Blue Oak Creative Schoolhouse: A New Private School In West LA

* April 18, 2013 Update: Blue Oak is now open and is a wonderful, flourishing gem of a school! Check it out!
When I received the email inviting me to tour Blue Oak Creative School House, I was immediately intrigued. Blue Oak is a brand new–not yet open– private Transitional Kindergarten/Kindergarten program in West L.A.  This two-year program will serve as a “bridge” between preschool and elementary school for kids ages 4 1/2 (TK) to 5 (K). The concept behind the school is that with kindergarten age cut-offs being fairly strict at most schools, there are some children who just miss the cut-off but have grown out of a preschool environment. Other children may need an extra year in a smaller environment before beginning elementary school. Blue Oak will open in January 2012.
On Friday morning, Carissa Feeney, the co-founder of Blue Oak, and a Wildwood Elementary School mom, welcomed me into the large, bright, engaging classroom space filled with all sorts of wonderful learning materials. As Carissa explained, Blue Oak is a Reggio school, a progressive educational philosophy which emphasizes learning through collaboration. Kids work in small groups and core curriculum and academics are taught in groups, which stay together for 6 months or even a year. Kids learn social skills, conflict resolution, literacy and much more. According to the school’s website, the two-year program is inspired by the philosophy of Reggio Emilia – parents, teachers, and children work in close collaboration in a mutually supportive environment.  At Blue Oak, children connect academic concepts (reading, writing, mathematics, science, social studies) to real-world investigations in the arts and nature.
Carissa Feeney, Co-Founder and Wildwood Mom
The school is the brain child of Carissa and her Blue Oak co-founder, Lisa Perttula, (a PS#1 mom). It’s an outgrowth of their former preschool, Our World. Samira Herrera is the third co-founder. Carissa and I talked about the type of families who will be attending Blue Oak, LA private elementary school admissions, Reggio education, preschool learning, her passion Blue Oak and the upcoming change in cutoff dates for public kindergarten. Carissa is a knowledgeable and experienced educator She’s also warm, friendly and has a calm, caring personality. Parent volunteers will be welcome at Blue Oak. Parents will be invited to teach enrichment classes, as well as participate in other volunteer projects with the kids. Although the school isn’t open yet, I could easily see my kids being happy and inspired in this environment. It reminded me of my son’s Developmental Kindergarten classroom at the Willows.
The families Carissa expects to attend Blue Oak will live primarily on the Westside. The school is located on Washington Place, West of the 405, just West of Centinela Blvd. She anticipates graduates of the school to apply to The Willows, Wildwood, PS#1, Crossroads, Echo Horizon, Turning Point and other Westside private elementary schools. Families may also be interested in Open Charter and Beethoven Elementary, both public schools. As private school moms, both Carissa and Lisa are committed to helping families navigate the private elementary school admissions process.
Tuition at Blue Oak is based on preschool pricing: $1,250/month, from 8:00 a.m-6:00 p.m. From 9:00 a.m-3:00 p.m, the kids will focus on learning and academics. From 3:00 p.m-6:00 p.m, yard activities will take place. Drop off carpool in the back of the school makes it easy for working parents and prevents a parking shortage.
Blue Oak is on track to be an impressive school, based on a progressive education model that will be run by experienced educators who are committed to Reggio education. It has all the elements to be a wonderful school! Tours are happening now for the opening in Jan. 2012. Applications will be accepted until the school is filled.
For more information about Blue Oak Creative School House, please visit,
Popular with kids: the light board
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A Waverly School Dad Writes About Why His Family Loves The Progressive Pasadena K-12 School

The Waverly School arrived in my life like some sort of granted wish.  It’s as if I willed it and its staff into existence from my most pie-in-the-sky hopes for my children’s education.

