Happy New Year! Here’s Lookin’ At 2013!

Happy New Year! We’re so excited to welcome 2013! Thanks to our wonderful, incredible, loyal readers, we had a terrific 2012 here at Beyond The Brochure. We’re thrilled for those of you who got into the schools you wanted. And, unfortunately along with the private school admissions process comes disappointment and frustration for some of you. We understand the rejection and urge you not to give up in your quest for the right school.


Throughout the year, your emails, comments and questions have kept our blog interesting and engaging! After three years, we still look forward to writing posts and accepting speaking invitations at preschools. We’ve also had a great time meeting many of you at our events with Momangeles at Kidville and Romp. We plan to do more of these events in 2013.


We don’t have to tell you that our fabulous guest bloggers bring expertise, perspective and humor to the site. Thank you to everyone who contributed this year!


Earlier this year, we completed our blog’s new more user-friendly (please excuse the lingering formatting issues on older posts).


Looking ahead, the big news for 2013 will be…deep breath…the Second Edition of Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles. It will be published in September 2013 and will have more of everything you want! More sample applications, letters of recommendations, an expanded list of schools and answers to questions you’ve asked.

Project Knapsack board member Katie Kornfield, CEO/Founder, Porcha Dodson and Christina Simon at PK's annual fundraiser, Il Moro Restaurant. December 2012.

Supporting charitable causes we believe in is an important part of who we are. I’m very happy to join the board of directors of Project Knapsack, the non-profit founded by Porcha Dodson, which delivers much-needed school supplies to children in Africa.


Perhaps the highlight of the year for our blog was being featured in The Hollywood Reporter and the international style site, Elizabeth Street, among other publications. Truly an honor! Our book and blog continue to expand to more parents, thanks to our amazing readers.


Congratulations to Anne and her daughter, Carrie (a Crossroads alumni!), on the birth of Carrie’s adorable baby boy a few weeks ago!


From our families to yours, Happy New Year!

Christina, Anne and Porcha




Parent Interviews: Plenty To Unexpect

For better or worse, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to parent interviews. It’s clear that every school has its own style of parent interview based on who the admissions director is.


Some parents are thrilled when they have a great interview at a school that is “ridiculously hard to get into.” The elation leads to dismay when their child is wait-listed at the school.


“How could this have happened?” they wonder.


“That woman has lunch with our Mother-In-Law every week!”


“We felt like the admissions director was an old friend…I’m so furious at being misled.”


“We were sure we were in!”


What some parents don’t realize is that the same admissions director is making everyone feel like a beloved old friend. Each family leaves the interview feeling great and convinced they will get in.


Big personality, quiet introvert, young or experienced, friendly or aloof.  Admissions directors can reflect both their own style and the culture of the school.


The formal interview is another common style typical of certain schools. Impossible to read, the admissions director is typically nice, but not overly familiar or friendly. Parents may leave the interview not knowing what will happen. “I don’t know if it went well,” they’ll say.


At some schools, the admissions director will give a family signals the school just isn’t interested in them i.e. the freezing-cold shoulder. It’s not hard to realize when this is happening. “Poker face” turns to “rude poker face” within minutes. It happened to my husband and me, so I can attest to the surprise and dismay at being treated so unprofessionally. I wrote about this in Beyond The Brochure.


Every so often, a parent interview can start off well and take a turn for the worse based on a parental statement or question like, “I hear you admit a lot of problem kids.” Why yes, a question like that can ruin an interview!


It’s equally difficult to read too much into the overly friendly admissions director, as it is the chilly professional. Every admissions director has his/her own style. The key is not to read too much into any individual interviewing style.


Personality sometimes extends into the accessibility of an admissions director. Some admissions directors don’t mine emails or chatty calls from prospective parents about the process. Others prefer to keep communication strictly on an as-needed, more formal basis. Whether an admissions director will share information about the number of spaces available or whether the school admits students from the wait-list, also depends.


