Mirman School: A Gift For The Gifted

Mirman 1

 

Mirman School evokes a sense of mystery among parents looking for a private elementary and/or middle school in Los Angeles. It’s a school for brainy kids who need a place where they will be challenged to the full extent of their capabilities, where they will be encouraged to explore their deep interests and where they’ll find a peer group doing the same. The school’s mysterious quality may stem from the fact that even before you can apply, your kid must receive a minimum IQ score of 145 on the Stanford Binet LM test, or they can take the Weschler Intelligence test. The school provides a list of licensed psychologists who can administer the test. After test results are provided to the school, families can proceed with the admissions process. A passing score on the test doesn’t guarantee admission, but offers the opportunity to apply.

 

These days, change is in the air at Mirman. Dan Vorenberg is Mirman’s new-ish head of school, taking the helm just less than two years ago. In that short time, he’s walked a delicate balance between remaining true to Mirman’s mission—and enviable track record– while making changes that will enhance the school’s core mission. Right away, he got to work with staff, faculty and parents to bring about changes—some big, others small but important. At a school with an established 52-year history, this takes careful balancing.

 

Mirman 2

 

I met Dan in his office on a cloudy afternoon. This was my first visit to the school and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Kids who seemed overly serious? Stressed out parents hovering nearby? The answer, like something out of an SAT test, was “None of the above.” I was immediately impressed by the low-key atmosphere at the school, located on a serene six-acre campus off Mulholland Drive. The lower and upper school buildings, surrounded by trees and stunning views, anchor the campus, which is truly an urban sanctuary. With views of the city and valley, Mirman has a Lower School (ages 5-9) and an Upper School (ages 10-14). The Lower and Middle Schools are in separate buildings. Outdoor sports areas, including new athletic fields, round out the facility.

 

As we walked through the school, Dan stopped to chat with kids, getting quick updates from one girl, asking a young boy how things were going. He knows their names, their interests and what they’re about as individuals. The kids seem genuinely happy and energetic, totally engaged in their classroom work and socializing outside the class. Dan, who possesses a wealth of experience as an educator, wants Mirman to be a combination of “Love and achievement.” “Highly gifted isn’t always about math, but can be a kid who is interested in mythology or robotics,” he explains. Mirman, he tells me, offers a place where it’s cool to be smart and where kids understand and challenge each other. Mirman serves students who have narrow interests as well as those who are still figuring out what inspires them. The school, he says, meets kids where they are academically, at whatever level that is. Academic excellence will always remain at Mirman’s core.

 

Mirman 13

 

Mirman students are all very smart. Yet within this category (up to an IQ of 180), there are kids who have deep, narrow interests and those who have a myriad of broad interests. The school is designed to teach them all. It feeds their intellect and imaginations. There are young Einsteins who seem older than their years, leaving for college earlier than their peers. But, mostly there are kids who need a curriculum designed for their giftedness. There are kids who are stronger in one subject than others, for example math. There are kids who need tutors to get through classes. Just like any school, there are a wide range of individuals, except at Mirman, they share one thing in common: high IQs.

 

Mirman 8

 

There are no grade levels at Mirman. The school is based on student’s ages (ages 5-14). Kids work in classes called “Rooms” rather than grade levels. The Lower School curriculum is the equivalent to grades 1-5 in other schools. The Upper School is comparable to grades 6- 9. This structure allows fluidity for kids to move between rooms, depending on the level he/she is working at. For example, an eight year-old might learn math with kids who are ten and 11 years old, but work with his/her own age group for other subjects. In the Lower School kids are taught by their homeroom teacher and specialists for languages, art, music and P.E. Students receive individual instruction and work in small and large groups, based on ability and interests.

 

Mirman 10

 

Dan brings 31 years of experience in private/independent schools to Mirman. With his background, he is comfortable taking a big picture view of Mirman’s future. He is incredibly well-versed in various educational philosophies, from traditional to progressive. He’s also a kind, friendly and approachable dad of three kids, with a true affinity for children and education. Mirman is a traditional school and won’t deviate from this core educational value.