Once we had children, I started panicking about the state of public education, and started daydreaming about some impossible alternative. What I saw blurrily floating before me was:

  1. A modest, energetic place – not too big or small – where children run through the door in the morning shrieking gleefully and run out the door in the afternoon even happier.
  2. A place where children with unusual personalities or gifts are treated like a delicious bit    of variety and are respected for their eccentricity rather than punished for it. 
To continue reading more of Waverly School dad Michael’s blog post, click on the link HERE
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How To Describe Your Child’s "Weaknesses" During LA Private Elementary School Admissions

It is so important to be able to portray your child realistically when speaking with admissions directors you encounter during the private school admissions process. This does not mean that I think it is wise to describe your child’s idiosyncratic behaviors as weaknesses.  It is preferable to let people know that you accept your child – quirks and all. The question is: what do you say about the quirks? What can you say that tells the truth in the most positive way possible?
Some children have issues that fall in the social/emotional arena. Perhaps they are noticeably shy and have a hard time moving into new activities. This can cause parents concern if they think their child will receive some kind of bad mark when they do not jump into an activity during a group play session or assessment. Some children have social challenges – like sharing or taking turns, that can create some disruption. Some are just active – I had one student stand up on the table and start marching during a one on one paper and pencil kindergarten readiness assessment.
There are also children who have already shown signs of cognitive or academic concern. More often this is the case when a child is brought to a private school at an older age, when parents have grown concerned about their child’s progress.
The answers are not clear-cut. I return to a refrain I have used before – be sure to do your homework! It is not a good idea to take a child who is struggling academically and think that applying to a highly competitive academic school will be successful. Make sure that the schools you are applying to offer a program that fits your child. Ask questions openly that will determine this. Then, frame how you speak about your child in a way that does not apologize but accurately describes your concerns. Similarly, if you have an active child, for instance, who does not have a very good attention span, be sure that you explore this issue well in advance of speaking with admissions directors about it. Talk to your preschool director about it. If you have had an evaluation done, or had some counseling from your pediatrician, then you enter the discussion from a place of educated concern, looking for an appropriate solution to the situation. Ultimately, you do not want your child to be somewhere where they cannot be successful. If you are prepared and educated, you can speak about your child’s issue without it reflecting poorly on you or your child. It frames the discussion in a problem-solving way rather than a defensive one.
Using phrases like “observer” rather than “withdrawn”, and referring to “challenges” rather than “weaknesses” may seem trite but are not a bad idea. The goal is to have a positive and real discussion about your child and the school’s ability to provide the best kind of education for that child. If you can keep this in mind, the road getting there becomes a bit smoother.
Anne Simon, Beyond The Brochure co-author, is the former head of Wildwood Elementary School. She is also the former dean of the Crossroads Middle School, where her daughter is a graduate of the high school. 

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Do You And Your Spouse/Partner Agree About The Best Type Of L.A. Private Elementary Schools?


Photo courtesy Bing Images

Christina, my wonderful and talented stepdaughter, (sidebar: we are on a mission to recast that word in the positive light that reflects our relationship, and that of many other stepmother-stepdaughter relationships) has written recently about the importance of establishing a family message that can be presented consistently to schools as you journey through the elementary admissions process.


Part of this task is to determine whether you and your spouse are really looking for the same thing in the education of your children. It is remarkably easy to think you see things similarly but when you are up against it, perhaps even at an admissions open house, you discover that there are some significant differences in your perceptions or expectations.


It is generally the case that people are comfortable with what they understand. We have all responded to our own upbringing, either by valuing it and wishing to recreate it for our children, or by questioning our own experience and seeking something different. It is very important to have this conversation at home well before you begin to build your family brand and participate in parent interviews.


It is likely that one of you has taken the lead in gathering the necessary information that will determine what schools you visit and apply to. There is a lot of learning that takes place along the way. One example is that you will discover that the best competitive academic schools have come to realize that ‘hands-on’ learning is appropriate and preferred in many instances at the elementary level. Looking for the classroom where children sit quietly in rows and keep their eyes on the teacher in the front of the room who talks may seem familiar, but it does not mean that the best teaching is going on in that school. Be sure that both you and your spouse have the benefit of this new level of understanding that you have found. There are articles on the NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) website that can help with this need to keep current with what is accepted as “Good Practice” in elementary education.


