If I did well on, say, an oral report, it got turned into a negative (“You really memorized all that?” one of them asked me once with a sneer). The other option was no response whatsoever, as if I weren’t really there. Once, in 9th grade, I had a Cellophane temporary hair color go awry, turning my hair fairly purple. By 10th grade, this would be common place, but naturally I had to inadvertently be the school pioneer in hair dye. As I skulked through the halls with my hair ablazing, one girl’s announcement was thus: “She just wants attention. Let’s just ignore her.” ‘And how would that be any different from any other day’, I thought to myself.

 

Sometimes the popular boys followed the mean girls’ lead, making nasty comments about my lack of a bra size, or the aforementioned purple hair (one boy’s comment: “Did someone have her period on your head?”), or somehow turning my good grades into a negative. By sixteen, I was a black haired, black dressed, sulky nightmare of a teen; my parents nicknamed me “The Widow.” I was unfriendly, inadvertently channeling Ally Sheedy’s character in “The Breakfast Club.” Alternately being treated like a nobody or like a freak really weighed on me. Needless to say, college was a relief. Not only could I start over, but college kids weren’t really interested in that sort of victimization, anyway.

 

Cut to years later, on Facebook, becoming Facebook friends with that head mean girl. She “friended” me; I didn’t seek her out. And I honestly wanted to be the bigger person. After over twenty years, it seemed time to be a grown up. Those days were long gone, right? We exchanged pleasantries and I even featured a book she wrote on my blog. Why not let bygones be bygones.

 

But then one day, something snapped. A picture was posted online of three of the popular mean girls from my class (including the Facebook friend). It was probably taken a couple of years ago, at the beach, and there they were, the Trifecta of Terror. They looked very much the same. And viewing the image caused me a visceral reaction of rage and shame. Wow. ‘Up yours,’ I thought, staring at their self-satisfied faces with venom.

 

The funny thing is that those girls so many years ago weren’t even that awful. For all I know, they felt as horrible and awkward and bullied as I did (I’m really, really trying to be very adult here; the main mean girl had even posted, ironically, an anti-bullying article on her updates). These days, girl terror takes on sinister levels of sophistication, using emailing and texting and god knows what else to humiliate the victim.  I never had anything like that happen, yet my reaction to those relatively mild tormentors was strong. What will a truly cyber-bullied girl feel years from now?

 

I think of my daughter, who so far has been able to shake off any nasty mean girl behavior (and who, at least so far, doesn’t seem like a mean girl herself), and I really hope she keeps her sense of self as adolescence approaches. Because as much as I firmly believe in getting over things and getting on with life, some things, like the mean girls, appear to endure, sneaking up to sucker punch you on your Facebook page.

 

 

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 and on Mamapedia, The Well Mom, Sane Moms, Hybrid Mom, The Culture Mom and A Child Grows In Brooklyn. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.

Guest Blogger Samantha: Seeing "The Race To Nowhere" Made Me Grateful For Wildwood School

 

Did you see the film The Race to Nowhere?  Well, if you didn’t, you should.  I’m not here to critique filmmaking (as if everyone needs to be Ingmar Bergman), but this film really gives one food for thought.  Not to mention also giving you dyspepsia, and a bout of depression as you contemplate the state of the world, and more specifically, the state of education in this country.  Oy vey.

 

Basically, as stated in the petition on the film’s website, Race to Nowhere wants to “end the race” by implementing these basic ideas:

 

•  Support a broad based quality curriculum (including the arts and physical education) and teaching in every school;

 

•  Eliminate the competitive allocation of resources based on high stakes tests;

 

•  Reflect quality research and practices supporting the developmental needs of “whole” children and adolescents;

 

•  Foster diverse talents, develop 21st century and citizen skills and encourage the growth of individual students and teachers and respect for both; and

 

•  Restrict the number of hours students are in school and working on schoolwork outside of school hours.

 

Clearly, there are many problems with our educational template.  Some caused by politicians, some caused by teachers unions, some caused by Boards of Education, and yes, some caused by us – the parents.  When I was thinking about schools for my son, and then, in turn, for my daughter, I pondered many of these issues as a concerned and relatively well-informed parent.  After seeing The Race to Nowhere I thanked my lucky stars to have chosen the educational path that we did for our children and I thanked my lucky stars for Wildwood School.  Miraculously, Wildwood was addressing almost every single issue discussed in the film, and they had been doing it long before the topic became the “it” subject across the country.