Since you really don’t know what the parent interview will be like, the best thing to do is be prepared to talk about why your child and your family are a great fit for the school. Be specific. Research specific things you like about the school and share that with the admissions director. Ask smart questions that can lead to a conversation, rather than “yes” or “no” responses. A question about how long it will take to get from your house to the school isn’t a good question. Asking about types of volunteer opportunities for parents might lead to a great opportunity for you to tout your expertise in a certain area and for the admissions director to elaborate on the school’s signature volunteer projects and opportunities.


The bottom line is that the parent interview is a necessary step in the process. It may or may not be the interview you envisioned. But, once your child is (hopefully) admitted, you can laugh about your perceptions (or misperceptions) with the admissions director for many years to come.


Don’t miss a thing! “Like” Beyond The Brochure on Facebook or subscribe by email!


Sequoyah School: A Sensational Place Inspired By A Native American Wordsmith

Sequoyah School, Pasadena

The minute I walked into Sequoyah School in Pasadena the I-Wish-I-Had-Gone-Here-As-A-Kid feeling swept over me. Because the school was founded 54 years ago, some very lucky people did attend Sequoyah, including its director, Josh Brody and Azizi Williams, the assistant admissions director.


A vintage photo of Sequoyah students. Director Josh Brody is the tall one in back row.


Arriving at the school on a recent morning, Azizi introduced me to Josh, who stepped out of his office to chat about the school for a few minutes. He’s very proud of Sequoyah, both its history and the evolution it’s taken over the years to become one of the most highly coveted progressive schools in the San Gabriel Valley. Josh is genuinely nice and welcoming, with a sense of humor and relaxed personality that kids can relate to. He’s been profiled in The LA Weekly, traveled to Nepal on a Harvard Fellowship, recorded a top-selling album in Nepal and posed for Sequoyah parent and sculptor, Chris Slatoff, for a rendition of Jesus and Joseph for the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels downtown. Let’s face it. He’s one cool, smart dude who just happens to run one of the most impressive schools in town!


Sequoyah is an educational triumph, staying true to its roots while creating a forward-thinking school with a clear, multi-faceted vision. As Azizi explained, what kids need now governs the school, while always keeping in mind the original mission statement. The Native American influence is present in the name “Sequoyah” which comes from an 18th century Cherokee silversmith who invented a set of symbols used for writing words.


The campus!


An urban campus with rustic buildings punctuated by green spaces and located on two acres in the heart of Pasadena, Sequoyah is a K-8 school that puts its own stamp on progressive education. Mixed age classes, a second year experience where kids remain with the same teacher at least twice (student can have the same teacher for K and 1), an integrated curriculum and a focus on descriptive, narrative reports rather than grades (percentages are given starting in 3rd-4th grades), are just some of the elements which define it.


Inside the multi-age K-1 classroom

Inside the K-1 classroom

Another view of K-1 classroom


Creativity, building authentic community and hands-on learning are key to the school’s signature programs. Notably, teachers, parents and students created a set of guiding principles to inform the teaching and learning that happens at Sequoyah. It’s called Habits of Mind and includes seven customs: Perspective, Inquiry, Communication, Collaboration, Application, Stewardship and Ownership. Each concept offers a short description. For example, Perspective is “to seek, honor and reflect on multiple viewpoints in order to broaden understanding and solve problems.”


Rustic and warm


Azizi is one of the most down-to-earth, likable admissions staff members I’ve met. She’s the mom of two Sequoyah daughters and a graduate of the school. so she knows it inside and out. I appreciated her deep, detailed knowledge, along with her incredibly friendly, low-key demeanor. Azizi told me that while admission to Sequoyah is very competitive and the school has a high acceptance rate, they do admit families from the very large wait-list almost every year.


Sequoyah's library!


Azizi said more than 50 percent of the students are ethnically and socio-economically diverse, with about 40 percent of the student body receiving financial aid (this is very impressive!). The school has a strong commitment to a diversity that reflects its community and backs this up with its robust financial aid program.