The importance of you and your spouse/partner being on the same page when it comes to interviews at schools cannot be underestimated. Admissions directors can sense any rift, or even minor difference, between you very easily, and that will create concern immediately. So do your homework – both of you, and have the necessary conversations, even if you don’t think you need to. What you discover will either cement your family message or help you determine the issues that need to be resolved before you can move forward as a united front.


In the end, isn’t this just part of what being a family is? I think so!

Anne Simon is the co-author of Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles.

Guest Blogger Jenny: Is There A Mom "Uniform" At LA Private Elementary Schools?

Catwalk or Carpool? (Badgley-Mischka, 2011)
The other day I read an article in the New York Times. Its headline was, “Mom Uniforms for School Run Are Designers,” meaning that Manhattan mommies dress up for private school drop offs and pick ups. It sort of made me laugh at first.

But then I started thinking about it more. Some of the mothers interviewed in the article were working mothers and dressed fashionably and accordingly. Thus, it wasn’t really a “Mom uniform,” it was a “Work uniform” (I hardly think that the New York Times would bother with an article commenting on the “Dad uniform” of an Armani suit and tie, so there’s some sexism at work there). And the other mothers, well, maybe they just wanted to look nice. Or actually wear the lovely stuff they’d purchased. Maybe drop off and pick up times were a good a time as any to pretty up.

Then I started thinking about the moms at Mirman, my daughter’s school. Were they dressing up? Nope. The parent body at Mirman ranges from fairly harried moms of multiple kids to some very understated yet classy dressers. Plus, some parents who arrive in surgical scrubs. Now, that’s a uniform with integrity, and there’s nothing like it to give everyone an inferiority complex about whatever paltry-thing-that doesn’t-involve-saving-human-life that they do for a living. Ok, there’s one super fashion mom at Mirman; she often dresses like the mannequins on Net-A-Porter. She’s very cool and her mommy uniform is solely her own. I have no sense that she’s dressing to impress anyone; she’s just pleasing herself.

But Mirman is strange (in a good way), and the parent body is overrun with academics and brainiacs who maybe aren’t that into the culture at large, so I decided to ask, in a totally unscientific and unbalanced way, how the mom uniform manifests at other private schools.

Hermes Birkin Bag

Take one uber-traditional school for instance. This school is a religious school. It has a fair amount of hefty old money attached to it as well. One could imagine Birkin bags and Chanel flats. I asked my very understated but classy friend, who sends her daughter to this school, what the mom uniform was there.

“Pretty dowdy,” she replied. “A bunch of Frumpelstiltskins. I swear, one of the moms even wears a Bump-It.”

This wasn’t really the answer I was expecting. She later admitted that maybe there were some Chanel flats lurking during those parent meetings. But they were the wrong Chanel flats, worn without irony.
I don’t think that that’s typical for LA private school mom uniforms, though. My friends at two very popular schools (both extremely progressive schools) speak of many thousand dollar handbags, premium fashion brands like Prada, hipster fashion houses like Rag and Bone. I suppose they feel pressure to compete on some level, since life after high school is still just one degree removed from it; you can end up participating in high school level lunacy forever if you aren’t careful.
So why, when we parents aren’t attending these schools, our children are, is the “mom uniform” even an issue? Before you (if you haven’t already) dismissed me as shallow and superficial, I think there’s some significance here. For instance, as I’m not a particularly dolled up mom and I don’t own a super designer handbag, I’m not sure I’d want my kid to attend a school full of families who all value such things and aggressively display them. This isn’t about “looking nice,” it’s about not flaunting your wealth in an outward way. The flash and bling just aren’t part of my family’s culture. So the minimal emphasis on appearance at Mirman suits me just fine, although it might not suit someone else at all.
Bump-It. So Tacky!


