Mirman School: Changes Happening Inside and Outside The Classroom

New Courts

Mirman is definitely a school that’s growing! Since Beyond the Brochure last visited the campus in 2015, that growth has been as much physical as it has been pedagogical: a campus expansion effort was wrapped up in the 2016-2017 school year, effectively doubling the school’s size and offering new athletics and community spaces for its students to enjoy. In just two years, the sports program has enjoyed explosive growth and a few championships to boot. Now, any student in Room 4 through Upper School Four has his or her pick of teams to play on.

 

Vorenberg with kids (1)

 “A Mirman School education speaks to all the dimensions of childhood.”

–Dan Vorenberg, Head of School 

As Beyond the Brochure pointed out in the 2015 profile, change continues to be in the air at Mirman — though it’s important to note that this change is all in service of the school’s core mission. A rebranding effort that rolled out in the 2016-2017 school year began with a serious survey of several constituencies, including alumni, past parents, current parents, students, and preschool directors. The resulting changes were aimed, in part, at demystifying what’s happening on this stretch of Mulholland Drive, allowing the school to widen its reach and better serve its mission. The somewhat opaque grade level labels (Room 1, Room 2, etc.) are on their way out, too; last year’s Kindergarten class (this year’s First Grade class) are trailblazers in that the grade level names will change to a more traditional structure as they progress through the ranks.

 

Classroom2

While it’s true that prospective students still need to meet an IQ requirement before applying, the school has, since the last profile, taken a long look at its admissions process and made some changes to ensure greater accessibility. They no longer accept the Stanford Binet, and instead require a 138 or above on the WPPSI-IV (Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence) and the WISC-V (Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children). A full IQ FAQ is available on the school’s website by clicking here, but of note is the fact that the Wechsler tests have been updated to consider broad cultural factors and measures several subsets of intelligence. The pool of testers has been narrowed, too, to allow for consistency, and financial assistance is available for those who qualify.

When it comes to financial aid assistance, Mirman is, according to statistics from the California Association of Independent Schools and the National Association of Independent Schools, a leader in its category. One in six families receives some form of tuition assistance, with the average grant outpacing many competitor schools. More information on tuition assistance is outlined here on the school’s website.

 

Classroom

Finally, several signature programs continue to grow and gain traction at the school. The World Languages program has expanded to include Mandarin beginning in Kindergarten and running through Upper School. MirmanX is a middle-school startup accelerator which funds three projects each year to the tune of $10,000 to take them from concept to minimum viable product (with the kids retaining all of the intellectual property). A stellar performing arts program includes two full-scale theatre productions each year, and an award-winning Choir will be performing at Carnegie Hall this summer. And the importance of social-emotional learning is underscored by student leadership councils, service learning partnerships, and an Advisory program in the upper school.

For more information, visit www.mirman.org

 

Keep up with all the latest Los Angeles private school news and events on Beyond The Brochure’s Facebook Page! 

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Guest Blogger Isla: An Unlikely Road To Mirman School

“He has a soft marker for Down’s syndrome”, the ultrasound technician told us.  At 35, I was expecting our second child and thrilled to find out we were having a boy this time around (we already had an amazing 2-year-old daughter).  Now my head was spinning.  Ultimately, we decided that Down’s syndrome would not alter our plans to have a baby, so we proceeded through the pregnancy without further screening.  At 33 weeks, I woke at dawn with stomach pains.  Within a couple of hours, my son arrived.  His lungs were not fully developed and he needed a respirator, but he was otherwise healthy (without any signs of Down’s).

 

Unlike our daughter, who seemed to reach milestones at lightening speed, our son was significantly slower in many aspects of his development.  He did not crawl until he was over a year.  By the time he was 2, he only said “mama” audibly.  Concerned about his speech, we had him evaluated. Testing was negative, and we were advised to give him more time.  Soon after, he began to make great strides.  As he became fluent, he quickly learned the alphabet and could count up to 30.  He displayed a laser-like focus when it came to listening to stories or watching television programs.  Then he spontaneously began reading my daughter’s kindergarten books aloud.  He had not yet turned 3.

 

At this point, my husband and I were experiencing challenges with my daughter’s learning.  She was not performing well in school, and required tutoring at a learning center while being evaluated for a learning disability.   As our son waited quietly in the waiting room, one of the tutors (who is also a lawyer and special education advocate) took an interest in him. Each time we came in, she began talking to him more and more.  Soon, he began insisting on being taught.  Turns out, he could follow the lessons and perform all of the computer programs better than many of the 8-year-old kids.  That’s when the specialist told me that our son was highly gifted and should be tested for admittance to the Mirman School.  In fact, she went, as far as to say that there is no other school in LA that he should attend.

