The BIG WEEK, The BIG DAY: L.A. Private School Admissions

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This is the BIG WEEK. Finally after months of waiting, schools will notify parents about elementary school admissions decisions on Friday, March 18. If you applied for secondary school, or if you applied to Pasadena schools, you most likely found out yesterday.  Friday is the BIG DAY for L.A., you been waiting for since you first started the admissions process in September. The Los Angeles Times called it “Black Friday” because it sets off so much panic among parents.

I’ve been there. I know what its like to open the schools’ emails or to log on to Ravenna. I’ve felt the exhilaration of the acceptance letters and the letdown and distress of a wait-list letter (in our case, it was an email that was most likely a polite “no”). I found out that doors shut, making room for other doors to open. I learned the harsh reality that people lie during this process. Friends don’t come through for you the way you’d hoped. School administrators think they can tell you where your kid should go to school, despite your objections.

After going through kindergarten admissions and middle school admissions processes, I’ve experienced some bumps and bruises along the way. With my two kids now at Viewpoint School and previously at The Willows School, I’ve lived the ups and downs of L.A. admissions. If you received the news you wanted, congratulations! If you don’t get the decisions you hoped for, you may need to pivot and quickly develop another plan to pursue. You’ll need to set aside your ego, your pride and maybe even a few friendships–I certainly did. Focus on your kid and what’s best for him or her. Contact the schools where your child was wait-listed to see if they might have a spot, making sure you tell them you’ll accept it if offered. If you got an acceptance from your second or third choice school, don’t let it slip away: put down the deposit, then see what happens with your first choice school if your kid was wait-listed there. I fully acknowledge all of this seems crazy-complicated. What I’ve learned, however, is that somehow it all works out. Everyone finds a school that works for their kid, even if it isn’t the one they expected. You’d be surprised how this happens every year. If you find yourself without a school, keep an open mind, expand your options if needed, reconsider schools you may have initially thought might not work, contact an educational consultant, look for “hidden gem” schools, forget about the “popular” schools because this isn’t a popularity contest, inquire about whether a school will accept a late application–some do.  There are options, you just have to find them.

Here’s a link to one of our most popular posts: Types of Admissions Decisions: Accepted, Wait-Listed or Shut-Out 

Good luck! Christina

 

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Grateful, Hopeful Or Dismayed: When The L.A. Admissions Letters Arrive

Pool flowers

It’s been an eternity (or so it seems) and finally, the admissions letters will soon arrive by regular mail or email. All over town, parents will be either (1) celebrating (2) trying to figure out what their wait-list letters really mean or (3) freaking out because their kid didn’t get in anyplace. It’s admissions day in L.A.

 

If you’re like me and you’ve been through the admissions process twice for two kids (DK, K, 4th and 7th grades), you’ll probably be familiar with at least two of the three scenarios above. My kids have been accepted and wait-listed, with one application that never got to the finish line after a terrible parent interview (more about that in the book…it caught us by surprise and there was no way our kid was getting into that school!).

 

First, let’s talk about the good news. Acceptance letters! Oh, joy! Now you can break out the champagne, call the school and tell them your family will accept. You’ll fork over the deposit and carefully analyze the admissions packet from what is now your kid’s school. Your kid has a school! Maybe you got two or three acceptances and you have lots of choices. Weigh them carefully, the pros and cons of each. Perhaps in a neurotic moment of ego-driven self-doubt, you’ll regret you didn’t apply to even more schools, including that amazing, constantly talked about oh-so-fabulous-school, just to get the letter and turn them down. After all, their tour was lame, the moms are mean-girls who wear Chanel and you’d enjoy the satisfaction…oh, never mind. All of this is pure happiness.

One Fit Window

 

Now to the wait-list. Yes, I’ve received several, one in particular that I felt panicky about.  Actually it was an email and it came at 12 noon on Saturday. Wait-list. Wait. List. To try to get a spot off the wait-list or not. To be or not to be? That was the question and this day seemed truly Shakespearean after a long process middle school process. Barry and I decided not to pursue the wait-list for our daughter, since that would have meant keeping our son at Willows, something we had decided very late during the admissions process would a mistake for various reasons. If it doesn’t open, it’s not your door. Instead, we focused on getting both kids into Viewpoint. And we did it.