What better way to learn than through real-world experience? At Sequoyah, the Field Studies program, which expands the classroom to include the surrounding community and natural world, is a beloved and renowned aspect of the kids’ education at all grade levels. Beginning in kindergarten, students begin studying the desert a month before embarking on a camping trip Anza-Borrego Desert State Park near San Diego. Along with their parents and staff, kindergartners learn how to take care of each other and the environment by setting up tents, helping cook meals and exploring the geology and indigenous aspects of the area. Each year, students at every grade level venture to various locations including, El Capitan, Morro Bay, Big Sir, Yosemite and beyond. This standout program gives kids a change to travel outside their everyday environment to encounter new and rewarding learning experiences.


Spanish classroom!


One of the most comprehensive, useful materials for parents is the Curriculum Map, a descriptive, detailed guide to understanding what will be taught at each grade level, the skills and concepts learned, as well as essential questions that will be raised in class and discussed throughout each study area. Subject areas like Spanish, visual arts, theater and music are included. And, how kids are assessed is also part of the Curriculum Map. This is an extremely helpful way to understanding both what will be taught and how each subject will be approached.


Science class explores the question, "How do our food choices affect us, our families, our community, the world?"


Heralding several new additions to the campus, Sequoyah will soon be expanding, with the addition of a new multi-purpose and performing arts building, a new art and science building and new 5th-8th grade classrooms, all opening in Fall 2013. 


Preparing students for high school is very important at Sequoyah. The school offers extensive ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) prep through test taking skills, a weekly seminar where 8th graders visit high schools, have a mock interview and receive support for their personal essays. Sequoyah students have been accepted to Flintridge-Prepartory, Harvard-Westlake, Loyola High, Marlborough, Mayfield Senior School, Oakwood School, Polytechnic, The Waverly School and many other top schools in recent years.


New facilities coming in Fall of 2013!


Being at Sequoyah is like dreaming a dream about a fabulous place to learn. Only its not a dream. It really exists. Sequoyah is an intellectually stimulating, nurturing and open-minded, a school where social justice is an important as learning the ABCs. I can promise you, this school will catch your attention and hold it. If your family visits Sequoyah, it will stay in your memory…and your child’s too!


For more information, visit, www.sequoyahschool.org 



Nobody Said This Would Be Easy…

Applying to private elementary schools in L.A. felt like the longest job search ever. One that seems to go on and on, with no feedback until the very end. Endless callbacks, rounds of meetings with strangers. Talking about yourself until you completely lose interest in the entire topic. Discussing your precious child. Having your child tested. Hearing, “Mommy where are we going again?” Then, suddenly, there’s a lot of feedback. In March, schools are telling you THE NEWS.


My lovely daughter in a play at Montessori Shir- Hashirim preschool


I had ups and downs, spin arounds and panicky thoughts when we applied to kindergarten for my daughter. I wanted a wonderful private school for her so badly. My own experience wasn’t one I hoped she’d repeat. Some of you may be legacies at private schools, keeping your fingers crossed that your kid will have the same incredible experience you had. Either way, rejecting the past or hoping to emulate it, doesn’t ease the anxiety of it all. You still want acceptance letters. Fat envelopes. Or emails (schools don’t typically email rejections).


Thoughts ran wild.


Maybe we should pack up and move. Anyplace but L.A. Iowa! Idaho. Maine.


Or go to Beverly Hills Juice Company for the best smoothie ever.

BH Juice Company, Beverly Blvd.

Let’s apply to only one school to make it a lot easier.


We don’t have a chance against all the celebrities in L.A. who have fame and fortune, privledged kids and private jets.


All this for kindergarten!


Angst reigns.


My moods during that time made Woody Allen seem normal. Was I really that neurotic?


Through the years


Why do I want this so bad? Its all for my adorable, funny, beautiful girl.


