From Mirman to Harvard-Westlake For 10th Grade: A Cautionary Tale by Jenny Heitz

I need to say this up front: it all turned out perfectly fine in the end. But, if you’re thinking of switching your child into a new private school for the 10th grade, I would advise against it. And if you have no choice, I do have some advice.

My daughter, Anna, ended up at the Mirman School from 4th-9th grades. We did try, rather half-heartedly, to get her into Marlborough for 7th, but it didn’t happen and no one was heartbroken about it. Anna was extremely happy at Mirman, a school for highly gifted students. She didn’t want to leave. She wanted to stay through 9th grade (Mirman now only goes to 8th grade). We felt we couldn’t deny her the opportunity to be with such a close knit class at such a wonderful place.

But then it was time to apply out to 10th grade. That’s rough.

The strange and somewhat counter intuitive solution for high school admission for Mirman students was that they repeated 9th grade. This was odd, but possible because Mirman (at least at the time) didn’t have a kindergarten; school started in Room 1, or first grade. As a result, many of the kids were young for their grade, anyway.

Anna, however, had come to Mirman at the age of nine, for Room 4 (4th grade). She’d transferred from Third Street Elementary. She was age appropriate. She was also an outstanding student, and I couldn’t see how repeating 9th grade would benefit her. So, it was decided that Anna would apply to roughly five million private Los Angeles schools for a 10th grade spot. How bad, we thought, could the odds be?

Not great, as it turned out.

Anna did all the ISEE prep, because at this point we knew that being smart has nothing to do with being great at a standardized test. Everyone benefits from test prep, and anyone who tells you it’s unnecessary is a liar. We used both Team Tutors and Intelligentsia and both were excellent. Her scores were very good.

Anna was a straight A student. She had glowing recommendations from teachers and from the headmaster. She had excellent interviews. Well, except for one, an all girls school on the west side. The woman who interviewed Anna told us she felt Anna was “too competitive.” That didn’t sound like a very feminist criticism. We left this woman on her fainting couch and marched on. Yes, the Victorian era is alive and well.

Our absolute favorite school, and first choice for Anna, was Oakwood. We liked that it was close to our Los Feliz neighborhood (yes, “close” in LA terms is a joke, but whatever). We liked that there was tons of flexibility in the curriculum, and lots of creativity in the classroom. We figured that the social scene there was maybe a little less intense in some ways than other schools, or at least more accepting of differences (like, you know, inappropriate female competitiveness).

Oakwood loved Anna, too. But it didn’t matter. Because there were zero 10th grade spots.

Out of the five million schools Anna applied to, she got into one. One. Harvard-Westlake.

So don’t hold a pity party for Anna. Harvard-Westlake is well known as being an excellent school. It’s supposed to be a short cut to the ivy league (it’s not, but that explanation is probably best saved for a different post). It’s huge, and fancy, and packed with great teachers.

It wasn’t our first choice, but it was what Anna had, so we marched on.

We marched straight into her dean’s office at Harvard-Westlake, only to be told that any honors or AP classes would undoubtedly be “too hard” for Anna her first year, and that she should just take “regular” classes. We thought this sounded weird, since Anna had done so well at Mirman and was such a disciplined student. But we thought the dean was looking out for Anna. How nice!

Here’s what we didn’t know: 10th grade transfer students are full tuition cannon fodder at a big school like Harvard-Westlake. One might argue that the majority of Harvard-Westlake kids are just there to pay full tuition, while only a tiny group get the full attention and Ivy League grooming. By blocking Anna from taking a weighted class (AP or honors) or two in 10th grade, the dean essentially crippled her weighted GPA. There was simply no way that Anna could compete with longtime Harvard-Westlake students who had weighted classes on their transcripts since 9th grade.

So, if you have a kid who’s a 10th grade transfer student (and, again, I highly recommend you transfer your child in a point of entry like 9th grade where a school is filling an entire class or at least a big portion of the class, not 10th), make sure they have a class load that’s on an even playing field with other students. Otherwise, when it comes time to apply to colleges, your kid’s GPA won’t match up with her competitor’s. It’s an unnecessary hobbling.