 

It went something like this. We submitted a late application to Viewpoint (late being the Monday after admissions letters were sent out). We didn’t talk to the Willows about it, since experience told us that would be pointless. It turned out to be the right move at the perfect time. The kids got in. Maybe at sometime in the future in a galaxy far, far away, I’ll spill the details of what I think happened to cause my kid to end up on the wait-list. But, for now, you just need to know that I’ve had the experience of opening one of those emails and I know what it feels like. It’s a very uncertain feeling, but it isn’t always a “no” and a few kids at almost all the private elementary schools get in every year after first being wait-listed. Wait-lists move around. When one family declines a spot, the school looks to the wait-list to fill that spot. There are some schools, however, with very high acceptance rates so wait-lists spots are fewer. Sometimes, these are schools with lots of faculty kids, legacy families or siblings applying who are pretty much guaranteed to accept spots when offered. Parents often ask if they should turn down a spot at one school and linger on the wait-list at another. No! Send in your non-refundable deposit to the school where your kid has been accepted. It’s not a good idea to mention to that school you’re hoping to get a wait-list spot elsewhere. If a wait-list spot opens up, you’ll lose the deposit (it can be $2000-$5000, depending on the grade level, but that’s the reality). That is all just part of the L.A. admissions process.

 

If you find your family without a school, create another plan. A new plan that discards all mention of rejection letters. Don’t blame yourself and definitely don”t obsess over what went wrong. It could have been sometime entirely out of your control. Instead, focus on creating new options. Talk to your preschool director. Some of them have near-magical powers within their carefully cultivated relationships with admissions directors. Send him/her to public school for a year until you can re-apply. Call an educational consultant who knows how to work a wait-list to get a spot and who may also know which schools will take late applications. These might not have been your first choice options, but they can end up working out better than you’d expect. You’ll need to be open minded, patient and flexible, not exactly the qualities the admissions process brings out in parents.

 

We all want the very best education for our kids. Good luck! –Christina

 

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Photo: One Fit Window

 

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Guest Blogger “Emily”: Not Wealthy, Not Connected…Just Two Working Parents

Getting An Early Start

I still can’t believe that it’s over.

I remember distinctly the day it all began. I was standing outside after a preschool fundraising meeting with several other moms, and the conversation turned to private elementary school tours.  The first thing I felt was a pit in my stomach.  Was I behind the ball, again?  We had waited until very late in the game to find a preschool for our son.   I was in denial about the fact that he was even old enough for school, and truly in the dark about how competitive preschools were on the Westside.  So, at that moment, one and a half years before my son would start kindergarten, I told myself that there was no way we would be behind the ball on this one.   And so it began…

 

Touring Schools

I started touring schools in February of 2011.   The first step was learning about all of the different types of schools out there.  Where there good public options? What are these private schools like?  I toured them all, privates, charters, magnets, and parochial.   I knew nothing about educational philosophies, progressive vs. traditional, charter vs. magnet, or anything about the entire process.  I soon found myself creating files, Google doc. spreadsheets, and making calendars to hang on the fridge to keep track of all the tour dates and appointments.

 

It soon became clear to me that the lottery process of the public charter and magnet options was too random – too much to be left to chance, the luck of the draw.   And then when I started to tour the private schools, I couldn’t believe how beautiful some of these schools were, how progressive they were in their philosophies, and how much they had to offer.   Most seemed to have two full time teachers in each class.  A low teacher to student ratio always appealed to me. I knew that this type of education was something I wanted for my boy, and it became quickly clear that only a handful of publics might offer something similar, IF you were lucky enough to have your child’s name drawn out of their lottery fishbowl.

Stress!

As the process unfolded, my poor husband didn’t know what hit him.  Of course he was on board with getting our son into a great school, but really?  Tours, applications, parent interviews, and “playdates” for every school?  The process consumed me for over a year.  My husband was starting to tune out when I would bring up something about school in almost every single conversation we had.  I on the other hand loved it.   There was nothing I was more passionate about, nothing I was more committed to, nothing I wanted to think about or work towards more.