I don’t really care; either way is fine. Oh, God. No its not!


Read to escape. Escape to read.


On my nightstand (Taken with Instagram)


Indulge in your favorite things…US Weekly, books, a manicure. A big cup of coffee. Savor it slowly and enjoy the buzz. Have another one. Revel in the self-created misfortunes of untalented, egocentric, overpaid celebrities. The Kardashians. That always helps!


Coffee and celebrity gossip! (Taken with Instagram)


Laugh with friends about the ridiculousness of it all.


Tomorrow is another interview.


Two down, three to go.

Maybe the stars will align perfectly…or realign if absolutely necessary.



The Waverly School: Progressive Perfection in Pasadena


A spectacular place to be!

A few weeks ago, I attended one of Waverly School’s parent tours. Waverly is an amazing school. Small and progressive, it is a Young Kindergarten (YK)-12th grade, located on three separate campuses that adjoin each other. If you’re an urbanite looking for a small, spectacular school with an organic garden called “The Farm”, this might be the place for your family!


The morning of the tour, I joined about 40 prospective parents to see the elementary school, which is located on a small, quiet street. Waverly is immediately warm and welcoming. Its not an intimidating place for kids or grown ups. It’s an extremely nurturing school brimming with ideas and energy, a true creative hub of learning.



The tour began with remarks from Heidi Johnson, Waverly’s head of school. Heidi’s 15 years leading Waverly are readily apparent in her confident and straightforward approach. She led with a discussion of the school’s progressive philosophy, its teaching and learning styles, as well as its mission. Heidi is a mom of grown kids, who is soft-spoken and friendly. Her relaxed, informal style reflects that of the school. Yet there is a very focused and persuasive aspect to Heidi’s tone that underscores the school’s deep and committed focus on learning to prepare students for our multi-faceted and complex world.



Heidi explained that Waverly is a progressive school with a developmental approach. This philosophy is rooted in the belief that kids develop at different rates but they all hit the key milestones just not at exactly the same time. At Waverly this is expected. As a result, teachers are constantly assessing each kid within the classroom to make sure he/she is being challenged and supported. Instruction takes place for a portion of the day in small groups based on levels i.e. reading created by the teachers. These groups are flexible and fluid throughout the year. Recognizing every child’s individual pace of development is what is most important to his/her success in the classroom, Heidi pointed out. Pushing a child too rapidly or holding them back from moving forward both create their own set of problems and the goal at Waverly is to find the right mix.


Admissions Director, Jennifer Dakan, showed us the school, its classrooms and outdoor spaces. Jennifer is a former teacher and mom of three Waverly students so she knows the school from both the parent and administrator perspective. Jennifer is outgoing, friendly and very honest about admissions. She communicates information parents will be able to use during the admissions process.


Kindergarten classroom


The school has 173 students in the Elementary School, with one grade and two teachers per class (a 12:1 student/teacher ratio). There are 24 students per grade, which can be split into two classes depending on the year and the particular mix of students. For example, in past years, the class has been divided into two classes to accommodate twins. While kindergarten is not a mixed age class, there are multi-age classes for 1st/2nd grades and up.


Kindergarten classroom


At Waverly hands on learning through direct experience is a big part of the curriculum and it is rooted in the school’s progressive foundation. Kids are actively engaged in the learning process, bringing experiences from their real-lives and from the classroom too. Students are debating, discussing, building, questioning during class. This helps kids learn and retain at a deep level, says Heidi. This is active, not passive learning, based largely on the teachings of educator John Dewey. There is a belief that learning should be content based, not solely focused on skill acquisition.


Waverly’s curriculum is integrated between subjects, with a strong thematic approach to many subjects. What students are learning in math might be connected to their studies in science, art, music and/or dance. Creating these connections between subjects allows students to understand how events and ideas are related, giving more than a superficial, stand alone way of learning, the school believes. Waverly has formulated its own blend of teaching tools. The school incorporates the popular Everyday Math program, but pursues its own course of action when it comes to embracing trends like technology in the classroom. You won’t find technology in the elementary classes because learning through direct experience is preferred until secondary school.