In the end, I suppose, you pick the “uniform” you feel most comfortable in, for vanity or necessity, whether it’s high fashion or jeans or workout wear or suits.  But, you might want to lose the Bump-It.

See our previous post Fashion Dispatch to find out what moms at top schools are wearing.
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

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Your Family’s Key Messages Part 2: Who Is Your Family?

Who Is Your Family?

Your Family’s Key Messages: Make Your Application Standout is our most-read blog post. We think it resonates with readers because the idea of developing a “family message” makes sense when you are preparing to be asked to answer a variety of questions about your family in written applications and parent interviews. 

It’s not always easy to discuss your family’s values, interests, work, volunteerism, academics, educational philosophies, diversity, your child’s personality and interests–and more– with numerous admissions directors. That’s why thinking about what you’ll write and say ahead of time will help convey the most important things you want each school to know about your family. When I was applying to schools, I found it helpful to think of my family as a  ”brand”. 

A family “brand” or set of messages is really just a clear, concise way of describing the most important, meaningful things about your family that will be remembered by your audience: admissions directors. What makes your family unique? What is memorable about your family? What is it about school X that would be great for your kid? What unique attributes will your child offer to school X if accepted?

Being able to describe both your family and your child in an authentic and interesting way is an essential part of communicating with admissions directors. When you talk and write about your family, you want admissions directors to get to know you and your child and understand why you think their school is the best fit for your child. Of course, you know that your family is different from every other family applying. But how will admissions directors know this unless you tell them? Don’t be afraid to ask yourself, “Who are you?” “Who is your child?” What real-life examples can you write about or talk about in interviews or on the make your family stand out? What can you say in parent interviews that will leave a lasting, positive impression on the admissions directors who interview you? What should you write to make your application “pop”? Admissions directors often receive written applications that are too long, boring and sound like a brochure. 

In Part 1, I list my own family’s key messages. Here are a few more examples of what we mean by family messages. You’ll notice that in each of these messages, the family’s values and/or interests is discussed, backed up by examples. Or, the child’s behavior, personality trait or interests is described in a clear, honest example. Ideally, you should talk about  your family’s values or interests, illustrated by a real-life description to give the example.  

  • When Henry plays soccer, he passes to any kid on the team who is open, not only to the “best” players. (note: this is instead of saying, “Henry is a leader”)
  • Our family loves to travel. We want to expose our kids to other cultures and places. Our trips aren’t elaborate or expensive, but always involve an educational component for our kids.
  • We enjoy entertaining family and friends. We’re in the catering business. Opening our home for events and parties is one of our favorite things to do. We would welcome the opportunity to host school events at our home. 
  • Our daughter’s preschool has a strong sense of community and we’ve made close friends with other parents. We are looking for a school with a strong emphasis on community spirit in both students and parents. 
  • School X appeals to us because my husband and I both attended very traditional east coast private schools. We are seeking a traditional education for our kids. We feel our child will benefit from school X’s structured classroom environment, academic excellence, strong athletic program and a focus on religious values. We have been members of your school’s church for 3 years. 
  • I’m a former yoga and dance teacher. I’d welcome the opportunity to volunteer with your after-school enrichment program to teach a kids dance or yoga class. 
  • We are both scientists. Our daughter is showing some real potential in the arts. We want a school that will inspire and support her artistic interests. Your school has a fantastic arts program that our daughter would embrace. 
  • I’m a graduate of your school, class of 1985. My education gave me an excellent, well-rounded foundation that I’ve been able to use to build a successful career in medicine. I’ve also stayed close to a group of friends I met during my years as a student here.  I want my kids to be able to have the same incredible education I received from my alma matter. 
  • I chaired our preschool auction for two years. We raised a record amount of money and were able to solicit amazing donations from local businesses –and have fun at the same time! I think my auction experience would be beneficial to your school’s fundraising efforts. 
  • Our entire family is interested in sports. We play tennis, volleyball and soccer. The fact that your school has beautiful athletic fields, a former professional athlete as the athletic director and a new gym would definitely be an asset for our kids. 
  • Our daughter is very interested in mechanical objects. She is fascinated by the way things work and likes to build and take apart legos and other toys/objects. This isn’t a surprise since her mother is an engineer. She is observant and quiet and is known for being friendly to other kids in her preschool class. 
  • If accepted to private school, our son will be the first member of my husband and my family to attend private school. I was the first person in my family to go to college, after coming to the U.S. at age 8 from El Salvador. We are a bilingual family. 
Hopefully, giving thought to who your family is (parents and child) and what you are seeking in a school will help admissions directors get to know you and want to learn more about you. You’re creating a connection between your family and the school.  That means learning as much as possible about the school and illuminating the ways your child and family will be a good fit for the school. 

