Odd Squad: PBS Kids’ Smart New TV Show

Earlier this week, I attended a screening of Odd Squad, a new TV show for kids on PBS Kids. The show is educational and fun! Odd Squad It features an adorable, quirky cast and the cutest puppets you’ll ever see. Odd Squad is an agency run by kids and they investigate anything strange or unusual. In quintessential PBS Kids style, Odd Squad teaches kids as they watch. Computing fractions, how to tell time and other learning lesson are creatively woven into the plot. Yucky foods caused the kids in the audience (preschool-early elementary ages) to laugh uproariously…Did you say broccoli pudding? How about egg salad pizza? Yuck! This is definitely one of the best new kids shows on TV. Thanks, PBS Kids!

The cast of Odd Squad
The cast of Odd Squad
Agent Olive being interviewed at the screening of Odd Squad
Agent Olive being interviewed at the screening of Odd Squad
Odd Squad 2
Odd Squad solves a mystery
At the screening with my friend Candi
At the screening with my friend Candi
The fabulous KidSpace museum, Pasadena
Screening at the fabulous KidSpace museum, Pasadena

This post is not sponsored. I did not receive compensation and all opinions are my own. 


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Guest Blogger Alice: The Dreaded Parent Interview



So you’re applying to private elementary schools and you’ve managed to actually get a date for a tour and/or interview  (which for some schools means you called months in advance and already jumped through some hoops), which generally means both you and your child will be interviewed. You’re a grown up and have survived job interviews and talked banks into loaning you money, so this should be a piece of cake.  “You aren’t nervous,” you tell yourself and pretend the new outfit you bought is for some other reason, but the truth is as much as we are prepping our kid by begging and bribing them to behave for just one hour, we know that we also have to pull it off.


In fact, when you’re applying for a kindergarten spot in the competitive L.A. private school market, it may even be more about the family than it is about the child.   I remember the butterflies.  I remember trying to look like I had money, but not so much that I was pretending to be a big donor.  I remember wondering if it’s better to look like working mom, or a stay at home mom, (as if I could fake it one way or another).  I remember frantically searching a school’s web site to see if I could think of at least one or two “intelligent” questions to ask, and then trying to memorize those questions.


I decided to go to a source and ask an admissions director at one of these schools, to sit with me and anonymously give me some insights into what they are hoping to get out of the parent interview


Alice: What’s the single most important thing you are looking for in a parent interview?


Admissions Director:  For parent interviews I want to hear in their voice that they are supportive of their child and will be of the school.  In other words, once they put their kid in the school, I want to know they will trust the school to do what it’s supposed to and not get in the way.


Alice: You mean?


Admissions Director: (laughing) Get in the teacher’s faces.


Alice: Is there a tip off that makes you know you may be talking to a difficult parent?


Admissions Director: Yes.  When they start getting really pushy, questioning the curriculum before they even spend time here.  “If my child does this or that, will you do this or that?”  They are always seeking more and more.  It’s not many parents, but you do find them.


Alice: What would your biggest tip be for a parent going into a parent interview?


Admissions Director:  For them to realize that not every school is necessarily a perfect fit for their child.  They may think it’s a fit because of the status of the school, or whatever, but they need to understand that a child has to be socially and emotionally ready for any school they’re applying to.   Some parents want to push them further than they can actually handle.  Know the boundaries of your child and what’s good for them.


Alice: Can you give me an example?


Admissions Director:  Often the child is just too young and not ready for what a school is going to ask from them.


Alice: I’m just curious, does it mater what you wear to an interview?


Admissions Director:  No.  I mean, some parents dress up and that’s nice, but what’s on the outside doesn’t matter.  It’s the way they present themselves verbally in conversation that’s more important.


Alice: What if one of the parents doesn’t show up?   Does that matter?


Admissions Director:  It’s not a big deal for one interview, but if dad, for example, doesn’t show up, I’ll reach out at some point.


Alice: You’d like to lay eyes on both parents?


Admissions Director nods.


Alice: So any final tip for us parents?


Admissions Director: Parents should do their homework about the schools they are applying to, try to talk to other families and get the pros and cons and have questions.