Walking into one of the classrooms, I saw my friend’s adorable daughter, J. Waverly is brimming with ideas and energy. It is a creative hub where students find magic in play and informal spaces. I took note of the nurturing way teachers interacted with their students. And, there is a lot of connection between teacher and kids and between the kids themselves.


Waverly’s clever use of outdoor space makes the most of the urban campus. There is a large play area and a spacious area for basketball and other sports.


The court for sports

Play or hangout!


About a mile from the school is Waverly’s organic garden called The Farm. It is a one-acre organic garden where the kids participate in gardening activities along side Barbara Ayers, The Farm coordinator and parent volunteers.  Outside in the fresh air, kids find it exhilarating to learn how to plant, nurture and harvest a wide variety of plants, including fruits and vegetables. Getting creative and productive with their harvest is part of the fun and learning. Kids walk from school to The Farm with parent chaperones.


The Farm


Waverly kids at The Farm

Jennifer’s admissions tips to parents included advice to avoid the words, “bored” and “gifted”. She also said that they almost always go to the wait-list to admit applicants. And, understating the anxiety involved with admissions, she told parents, “If you are a panicker, that’s ok, email me!”


The Waverly School is able to articulate and implement a narrative and practice of progressive education at its best. It is marvelously modern, incorporating the best of experiential learning using resources within the classroom and everyday life.


There is no better way to summarize what Waverly is truly about than to share one of the most touching and profound remarks from a Waverly teacher to her student during the high school graduation ceremony. The look on the graduating senior’s face was priceless as her teacher spoke about her:


“Like Alice climbing quickly down the rabbit hole into her own Wonderland of ideas, words and emotions, I know she will run through Sarah Lawrence and onto her next adventure.” (source: Waverly CD)


Waverly students learning at The Farm


For more information, visit, www.thewaverlyschool.org








Guest Blogger Virginia: “If My Kid Goes to a Progressive School, Will He/She Be Well Prepared?”

Children’s Community School garden (photo: CCS)

Parents who wonder if saddling a kindergartener with homework hurts more than helps may want to consider sending their children to a progressive school. Progressive schools believe that kids need to master social-emotional skills – articulating feelings, learning toresolve conflict, working well with others – in order to learn in the classroom.


Progressive schools typically feature group projects, experiential learning, and a curriculum that is geared to get kids invested in learning, rather than invested in grades. According to the progressive philosophy, a child who becomes intrinsically motivated to learn is more likely to excel academically and flourish emotionally.


After watching my son struggle in a traditional elementary school that seemed designed primarily as a pipeline to law school or the entertainment business, I looked for a school that wanted to help kids get along with each other instead of compete with each other.


So I enrolled my daughter in Children’s Community School (CCS), a progressive school in Van Nuys. Now in 5th grade, my daughter is a proactive, engaged learner who completes her homework without being nagged and wants to be the first kid in the classroom in the morning.


While I’m thrilled that she takes ownership of her learning process, I admit that at times I worry that years of deep learning but little test-taking will leave her unprepared for secondary school.


To ease my mind, I interviewed three CCS alumni parents and asked them about their child’s transition to secondary school. I wanted to know if kids who graduate from progressive elementary schools can truly hack it in more traditional school environments. Here is what they told me:


Question: Were there any gaps in your child’s learning due to being at a progressive school?


Paula Cushman, President/CEO at Valley Community Clinic. Her son now attends Crespi Carmelite High School.

At times it was hard to resist the comparisons with other children at traditional schools: shouldn’t they be reading or reciting their times tables by now? But when my son graduated he was on par with other 7th graders. Needless worrying…


Mindy Stern, Social Worker turned Screenwriter. Her daughter now attends Immaculate Heart.

