Guest Blogger Jenny: Those Pesky Application Questions!

Ah, it’s application time again. I remember mine well. Sitting down at the kitchen table, pen in hand (why can’t they have these things online, since I’m way more comfortable on a keyboard; I always pitied the AD who had to decipher my chicken scratch printing). I tried to bust them all out in one evening, figuring that once in the groove, completion was possible.


What struck me most about the applications were the questions that weren’t really about my child. I could handle the strengths and weaknesses type of questions. One can always turn a child’s weakness into a kind of strength. For instance: “Although my daughter likes to play independently, that independence makes it easy for her to work on longer term projects.” Reading between the lines: my kid doesn’t do well in groups, but you’ll never have to harass her to get her work done on her own, either. It’s a decent enough trade off.


If faced with these types of questions, there are probably terms you should avoid (and remember, this is just my opinion). Terms such as “spirited,” “strong-willed,” “energetic,” and the godforsaken “Indigo child” should be stricken from the application record. Private schools aren’t actively looking for kids who are a pain; they’re looking for kids who will fit in with their program. Stick to a story that demonstrates strength of character. And think about reports you’ve received about your child’s in class behavior. Kids historically always behave worse with their parents, (ostensibly because the parents, unlike non-relatives, won’t leave their badly behaved child by the side of the road), than with their teachers. Use these classroom behavior reports to describe your children; they’re going to be in classrooms at these private schools, not throwing a fit over bedtimes and privileges.


But back to the murkier questions I mentioned, the ones that have NOTHING to do with your child, and everything to do with you. How about this one: To which clubs and organizations does your family belong? (Yes, there is a question on one of the applications that reads along those lines). Now, you might be tempted to write, “Bacon of the Month Club” (a service I heartily recommend). But that’s not what they’re asking. Let’s be brutally honest here. There are only a handful of desirable answers to this question. Places like California Club and Jonathan Club are right up there. Hillcrest Country Club, Wilshire Country Club, L.A. Country Club, and Riveria Country Club are good ones, too. This is a money question. If your family can afford clubs such as these, your family might be able to generously contribute during Annual Giving. No mystery there.


Here’s another one: To which charities and community organizations does your family belong? Again, I’m not sure the schools really care about the fifty bucks you give to Greenpeace. You know what’s really exciting? If you’re on the board of, say, Children’s Hospital. Yes, they’re interested in that type of involvement. That being said, know your audience. If you’re very active in Planned Parenthood, but you’re applying to St. Brendan’s, you might want to avoid that detail.


On the other hand, if you were part of a neighborhood drive to get crime under control, or raise money for Haiti, or were heavily involved in the running of your old school, DO mention it. Private schools want go-getting parents who organize groups and get things done; they want parents to be involved in raising awareness and money. If that’s your skill set, flaunt it for all it’s worth. Even though it has very little to do with your child.


So, don’t be intimidated by those bizarre queries. Not everyone applying to these schools is a millionaire. Not everyone is on a board, or belongs to an exclusive club, or even belongs to the Bacon of the Month Club. Go with what you feel you have to offer, all the while turning anything negative into a positive. And, for goodness sake, use a good pen.

Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. She has been published in the Daily News.She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.

Guest Blogger Jenny: A Tale Of Two Curriculums

There are plenty of jarring differences between public and private school. But none, so far, have been as different as the presentation of their respective curriculums.


Recently, I attended my daughter’s Mirman School curriculum night. It was a lovely evening up on that hill. A spread of finger food was laid out for the parents to nosh, before they split up into class level groups in different locales. Soon, we were regaled with presentation after presentation from each specialty teacher: Spanish, Computer Science, Art, Science, Music, Drama, and Physical Education. The presentations weren’t particularly slick or practiced, but they were pretty clear in expressing specific subjects, goals, and teaching styles.Every teacher had his or her own web site, up on the SmartBoard for everyone to see in turn, listing examples of work, lists of goals, and contact information.


After an hour of this, we moved on to our individual classrooms. Sitting in my daughter’s seat, I could see the supplies she’d proudly told me she’d “color coded.” The classroom was already festooned with interesting work, relevant art, tons of books, and, of course, a SmartBoard. And then there was her teacher, a truly old pro who communicated such joy and reverence for the art of teaching, she moved me to tears. Seriously. By the end of the two hour curriculum night, I was beyond impressed. As her stepfather put it, “All we have to do is get her there.”