Alice: Sure, but what kinds of questions?


Admissions Director: Anything, about their financial commitments, what after school programs are offered, what transportation, parent involvement on campus?   What high schools the kids matriculate to?


Alice: And finally?


Admissions Director: Come in with an open mind.  Before deciding if this is or isn’t the right place for your child.  Even if you come in thinking it is right, listen and make sure before you apply.


My own final thought is this:  I once was in a group interview situation for one of the most of prestigious K-12 schools in the city and they had about eight to ten parents around a large table and opened it up to questions.  It started with one person asking how many letters from board members of the school would be too much to include in the application.  I believe the officer responded with one is likely enough and then another hand went up and a parent asked, “Following up on that, is it obnoxious…?”  I didn’t even have to hear the end of the question, because if you start with, “Is it obnoxious?”, it obviously will be obnoxious.  Sure enough: “Is it obnoxious to have someone from Clinton’s Cabinet write letters recommending our family?”   Clinton at that time was President.  I can’t say how the admissions director took that, but everyone else in the room including me, rolled their eyes.  So my personal thought would be, try not to be obnoxious.


Mother of three, Alice attended east coast private schools as a child and has been in the private school world as a parent for nearly twenty years.  Her kids attended Mirman for elementary, then Harvard-Westlake and Brentwood for high school, with one still to go.  She is a writer working in film, TV and for various magazines such as Family Fun, Wondertime, Glamour and Brides. 


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Tips To Help You ACE Your Private Elementary School Parent Interview

This piece was originally published on Elizabeth Street on January 19, 2014.

Photo credit: Adam Capriola, Flickr Creative Commons
Photo credit: Adam Capriola, Flickr Creative Commons License

Many, but not all, private elementary schools want to meet applicant parents without their kids present as part of the admissions process. Parent interviews are typically meetings between parents and the admissions director. There is no single format and each school determines how the interview will work. Some schools are very casual, while others are more formal. The tone of the interview will depend on the personality of the admissions director and the general atmosphere of the school.


If you’re applying for kindergarten, keep in mind that a parent interview is about you and your child. Some schools are very interested in how well a family will fit into the school’s culture. Other schools are more focused on whether the child will excel academically. It’s hard to know what to anticipate, but researching the school and talking to your preschool director and current parents at the school can help you prepare.


Here are our tips to help you ace your parent interviews:


1. Do your homework ahead of time. Review the school’s website and be sure you are familiar with the mission of the school and what differentiates it from other schools. Be prepared to talk about how your family fits with the philosophy of the school. Why your kid would be a great addition to the school should also be something you are prepared to talk about.


2. Review your written application and be consistent in your interview conversation with what you said in your application about your family and its values and goals. Make sure you communicate who you are and make your family’s story one that will be remembered by the admissions director.


3. Be positive AND honest about your child. Don’t try to make him/her look perfect. In talking about his/her strengths, give real examples of these characteristics. You might talk about how he/she is willing to share toys in the park. Or, perhaps your kid will include other children in playtime at preschool, rather than exclude them. These two examples indicate friendliness, empathy and maturity. In speaking about any challenges, make sure you share that you understand and accept them and are committed to working with the school to partner in serving your child’s needs.


4. Be careful about telling the admissions director you’ll definitely accept a spot if it is offered. You may feel tempted to do this, but it isn’t necessary and could hinder your applications at other schools since some admissions directors do talk to each other. And, don’t make the mistake of being too aggressive in the type of questions you ask like, “Why does this school cost so much?” or, “How much will it cost us to guarantee you’ll let our kid in?” These are inappropriate questions!


5. Arrive early. Plan your route and allow for traffic and other delays. Showing up late is a big no-no. Both parents (if there are two) should attend. The absence of one parent signals a lack of interest in the school.


6. Try to anticipate a few commonly asked questions like, “Tell me about your child,” or “Why do you want your child to attend our school.?” Sometimes, starting with a broad comment about why you love the school and then moving to specifics about why this school is right for your kid works well. It also helps to discuss your answers to these questions with your spouse/partner before the interview. You should both be in agreement about why you want your child to attend the school!