 

The thought process that led me to Wildwood School was as follows:  Of course, I am interested in my child doing well academically.  But, I believe that doing well in school is a desire that has to be ignited in children; they have to associate school with that which is enjoyable.  If school starts reminding a child of what it feels like to take medicine, well, you’ve lost them already.  I figured that if I wanted a shot for my kids academically I had to pick a place where they would really learn to love learning.  I had to pick a place where the journey to academic mastery was as important as the mastery itself.  I had to pick a place where children could be children, and where joy in the classroom didn’t compete with test scores.  Luckily, I found Wildwood.

 

Here is how Wildwood embraces the ideas proposed in The Race to Nowhere:

 

Wildwood uses Best Practices, which are philosophies and practices based upon 32 years of research from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  This ongoing study has looked into how the brain works and how students, all students, learn best. See, here at Wildwood, educational research is put into practice. Wildwood has a learner centered curriculum, which means that the kids really like learning! They get to be part of their own learning process. Now come on, how cool is that?  Don’t you wish you’d gone to a school that did that?

 

Wildwood assesses children beyond standard letter grades by giving a multi-dimensional picture of student growth.  The whole child is evaluated, so you really know how your child is doing, not just how they are doing on a test.

 

Homework isn’t assigned arbitrarily, and isn’t formalized until 3rd grade.

 

Route memorization and cramming useless facts and figures into your head is NOT what is happening at Wildwood!  Instead, Wildwood incorporates Project Based Learning, which has been proven to be one of the most effective ways that children learn.  Really.  Google it. Project-based learning (PBL): is an approach for classroom activity that emphasizes learning activities that are long-term, interdisciplinary and student-centered.

 

And don’t fool yourself, kids at Wildwood work really hard, and they learn all the things that they need to be competitive for college and in life.

 

It’s just that they like doing it a little more than at other schools and they won’t get an ulcer before they graduate.

 

I found The Race To Nowhere, frankly, to be a calling card for Wildwood.  I watched some of my friends at more traditional schools give serious pause to some of their choices.  They started cutting back on extracurricular activities for their kids, slowing down a bit, toning down the pressure, and maybe giving a second look at Wildwood come Middle School application time…

 

And I smile, because I remember the fable of the tortoise and the hare.

Samantha Goodman is the mom of a Kindergartner at Wildwood School and a preschooler at 10th St. Preschool in Santa Monica. Samantha’s son also attended 10th St. Preschool. Before her current parenting hiatus she was a screenwriter in Hollywood and for now writes on her blog, Lifewithsmalls.blogspot.com 



See my interview with The Race To Nowhere director, Vicki Abeles here
 
 

Guest Blogger Isla: An Unlikely Road To Mirman School

“He has a soft marker for Down’s syndrome”, the ultrasound technician told us.  At 35, I was expecting our second child and thrilled to find out we were having a boy this time around (we already had an amazing 2-year-old daughter).  Now my head was spinning.  Ultimately, we decided that Down’s syndrome would not alter our plans to have a baby, so we proceeded through the pregnancy without further screening.  At 33 weeks, I woke at dawn with stomach pains.  Within a couple of hours, my son arrived.  His lungs were not fully developed and he needed a respirator, but he was otherwise healthy (without any signs of Down’s).

 

Unlike our daughter, who seemed to reach milestones at lightening speed, our son was significantly slower in many aspects of his development.  He did not crawl until he was over a year.  By the time he was 2, he only said “mama” audibly.  Concerned about his speech, we had him evaluated. Testing was negative, and we were advised to give him more time.  Soon after, he began to make great strides.  As he became fluent, he quickly learned the alphabet and could count up to 30.  He displayed a laser-like focus when it came to listening to stories or watching television programs.  Then he spontaneously began reading my daughter’s kindergarten books aloud.  He had not yet turned 3.

