Walden School: Educating Students Who Are Destined To Make A Difference


Welcome to Walden School!

The Walden School in Pasadena is a Pre-K-6th progressive school whose namesake is the famous Walden Pond from Thoreau’s “On Walden Pond”. The school, like Thoreau’s personal journey at Walden Pond, embraces personal discovery, adventure and learning with its students.


Front entryway and head of school's office


Arriving at Walden School on a recent morning, I entered the colorful lobby filled with student art, next to head of school Matt Allio’s glass walled office. I had the opportunity to sit down with Matt before he dashed off to teach a math class. Matt is a brainy, articulate educator who is thoughtful and soft-spoken. Adept at ensuring the school never strays far from its roots, he has bolstered the curriculum with pragmatic, result-oriented programs. His credentials are impeccable, previously serving as head of school at several of California’s most prestigious schools.


In his eight years at Walden, Matt’s leadership has helped to shape a cohesive and distinctive vision for the school. It is a kid-focused, dynamic group of faculty, students and programs that make up this urban school on a shady street in Pasadena. Matt’s tenure at Walden has also led to several one-of-a-kind, signature programs. Thoughtful and introspective, I got the feeling that Matt is simmering with ideas, eager to tackle projects big and small, as he stays close to the students who are his daily inspiration.


Leading to the K classrooms

“We want to graduate students who will make things better, not just maintain the status quo,” Matt told me. “It’s not about the ‘I’ but the ‘we,’” he continued. The writer Alfie Kohn is a major influence on the school’s philosophy. Kohn has written that progressive schools organize learning around projects, problems and questions rather than “lists of facts, skills and separate disciplines,” because “facts and skills do matter but only in a context and for a purpose.”  (Walden literature)


Walden is so interesting I spent more than an hour with Sarah Lougheed-Gill, the admissions director, taking it all in. I gleaned a lot about the school, which definitely resonated with me. An educator and mom, Sarah is enthusiastic about showcasing every aspect of the school. She is outgoing and friendly with a fun, upbeat approach to giving tours, chatting with kids and making visitors feel at home. Janel Umfress, a former Walden mom and now its learning specialist, also joined us.


One of two K-1 classrooms


Sarah explained that the K-1 program draws from some aspects of Montessori influences including mixed ages in the K-1 program.  and other elements in the preschool program. There are 210 students in the school, two classes per grade and about 18 kids per class with two teachers.


Where kindergartners play

Walden was founded in 1970. Remarkably, 39 percent of the students are ethnically and/or socio-economically diverse. Walden’s progressive approach means that students, through traditional academic disciplines, are taught and encouraged to question the status quo and develop skills to improve our world. Thinking in the plural is deeply ingrained in the school’s philosophy. According to Walden’s literature, “Students learn academic skills and concepts through experience and Socratic discussion, as well as through direct instruction and practice”. The day begins and ends with circle time at Walden for all grades. It’s a time for discussing practical tasks and a time for bonding and reflection.


Walden's Pond


Ethnically diverse, with talented faculty and an incredible sense of community (gorgeous family photos adorn several interior walls), the school fosters collaboration over competition, emphasizing the important role of kids in their own education. It has the latest, most advanced teaching tools and is constantly innovating.


Family wall

Another view of the K-1 outdoor play area

The school’s 1.3-acre campus is modern and spacious. It is includes 13 classrooms, an art studio, a technology lab, a science lab, a sport court and more. Several years ago, Walden students suggested adding a pond to reflect the school’s heritage. Dotted with student-created and inspired projects and shaded with gorgeous greenery, the campus is understated, functional and absolutely marvelous!


The sport court


Matt is especially proud of two unique programs. Walden partners with the USC School of Education, so that Walden teachers receive training and professional development in math from the USC professors. This brings the latest mathematics teaching tools into the classroom on an ongoing basis.