7. Not every parent interview will go well. In Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles, I write in detail about a parent interview for kindergarten that went so badly we withdrew our application from the popular school. Sometimes, the interview may feel more like the admissions director is merely going through the motions and has little interest in what you have to say. Or, you may learn more about the school and realize it doesn’t seem right for your child. However, just because you don’t think an interview went well doesn’t necessarily mean the admissions director felt that way. There are plenty of families who were convinced their interview was a disaster or just adequate, only to receive an acceptance letter a few months later!


Finally, we highly recommend approaching each parent interview with confidence, professionalism and a bit of luck.


Written by Christina Simon and Anne Simon, co-authors of Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles


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Lycée International de Los Angeles shows solidarity for France as it mourns the victims from the Charlie Hebdo attack

Lycée International de Los Angeles
January 8th school assembly at LILA Burbank


The events of the past two days in Paris have been truly horrifying. We know Beyond The Brochure readers are as devastated as we are at the loss of life and the attack on the freedom of speech. Here’s how Lycée International de Los Angeles (LILA) showed solidarity with France and helped students express their sympathy. –Christina


Los Angeles, CA – January 8, 2015 – While France is mourning the dead from a fatal act of terrorism on January 7, 2015, many countries are expressing sympathy and support. At Lycée International de Los Angeles (LILA) where almost half of the students on its five campuses are of French nationality, of French origins, or Francophiles, the emotional reaction has been acute.


“As a school whose origins are deeply anchored in the French language and culture, the LILA community stands in solidarity with France and her people in light of the awful attacks in Paris,” said Michael Maniska, LILA’s Head of School.


A minute of silence was observed on the school’s secondary campus in Burbank on the morning of the attack. On January 8th, the following day, a whole school assembly was held in order to pay respects to the victims of the tragedy. “It is essential for us to both educate and inform our students in order to provide them with the tools to enable them to understand such a tragic event,” explained Anneli Harvey, Director of the Burbank campus. The assembly, conducted in French, was led by LILA’s Secondary Academic Director,Emmanuel Bonin, who said, “We remain firm believers in France’s national motto of liberté, égalité, fraternité.” The somber students, many of whom had attended an homage to the victims in Los Feliz the night before, talked about the cartoonists, journalists and police officers who were killed in the ambush that marked France’s deadliest act of terrorism since 1961.


“Just as my father grew up with Charlie Hebdo, I was also doing the same,” said 11th grader Théo Grison of the satirical left-wing newspaper that became famous for its controversial and irreverent cartoons and reports skewering politics, culture, and religion. “Killing these journalists is like killing freedom of expression. We are mourning the people who died but we are also mourning the death of an essential freedom.”

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7 Things You Can Do To Find The Right Private Elementary School In L.A.

Photo credit: Nick Amoscato (Flickr Creative Commons License)
Photo credit: Nick Amoscato (Flickr Creative Commons License)

Conquer these essentials and you’ll be more likely to find a school that truly fits your kid and your parenting style.


1. Understand the type of school (traditional, developmental, progressive, religious, Waldorf). Many schools are a hybrid of philosophies.


2. Think about your kid’s learning style and the environment that will be best for them…can you picture your kid at the school?


3. Assess the culture of the school (who are the other parents, is it laid back or strict, etc.). Do the parents look like hippies and artists or golfers and bankers? I got this one very wrong in a big way at The Willows…the culture of that school was never the right fit for our family.


4. Geography. Can you get there and back daily. Where do the other families live?


5. Tuition cost. Private schools can cost $8000/year or $30,000/year for K. There are costs in addition to tuition (enrollment fee ($1,500) annual fund, enrichment, field trips, uniforms, hot lunch).


6. Financial aid. Try to determine whether a school has a generous financial aid budget. Look at the percent of the school’s budget allocated to financial aid…listed on the website or in the annual report. Schools with endowments are typically more likely to have robust financial aid budgets, but smaller schools can offer generous financial aid packages too.


7. Trust your intuition. The most popular schools (or the most expensive) aren’t always the BEST schools!


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Goodbye, 2014…What’s Up, 2015?