 

At this point, my husband and I were experiencing challenges with my daughter’s learning.  She was not performing well in school, and required tutoring at a learning center while being evaluated for a learning disability.   As our son waited quietly in the waiting room, one of the tutors (who is also a lawyer and special education advocate) took an interest in him. Each time we came in, she began talking to him more and more.  Soon, he began insisting on being taught.  Turns out, he could follow the lessons and perform all of the computer programs better than many of the 8-year-old kids.  That’s when the specialist told me that our son was highly gifted and should be tested for admittance to the Mirman School.  In fact, she went, as far as to say that there is no other school in LA that he should attend.

 

We live in a community South of LA where few people opt to send their kids to private schools.  The public elementary schools are some of the highest performing in the state.  More importantly, I had already heard about Mirman, through some of my colleagues who lived in LA and were entrenched in the private school admission process.  I heard NOTHING good. “The kids are freaky”; “all of the students walk around school bragging about their IQ score.”  However, our specialist was relentless.  She was rapidly gaining our trust with the amazing advice that she provided for our daughter (who by this time had been diagnosed with a reading disorder).  Her own children had attended Mirman. But, I could not shake the reputation, rationalized that bright children (without LD) do well in most educational environments, and decided against applying.

 

Until, at the very last minute, 3 days before the application deadline, I panicked.  I was spending so much time and effort to make sure my daughter was in an educational setting suitable for her needs, yet I was ignoring the special needs of my son! I called 5 psychologists in a desperate attempt to get my son tested.  By some miracle, one had an opening and could see me the next day.  And so the process began.

 

The psychologist came out and said, “Well, you sure do have a bright little boy”.  The doctor proceeded to tell me that although he hadn’t added all the scores, he was certain that my son would qualify for admission.  Then there was the slightly judgmental “not in a very academic preschool right now is he?” Wow, was it that obvious that he was not being adequately stimulated?  When we saw the test scores, we were in disbelief.  How does a former 7-week preemie, born via an emergency caesarean section with an Apgar of 1, end up with a stratospheric IQ?  Could there be some mistake? I decided to roll with it by quickly submitting the on-line application and psych report.  Within a few hours, I was called to schedule an interview.

 

The day before the interview, we received a call requesting us to arrive a half-hour earlier than originally scheduled.  This meant that we would have to leave at 6:30 a.m. to deal with the traffic.  My husband and I are both physicians, so it took a lot of juggling for both of us to be in the same place at the same time.  We arrived 15 minutes early and checked in at the front office.  Then we sat perusing the literature about gifted education, and looking at the schoolwork on display.   After 30 minutes, my husband was getting irritated.  I inquired at the front desk to make sure we had not been forgotten.  Twenty more minutes passed, and my husband approached the desk this time.  Big mistake.  He began to inform the receptionist how inappropriate it was to call us to come in early, and then keep us waiting for over an hour.  I feared that our chances were over right then and there.  A few minutes later, the Admissions Director came to greet us.  She quickly apologized for being late and immediately honed in on our son.  She invited him to come to her office while we continued to sit the waiting room.  After 20 minutes we were ushered in.

 

“Well, he’s still developing”, she started off.  ”He’s 4 years old”, I thought. She described her impression of his reading, writing, and math skills.  She showed us artwork that he had made at her request.  We could not gage whether he had made a good impression or not.  We proceeded on a tour of the school, which lasted the better part of an hour.  It was incredible.  My son was hooked at the first stop-the courtyard where two cute girls with headsets were dictating story lines into their laptop computers in the warm sunshine.  We saw the calm, focused classrooms were students worked on computers, the science lab, music room, Spanish class, and art room.  Most of the children could type more words per minute than I ever could by the time they reached their fourth year.  They begin their second language in the 6th year (after becoming fluent in Spanish).  Their creative talents were highly encouraged with photography classes, chorus, and drama, in addition to the usual stringed instruments.  We wanted in.  As we were leaving, the Admissions Director did not reveal any clues as to whether our son was Mirman material.  She just said as we parted “Take our waiting list seriously”.  We did not find that very reassuring.

 

So here is what we did:

 

I asked a friend/colleague, who had served as head of the board at a prestigious girl’s school and acquainted with the headmaster to write a letter of support.  She highlighted my son’s kind, reserved nature, and love of swimming, as well as the support that our family could provide the school.  I also asked for letters of support from the educational specialist that had recommended Mirman and the director of the learning center where he received tutoring.  Both attested to his love of learning and sweetness.  I wrote an email to the admissions director immediately following the interview and also mailed a handwritten note reiterating that Mirman was our absolute first choice and best match for our son.

