The word “nurture” means to nourish or feed, either in the form of food and sustenance or skills and education. By that definition, any Los Angeles private school has a “nurturing” environment. Each educates children every day, and most even gives them a balanced lunch, too.
But, (sigh) “nurturing” has taken on a much more involved and expanded definition according to our crop of private school helicopter parents. Apparently, “nurturing” also means listening to and respecting everything the child says or desires, not letting them ever feel bad for even a moment about themselves (this includes bad grades that they earned), praising everything they do (no matter how mediocre it might be), and just generally kowtowing to the so-called “self esteem” movement (a movement which actually has produced kids with lower self esteem, but don’t get me started on that rant).
Thus, when parents are looking at private schools, they might be looking for the most “nurturing” environment, a place where their child is accepted for who she is in everything she does (even if she turns out to be disruptive, disrespectful, and refuses to eat her broccoli). Some schools do better at presenting the “nurturing” image better than others; The Willows School, for example, has a sterling reputation in this regard. In some ways, these schools appear to be nurturing the parents’ needs, not the children’s.
Well, my child doesn’t go to The Willows. My child goes to Mirman, a school with an air of mystery. What do they do there? I’ve heard it called (from rather clueless sources) everything from elitist (any private school earns this adjective in an instant) to “the Nazi school” (obviously listening to Rush Limbaugh instead of reading the brochure). So what’s the story? Is Mirman “nurturing?”
My daughter didn’t enter Mirman until 4th grade. She was understandably nervous about going to a new school with kids who’d mostly been there since Room 1 (there is no kindergarten). She was also uptight about the academic expectations; Mirman is a school for “highly gifted” students, and Anna came from public school. She worried about having to play catch up.
From the first day, Anna settled in quickly. Her teacher, a real pro, was kind to her while still expecting excellent work. Anna’s emotional comfort was greatly considered; nasty girl politics were shut down. Friends were made. Lunches were eaten. All in all, it was the easiest school transition Anna has ever had. Sure, she was the “new girl” for the first year. But that’s life.
If you define “nurturing” as educating, I honestly can’t think of a school that does a better job. The kinds of assignments they’re given are pretty extraordinary. Mirman teaches the kids to work in small groups, and encourages them to analyze their group’s dynamic in order to improve performance. Honest self-evaluation is a valuable skill, and Anna learned it early. From self-analysis comes improvement, and that’s a true self-esteem booster.
Is the school squishy and warm and full of free time? Well, no it’s not. Mirman students are smart and wily; they’re a tough room. Mirman teachers are hyper organized and structured, because highly gifted children need to keep their brains occupied at all times. Those kids are stimulated all day long with constant knowledge and problem solving. They’re encouraged to have good manners (my daughter’s manners skyrocketed) and be able to make good conversation. They’re also expected to manage their own time, be responsible for their own work, remember the school’s honor code, and use their school distributed laptops according to the school’s ultra strict use agreement they signed.
Does that mean there’s no jokes or hugs? Of course not! Students get plenty of positive feedback, when it’s merited. The students are still treated like children, not like adults. Anna has had great, funny , respectful relationships with her teachers. This respect is reflected in the way the students treat one another; I’ve seen no substantive bullying or mean girl behavior there.
I think Mirman nurtures students in the best, purest possible way. The education is incredible, the social skills invaluable, the campus itself a lovely little oasis where the nerdy kids can be themselves. What’s more nurturing than that?
You know whom they don’t nurture? The parents! Seriously, the school just wants parents to drop the kids off, pay the tuition, help out when asked, and otherwise vaporize. And I’m totally fine with that, because my daughter gets exactly what she needs to thrive.
Jenny Heitz Schulte 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 in 2010. She previously attended 3rd St. Elementary School. Jenny has been published in the Daily News and on Mamapedia, The Well Mom, Hybrid Mom and A Child Grows In Brooklyn. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.
Los Angeles private elementary schools have begun their school year. For parents who are sending their children off to school for the first time (or to a new school) it is a time of hope combined with anxiety. Moms and dads hope that their children will grow and learn as they become happy, well adjusted members of their school community. But, as parents can also be afraid of all the things that come along with the ride. Private school families (and public school parents too) have great expectations and great hopes, and therefore great stress.
It’s a time of year when parents of 3 and 4 year olds who are planning to go the private (independent) school route start to think about where they want their children to be a year from now. There are many questions to address and decisions to make. Tours, coffees, applications, interviews, testing… These are all part of the process that will consume their lives for the next eight months.