After visiting family in Florida, I’m back in Los Angeles for a low-key New Year. I’ll be cooking the traditional Hoppin’ John (so delicious and very special to my family!) and hanging out with my daughter while my husband and son watch tons of sports.  I thought I’d give you a few highlights from 2014 and a peek at what’s on the agenda for Beyond The Brochure in 2015.


The most challenging post I wrote this year was about this blog.


The most popular post this year was about L.A. private school tuition.


The posts I’ve enjoyed writing the most are Private School Profiles.


I became a contributing writer to Mom.me (an AOL Lifestyle site).


The most exciting moment was finding out the book is sold at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena.


I’ve tiptoed around the issue of middle school admissions, but I think I’ve found the answer: Guest Blogger Alice. She’ll be a regular contributor in 2015. Alice is a Mirman School parent and a former Brentwood and Harvard-Westlake mom, so she knows her L.A. private school stuff…I mean she really KNOWS. And, she’s funny, brutally honest and a really good writer too.


In 2015, Beyond The Brochure will feature more posts about who gets into private school (and why), what you need to know about all aspects of admissions, more private School Profiles, a post or two about feeder schools (I learned something new I want to write about), the most affordable and the most expensive private schools in the L.A. area, more reader questions/answers, upcoming private school events, private school buzz, what makes a private school “academic” and a tiny bit of snark, of course. There’s just too much about the private school world that makes my head spin not to mention it here.


I hope you’ll keep reading and following along on Facebook since that’s where you can find blog posts, events, private school news and articles. Most of all I appreciate you telling your friends about this blog and the book too. This is definitely a word-of-mouth endeavor. It is everything I wished I’d known when I applied to kindergarten for my daughter in 2005-06. I hope it’s everything you’re looking for too.


Cheers to a wonderful 2015!--Christina



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Viewpoint School Selects New Headmaster

Mark McKee, Viewpoint School's new headmaster with his family
Mark McKee, Viewpoint School’s new headmaster with his family

I’m so excited to welcome our school’s new headmaster! Of course, we’re glad Dr. Dworkoski isn’t going too far…after 28 years as headmaster, he’s been named the president of the Viewpoint Educational Foundation).–Christina


Following an international Search, Viewpoint School’s Board of Trustees unanimously selected Mark McKee as Viewpoint’s next Head of School. Mark is currently Head of School at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Day School in San Mateo, California, and is a recognized educator of national repute. Mark will assume his role at Viewpoint on July 1, 2015.


Mark brings impressive leadership skills to Viewpoint, but as he pointed out to us many times during the search process, his first and most important role is that of an educator. After graduating from Harvard College, Mark joined Polytechnic School in Pasadena as an English teacher. While teaching at Poly, he completed a Master’s program and further graduate study in English from U.C. Irvine. He also became Poly’s Director of Technology and Director of Summer School. He next served as Head of Upper School at Chase Collegiate School, a PK-12 school in Waterbury, Connecticut, for seven years, where he fostered collaboration and built the academic reputation of the program. He was named Head of School at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Day School in 2007.


During his time at St. Matthews, Mark has revitalized curricular and program development while focusing on the critical skills of a 21st century education. He has led the development and substantial completion of the school’s strategic plan, including its first-ever capital campaign and the addition of $22 million worth of construction. Mark is currently completing his Ed.D. dissertation for a doctorate in Education Leadership from Columbia University’s Teachers College.


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Happiest Holidays: Photos, Good Reads and Gratitude….

December 7. Late night after the holiday party.
December 7. Enjoying the flowers after A Holiday Party In The Spirit of Generosity

Happy Holidays 2014

I hope everyone is having a wonderful winter break. My family is definitely enjoying the time off from our normal routine. We’re hiking with our pit bull Cocoa, watching too much HGTV and Gossip Girl, cooking, sleeping late, playing tennis and seeing friends.