 

I don’t know if any of those efforts made a difference.  On that long anticipated day in March when the admission letters were mailed, I emailed the Admissions Director to see if she could tell me something about my son’s status while I was waiting for snail mail.  She did not.  Just a friendly reply that the letters were on their way.  Finally, in Saturday’s mail, was the fat envelope every parent hopes for.  Pride. Happiness. Relief.

Isla Garraway, MD-PhD is an Assistant Professor of Urology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and mother of three children, ages 9, 6, and 3.  She is President-Elect of the Park Century School Parent’s Association and also has a 6- year old son at the Mirman School.  


Private Elementary School Buzz…

  • Families are using tutors to prepare their preschoolers for the kindergarten testing day at uber-traditional schools like John Thomas Dye and Carlthorp. 
  • One mom we spoke to recently toured 27 LA private elementary schools! We think that’s a record number! Her child will be entering Curtis School this fall. 
  • Sometimes, home is where the heart is. A friend declined a spot for kindergarten at Oakwood for fall 2011 to stay at Temple Israel of Hollywood. Another acquaintance is leaving Oakwood to return to Temple Israel in the fall where her child attended preschool.  
  • Overheard: “The Center For Early Education is our neighborhood school”. That’s the problem! It’s everybody‘s neighborhood school (or at least many want it to be). 
  • Admissions secrets…what are friends for? A mom who has already gotten her kid into a top private school gave a friend her entire file of applications, essays, letters and everything else. Don’t panic! We have all this stuff in our book, Beyond The Brochure. And, mom #1 invites mom #2 over to look through her private elementary school roster so mom #2, who will be applying to mom #1′s school can identify other moms she may know who can call admissions director on her behalf. 
  • There’s a big effort underway to increase the number of families staying through middle school at K-8 schools like Willows and Turning Point. Some K-6 school heads are concerned because this means fewer middle school spaces for their graduates. 
  • We hear there are 6 kids who won’t be continuing on to The Willows kindergarten from the DK class. Typically, most kids continue on to kindergarten from DK…
  • Check out our new Facebook Page! “Like” Beyond The Brochure on FB and you’ll get our updates in your news feed. It’s noteworthy private elementary school events, news and information we can’t always post on the blog.  

Guest Blogger Jenny: I’m Learning The REAL Cost Of Private Elementary School

Fund-Raising Season Ends At The Merry Spring Fair
As anyone who’s sent her child to private school will tell you, the financial commitment doesn’t end with the insane tuition costs. Not at all.

First off, usually in the first half of the school year, the school (in my case, Mirman), hits you up for annual giving. Although private school tuition is steep, it apparently doesn’t cover expenses. No, there’s a shortfall for each child, and, at least at Mirman, the school keeps it simple by informing you of that exact dollar amount. Even if you can’t swing the whole thing (in the low thousands), you need to give something, because the school needs 100% parent participation in annual giving in order to qualify for grants (which also help fund the school).

Annual giving, however, is just the beginning. There are videos to purchase of your child’s various holiday shows (you will never watch these. Your child will never watch these. But you will have to purchase them nevertheless). If there’s a building campaign, there is additional pressure for donations, even though there’s a chance that your child will never even enter the buildings you fund. There’s “free dress” clothing emblazoned with the school logo to buy. And then, just as the year’s winding to a close, there’s that last push, the Silent Auction/Big Fundraiser.

This last event takes many forms at different schools. Some have a big, fancy, catered dinner. Not Mirman. They have a Spring Fair, an entire day of themed food, games, rides, and activities, funded by you.

This was my daughter’s first at Mirman, and I was pleasantly surprised by the unpretentiousness of the event. The Fair had carnival rides and tons of food (although I really think they could have used a few more food trucks). There was an enormous Silent Auction in the auditorium, stuffed full of gift baskets and extra special seats to sports games (all of which was collected and donated through parental efforts). There were tennis cans filled with our kids’ tiny toys from home, sold off to other kids for 10 bucks a pop. And there was the Bake Sale.