I want to take a step back from all the logistics of applying to private schools for a minute and offer some ideas about what parents need to think about as they seek out the best school for their child and family. It is very important to consider these issues in the context of your own family values and circumstances. There is no best answer, best school, or best situation. Each child is unique and each family must decide which school(s) will give that child the best education for him/her and for their family.
I call these ideas Conditions for Growth and Learning.I have tried to distill them from my decades of experience in private/independent schools with different styles and philosophies. This is a rubric to be filled in by parents as they look at the schools. It is hopefully a tool to help determine the best fit for their child and/or family.
Physical and Emotional Safety
The Foundation; Challenge and Expectations
Setting the Bar Just Right
Encouraging Risk Taking
Appreciation for the Value of Mistakes and Course Corrections
Limit Setting –Padded Walls; and Engagement
Being Known and Encouraged to Participate
Look for further embellishment on each of these ideas in the future!
PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL SAFETY – THE FOUNDATION
The most basic need that we all have is to feel safe – safe physically and emotionally. This is something that some of us, especially those of us who have lived our lives in relative comfort, take for granted, or at least assume comes with the package of being able to offer opportunities to our children. It is not necessarily so! Sometimes we don’t even recognize that this essential need is absent until we experience some kind of threatening situation. Every child has her/his own unique personality and will grow optimally in an environment that compliments her/him within a foundation of safety. As parents, we spend those first precious years discovering who our children really are and trying to figure out what they need. In choosing a school, it is important to make sure that the environment you are thinking of placing your child into is one that will enfold him/her and offer the security that will allow your child to feel safe enough to attend, explore, and flourish.
There is no “one size fits all” school! Everything about a private elementary school is thought out – its philosophy, mission, structure, and style. These institutions are very intentional. The values of each school flow into the environment and influence every aspect of the school culture. This plays itself out in many ways.
A school that focuses on traditional academic rigor can be intimidating to a student who is has a unique learning style. Intimidation does not allow a child to feel safe to explore and take risks, even ask the questions he/she might need to ask in order to learn. Similarly, a school that focuses on allowing children to choose their own learning experiences all the time might find a student paralyzed by too many choices and not know where to start. This can have an equally damaging result. There are numerous other examples within this spectrum.
You should assess each school you tour in the context of what you know about your child and your family values. First look at all the written material you can – brochures, websites, reviews, etc. Talk to people you know who have attended the school. When you visit, take a good look at the way the school lives out its mission and philosophy – the tone and style of the school. Ask yourself if it is an environment that will support and challenge and encourage the development of your child’s best self. If you sense a hint of toxicity for your child, pay attention to it.
The more we know about learning, the more we understand that the first order of business is attention. What makes it possible for a child to attend deeply and engage in the curriculum and the culture of the school? The elements that comprise this ability to attend, and therefore grow and learn, are wrapped up in the nuances of the style, tone and culture of the school as much as it is in the school’s program and curriculum. A sense of safety – security, being known, being cared about – is the basis for any learning that is to take place. Once that benchmark is met, you can look forward to assessing the next condition for growth and learning.
CHALLENGE AND EXPECTATIONS – SETTING THE BAR JUST RIGHT
Anne Simon is the co-author of Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools in Los Angeles. She is the former head of Wildwood Elementary School and the former dean of the Crossroads Middle School. Her daughter, a veterinarian, is a graduate of Crossroads.
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Johnny Depp and his ex, Vanessa Paradis, hosted the end-of-summer party for their kid’s grade at this Valley private K-12 school. According to our friend whose kid attended the soiree, it was drop off with Vanessa hosting. For those longing hoping to see Johnny, he wasn’t there.
One mom we know was upset to learn she’d no longer be chairing a prominent school committee when the list was published and her name wasn’t on it. Whatever happened to treating “community” volunteers like…well, like volunteers?
Will Elizabeth Berkeley (Showgirls) be returning for another year as life skills advisor to middle school girls at The Willows? Curious dads want to know.
More about The Center For Early Education’s (CEE) well-oiled “feeder school” path to Harvard-Westlake. Our friend, Ronnie Cazeau, left Harvard-Westlake to take a job as head of school in Seattle. She was the dean of the H-W Middle School and its former admissions director. Ronnie’s kids attended CEE and she was a CEE board member. In our last Buzz, we mentioned the “cozy” Hudnut family connections between CEE and H-W.
A very well-informed source tells us the #1 “feeder school” to Harvard-Westlake is Carlthorp, which sends up to 75 percent of its class each year to H-W. “If they want in, they’re in,” says our source.
Casa Vega, the dive-y Mexican restaurant on Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks, is a hangout for some socialite-moms at Curtis School.
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