Christina and Jessica Gottlieb. Party time!
Christina and Jessica Gottlieb

Our family started the holiday season with a holiday party we co-hosted at our home with my fabulous friend Jessica Gottlieb (some of you probably read her popular blog). When Jessica and I realized we’re both friends with the same inspiring mom whose 11 year-old son is battling Leukemia, we decided to host a party to raise money for our friend’s huge expenses that aren’t covered by insurance (hospital parking, tutors for a year of missed school… and so much more) as her son continues his multi-year chemotherapy treatment. Los Angeles is a big city, but for one night we brought together a “village” for our friend who was deeply touched by the outpouring of generosity. We raised $5,500, including a contribution from Beyond The Brochure. You can see the photos and read about this very special party here.


Gratitude extends to all of you who read this blog and buy the book! Thank you!


We went to see my daughter’s first performance in the Viewpoint middle school Jazz Band. Wow! The band opened the Holiday Concert with jazzy versions of Winter Wonderland and Frosty The Snowman. All those hours and hours my daughter spent practicing the guitar, taking lessons, learning the songs, getting to the 7:00 a.m. class every week were so worth it. I’m waiting for the DVD since I didn’t take any photos. The band was amazing!

Earl Watson Elite 2


If you have a kid who plays club sports, you know that tournaments are year-round so we’ve been in Orange County for the past two weeks for basketball tournaments. My son loves sports, plays hard and doesn’t get rattled when his team loses (huge losses both weekends). I love his competitive spirit and good sportsmanship.


Here are some good reads from around the web:

Time’s Up For Time Out. A discussion of parenting discipline techniques through the decades in The Atlantic.


Trying To Make Mom Friends Is The Worst. Like the author, I too underestimated how hard it was/is to make mom friends. But, when the stars align, really great mom friends are everything.  In New York Magazine.


The Last Thing I Expected People To Say About My Daughter. If you’re a mom who had kids later in life i.e. your mid-late 30s, did anybody ever ask if you’re their grandmother? This has never happened to me (thankfully!). One mom writes about her experience being mistaken for her daughter’s grandmother and her husband the grandfather. On Mom.me


If you haven’t checked out the hilarious (ficticious) Los Feliz Daycare on Twitter, it’s a must-read. Here’s one very funny Tweet. #Repost: LFDC


Let’s be social! Like Beyond The Brochure on Facebook. We post a lot of stuff on Facebook that’s not on the blog!  Are you more the email type? Get our posts in your in box by subscribing (enter your email in the subscribe” box on the right sidebar of the blog. Or, buy the Second Edition of our book at Amazon.com or your local bookstores!

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Notre Dame Academy Elementary and Middle School: A Traditional Catholic School For The 21st Century

Notre Dame Front


Notre Dame Academy Elementary and Middle School (NDA) in West Los Angeles is a traditional Catholic (Transitional Kindergarten-8th Grade) located on a picturesque campus in West L.A. It is located next to its sister school, Notre Dame Academy High School (all girls). NDA’s quaint, statuesque façade may be familiar to Westsiders, since it has been a landmark on Overland, south of the Westside Pavilion for 60 years. The school is a small, safe hamlet within big, bustling Los Angeles.


ND 15


NDA is a co-ed, private school run by The Sisters of Notre Dame and a Board of Trustees. It is affiliated with the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles but is not a parish-supported school. NDA is a traditional Catholic school in the sense that religion class is taught for TK-8, teachers must be Catholic and there is school wide prayer every morning. Upon entering and leaving the classroom, students say a quiet prayer (so quiet in fact that I didn’t even notice until it was pointed out to me). Students wear uniforms and the Sacraments are taught by a Sister in the lower grades.


ND 1


The school’s mission is as follows: “Guided by the Educational Principles of the Sisters of Notre Dame and the mission to proclaim God’s goodness and provident care, the faculty and staff of Notre Dame Academy believe that a solid instruction in Catholic doctrine and practices is essential for shaping morally centered adults.”


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NDA exemplifies modern Catholic education. It is a religious school in every sense of the word. Yet it is contemporary, both in its curriculum and its bold use of technology. I was intrigued by the blending of old and new at this distinguished private school.