That dean has since retired. Harvard-Westlake may have changed its tactics regarding incoming 10th graders; I have no idea how other schools handle this issue.

So, Anna’s 10th grade year was hard. The workload was, indeed, much harder, but that wasn’t much of an issue. Anna, as we now know, is “competitive” and rose to the top of her classes (unweighted classes, but still damn difficult) quickly. Socially, though, it was a challenge. She was lucky to have kept so many Mirman friends (she still gets together with them often, and is very close with a few), because she pretty much didn’t have any Harvard Westlake friends for about a full year.

Again, if she’d transferred in at 9th grade, the social aspect might have been easier by 10th grade. There’s a larger population of transfer kids for a 9th grade class, so they feel less left out. It took Anna until her senior year to truly have a good group of friends. Loneliness was an issue, although she was tough and didn’t let it show often.

Anna is now a college freshman. She loves her school, has adjusted beautifully, and has become the owner of a very warm down coat so that she doesn’t freeze to death. It’s all turned out just fine.

If you must get your kid into private school for 10th grade, here’s my advice, once again, but shortened for your convenience:

  1. Get her tutoring, preferably private, for the ISEE test.
  2. Apply to a LOT of schools.
  3. Make sure at least one of those schools has a larger student body, which means more available 10th grade spots.
  4. Make sure she takes at least one or even two weighted (honors and/or AP) classes in 10th grade. She can always switch out if it’s too hard. If the school doesn’t add weight to honors or AP classes, rejoice and let her take what she wants.
  5. Hope that she has a friend group that’s independent of the new school.

Jenny Heitz Schulte is a writer in Los Angeles and Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. She has over 25 years experience as a journalist, blogger, and advertising copywriter, and currently writes for sites like Parentology, Fem40Fitness, and Beyond the Brochure. She has one daughter who spent most of her education in Los Angeles private schools, and now attends college at Colgate University.

Stay up to date on the latest L.A. private schools news and events! Follow Beyond The Brochure on Facebook. Buy the book on Amazon.

EF Academy to Open Private International Boarding/Day High School in Pasadena

EF Education First, the world’s largest international education company plans to open EF Academy, a new international boarding and day school in Pasadena in 2020. Eventually the boarding day school will welcome an estimated 975 high school students hailing from 75 countries and the Los Angeles area for an academically rigorous program centered on expanding students’ worldviews. The high school will be located on a 16 acre campus.

EF Academy is redeveloping the former William Carey International University campus property with a focus on rehabilitating and modernizing existing facilities, preserving the iconic McGavran Hall, and building ground-up student dormitories. The plan includes brand-new sports facilities, such as a regulation-sized soccer field and swimming pool, as well as an auditorium, contemporary STEM center, and gallery space for student art exhibitions. 

“With an incredibly diverse student body hailing from around the globe, EF Academy’s curriculum is focused on building bridges between cultural groups and understanding diverse perspectives,” said George Stewart, incoming head of school. “We see education as a force to unite people, nations, and cultures in order to create a more peaceful and sustainable world.”

Approximately 95 percent of the students will be international and American with about 5 percent day students from Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley.

For more information, visit EF Academy.

Photos: EF Academy

L.A. Private School Admissions Events To Attend: RSVP Yes? Maybe? No? by Sanjay Nambiar

Applying to Private School: All Those Tours & Schools Visits Feel Like a Full-Time Job! Four tips on how to manage your schedule for open houses, tours & other events.

You’re applying to private school. It’s exciting – so many educational roads to take and enriching adventures ahead! And then you start exploring the school websites and signing up for open houses, and tours, and interviews, and community coffee meetings, and homecoming games, and on and on . . . Before you know it, your school visit schedule is busier than your work schedule. It’s enough to overwhelm even the most organized parents!

But it doesn’t need to be this way. You can alleviate this stress with a little insight and prioritization. Some events are mandatory, some are optional, and some you can skip. The four tips below can help you weed through the morass of admissions season scheduling.