* Thank you to Anne Simon for her contributions to this post!

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Guest Blogger Jenny: Puberty Already? How Mirman School Deals with the Hormones, the Moods, and Yes, the Smells.

I know it’s hard for parents of young children to believe, but soon enough your adorable squishy angels won’t be quite as appealing anymore. My daughter, Anna, is now in Room 5 (5th grade) at Mirman, and change is in the air.

Change is in the air quite literally, apparently. One of the biggest topics of teacher concern on Mirman’s Curriculum Night inside Room 5 was the air quality inside the room, particularly after lunch. “This is the year that, about halfway through, it all changes from smelly kid to gamey kid,” Anna’s teacher announced. “I just wish you guys could be in here for just one afternoon to experience it. The days of bathing two or three times a week are coming to an end.”
Naturally, the Room 5 parents tittered with embarrassed amusement, many of them thinking: Not my kid. Not yet. But yes, puberty is striking the Room 5 population hard, and the teachers are thinking quite creatively to cut down on body odor and athlete’s foot, while not shaming the kids into thinking they’re really gross.
The very first study topic in Room 5 Science tackled this subject with remarkable humor. Understanding that kids are all fascinated by the truly disgusting, the teacher dreamed up Grossology, a topic exploring what the human body innocently produces all by itself unless blocked by a little proper hygiene. For instance, in Anna’s class the kids took swab samples from one another’s underarms and feet, and then grew out the samples in petri dishes.
This experiment turned out to be the great leveler. Sure, some samples grew out more bacteria than others, but everyone pretty much grew something (although Anna did mention that one boy had some pretty tough critters taking up residence in his armpit. I think he felt proud on some level).  All the kids were, of course, fascinated by this experimentation.
This bloom of unwanted life then led to an opportunity to discuss prophylactic measures such as deodorant and washing one’s feet and shoes. Kill the stench was the overall message, and the teacher had simple solutions like soap and water. Somehow, even though I’m sure all the parents had at least broached this subject with our kids, the message meant a lot more once they could see what they were destroying. After all, this was science, not bath time.
There were other gross topics discussed, like boogers and snot (Anna’s explanation of hard vs. soft boogers should have been recorded and used as an advertisement for Kleenex). Flatulence, I won’t even go there. And while all this potty humor might seem sophomoric to some, these are kids, and therefore are, by definition, sophomoric. Grossology was a simply perfect way to clue them all in regarding their changing bodies, while accepting the changes without massive judgment and teasing.
All in all, if this is how Mirman handles the kids’ entrance to pubescence, I’d say they’re off to a pretty good start. By craftily incorporating health information into the hard sciences, the school demystifies the bodily changes the kids’ experience. And hey, if it leads to cleaner hair and remembering the roll on every morning, I consider it a triumph.
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.

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When Middle School Looms by Anne Simon

The issues surrounding application to private middle schools in the Los Angeles area are at once similar and different from those that parents face when seeking to enroll their child in a private elementary school. The similarities can be summed up in a few words: a lengthy admissions process and decisions to make about where to apply. What is different is that for middle school admissions, your child has already developed a history as a student and he/she will need to be more involved in both the process and the decision regarding this next important step in their education.