ND 6


Meeting Lilliam Paetzold, the principal for a tour and interview was like being greeted by a dear friend. She’s such a burst of positive energy. Warm, intelligent and dynamic, she is excited about the school’s tremendous advances over the past five years which include a major project: to implement an updated curriculum map, which includes a significant new technology component. Lilliam is herself a graduate of NDA and her connection to the school is genuine and heartfelt. She is completing her 4th year as principal and her 25th year as an educator.


ND 4


The curriculum map was created to ensure Common Core standards are met. Spanish, Technology, Drama, Music, Art, Debate and P.E. are included in the weekly schedule. Enrichment classes are offered in music, yoga and other fun subjects. School athletics begin in 3rd grade. Choir is offered for grades 2nd-8th. There is a resource specialist on staff. NDA has many of the “bells and whistles” of a non-religious private school, making its admissions more competitive than many other Catholic schools.


NDA is consciously, thoughtfully utilizing the best practices in the education world. The school’s major focus on an updated curriculum with an integrated technology plan is impressive and carefully engineered. The classrooms are almost all updated with a few left to be re-designed. The amount of resources and hard work that has gone into the curriculum map is a signal that the school fully embraces teaching and learning for its current students and beyond.


ND 5


Perhaps the most important aspects of the curriculum update is the full integration of technology into the classroom, with a technology coordinator and training for teachers and staff to ensure systematic use of new technologies.


For grades 4th-8th, there is a 1:1 iPad program, which is integrated with the curriculum (this means kids use the iPad for real learning, not just for fun or searching online). For grades TK-3, there are 2 iPad carts in the classrooms.


ND 8


In middle school (grades 6th-8th), there is a student broadcast studio filled with all kinds of Apple equipment. The middle school offers a host of tech electives including robotics, web design and coding. Students in the middle school use iPads for their books, note taking, and project sharing and collaborating. One very talented middle schooler won an award or his iPad animated video, “An Interview with Martin Luther King, Jr.” from the LA County Office of Education.


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Using the most up-to-date technology helps ensure students work independently on platforms like IXL Math and Spelling City. Apps and programs track real time progress that is monitored by teachers and instruction is differentiated. Teachers are supplied with–and trained to use–Mac Books and iPads to create a true technology-based curriculum. Interestingly, students remain with the same teacher for science, math and English for grades 5th-8th to help ensure a smooth from elementary to middle school. There is a 5th grade study skills program to help students prepare for 6th grade.


ND Fall festival


Parents benefit from the school’s use of technology, including social media, to communicate, plan events, order healthy hot lunch online and ensure it is easy to keep up to date with everything that’s happening with just a click of the computer.


ND 7


NDA students are diverse, coming from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. About 25 percent of the student body is non-Catholic (most are Christian and they aren’t required to take communion).


After passing by this quaint school many times, I was pleased to finally visit it. I absolutely loved the school! It is impressive on many levels. NDA adheres to a personalized approach for each child. It summons a nostalgia-tinged memory of an era gone by, at the same time it is thoroughly modern and so right now it in its educational philosophy. There’s nothing stodgy about this faith-based learning institution. This combination makes it fairly unique among Catholic elementary and middle schools. Notre Dame’s covetable use of technology is a signature aspect of its commitment to state-of-the-art education. The emphasis on technology is the finishing touch on an already robust school.


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Charity work includes St. Anne’s Food Pantry, Halloween Candy for Operation Gratitude and funds raised for a sister school in Uganda, among other causes that are both parent and student led.


At NDA there is one class per grade with two teachers in per class. TK has approximately 20 students, with kindergarten and grades 1st-8th average 30 students. There are 280 students, with a student to faculty ratio of 10:1.


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NDA is an academically rigorous, traditional school with a meticulous commitment to Catholic teachings. The school equips its graduates with the skills to aim high, to become future leaders or whatever they want to be in life. Notre Dame graduates exemplify a strong moral and spiritual foundation. The school retains a personalized approach to each child, exactly what all kids need during their formative years. All of this is a wonderful endeavor indeed.


NDA students matriculate to the following schools for 9th grade: Notre Dame Academy High School (girls), Loyola, Notre Dame High School, Marymount, St. Monica, Crespi, Pacifica Christian and Marlborough.