 

Written Applications

I found myself answering questions on written applications for the first time that I had never really thought about, like “what do you want in an education for your child?”  Or “why is this school the right school for your son?   And, “How would you like to be involved in our community?”  I really had no idea!  I just wanted a good education for him and a safe environment.  Little did I even know what a “good” education meant, really.  Our own education about elementary school education began.

 

Applying To Five Schools

We decided to apply to five private schools. Anything less than that seemed too risky.   I had read about how competitive it was to get into a good private elementary school, and how slim the chances are of getting accepted.  We only had acquaintances at a few of the schools.  We did not have connections, we are not in the industry, and we are not a family with deep pockets.  In fact, we were applying for financial aid.  I knew that this made our chances of getting in even worse, as the possibility of getting accepted AND getting aid would be slim.  This was all a real long shot.

 

We kept public school options in the picture, applying to several charters and a magnet school, but drew abysmal numbers in all of their lotteries. This was completely surreal.   (Really, you are drawing my son’s name out of a hat to determine his chance at a decent education??).

 

The entire application process was more work than I ever imagined. Just keeping track of parent interview dates, school “playdates”, and school events was an organizational challenge, and my husband and I both work full time jobs!  Now we literally had a third full time job.

 

Parent Interviews

The first parent interview was easy – a flowing and interesting conversation that gave us confidence for what was to follow.  The next interview was uncomfortable, forced, and formal.   Wow, I guess we blew it? “Oh well, we were ourselves,” I thought, although it was a slightly uncomfortable feeling, like a job interview where you feel like you didn’t nail it. I never felt like we needed to pretend to be something we weren’t, or that we needed to over-prepare.  If they didn’t like us, or think our son was great, then this school was not for us! I truly felt that throughout the process.  I never really stressed about how we “performed” as much as I stressed about the numbers (this many families applying for this few spots?)  I stressed that it seemed like an inside game, and that we really didn’t know families that went to these schools.  I stressed that we didn’t have any specific talents, connections, or wealth to bring to the school.  We are what you might call a “normal” family.   Not wealthy, not connected, not Ivy-League educated… just your average family with two working parents and one beloved little boy.

 

Staying Sane

I approached the whole thing like it was the project of my life. For better or worse, I am a research fanatic and over-think just about all major things in my life (one might say obsess about).  Getting married, buying a house, having a child.  This felt like the biggest so far – a crucially important move that could forever shape my son’s future.  I read Beyond The Brochure, the book and the blog religiously, posting comments and questions whenever I needed advice or just needed to be heard.  My friends and family could only help so much.  Nobody knew what I was going through except the other moms from school, and we all relied on each other heavily for emotional support and to keep the faith.  I found my mom friends to be invaluable during the process, and although we were essentially competing for some of the same spots, we were all super supportive of each other.  All of the good mojo, advice, information, and comfort we were providing each other would pay off for all of us!  And it did.  I kept my local wine shop in business too.

 

My Son’s Visiting Day

The playdates or visiting days were the next big stressor.  My son has always struggled a bit with separation, and I thought for sure that one of the visits would end in screams and tears.  He even told me before one that he did not want to go and that he would “scream the whole time.”  Awesomely ironic, I thought.  Luckily they all went flawlessly and his threats were idle.  Besides, if a school doesn’t understand that kids have meltdowns and bad days, and that the whole thing is just strange to them, then we don’t want to go there anyway! That took the pressure off for me.

 

Leaving Nothing To Chance

After the interviews and visits, we really started to feel the vibe of each school.  It was becoming apparent that some felt more comfortable than others, that some continued to impress us more, and some didn’t feel quite as right for our family.  Our favorites were rising to the top.  I diligently wrote thank you notes to the admissions directors and after every event we attended (my budget for thank you cards skyrocketed!).  I asked acquaintances we barely knew to put in a word for us, which was slightly uncomfortable at first, but what did we have to lose?  I had to get over my fear of rejection quickly.