I worked the Bake Sale. For two hours. My impressions are thus: Mirman children are very polite, and, when it comes to baked goods, people will consume just about anything. We sold out of everything by 5pm. Even the gluten free cookies were gone. It was the only bake sale at which I wasn’t even remotely tempted to snatch anything (ok, I did eat one cold, chewy churro). As volunteer stints go, the Bake Sale was great.

My daughter had a wonderful time at the Fair. She ran around with her best friend, terrorizing the place. We were very busy and felt useful. All in all, it was a good experience. Except that I wonder a bit about sustainability.

I mean, how long can private schools keep plowing the same fields for funding, over and over again? By the time the Silent Auction came around, my family was pretty much done giving money. Bidding on items we neither wanted nor needed wasn’t an option. I watched parents dutifully line up to pay their winning bids and collect their goodies, and I wondered if they were as grateful as I am to get a summer fundraising respite.

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 and on Mamapedia, The Well Mom, Sane Moms, Hybrid Mom, The Culture Mom and A Child Grows In Brooklyn. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad

Guest Blogger Isla: What Do You Do When Your "Perfect" Child Has Difficulty Achieving In School?

Park Century School, Culver City

At the age of 5, our daughter was eloquent, precocious, and seemed to have a photographic–like memory. My husband and I were in absolute awe and assumed, when she hit kindergarten, that she would be at the top of her class.  But she wasn’t.

 

From the moment that I entered the room at our first parent/teacher conference, I knew something was wrong.  Her teachers sat with uncomfortable smiles and explained that she was not meeting expectations in reading, writing, and math.  Looking back, she did exhibit difficulties learning the alphabet and sight words.  Homework seemed to take more and more time.  Her teachers suggested that, perhaps, it was just a developmental thing.  Most people “redshirt” in the community where we live, and she was one of the youngest in her class. By first grade, however, she still had not caught up to speed, despite outside tutoring.  We knew something was wrong.

 

We requested that the school test her for a learning disability.  However, she was still making progress and had not fallen far enough behind for the administration to recommend testing.  After reading several books on learning disabilities, I realized that we had no time to waste.  My husband and I took her for private testing, and a reading disorder was diagnosed.

 

We agonized over whether to try and work with the public school system and advocate for an individualized education plan.  After consultation with an educational specialist, we decided that the quickest way to get our daughter back on track was to move to an independent school that could teach bright kids with learning differences. Now she is in a diverse, multi-sensorial environment, Park Century School (PCS) that educates children, grades 2-8. She gets one-on-one reading and math and is soaring above grade level. Children in her school come from John Thomas Dye, Curtis School, The Willows, Wildwood and more. All are unbelievably creative, smart kids that happen to learn differently.

 

Parents at PCS all have a similar story: failure of teachers to recognize signs of learning differences (LD), lack of support or resources in most schools (public and private), and dropping self-esteem/confidence/overall happiness in the affected child.  The reality is that 1/5 kids have a learning issue and most of them are not identified.  Parents (and, sadly, many teachers) may be unaware of the signs of LD and how to procure diagnosis and treatment.  Early intervention is absolutely critical!

 

The previous stigma associated with LD is dissolving, as the flip side is so commonly observed: exceptional creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. As an example, Yale University has a Center to study LD and is highly supportive of recruiting and retaining these students.  Like many other “elite” private schools in LA, the parents of children at the Park Century School are some of the most recognized names in the world and dominate the entertainment, financial, political, and medical fields.  They are also unapologetic advocates for children with LD.  Although it was a nerve-wracking journey to navigate through, I can honestly say there is nothing about my daughter that I would change, and I am confident that her future is unlimited!

Isla Garraway, MD-PhD is an Assistant Professor of Urology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and mother of three children, ages 9, 6, and 3.  She is President-Elect of the Park Century School Parent’s Association and also has a child at the Mirman School.  

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: When School Volunteering Goes Wrong…Very Wrong

This is a true story. The movie, “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” is brilliant fiction, but occasionally real-life imitates the movies. In this instance, it certainly did. My experience co-chairing the Willows School Auction introduced me to one mom who could have been a character in that memorable movie. 

This is a cautionary tale about what happened when I dedicated six months of my life to volunteering at my kids’ school under the false assumption that hard work and professionalism would be valued. As you may have begun to suspect, this experience didn’t end well.  Let’s just say I’d much rather know the head of the school parent association (and school board member) hates me before she sends an email to everyone calling me every vile name in the book.