If you are applying with a child who attended public elementary schools,  you may not be as familiar with either the culture or the expectations of LA’s private middle schools. When this is the case, I think it is important to follow many of the same steps as are outlined for elementary parents (and discussed in depth in Beyond The Brochure). For example:

- Define your family’s educational values – what are your priorities when it comes to your child’s education? Are you looking for a school that focuses on traditional educational excellence, or does your child need a school where the culture will nurture and support their need for educational motivation in a less competitive academic environment?

- Contact as many schools in your geographic area as possible and ask to visit and tour the school. The program for admission to secondary schools is not as orchestrated as for elementary because a majority of their students come from the private schools in their area or from their own lower school division. An important question will be to determine how many actual places there are for new students at the grade level you are seeking. Points of entry for many secondary schools are 7th grade, with fewer openings for 9th grade. Some schools also have openings for 6th grade if they have an elementary school. This takes effort on your part to find out this information from school websites or by calling the school. 

- Consider the annual tuition for each school. Secondary schools are expensive, with some as high as $30,000 per year per student. Others are less expensive, particularly some of the parochial schools. Schools do offer financial aid, which also requires an application process. 

If you are facing the decision about middle school following years at a private elementary school, the process is a bit different. Your child’s school will have a history of trends toward secondary placement. You should also expect support from your school with the secondary school admissions. Your job, along with that of your child, will be to sort through these patterns and decide which is best for you and your family. If you have felt that the fit at your child’s elementary school has been just right, then seek out the schools that most seem to continue in that tradition. If you feel your child has outgrown the school culture and would benefit from something different, that feeling may guide you in a different direction than the mainstream of schools their classmates will attend.
One thing that is the same, no matter where you are coming from, is that most middle schools schools require students to take the ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) as part of the application process. Some schools rely heavily on the scores from these tests and some do not. This information is something you should try to gather in your search, but the bottom line is that it is a very good idea to help your child prepare by taking a prep course. This will assist your student in gaining confidence and competence, regardless of the weight your chosen school places upon these scores.
Other factors that bear on the application might include your child’s special interests, talents, and extra-curricular activities. If your child is an accomplished musician or a competitive ice skater, be sure that you find a way to communicate these things to the schools where you apply. There is a piece of this process that is “selling” your child and your family to the school. Student interviews and written materials, combined with parent interviews, teacher recommendations, test scores and grades all factor into this equation. 
The biggest single difference between elementary and secondary admission, whether you are coming from public or private school, is that your child will need and want to participate in the process and have a voice in the decision. Secondary schools traditionally tour students – sometimes with and sometimes without their parents, and many have students visit for part of a day. It is most important for there to be an active dialogue between parents and children as this decision is made. Schools will be assessing your child’s interest in their school as well as their fit with the school culture. The role of the admissions staff becomes a bit more like that of a guidance counselor, getting to know the student and family to see if there is a good fit between the school and the child. 
Start your conversation with your child early. What kind of school does he/she think is best for him/her? What are her interests and goals for her education? To the extent possible, formulate a consistent family message that you and your child will present to the school. This will help the admissions folks feel the cohesion of your family and see how it will fit with their school and its mission. 
And, make sure to apply to more than one or two secondary schools. The top schools are competitive and you want to ensure your child has options to choose from!

Finally, there are very good educational consultants who place students in top LA secondary schools. 

Anne Simon is the co-author of Beyond The Brochure. She is the former dean of the Crossroads Middle School and the former head of Wildwood Elementary School. 

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What If You Don’t LOVE The Schools You’ve Toured?

When One Stands Out: That “Ah-Ha” Moment

I’ve talked to a few moms recently who’ve said they haven’t seen any schools they’ve really loved. They like them, but don’t really understand what the big deal is. That said, they’re applying to these schools that they don’t really love. So far, they haven’t had that “ah-ha” moment.