 

Mirman 14

 

As we sat talking in his office, he didn’t hesitate to answer my questions about the changes he’s initiating. Big picture, Dan told me he is working to broaden the focus of the school and opportunities for students by enhancing sports, arts and community, while staying true to Mirman’s mission of academic excellence. Mirman will always offer kids the chance to explore complex academic issues, but Dan believes that music, arts, sports and a sense of community should also be central to the school’s mission. The school’s strong, sometimes intense, intellectual atmosphere, he believes, is enhanced by a broader curriculum. Academic renown is the defining feature of the school. The focus at Mirman will always be on the students first and foremost, with a community of involved, engaged parents to build on the foundations of community that exist at the school. It is expected that Mirman students will go on to excel in high school, college and in their chosen fields. For Dan, it is as important that they also become thoughtful, caring and contributing citizens of the world.

 

Mirman 11

 

Dan has made staffing changes. In addition to the arrival of several new educators and administrators, he hired a new admissions director, Jen Liggitt, and there is a search underway for a new head of Upper School. There are changes happening with the faculty too. He has introduced regular assemblies that bring students together, helping to build community and his team is working to integrate some aspects of the curriculum.

 

Mirman 7

 

Walking around the newly expanded athletic fields, one of Dan’s first projects, he points out that among the kids playing soccer there was one student using the goal post to write with a pencil and paper. At Mirman, this sort of thing is totally fine and nobody told the kid to “join the game or leave,” as might happen at another school. As the fifth head of school, Dan is excited about the school’s unique characteristics, its quirkiness and its potential for entering the next phase of growth based on the Mirman founder’s vision and inspiration.

 

I’ve always heard from Mirman parents that the school is really about the students and to a lesser extent about their parents. Giving highly gifted kids what they need to excel and create an environment for them to do so is what the school does best. Parents matter too, but because the school requires an IQ test, the family—who they are or what they do– may take on less significance than at other schools.

 

Says one former Mirman parent:

“I loved the small class sizes, the attention to an individual student’s needs/abilities, the ease of movement between levels based on student’s readiness, their very strong alumni culture (my kid loves to attend the Thanksgiving alumni breakfast hosted by Mirman every year and it’s amazing how many older alumni show up to that thing), how none of the kids feel “different” or “special” or go around boasting because they’re all in the same boat. Most of all so many of the amazing teachers stand out to me, especially Mr. Kay, the choir teacher, who puts on the most amazing concerts.”–Former Mirman parent, currently at Harvard-Westlake.

Of note, The Mirman Concert Singers performed at the 2014 Heritage Music Festival in Montreal, winning the Outstanding Choral Award for the highest score of all choirs.

 

The brain is a mysterious thing, and IQ is only one measure of its wonders, but Mirman isn’t so mysterious after all. It’s a school where really smart kids can exercise their gifts in a variety of ways, find their peer group, and develop into future leaders.

 

Mirman Outdoor

 

Admission to Mirman is competitive. The school receives several hundred applications for about 40 openings for the entry year. There are very few openings in older grades. In addition to IQ tests as the basic qualification, other admissions considerations include, school readiness, intellectual curiosity and working above grade level.

 

Mirman has a generous financial aid budget of $1 million per year. Students who graduate from Mirman attend a variety of secondary schools like Harvard-Westlake, Crossroads, Windward, Viewpoint, Marlborough and boarding schools like Exeter, Andover, Choate and others. You absolutely must check on the school’s great looking and informative new website at www.mirman.org –it’s definitely one of the best school websites I’ve seen!

 

 

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What I Did (and Did Not) Expect About Mirman School by Jenny Heitz (re-post)

Today is Throwback Thursday (TBT) in social media. So, I’m posting this piece by Jenny Heitz from the archives. It’s not often you get an insider’s look at a school like Mirman. –Christina

 

Mirman is one of those schools that has a certain mystique surrounding it. Because it accepts only highly gifted children, there are people who refer to it as “the freak school,” “the geek school,” or, in one stunning instance, “the Hitler school” (I have no idea what that means). While I took all these nicknames with a grain of salt, I had some apprehension about sending my daughter Anna there. I felt it was probably the right place for her, but I was worried that it would be too serious, too high powered, and, frankly, too dorky.