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Visitor’s Day Presentation and Tours:

Jan. 21, 2015, 8:30-10 a.m.


Open House, Meet The Teachers:

January 10, 2015, 10 a.m.-12 noon.


Application deadline: Jan 28, 2015

Annual tuition: $8,100.

For more information, www.ndaes.org


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PS1’s Point of View: Purposeful, Progressive, Pluralism (co-authored by Matt Steiner)

PS 1 outside


There’s something captivating about PS1 (Pluralistic School One). Of course, the immediate impact of the award-winning sustainable campus, built from the ground up on an acre in Santa Monica, is remarkable. It’s a series of buildings where the architecture encourages exploration into every inch of the creatively constructed school. Modern classrooms surround a central outdoor space, perfect for gathering and playing. There’s plenty of shade in just the right places, provided in part by a 100-year-old oak tree. There’s an easy indoor-outdoor feel that makes this urban school instantly welcoming. It’s a place you’ll want to stay a while, like the parents I observed, who’d dropped off their kids and stayed to chat with each other.


PS1 1


PS1 asks, encourages, requests parents to be a part of the school community, modeling an inclusive school community for the students. We absolutely love the philosophy at PS1, where the school is part of an extended community in which parents raise their kids. Trust us when we say this doesn’t happen accidentally at private schools. It takes unwavering school leadership to set the tone for an inclusive, connected community and encourage even the most reluctant cynics to help foster these relationships through events and volunteerism.


PS1 2


The outdoor courtyard is where I ran into Lisa Perttula, a PS1 mom and herself an educator. Before the prospective parent tour started, Lisa and I spent a few minutes talking about the school. Lisa loves this place where her family feels so immersed in its activities. The Perttulas have strong ties to the school (her mom is on the board) and her kids are thriving and happy there. We talked mostly about the school’s remarkable ability to educate a wide array of kids from different backgrounds.


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The tour began with remarks from Joel Pelcyger, the head of school. He co-founded the school in 1971, when he was just 24 years old! A bold, ambitious task that was no small feat, Joel has stayed true to his mission and thus the school has too. PS1’s unique brand of progressive education is the result of Joel’s vision and work, along with his co-founder and team. The place Joel occupies as a leader in the forefront of progressive education has remained powerful for more than three decades. This experience gives PS1 the confidence to teach what it believes, to incorporate the latest in educational best practices and to resist pressure to conform to ideas it doesn’t believe serve children well (i.e. teaching to the test). The result is a fabulous mélange of big ideas that come together inside the classroom and extend to the school community. “Pluralism is the belief that a community is enriched when individual differences are respected and welcomed.” A founding value of PS1, this concept is woven into all aspects of the school.


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Joel opened the tour by welcoming the packed room of about 80 prospective parents. He is bright and engaging, candid and committed, reminding me of one of my favorite college professors at UC Berkeley. He imparts strong, well-honed beliefs about the state of education in 2014. Overall, he sees the U.S. educational system as one which creates a “high-pressure environment where the focus in on success at any cost.” The result, he says, is “kids cheating on standardized tests and trying desperately to get ahead.” Astutely, he observed, this approach is “unbalanced and lacks engagement…we need engagement and performance, not just performance.” The essence of his brand of progressive education the belief that creativity, innovation, storytelling and critical thinking get young people jobs, creates entrepreneurs and leads to lifelong success. Learning, he believes, should be for life not just for the sake of learning to get through school. “Start with fitting in by being yourself,” Joel believes. That is the essence of pluralism.


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Pluralism, Learning, and ‘Self-Making’

In order to fully appreciate PS1’s program, it’s helpful to have an understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of pluralism. We can then use this understanding to analyze the school’s curriculum and how it upholds pluralistic virtues.


At the root of pluralism is the notion that individuals espouse different beliefs about ‘truth, goodness, and beauty.’ These divergent belief systems, although occasionally in conflict with one another, are honored for the complexity and richness that they bring to a community. Put another way, pluralism recognizes that there is not a singular framework through which every person should construct a meaningful life. For example, a collectivist society that values collaboration, solidarity, and the well-being of the group is not more or less important than a society that highlights individual success, autonomy, and independent leadership. Pluralism allows space for multiple ways of being.  