She needed to learn how to memorize for quizzes (e.g. vocabulary words). This took one bad quiz and ten minutes of instruction from me to overcome.


Jonny Solomon, Voiceover Artist and Filmmaker. His son Elijah now attends Berkeley Hall.

He worked with an ISEE prep tutor because the test is actually a 7th/8th grade test. There is material in it that no 6th grader – no matter what school they are in – would have covered. Elijah completely understood that he was studying for the test, thought it was ridiculous and consequently it had little meaning for him. But CCS does have the 5th and 6th graders work on practice tests to teach test-taking strategies.


Question: Many people think progressive schools don’t prepare kids for more rigorous secondary schools. From your child’s experience, can you speak to this?


Johnny Solomon

This fear has more to do with the parent than with the child. From our experience, we have seen the benefit of what Elijah worked on during seven years of immersive projects. He has approached all his classes at Berkeley Hall with enthusiasm and depth and has done exceptionally well. For us, it has only further enforced our belief that CCS and progressive education is a phenomenal foundation.


Paula Cushman

Not true for us. In fact, our son thought grades were “stupid” and not a true measure of his knowledge. By the way, he is a 4.0 student in high school now. His 7th grade teacher actually called CCS to find out how it was that my son was so curious, volunteered to stay after school to learn more and put 110% into his assignments in comparison to other students.


Mindy Stern

Untrue. She had the time management and basic skills, ability to ask for help and overall confidence as a student necessary for the transition.


Question: Describe your child’s adjustment to secondary school. What was the toughest part of the transition? What was the smoothest?


Mindy Stern

Her adjustment has been fantastic, smooth across the board.


Jonny Solomon

He is completely thriving. The only tough parts have been managing different classes and having to call teachers by their surnames.


Paula Cushman

Becoming a teenager was the hardest part of the transition. Making new friends, unfamiliar surroundings, understanding more structured classes – the CCS field trips and group meetings helped him to navigate this part.


Question: Are there ways in which you feel your child’s progressive education gave them an advantage over kids who went to traditional elementary schools?


Jonny Solomon

Absolutely, the children who have come from traditional schools more often than not seem to only be able to look at their work and experience in one way. For Elijah, having gone to CCS, he is open and available to a myriad of viewpoints.


Mindy Stern

Her attitude about grades is profoundly healthy. She does her best, works hard, but is not wedded to the grade at the end of the process. She values doing her best and fully accepts that that still may result in a B, and when she has not tried her best, she takes responsibility for that C.


Paula Cushman

It’s funny that even today, our son, a junior in high school, will remark that he learned to approach learning in a different way and that there are many ways to solve the same problem. He is willing to question his teachers and challenge certain values. He still knows how to play his recorder and lately convened an afterschool club for boys who want to learn recorder. Imagine a bunch of burly teenage boys playing recorder on the football field!


Virginia Gilbert, MFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist living in Los Angeles. She is also a writer whose articles have appeared in Salon, Huffington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and Examiner to name a few. Together, her two children have attended three preschools, two elementary schools, and two middle schools in the L.A. area. www.virginiagilbertmft.com

For More Information About Children’s Community School, visit, www.ccsteaches.org


Previous post by Virginia Gilbert: Children’s Community School: Where Kids Learn To Get Ahead By Getting Along


Roundup: From Our Files This Week

Our friends at Launch Education Group, tutoring and test preparation, are quoted as experts in The New York Post!




Christina Simon, Billy Bush (Co-Host, Access Hollywood) and Porcha Dodson at Faconnable, Beverly Hills for event benefitting Lollipop Theater




I’m thrilled to be joining the board of Project Knapsack, founded by Porcha Dodson to deliver much-needed school supplies to Africa! We’re getting ready for the annual fundraiser in a few weeks…



Click on the flyer to enlarge

Beyond The Brochure co-author Porcha Dodson's 2nd Young Doctor's program for Middle and High Schoolers

Have a great weekend! Thanks for reading the blog. – Christina