The second program is a Walden partnership with Columbia University’s Teachers College where the school’s teachers are trained in cutting edge teaching reading and writing techniques. Matt explained that this creates students who are excellent writers.


The Technology Lab


Walden has a technology lab overseen by Drew Gagne (he also runs the outdoor education program). The Tech Lab’s work is carefully integrated with the classroom curriculum. While the school uses the most up-to-date-technology, there are no Smart Boards in the classroom, only in the Tech Lab. After talking to teachers, the school realized that Smart Boards in the classroom can create a very teacher-centric model where the teacher is at the front of the room using the Smart Board rather than moving around the room more freely. The willingness to stragetically use technology exhibits a confidence on the part of the school that is instructive and refreshing.


In the music room: drums!

In the music room: guitars!

In the music room: tambourines!

Rainwater Harvest Demo Tank


Walking around the school, we stopped at a large, vertical metal container. Sarah told me the students created a demonstration tank to reuse rainwater to hydrate plants. It is a work in progress, not yet complete. Yet it is an impressive effort involving science, engineering and a variety of other skills. When finished, it will help the school become more eco-friendly.


The library

If you tour Walden, you’ll receive one of the most useful packet’s I’ve seen. It includes a detailed curriculum guide, grade by grade, describing what each grade will be learning in extensive detail. Check out the “Matriculation” section of the website: Walden graduates place at the top independent schools in the area including Barnhart School, Chandler School, Clairbourn School, Flintridge Preparatory School, The Gooden School, High Point Academy, Mayfield Junior School, Marlborough School, Oakwood School, Polytechnic School, The Waverly School, and Westridge School.


Walden is a remarkable elementary school with a clear and compelling progressive approach. Matt Allio and his team have built upon the school’s history to create a warm, forward-thinking place, where diversity of all kinds is embraced. It exudes a spirit of adventure, a sense that every student can reach for the stars, grab one and harness it to fit their unique talents. One incredibly articulate 6th grader remarked in a video about  Walden that if her next school “puts her in a cage,” she will find a way to “break free.” I’m confident that she will!


For more information, visit, www.waldenschool.net


Wordless Weekend: Fall Haul For Mommy Pick-Up a.k.a. “The Catwalk”

The haul: Top: Joie, Jeans: Anthropologie, Leather Cuff: Kendall Conrad, Bracelet: Kendall Conrad, Earrings: Kyler Design, Necklace: Adina Jewelry, Booties: Nine West, watch: Rolex

My own cluster of baubles (Instagram)

This J. Crew accessories bag is so chic I had to have it! (Instagram)

Vintage glam...a gift from a friend. (Instagram)

Reed Krakoff: My fall handbag. Splurge!

My cool new Marni statement necklace puts me in a good mood

Must Haves:

Love this bracelet from www.kendallconraddesign.com

Love! www.kendallconraddesign.com

So there you have it! I’m ready for Fall/Winter 2012 at The Willows School.


L.A. Private Schools and Country Clubs: Caddys, Cocktails and Playdates

Since Beyond The Brochure is about applying to L.A. private elementary schools and what life is really like at some of these schools, its about time I discussed country clubs and the fact that they are a fixture on the social scene at many schools.


Talking to a private school parent recently, they told me they immediately fit right in when their kid started kindergarten at Curtis School since they knew everyone from their country club.


Growing up, my family didn’t belong to a country club. My parents were anti-establishment, left-of-center hippies. You couldn’t have paid them to join a country club. And, with Topanga State Park as our playground, who needed a club?


Fast forward to my daughter’s enrollment at The Willows School. This isn’t a school with a reputation for lifestyles of the rich and famous. So, when I began meeting moms who invited us to their various clubs for playdates, I didn’t really know what to think. My husband and I weren’t members of a country club. A few of our good friends were, but we had never given it much thought.


Playdates at a private country club? Say it ain’t so! I can’t. It’s true.