 

Happily, none of these fears manifested into reality.

 

Here’s What Surprised Me:

 

  • The kids are not weird. Well, ok, there might be a few little boys running around speaking in monotone voices, but they are few and far between. One of the interesting things about Mirman students is how normal they actually are. They may be super smart kids, but they’re still kids, and they act like kids. The only difference is that the level of carpool conversation is suddenly elevated.

 

  • The parents are far nicer than I expected. I was worried that the parents would be way too into their super gifted children. But what I’ve found is that most of the parents seem sort of puzzled and bemused to have these kids. The parent body is, for the most part, very smart, very educated, a bit shy, and really not snobby in the least. The “not snobby” factor makes dealing with Mirman parents a pleasure, especially on field trips. As far as I know, there are no celebrities at Mirman. Interesting. You can draw your own conclusions about that.

 

  • The workload isn’t nearly as heavy as I thought it would be. Naturally, I’d heard horror stories about Mirman kids working constantly, even during carpool, and how “unnatural” the whole thing was. That turned out to be nonsense. Anna definitely has homework, and it’s homework she has to schedule for herself during the week. It’s made her into quite the little time management pro. And while the school works the kids really hard during the school day, Anna actually seems to spend less of her time at home doing homework than some of her public school friends. I would not say that she is overworked on any level.

 

  • Parents are not treated like royalty. Unlike some private schools, where wealthy parents get the kid glove treatment, Mirman generally treats the parents like idiots. I’m not kidding. I’ve even brought up this fact to other Mirman parents and they crack up as they agree. All the school’s emphasis and efforts involve the kids; it is the most kid focused school I’ve encountered. While Mirman wants parents to give money and be on committees and be involved, it will not brownnose you when you enter the front office. If you’re looking for adulation, seek it elsewhere.

 

  • The commute isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Commuting from Hollywood to Mirman seemed like a nightmare at first, but it’s turned out to be ok. It’s made ok only by the fact that I’m in a carpool that I’ll defend with my life. At the moment, we’re trying to get together enough kids on this side of town to justify a bus. I dream about the bus, and someday my dream will be made a reality.

 

  • My child is even happier at Mirman than I ever imagined. I had a feeling that Mirman was the right place for Anna, but her transformation over her first year there has been extraordinary. She came in at fourth grade, at a distinct academic disadvantage, and has still managed to get really good grades. It has focused her competitive instincts, but also emphasized good citizenship and kindness. Her self-confidence in terms of public speaking has skyrocketed. She’s making new friends. All in all, she’s a different child now, and I really credit Mirman with all the positive changes.

 

  • The kids are so nice. Really, they’re nice. The bullying problems that seem so prevalent at other schools are far less at Mirman. If there’s a problem, it gets handled. And one of the advantages of putting together so many highly gifted kids, who were so often the butts of jokes, is that they’re generally kind to one another. These kids have empathy for one another. While Anna has had some girl politics moments, they have been mild and easily handled.

 

  • It’s more diverse than I thought. The reality about private school is that it will never be as diverse as public school. So, while Mirman doesn’t resemble a microcosm of Los Angeles, diversity wise, it’s still better than I anticipated. And because all the kids share the trait of high intelligence (that’s the main criterion for entrance to Mirman), this seems to be what draws them together, not race. My daughter heard plenty of racial slurs at her old public school, but hasn’t heard one thing at Mirman. Good.

 

As Anna’s first year at Mirman draws to a close, I’m delighted with the school. It has exceeded every expectation I had for it, and my child is having a wonderful educational experience. It’s so nice when a school turns out to be such a pleasant surprise.

 

Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. Her daughter started 4th grade at Mirman School this year. She previously attended 3rd St. Elementary School. Jenny has been published recently in the Daily News and on Mamapedia, The Well Mom, Sane Moms, Hybrid Mom, The Culture Mom and A Child Grows In Brooklyn. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.

 

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