Compare that with last year’s public school morning parents’ meeting. Held at the chirpy hour of 7:30 a.m., a bunch of sleepy adults listened to the teacher talk about the curriculum for twenty minutes. Sort of, anyway. Because, honestly, what is there to say when everything is pretty much taught to the tests? She did have a Great Books program (which I think my daughter enjoyed; she rarely discussed anything academically related then). There were going to be plays. There appeared to be a SmartBoard in the class, but it wasn’t in use. The teacher explained that she had managed to get the funding for the actual board and training for herself (it wasn’t clear whether this was through private or public funding). The hitch: no laptop. This wonderful piece of educational equipment sat inoperable and unused (eventually, this was remedied through parent donations and a laptop was purchased for SmartBoard use).


There was a lot of emphasis placed on field trips. Now, mind you, this was a public school with fairly well-off kids, most of whom have been to the Aquarium, the Zoo, and LACMA tons of times. Later in the year, I noticed that there wasn’t much connection between what the kids were learning in the classroom and the trips. And, of course, nothing got done the day before one of these trips, either. It was a well-meaning curriculum addition, but I couldn’t figure out the actual value added in terms of learning much of anything new.


The definition of curriculum is an explanation of all the fields of study an institution has to offer. Mirman did that, and did it extremely well. But what it added to that is the intangible sense that my child is being cared for, enriched, nurtured, challenged, and molded into a better version of herself. And I guess that shouldn’t surprise me so much, since that’s part of what you’re paying for at a private school.But here’s the thing: we pay for public school, too, with our tax dollars, and the difference in quality of education, even down to the way the curriculum is presented, seems shockingly different.


If you are one of the parents considering beginning this crazy journey from public to private school, hang tough. There is a shining, golden, perfect carrot at the end of the complex application process. And when you sit, next year, at your child’s curriculum night, you’ll know just what I’m talking about.



Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.

The Willows School Back To School Night 2010

Willows Head Of School Lisa Rosenstein Phonics in 2nd Grade Classroom
and Christina

What “courage” means to my son On the 2nd Grade Classroom Wall

Courage Is The Willows School’s Theme For 2010
What does it mean to have courage? How have people shown courage throughout history? How can we demonstrate courage when things get tough?

These are just a few of the questions that Willows students will be addressing throughout the 2010-11 school year, as they consider our schoolwide theme of “Courage.” As in previous years, teachers will be working with their own students and across the grade levels to explore the idea of courage in a variety of contexts and disciplines, including art, mathematics, language arts, and science.

Guest Blogger "Catherine" Tours The Preppy Meets Hippie School

Mandatory Camping Trip. No RVs Allowed!

Although it has been several years since I toured LA private elementary schools, there are a few experiences that can still make me smile. Actually, I was really set on having my son attend a neighborhood public school that had a tremendous “buzz” surrounding it. This particular school had a dynamic new principal and lots of dedicated parents intent on “taking back our local school”. Unfortunately for me (and subsequently our savings account), I attended open school night on two separate occasions that killed any notion of enrolling my child in that school.

As I was sitting in a 3rd grade classroom, I looked up at a number line that was a permanent fixture above the chalkboard. “Wow”, I thought to myself, “this new-fangled math is really confusing”. When I was a kid 3 x 3 equaled 9. These days 3 x 3 equal 10! “I think I need to send my son to a more traditional school”, I remember thinking. When I pointed out the error to the principal, she assured me that there were going to be many changes occurring and that new math teachers (with the old fashioned math skills that I was taught), were going to be hired.Oh, it was just a silly mistake that was displayed for the entire 3rd grade to look at daily. To think they would memorize this multiplication error was unsettling. I went home feeling queasy with anxiety, but decided I would attend the second open house a few weeks later.