We were really uncomfortable with the whole “first choice” thing.  Did we really need to pick one and tell them those words? (YOU are our first choice!)  My husband and I had different top three lists (mine based more on gut feeling and reputation, his more on commute and school administration). This was so hard, the thought of picking a top choice and communicating that to the school. This was something I agonized over incessantly towards the end.   We decided to not tell any school they were our top choice specifically, but to sincerely express our strong interest to each.  How confusing!!  (I told friends I felt like a serial dater who cannot commit!)

 

Our Financial Aid Applications

The financial aid piece was another huge part of the puzzle. For us, an offer of enrollment without aid would be no offer at all.  The paperwork required was extensive and detailed.  Each school had different forms and a slightly different deadline for submission.  If you are applying for aid, start early by putting together a budget – how much comes in and how much goes out. You will have to submit this to the school, and it is not necessarily something that is easy to pull together overnight (including the documentation they require).

 

As the March 23rd “D-day” loomed, I started to feel remarkably calm.  There came a point where we had done all that we could do, and fate would handle the rest.  Besides, I had read time and time again, being waitlisted is not a death sentence to entry, right?  I DID stalk the postman and check my e-mail incessantly that Friday and Saturday.

 

Getting Our Admissions Letters

The first e-mail arrived early Saturday morning.   Wow, it was a letter of acceptance from a highly coveted Westside school – the one where we thought the parent interview as a disaster! What a surprise!  Then, the next one rolled in… offer #2 from one of our top choices.  This was unexpected.  Really, we got into more than one?

 

When the mail finally arrived at noon, we could not believe our eyes when we saw four large envelopes and one small one.   We got into four out of the five schools to which we applied!   YES! We did!  As we opened each envelope, we started to read the details…. “We are happy to welcome you to Wildwood!  However, due to X, Y, and Z, we are unable to offer you financial aid at this time…”

 

A Financial Aid Twist

Four offers… but only ONE accompanied by an offer of AID.  This was something I NEVER expected. If they didn’t have aid to give, and we applied for it, why wouldn’t they just send us a rejection letter?    Hmmmm, we started to think…. Is this a test?  Do some families apply for aid, don’t get it, and then come up with the money some other way?   We concluded that this must be the case. But for us, there was no plan B to finance this deal.

 

My gut to apply to five schools was solid. I knew that the combination of getting in, AND getting in with aid would be tough.   I had heard that the number of families applying for aid was on the rise because of the economy, and at the same time, there were fewer funds available for aid because of the economy.

 

Making A Very Important Phone Call

For a moment, we thought, well that’s it! The ONE school that offered us aid is the one that chose us. And we really liked this school!  But it was not one of our top choices.  After thinking about it and talking to friends and family, we thought, why not call and see if this is negotiable?  Is the rejection of aid a done deal?  Or is this something that can be revisited?  Discussed?

 

Good News!

I contacted the school that I just could not turn my back on. The one that in the end, really felt like my top choice.   I had a wonderful conversation with the school director, and the door was open. We thought this school was an amazing choice for our son and absolutely loved it from day one, but without financial assistance, it was impossibility.    Monday was the deadline.    We had one great school that offered us aid, and my number one choice couldn’t let us know until Monday afternoon.   This was insane!   I was literally working from home that day, waiting for the call.  Was I driving a deposit check over to school A, or to school B?

Happiness

The call came at 1:30 p.m..  Our top choice school was able to revisit the situation and offer us aid!   It was an amount that made it feasible for our family (albeit still a big stretch!).   I took a deep breath, got in the car, and drove a check over to my son’s new school.   I was shaking filling out some of the paperwork…. I couldn’t believe this was finally happening!  Was this for real? The school we ultimately chose and that my son will be attending this fall, was a school that seemed like the ultimate long shot in the beginning.  We are thrilled with the outcome and still in disbelief that not only is the search over, but we got our little boy into that amazing school.

 

And now, a new chapter begins.

 

“Emily Summers” is a Westside mom who will have a son attending a popular Santa Monica private school in September.