A group of Willows families in our grade belonged to a “low rent” private club. By “low rent” I mean about $2000 to join and a few hundred dollars per month in fees. Of course, if you play tennis like we do, the lessons can tally up to a few thousand a month. (This is small change compared to the clubs that cost six-figures to join). We visited as guests a few times and decided to become members. We’d meet Willlows families there for swimming and tennis. It was fun. The tennis camp is excellent and my daughter enjoyed a few summers there. Then, the kids got older and we moved to a house with a pool. They started saying they “hated” the club. We stopped using it and discontinued our membership. We haven’t joined another club.


Country clubs play a big part in the social life at some private schools. There are Willows families who belong to Brentwood Country Club, Bel Air Country Club, The Riviera, Beverly Hills Country Club, LA Tennis Club, The Jonathan Club and so on. These exclusive places are part of life at private schools for a many families. Just look through a school’s auction book and you’ll probably see auction items like golf for four at Brentwood Country Club or The Riviera or Braemar.  Dinner at The Jonathan Club. And that sort of thing. These are coveted auction items. Apparently, business gets done on the golf course. I’ve never set foot on a golf course, so I wouldn’t know. Barry (my husband) has gone on a few of these outings since he like golf. But, he always comes home saying he feels uncomfortable with the fact that the service staff are almost always minorities and he’s seen members treating them terribly, which makes him sick.


Some of you are probably already members of clubs so you won’t be surprised to meet other families who are members of your own club or other places. For those of you who aren’t country club members (or its not your thing), get ready. You’ll hear club names thrown around as if they were restaurants. The question is, will it be Spago or California Pizza Kitchen?


Here’s a piece about LA members-only Country Clubs from The Daily Truffle. 

Oh, Those Letters


A letter I wrote for a friend last year

Letters of recommendation are a part of the “hidden” rules of the admissions game for many families applying to L.A. private elementary schools. They are part of the culture at certain schools. Other schools frown upon them.


When you’ve decided where you will be applying, you may want to ask people you know to write letters for your family. These are most meaningful coming from people who have a connection to the school. In other words, a current parent, alumni family or a board member, even a teacher.


Asking someone you know really well (or hardly at all) can be difficult. What will they say? What’s the best way to ask? Will they offer so you don’t have to ask? All these questions may be floating around in your mind. At least they were for me when I found out that people used letters of recommendation to help their applications. At that point, it was February and I had to scramble to get letters for the schools where we applied. We ended up getting letters for two of the three schools where my daughter applied (and was accepted- Willows and Wildwood). We didn’t have any letters for Oakwood School, but she still got in.


Sometimes, you have to ask when you have the opportunity. In person, by email, a phone call. It all works!


Along the way, I learned a few things about those letters:


  • Some people will gladly write you a wonderful, glowing letter of recommendation.
  • A few people will never return your call or email
  • Certain people will ask you for more information about your child
  • If someone asks you to write the letter for them to sign, do it! (Samples are in our book)
  • A lot of excuses about “not knowing” your family means they don’t want to write the letter
  • A conversation with the admissions director on your behalf may be preferred over a letter. That’s good too!
  • If a person says they are having issues with their school and it’s not a good time for them to be writing a letter, trust them.
  • Be prepared for rejection! It happens, but it’s not personal.
  • Be prepared for generosity and helpfulness. It just might be personal




Wordless Weekend: Name That School-4 (pics and hints provided!)

Loved by its families, this small, traditional Lutheran school has a reputation for academic excellence and is in N. Hollywood but attracts families from as far as Hancock Park (Photo: Google Image)

Spirited community, sports and tradition are hallmarks of this K-8 Catholic school in Westwood (Photo: Google Images)

This super-progressive K-6 is in Hollywood (photo: Google Images)

Herb Albert is a major benefactor at this progressive school on the Westside which has several campuses to house its K-12 students (photo: Google Images)

A mildly religious K-8 located in the Valley (Photo Google Images)

A K-12 located in Pasadena. Known for academic rigor and competitive admissions. (Photo: Google Images)

If you can name that school, leave a comment! Check the comments for the answers in a few days!