 

We live in a community South of LA where few people opt to send their kids to private schools.  The public elementary schools are some of the highest performing in the state.  More importantly, I had already heard about Mirman, through some of my colleagues who lived in LA and were entrenched in the private school admission process.  I heard NOTHING good. “The kids are freaky”; “all of the students walk around school bragging about their IQ score.”  However, our specialist was relentless.  She was rapidly gaining our trust with the amazing advice that she provided for our daughter (who by this time had been diagnosed with a reading disorder).  Her own children had attended Mirman. But, I could not shake the reputation, rationalized that bright children (without LD) do well in most educational environments, and decided against applying.

 

Until, at the very last minute, 3 days before the application deadline, I panicked.  I was spending so much time and effort to make sure my daughter was in an educational setting suitable for her needs, yet I was ignoring the special needs of my son! I called 5 psychologists in a desperate attempt to get my son tested.  By some miracle, one had an opening and could see me the next day.  And so the process began.

 

The psychologist came out and said, “Well, you sure do have a bright little boy”.  The doctor proceeded to tell me that although he hadn’t added all the scores, he was certain that my son would qualify for admission.  Then there was the slightly judgmental “not in a very academic preschool right now is he?” Wow, was it that obvious that he was not being adequately stimulated?  When we saw the test scores, we were in disbelief.  How does a former 7-week preemie, born via an emergency caesarean section with an Apgar of 1, end up with a stratospheric IQ?  Could there be some mistake? I decided to roll with it by quickly submitting the on-line application and psych report.  Within a few hours, I was called to schedule an interview.

 

The day before the interview, we received a call requesting us to arrive a half-hour earlier than originally scheduled.  This meant that we would have to leave at 6:30 a.m. to deal with the traffic.  My husband and I are both physicians, so it took a lot of juggling for both of us to be in the same place at the same time.  We arrived 15 minutes early and checked in at the front office.  Then we sat perusing the literature about gifted education, and looking at the schoolwork on display.   After 30 minutes, my husband was getting irritated.  I inquired at the front desk to make sure we had not been forgotten.  Twenty more minutes passed, and my husband approached the desk this time.  Big mistake.  He began to inform the receptionist how inappropriate it was to call us to come in early, and then keep us waiting for over an hour.  I feared that our chances were over right then and there.  A few minutes later, the Admissions Director came to greet us.  She quickly apologized for being late and immediately honed in on our son.  She invited him to come to her office while we continued to sit the waiting room.  After 20 minutes we were ushered in.

 

“Well, he’s still developing”, she started off.  “He’s 4 years old”, I thought. She described her impression of his reading, writing, and math skills.  She showed us artwork that he had made at her request.  We could not gage whether he had made a good impression or not.  We proceeded on a tour of the school, which lasted the better part of an hour.  It was incredible.  My son was hooked at the first stop-the courtyard where two cute girls with headsets were dictating story lines into their laptop computers in the warm sunshine.  We saw the calm, focused classrooms were students worked on computers, the science lab, music room, Spanish class, and art room.  Most of the children could type more words per minute than I ever could by the time they reached their fourth year.  They begin their second language in the 6th year (after becoming fluent in Spanish).  Their creative talents were highly encouraged with photography classes, chorus, and drama, in addition to the usual stringed instruments.  We wanted in.  As we were leaving, the Admissions Director did not reveal any clues as to whether our son was Mirman material.  She just said as we parted “Take our waiting list seriously”.  We did not find that very reassuring.

 

So here is what we did:

 

I asked a friend/colleague, who had served as head of the board at a prestigious girl’s school and acquainted with the headmaster to write a letter of support.  She highlighted my son’s kind, reserved nature, and love of swimming, as well as the support that our family could provide the school.  I also asked for letters of support from the educational specialist that had recommended Mirman and the director of the learning center where he received tutoring.  Both attested to his love of learning and sweetness.  I wrote an email to the admissions director immediately following the interview and also mailed a handwritten note reiterating that Mirman was our absolute first choice and best match for our son.

 

I don’t know if any of those efforts made a difference.  On that long anticipated day in March when the admission letters were mailed, I emailed the Admissions Director to see if she could tell me something about my son’s status while I was waiting for snail mail.  She did not.  Just a friendly reply that the letters were on their way.  Finally, in Saturday’s mail, was the fat envelope every parent hopes for.  Pride. Happiness. Relief.

Isla Garraway, MD-PhD is an Assistant Professor of Urology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and mother of three children, ages 9, 6, and 3.  She is President-Elect of the Park Century School Parent’s Association and also has a 6- year old son at the Mirman School.  


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