* names and identifying characteristics have been changed due to the sensitivity of financial aid.  

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Guest Blogger Audrey: My Roller Coaster Ride Applying To L.A. Private Elementary Schools

The admissions process is like a roller coaster

The roller coaster of applying to Los Angeles private elementary schools is not just hype.  From the moment you decide to tour schools to the day decision letters arrive, you can confront such an array of emotions that by the end of March you find yourself at times not caring about the outcome anymore.

 

I was amazed to face intense fears, doubts, financial concerns and consternation of friends and family (who believe children will do fine in public school and cannot fathom spending so much money on Kindergarten).  I figured I had until college applications for all of that.  Sure, there had been fear and doubt over potty training, pacifier use and the typical parental dilemmas, but this felt like the first significant decision that could affect my daughter’s path for years to come.

 

A year ago January I heard about a private school with a pre-K program one week before the application deadline.  Hoping I could get my daughter accepted before the Kindergarten rush, I applied without looking at any other schools.  When she was accepted, I panicked and declined after realizing how much more research I wanted to do.

 

I had no idea what other schools looked like or what they offered and I certainly wasn’t well versed in all things private school.  I didn’t realize that I would have to pay our following year’s deposit before hearing back from other schools to which we may have wanted to apply.  I didn’t realize that private schools might not want to accept a child who already has a “spot” at another private school.  I didn’t realize that almost every other school I visited would diminish the “wow” factor I had experienced at this first school.  At the end of the day, what I did realize was that I needed to learn how to do “the dance.”

 

Applying to– and getting accepted at– L.A. private schools is in fact a well-orchestrated dance.  There may be multiple partners on the dance floor with your family such as your preschool director, preschool teachers, each head of school and/or admissions director (oftentimes one in the same) and influential friends with ties to that school.  In addition, there are ways to enhance your dancing like how involved you are in your child’s preschool, how powerful a career you or your spouse possess and how much wealth or influence the school perceives your family as having.

 

This past fall after copious research, I was ready to tour schools.  I looked at schools big, tiny, progressive, artsy, highly academic, “old school/old money”, religious, one where the kids play sports in the parking lot, and ones that have every state-of-the-art facility possible.  You name it, I looked at it.  I felt I knew which would be a good fit for my daughter, but for comparison’s sake I wanted to see even those I felt would not suit her.  This proved to be invaluable confirmation of the philosophy and environment in which I wanted my daughter.

 

Our family applied to three private schools.  I told my husband that I only wanted to submit applications to schools we truly felt would be a good match for our daughter and our family.  I did not want to apply to a large number of schools, simply to increase our chances of getting accepted.

 

I spent days anguishing on application answers and nights tormenting my poor husband on re-writes.  We parsed every word, second-guessed each thought process, and tried to imagine what the ADs would think of how we approached our daughter’s strengths and weaknesses.  Each school asked slightly different questions and there was no use trying to copy and paste.  Reaching my breaking point I shut down, telling my husband the answers were as good as they were going to get.

 

The interviews caused the most tension between us.  Not only was I concerned about my own appearance and answers, but also I found myself scrutinizing my husband’s choice of attire and worrying about what he might say.  These interviews ranged from down-to-earth conversations about college football and potty training to a “family interview” where my daughter on her own drew a lovely picture and wrote each of our names before handing it to the AD as a gift.

 

Our last interview was the most bizarre with multiple conflicting remarks and unusual questions such as the last, “Would you like your daughter to be considered for admission?”  I wanted to love this school because it was very close to our home and seemed in line with what we wanted for our daughter.  However, with each interaction its appeal diminished and with our interview, any desire to enroll her disappeared.

 

The day acceptance e-mails and letters were arriving found us sitting in a restaurant refreshing e-mail on our phones.  Exactly at noon our first e-mail acceptance appeared.  Tears immediately flowed as my husband and I became choked up over our daughter’s accomplishment.  Several minutes later another acceptance arrived via our Inbox.  A few more hugs and we were beaming with pride.  Pride over our daughter, who of course we think is exceptional, and I actually allowed myself a small moment of joy over any part I may have played in her success.