Temple Israel Day School: Excellence in Scholarship Basks in The Warmth of Community


"Creative, Compassionate, Ambitious, Prepared" The school's tagline says it all!

My first introduction to the Temple Israel occurred when my son was a toddler and we joined the “Parent and Me.” For almost two years, we’d meet in the preschool for playtime, songs and of course, Challah bread. My son loved this program and he met one of his first friends there. So, it was nice to return to Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH ) for a recent tour of the Day School.


Temple Israel’s Day School is a small school with a huge heart. It is a 200-student developmental Preschool-6th grade program with a broad mission that encompasses academics, community and creativity. I have several friends who are parents in the Day School and they speak highly of it, both for their kids and their families. At TIOH, it is virtually impossible to separate the strong sense of community from the learning that takes place in this urban campus located in an easily accessible residential section of Hollywood. Having a meaningful life is essential to the mission of the school, located within a Reform Temple.


The main corridor


Glenda Dragin is the Day School’s admissions director. Walking through the school, talking with her about all aspects of its K-6 program, stopping in classrooms, chatting with teachers, students and specialists, I learned a lot about this gem of a school in just over an hour. As a former teacher, Glenda is very well versed in the big picture curriculum and programs, as well as details that are happening within the classrooms at a given moment. She seems to know each kid by name. Her ability to explain the school’s mission as well as both teacher and specialist led programs is something to note for parents who plan to tour the school. Glenda’s tour is thorough and doesn’t miss a thing. She is gregarious and friendly, with a great sense of humor and a sincere interest in showcasing the school’s impressive array of programs.


One of two kindergarten classrooms


TIOH has a unique clarity of purpose. It is a school that is synonymous with both academic achievement and a strong community of faith and service to others. The TIOH community includes interfaith families, gay and lesbian families, single moms and mixed race families. It is not a school for one type of family. It welcomes families of various backgrounds. Hebrew is taught and membership in the Temple is required.


Kids' art adorns the hallways


After touring the school with Glenda, we joined Rachel Lewin the head of school in her office. I was interested to meet her and learn about her perspective on education at TIOH. Rachel is smart and direct with a very sophisticated world view and the wisdom that comes only from experience. She’s an engaging educator who sees herself as an advocate for both students and parents. As a mom, she understands how difficult parenting can be and she wants to ensure that TIOH families receive education for their kids and support for their efforts as parents. Her calm demeanor made me want to ask her a million questions about parenting my own tween daughter!


Rachel accurately conveys the impression that kids at TIOH are in very capable hands. She is a head of school who values the big picture.  In her fourth year leading the Day School, Rachel has created a path to achieve carefully selected goals. Importantly, she is confident enough to keep her eye on new developments happening in the education field and bring those ideas and resources to TIOH, even if it means overhauling a program or adding a new one. It is noteworthy that her vision encompasses a focus on social awareness right in TIOH’s local community.


Rachel explained a new (and guaranteed to make an impact) program for the upper grades, where kids will learn about—and find solutions to–what it means to be hungry. The Hunger Banquet will be a dinner where the experience of lacking enough to eat will hit home for the kids, literally. Some students will get a tiny bit of rice to eat at the Hunger Banquet, the amount based on what people in the world eat as their daily intake. Other kids at the dinner will receive oversized American style portions. Then, there will be a call to action, which includes having students help make Christmas dinner for a local church to feed the homeless.


Outdoor sports and play


TIOH’s elementary school is housed in a compact, attractive building with an outdoor sports court/play area. It is much like the schools on the East Coast, urban and functional. Classrooms are large and bright, set up with a variety of seating arrangements and stations. Kids move around within the class, depending on what they’re working on. The curriculum, including the school’s state of the art technology program, is integrated so that classes relate to each other, rather than standing alone as individual subjects. Project- based learning is also an important component of the school, carefully planned and implemented by teachers in order that students are not merely handed a project, but instead work collaboratively to complete it using a range of important skills. Beginning in 4th grade, there is a 1:1 iPad program and every classroom has a Smart Board. Ipads help make learning more efficient, says teacher Julie Hersch.