It all started—or should I say—ended one evening in March at precisely 6:00 p.m. The summer before, I was asked by the parent association to co-chair our school’s largest annual fundraiser, the school auction. I agreed and began work almost immediately.

For many months, I spent about five hours or more a day planning the event. I felt like I was back at my full time job as vice president at a big public relations firm. Meetings, letter writing, soliciting pricey auction items, financial targets that needed to be met, reports to the board of directors, memos, more meetings. Most of the time I had the job of moving us toward specific goals while the parent association moms used the meetings as therapy sessions to discuss their inadequate husbands and issues with their kids, or lashing out at other moms—mostly the ones who (a) cared about their appearances and (b) had a life. But, I rationalized it by reminding myself that it was for a great cause: my kids’ school.

Fortunately, my auction co-chairs and our volunteers were amazing to work with. The event went well. It raised more than $200,000, an all-time record for our school. There were a few “minor” glitches. One memorable screw-up happened when party planner to the stars, Mindy Weiss, one of my auction co-chairs, had to make an emergency dash to In N Out Burger because the parent volunteer who catered the event was unable to feed a much larger than expected crowd. But, we carried on, drinking, bidding generously and having a grand ol’ time.

After the event, I was exhausted. Not suspecting anything seriously amiss, there was follow-up work to be done and I dragged myself back to the school to help supervise the event clean up. (Note to self: When the second parent association co-chair temporarily refuses to give you the box for the diamond earrings your husband bought you at auction, realize they hate you). 

Then, three days after the event, the email hit my in box at home like one of the U.S. missiles into Tripoli.  It was the draft of the official “thank-you” to all the auction co-chairs from the two moms who ran the parent association. They had glowing and kind things to say about everyone on the committee, except for me. Under my name they had written the most hurtful, insulting, unprofessional words I’ve ever heard in a professional capacity. Here’s an excerpt:

“Christina is arrogant, aggressive, and difficult to work with, with a true Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality…” Oh, they did throw me a bone, saying I was “skilled at soliciting auction donations.”

WTF???

I froze. I felt like someone had slapped me across the face. Hard. Really hard. I couldn’t believe this was the thank you I was getting from the school’s parent association. I was embarrassed and furious. My tears flowed for days.

I was stunned because during the entire time I worked with this mom, we’d never even exchanged harsh words. We’d been cordial and friendly with each other. I had no idea how much she despised me.

But, I should have known. At the time, this mom was mid-50s, gray haired, granny-ish frumpster with three kids, including a set of twins in kindergarten. Her husband, she’d gripe, was useless with the kids. He was even older than she was. She’d complain constantly about the difficulties she faced raising her three kids. She complained she was often mistaken for her kids’ grandmother. She wore a neck brace for a period of time. Money was not the issue for this family, but they sure had other problems.  I always listened and tried to be sympathetic, but I just couldn’t relate to her situation. Luckily.

The evil email was intended for the other co-chair of the parent association and not the entire auction committee, which included me (and to which it was sent). Was I perfect to work with? No! When I’m working, I make decisions and keep moving. Doing “face time” in the parent lounge just wasn’t my style. Did I deserve this meanness? No!

A few weeks after the incident, she emailed me (yes, emailed me) a lame “apology” blaming me for the episode.

After the email debacle, I don’t think I set foot on campus for many months. I felt unwelcome and in some ways, I still do. It set the tone for my volunteerism at the school, which has never again involved anything having to do with the parent association.

So, what’s the lesson learned? When you encounter a menopausal, unhappy, bitter, frumpy, overwhelmed mom, run for your life. Don’t listen to her. Don’t try to be nice. Don’t gently suggest she color her hair. Don’t pretend like you have anything in common just because your kids are at the same school. Don’t hold the auction photo shoot at your home and invite her in. Act like a “Real Housewife Of New Jersey.” Hop in your minivan (or in this case, hers) and step on the gas pedal. Drive until you run out of gas. Make up some lame excuse as to why you can’t volunteer anymore and spare yourself the risk of having your reputation sullied by an “email illiterate” as she described her self in her “apology” to me. Trust me on this one. Oh, and tell Facebook to stop suggesting her as a “friend”.