 

When we returned home our mailbox was stuffed with two large envelopes and one small.  We were waitlisted by the school that had lost all attractiveness.  In fact, they did not accept any family from our preschool save one sibling and even our preschool director was confused and disappointed.  Multiple families had similar, peculiar experiences and interviews.  We have since heard that any family who did not communicate to the school that it was their #1 choice was either waitlisted or declined.  I feel confident that I could have gotten my daughter admitted.  However, recognizing that this school was not our first choice, I did not utilize every resource, did not indicate it was our first choice and intentionally fell short of saying those five necessary words:  If accepted, we will enroll.  I can live with that.

 

In my heart I knew which school I wanted my daughter to attend.  I could picture her on this campus, thriving and spreading her wings.  With each visit I found myself wanting to volunteer or work there due to the uplifting and positive environment.  The combination of a beautiful setting, state-of-the-art facilities, strong academic reputation, solid administration and so many opportunities was tremendous.  Think again, though, if you concluded that our choice was straightforward.

 

In spite of all that, we struggled until the deadline over which school to choose.  One was an easier commute and more likely to have families living closer to us.  The other had better facilities for sports, science and the like.  The former seemed more laid back and was several thousand dollars less.  The latter had an impressive, well-rounded curriculum with a strong academic reputation.

 

In the end, we decided on the latter school.  Asking ourselves “If money was no object where would we send her?” we had our answer.  Nonetheless, for us money is a consideration.  We are not a wealthy, prominent family.  However, we are willing to do whatever we can to give our daughter an opportunity to receive the best education.

 

We had no letters of recommendation.  We had no friends who attended these schools to put in a good word.  At our preschool I have been a room parent, past co-chair of both the Fundraising and Silent Auction committees and am currently a board member of our parent association.  Not one application asked about my husband or me and I chose to answer their questions without inserting self-accolades.  In our interviews no one inquired about our preschool involvement, what we could bring to their school or if we intended to volunteer or donate money.  Still, many private schools do put great emphasis on these details and as part of the dance moves I learned, I was prepared for all of the above should they have occurred.  This is all to say that while I learned the formal dance steps, sometimes all it takes is a little rhythm and your own style.

 

Audrey Young has a background in Healthcare Compliance where she performed detailed research and analysis.  She is a native of Los Angeles and attended public schools and universities.  Her private school admission experience set in motion a desire to help guide parents through this process and ease any confusion, fear and anxiety.  She is launching an admission consulting business, The Admission Team, and will be available to families applying for the 2013-14 school year and beyond.  Audrey can be reached at theadmissionteam@gmail.com.  Her daughter will be attending Kindergarten at Viewpoint School in September.

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Waiting, Types of Letters, Admitted, Wait-Listed or Shut-Out: We’ve Got It Covered

           Love This!

 

* Update: Since this post was written, many schools now notify families by email or use the Ravenna system for parents to log in to find out the school’s admissions decision. 

Here’s a round-up of our some of most popular posts on selecting a school if your child is admitted, what to do if you child is wait-listed, being denied admission and hiring an educational consultant to help get your child off the wait-list. Please note that Porcha Dodson, Beyond The Brochure co-author tells us that schools only use email to send good news acceptance letters. Most schools don’t send wait-list or declined admission emails. Also, we’ve head from several sources that PS#1 Elementary School’s admissions director Andrea Roth, resigned this week.

Waiting For Admissions Letters by Jenny Heitz

Various Types of Admissions Letters by Kim Hamer

Good News: How To Choose

0/X: What’s Next When You Don’t Get In?

Confronting Rejection: When Your All Isn’t Enough

Tips For If Your Child Is Wait-Listed

Hiring An Educational Consultant To Go From Wait-Listed To Accepted

Choosing A School: Every School Tells A Story Part 1

Choosing A School: Every School Tells A Story Part 2 by Jenny Heitz

How Could Choosing A School Be So Hard? What I Did/Did Not Expect About The Willows School

                       Even Better!

 

 

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