I must have looked surprised during these conversations because when I toured schools I had trouble narrowing down the list. It seemed like each school I looked at was more amazing then the next. But, geography limited our choices.
If you haven’t seen any private elementary schools you’ve fallen in love with, keep looking! More likely than not, you’ll find a school or two that will find you making a mental note, “must get our kid into this school” category.  If that doesn’t happen, tour more schools. Expand your options. Then, if you still don’t find at least one or two schools you absolutely must get your kid into, tour your local public school to see if it would be a good fit for your family. Private schools are expensive, especially if you think they’re just ok. And, try to find something about each school you are enthusiastic about before your parent interview. A lack of interest in the school will definitely be obvious to the admissions directors.
Tour, tour, tour. Tour some more! You gotta love it! And, when those letters arrive in late March, you want to know you’ve given your family as many options as possible. Opening one painfully thin envelope because you didn’t see enough schools probably won’t be a good thing.

Here are some of our blog’s most popular posts. Our guest bloggers and I went on lots of tours before we found the right schools. And, thinking about what defines your unique family can help you figure out which schools will be best for your child. 

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Guest Blogger Jenny: The Redshirting Dilema That Never Ends (Part 2)

The Redshirt Dilema That Won’t Go Away

Let me just say that I never intended to redshirt my daughter (delay her entrance to K by a year). She started preschool at just over two, mostly because she was dying for more stimulation. Her hunger for information and activity was strong and constant. And while she often didn’t go with the social flow, she got along with other kids well enough that I knew she’d be fine socially.

Everything proceeded normally until fourth grade, when Anna transferred from Third St. Elementary to Mirman. It was a big transition, and Anna ended up one of the older kids in the class, although she has a late June birthday. The reason for the age jump is that, if your child starts out at Mirman, she will automatically skip kindergarten, because Mirman begins in Room 1, also known as first grade. This means that if your child is five, she’s automatically been put ahead a year upon entry to Mirman. And, if you redshirted your child, she will be one of the older kids in a grade appropriate class.

All of this was fine with me. Anna was kept at grade level, although what they teach at Mirman is quite different from what she was used to at Third St. It wouldn’t have been fair or appropriate to bump her up a grade, so that she was with the majority of the nine-year olds in Rooms 5. Plus, since redshirting at age five happens in every school, she was hardly the only nine year old in Room 4. So far, so good.

The challenge of this plan, though, is coming soon, upon matriculation to a middle school. Because most Mirman kids are a year younger than grade level, they stay at the school (unless they’re staying through middle school) through 7th grade instead of 6th grade. Then, when they enter their new middle school, they enter in….7th grade.

Yes, you heard right: the majority of middle school matriculating Mirman students (try saying that five times fast) end up repeating 7th grade. Even though they’re ahead academically, most students are behind socially because they were skipped ahead a grade. I guess the thinking is that they need to be on the same social age level as the other students in their grade.

This all makes sense for Mirman students who start out at age five at the school. But what about the redshirted kids, or kids like my daughter who have transferred in from other schools? Now, it seems, Anna will be redshirted for 7th grade, thus entering it a whole year older than her peers. As a child who has always enjoyed being surrounded by older people, I don’t think this arrangement will suit Anna’s personality at all.

So, I have this dilemma. Should I try and get Anna into a new middle school after 6th grade at Mirman, so that she enters 7th grade at her new school at the appropriate age? Seventh grade is the main point of entry for most private middle schools. Waiting until 9th grade means fewer spaces…so few spaces I could probably count them for all the top secondary schools on one hand.  Should I just sign onto the program, trust the system, and have Anna stay at Mirman through 7th grade, and then have to repeat 7th grade (and the 7th grade tuition).

In the end, I might have to have Anna repeat 7th grade in order to get her into the middle/upper school of our choice. And that decision will effect her down the line, when we have a possibly surly adolescent living for yet another year under our roof, since she won’t be entering college until the ripe old age of 19. Although this inadvertent redshirting might be a small price to pay for a truly excellent education, I do keep wondering if it’s really all necessary. And I’ll probably keep looking for a work around, too.

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.

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