1. What you need to attend

  • Open houses. Whether you’re applying to Kindergarten or 9thgrade, the school’s open house is a must for local families (for those relocating, the circumstances are different). This is a great opportunity to learn about the school, meet current students, see administrators and teachers in action, and get a feel for the culture and dynamics of the academic community.
  • Tours/interviews. Depending on the school, you’ll either have an individual or group tour, or a student/parent interview, or a combination thereof. This is an essential part of the admissions process, so you can’t skip it.
  • For open houses and tours, sign up as soon as possible, as spaces can be limited (check websites and sign up in August or early September).
  • Interviews are scheduled once you have submitted your application, so get those applications in as early as you can.

2. Maybe or Nice to attend, especially if it’s a school you love

  • Many schools will offer smaller, more intimate events, such as “Morning discussion with the Head of School,” “Coffee at a current or alumni parent’s home”, or something similar. If a school is high on your priority list, it’s a great idea to attend one, or maybe two, of these.
    • If you want to get a better sense of the parent body and school culture, attend a non-admissions event. These include football games in the fall, other sporting events, fall/harvest festivals, educational seminars, book fairs, charity events, musicals or plays, and other theater arts or special programs. Often, schools post these events on their websites rather than send invitations. Check the website regularly for event updates!
    • These events are not about networking with the admissions office or getting in “face time”. Rather, use these opportunities to understand the school better.

3. No or What you can skip

  • Even if you love a school, you don’t need to attend every event. It’s overwhelming on your schedule and overkill in terms of admissions. 
  • Beyond the open house and tour/interview, attending one to two additional events is more than sufficient. You could choose one non-admissions event, such as a football game, and one administration event, such as an educational seminar or a group coffee with the Head of School.

4. Important things to keep in mind

  • While open houses and admissions events are wonderful, they ultimately are marketing tools. The schools are putting forth their best image and trying to impress you; it’s good to remember that you’re seeing the best they have to offer. 
  • If you want to see the real culture of a school, attend a non-admissions event, such as a sporting event, book fair, holiday boutique or musical. This is where you can experience the parent body, student culture, and overall community. The school may not always invite prospective parents to these events, so check the school’s website regularly.
  • The people at your open house or tour do not necessarily reflect the school. We’ve had many clients comment on how the people they met at an open house were not pleasant. Yet, these other people may not get in. As such, do not let a less-than-stellar open house group taint your view of a school. Instead, explore the school further, attend another event, and get a better sense of the real school culture.
  • If you do not attend more than the open house and tour/interview, you are not hurting your admissions chances. If a particular school is compelling to you, it is nice to attend more events, but it is not mandatory. Don’t put that extra pressure on yourself – it’s not worth it.
  • Sometimes prospective parents are invited by current parents to attend school fundraisers like auctions or galas. You should always check with the school since some schools have policies prohibiting donations (including purchasing tickets) during the admissions process.

Remove the Pressure & Enjoy the Process

The admissions process, despite the stress, actually can be informative. It’s a great time to learn more about your child and family, and to explore amazing schools and educational opportunities. When you can manage your schedule – by prioritizing events and not feeling pressure or guilt to attend every single offering – the process becomes easier and more enjoyable. And always remember: admissions is not about a value judgement or assessing the worth of your child; rather, it’s about finding the right fit and going to an environment where your child, and family, will thrive.

Priya and Sanjay Nambiar run Nambiar Advising, a consulting practice that shepherds families through the private school admissions process, from helping clients find the best-fit schools for children to application support, essay editing, interview preparation, and more. Priya has spent more than 20 years in education and was the Associate Director of Admissions at the Brentwood School in Los Angeles. She earned a B.A. in Education from Brown University and an M.Ed. from Harvard University. Sanjay is an entrepreneur and professional writer who has written several award-winning children’s books. He earned a B.A. in Economics and Neurobiology from U.C. Berkeley and an M.B.A. from UCLA. To learn more, please visit www.nambiaradvising.com

Stay up to date on the latest L.A. private schools news and events! Follow Beyond The Brochure on Facebook. Buy the book on Amazon.