Inquisitive educators and kids alike make this school a place that is humming with energy. Visiting the 6th graders and listening to them tell me what they love about the school showed me a vibrant, upbeat learning environment with a wide range of programs.


TIOH has a totally awesome art teacher! Walking into Larry Garf’s art classroom was reminicient of a few of my college professors at U.C. Berkeley. Maybe that’s because in addition to teaching at TIOH, Larry teaches at a local college. He is visionary and totally cool, living in a Geodesic Dome in Topanga Canyon (my hometown). I loved his passion, his big personality and his down-home friendliness. Larry is also the school’s Child Development Specialist.


Everyday objects are transformed into magnificent sculptures!


For Larry, art is about helping kids develop and refine motor skills, “essential to academic success,” he points out. Art is also about creativity and “releasing the imagination within” as he describes it. His belief that everyone can—and should—learn to draw realistically resonated with me. I believe that drawing gives us confidence in other aspects of our lives and builds bridges to other disciplines like architecture. Using everyday objects, Larry showed me some of the students’ work. My favorite pieces were those where kids used toothpicks and paper ketchup cups that were then sprayed with sliver paint, creating the most incredible sculptures.  Once a year, students show their work in the school’s annual art show. Every kid can participate. This is where Larry and the kids find their groove.


The 6th grade leadership class tackles a range of topics including preparing for secondary school interviews. Students go on to attend Oakwood, Buckley, Harvard-Westlake, Milken, Crossroads, Windward, Archer, Marlborough, Campbell Hall and other public and private schools.


Words to live by


There is a quiet timelessness at TIOH that transcends extraneous bells and whistles. It is a sense that learning about what came before, what is happening now and what will happen tomorrow, are vital for each child to know in order to that he or she becomes an integral part of our next generation of well-educated, humane and respectful human beings. In other words, a Mensch.

For more information, visit www.tiohdayschool.org

Wordless Weekend: Coffee, Event Pics and More…Coffee!

Relaxing...Coffee with a girlfriend at Urth Caffe downtown

Great event! "Demystifying Private Elementary Schools" at Kidville, Brentwood: Kathryn (Momangeles), Janis Adams (Academic Achievers), Laura Gerson (Momangeles), Christina Simon (Beyond The Brochure) Sandy Eiges (LA School Scout)


A big thank you to Academic Achievers for sponsoring "Demystifying Private Schools" event!

Porcha Dodson and Christina Simon at UCLA Department of Neurosurgery's Visionary Ball, Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Proceeds go towards brain cancer research.

At home. Coffee and writing: A perfect blend

 Beyond The Brochure is thrilled to be selected as a 2012 Top 25 Mompreneur by Skinny Scoop!







Saint Mark’s Episcopal School: Timeless Tradition, Talented Teachers, And Tech Tools!


Saint Mark’s Episcopal School’s front offices are housed in a stately, renovated home on a residential street in Altadena. It is private and welcoming, situated on a lovely campus. Located on several acres, the school’s ambience is graceful and spacious.


I visited the school on a sunny morning earlier this week. As a first-time visitor to the school, Joscelle Shen, the assistant head of school, greeted me at the front door. She exudes warmth and kindness and was extremely attentive throughout our meeting and tour. Joscelle is the mom of three kids and a parent at Saint Mark’s, so she is extremely well versed in every aspect of the school.