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At PS1, students are celebrated for the unique histories, heritage, and life experience that they bring to the school. Simultaneously, they are offered the opportunity to explore who they are and to shape their identities through the numerous creative and academic pursuits offered on-campus. Essays on family histories, learning style and personality inventories, and a vast number of visual arts and music projects allow children – even as early as kindergarten – to think about who they are and tinker with their evolving identities. Unlike some of PS1’s more traditional peer schools – which may emphasize the cultivation of an ‘academic’ self above all things – PS1 empowers its students to steer the process of self-making, to be introspective, and to see themselves reflected in schoolwork. Academics are incredibly important, but they are not the sole focal point of an education at PS1.


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A clear example of PS1’s commitment to ‘plural self-making’ is its recent launch of the STEAM Studio program (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math). The Studio is, quite literally, an intellectual and creative playground filled with art supplies, gadgets, and building materials (I’m reminded of the ‘black box’ experimental theaters that are popular in college). Under the supervision of the Studio’s director, Abbie Perttula, a veteran PS1 teacher with 43 years of experience, children engage in collaborative and experiential projects connected to what they are doing in their respective classes. The Studio is an ideal space for the early self-expression and reflection mentioned above. In addition to simply being a ‘fun’ place, the Studio grants students a sense of self-possession that is atypical of elementary learners.


PS1 uses a developmental approach. Every kid learns in different ways, at different rates and at different times. The school’s teaching techniques help each child reach his/her maximum potential. There is, says Joel, “an element of genius in every one of us.”


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The size of PS1 is intentionally small. It is a K-6 with 220 students. All classes are multi-age, called “clusters” with a 2-year age range. There are two lead teachers for every class and 5 full-time specialists for music, PE, art, drama and library.


There’s a happy adrenaline that flows through PS1. As the tour visited classrooms, we stopped in at one of the two K-1 classes where were working on a writing workshop. Every classroom has a shared outdoor space to connect it to its neighboring classroom. In the 2-3 grade class, kids were talking about their social justice study unit. There is a lot collaborative group work among the students. The science unit focused on energy was using computers to research wind, solar and geothermal energy. The kids were articulate and engaged, willing to explain their work to us as we stopped into their classrooms. The classrooms are big and bright, humming with the kids’ sense of fun, exuberance and creativity. PS1 uses traditional teacher-directed lessons in combination with students working in groups and individually.


PS1 is a plastic-free, nut-free school, with an emphasis on eco-friendly practices and sustainability. Financial aid based on need is available at PS1. The school allocates nearly 15 percent of its tuition to financial assistance. This is about $900,000 annual in financial aid.


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Students graduation from PS1 and go on to Crossroads, Marlborough, Harvard-Westlake, Brentwood, Windward, Viewpoint, Archer, New Roads, Chadwick, Paul Revere and Lincoln Middle School, among others. PS1 admits students from over 50 preschools and zip codes in the greater L.A. area.


At PS1, the equation is clear: instead of knowledge acquisition with a singular focus on performance outcomes, students are taught, inspired and encouraged to be engaged learners who embrace differences.  These are tools and skills that will be acquired during students’ formative years at PS1. These are the same skills that will empower kids and easily translate into the real world. A powerful notion exists here: there is immense value in fitting in by being yourself. Community, acceptance, self-expression, non-tradition, engagement, diversity, learning, gratitude, future, community service. In a word, PLURALISM.


For more information, visit www.psone.org 


I enjoyed collaborating with my friend and colleague Matt Steiner on this piece!–Christina

Matt Steiner has worked in the fields of elementary and secondary education for nearly 10 years. His nuanced knowledge of elementary schools is informed by his relationships with admission directors, school placement consultants, and his many visits to private schools in Los Angeles. He is currently the Director of Marketing at Compass Education Group, a test preparation firm that specializes in private SAT, ACT, and ISEE tutoring. 


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