We started by watching a short parent-made video about the school. I mention that parents created the video because Saint Mark’s is a school where parent involvement is both encouraged and expected. Each parent is asked to commit to 25 hours per year to help the school with a variety of projects, from the book fair or library to creating the annual report and a wide range of other activities. My guess is that many parents exceed the 25 hours because they enjoy helping the school so much. One of the most impressive aspects of this school is its genuine sense of community. Saint Mark’s parents are a cohesive group of families who volunteer and worship together. A friendly, low-key attitude defines this vibrant school. There is a marked lack of pretense and the solid foundation created by the school’s 50 years of tradition is apparent.


Classrooms and a courtyard


Saint Mark’s is a traditional, preschool-6th school. Students wear uniforms and call teachers by their last names. It is an in-demand school, well respected for its extremely academic curriculum, which is a carefully constructed to focus on the whole child (academic, social, emotional and spiritual). The school has a quiet dignity about it. Nothing is chaotic or uncontrolled, either within the classroom or outside. The school’s mission of academic excellence, respect for diversity, self-responsibility and spiritual growth informs and guides its daily work.


The art studio: A splendid space!


The academic curriculum at Saint Mark’s includes core classes and seven subject specialists for science, Spanish, music, art and other subjects. Respecting and building upon the school’s history, the program is rigorous and cutting-edge. The director of the school, Doreen Oleson, Ed.D., has a consistent vision and the extensive educational experience to deliver upon the school’s stated mission. And she does!


Young scientists learn here!


The multi-dimensional program is carefully constructed. As expected, it includes requirements like math, reading and other subjects. Students attend chapel twice per week. Science is taught with “hands and minds on,” Joscelle told me. Students learn through experiencing materials. Spanish is taught through reading and writing, and also cooking and art.  Notably, incorporating current affairs like immigration issues happens in Spanish class.


The technology lab: So right now!


One of the most impressive parts of the school is the robust Tech Lab. Saint Mark’s is an extremely tech-savvy school! The Tech Lab is visited by students one hour each week, where they use a variety of programs to  become proficient in PowerPoint, Excel, and Word. They also learn Google Sketch, Frames Amination, iMovie and more. Everything that happens in the Tech lab is integrated and coordinated with the kids’ classroom work. They aren’t learning PowerPoint just to know it; they are using it in their assignments. The Lab has two staff, who work with the students. Technology extends beyond the Lab too, into the classrooms and students’ hands. Every classroom at Saint Mark’s has a MondoPad, a very large iPad, at the front of the class. The 6th graders have their own iPads. Other grades share iPads with one other student. Saint Mark’s has made an investment in the latest technology and the staff has the skills to use it and teach with it. This is a standout program and it opens the world of technology to Saint Mark’s students in a meaningful way.


Kindergarten play area


Saint Mark’s has wonderful, authentic diversity in both its faculty and student body. There are students of virtually every ethnic background and one teacher in the video pointed out that many of his students are mixed-race, reflecting the local community.


One of two big kindergarten classrooms


The kindergarten classrooms at Saint Mark’s are very large, bright and welcoming. They are filled with colorful kids’ artwork, teacher’s information and inspiration. Each class has 20 students and one teacher who is assisted by a teacher intern (in the process of getting their teaching credential). There are two classes per grade.


Another view of the kindergarten classroom


The school will break ground next summer on a new lush, green outdoor classroom next to the courtyard that is sure to excite everyone.


Sports field


When students apply to secondary schools, Saint Mark’s graduates go on to the following schools: Barnhardt, Chandler, Gooden, Flintridge Prep., Mayfield Junior School, Polytechnic, Westridge School For Girls and other private and local public schools.


Hoop it up!


There is an understated clarity of purpose at Saint Mark’s that is truly impressive. Parents, faculty and students alike embrace the school’s tagline, “Passion For Learning, Compassion For The World” and it is evident throughout this magnificent gem of a school.


Saint Mark’s is a sophisticated salute to past, present and future! If you are looking for a state-of-the-art, traditional school, you should definitely tour this Saint Mark’s. And when you do, ask for Joscelle!


Saint Mark’s Fall Open House, Sunday, Nov. 4, 12:30-2 p.m.