The second open school night was held in a different wing of the school, in a 4th grade classroom. The room was spic and span, the general demeanor was energized and positive. I reveled in the company of other prospective parents. I happily listened to the philosophy of the principal and read cute little sentences posted as examples of vocabulary words students were learning. “Nectar is used to ATTRACK butterflies”. I thought, “the T must just look like a K”!“Oh, it was just an oversight, right”? “Well, I’ll go walk around and see what the other 4th grade classroom looks like”. And plain as day, there it was again. “Nectar is used to ATTRACK butterflies” in very clear, adult handwriting.

So, you could say it was a mathematical mistake and a grammatical error that brought me to my desperate and urgent quest for the right private elementary school. At this point, time was of the essence. I hadn’t seriously done my research about various types of schools. I had no idea which schools would be a good fit educationally and socially for our family. Luckily, I was able to schedule five kindergarten tours of private elementary schools.

The first school we visited was very small, set on the grounds of a church. Although the school was non-denominational, I could still feel the aura of religious icons and could detect the faint odor of incense and burnt candles. This could have been my imagination (was it?) because a certain reverence overcomes me whenever I am in the presence of pews. I lose my personality because I feel judged for growing up with no religious affiliation. I constantly think people see what a heretic I must be. I found myself speaking in hushed tones that no one could understand, as I introduced myself as the mother of the devil’s spawn.

But there was a contradiction in this learning institution. It was literally Preppy Meets Hippy. I imagined I was in the living room of the faithful with the requisite snacks (potato chips, fruit in plastic bowls, pitchers of water) laid out on table-clothed folding tables. While touring the inner grounds and the upper classrooms, I suddenly envisioned myself walking the halls of an ivy-covered institution on the East Coast. I glanced at the group of parents surrounding me and didn’t feel I could belong to either division of the group. Some were clad in blazers that I imagined having an alumni patch from their college on the pocket. Others seemed to have left-over compost on their Birkenstocks.

As I went downstairs to the kindergarten rooms, I was transported 3000 miles and three decades back to Woodstock. There were a few sparse garden beds and some antiquated seats outside the room. Inside, a pleasant woman with long grey streaked hair and sandals held an acoustic guitar. Her voice was lovely. She was the teacher and seemed extremely enthusiastic about working with children, as she serenaded us with “The Wheels on the Bus”. The vibe was gentle and warm, if not a bit too touchy-feely for a former New York City denizen.Then it was time to formally meet the head of school, a sturdy woman with a former nun-like vibe (again, I felt the need to confess something!) and a glint in her eye. She was perfectly non-threatening. I don’t know why I felt so self-conscious of my high-heeled boots, make-up and over accessorized trendy outfit. I dress like this daily and never question my fashion choices because I work in the arts. All I could scream internally was “Who am I”? and “Where do I belong”? If this has never happened to you, and there is a prospect of feeling like a black and white chameleon for the next six or seven years, be assured it won’t be a comfortable fit! This school also had a mandatory camping trip (no RV’s allowed!) for about four days. Needless to say, we were rejected with no promise of a wait-list addition. I guess they knew I was a stranger in a strange land.

I toured the other schools and liked them well enough. But, when I walked into The Willows Community School in Culver City I felt as if I had found a new home. The other prospective parents looked familiar to me, even though I had never met them. It was the right fit! I hoped that the admissions director shared my enthusiasm. She did and it’s been a wonderful experience for the past few years!

There is an appropriate school for everyone. You just need to find the one that feels like “the abode of your heart”.

Catherine” (not her real name) is a parent at The Willows Community School in Culver City.

Our Guest Blogger Writes Traffic Jam: The Importance Of A Good Carpool

My mother has this story she likes to tell. Back in the 1980s, my little sister attended the then Westlake School for Girls. She was in a carpool. One the families in the carpool decided to divorce, but it hadn’t gone through yet. The wife found out that her not-yet-ex-husband was having a fling with one of the other carpool moms. Was the wife furious at the betrayal? Yes. Her response: an outraged ”That’s my carpool!” Never mind the demise of the marital relationship. Her carpool trumped all.


Extreme example? Maybe, but you really can’t underestimate the value of a carpool until you really need one. After I switched my daughter’s school from our local, two minutes away, fully walkable public school (3rd St. Elementary) to a private school (Mirman) on the other side of the moon, I knew I needed a carpool for sanity. Because, you remember when Christina wrote a post awhile back with the ridiculous squiggle line from “your house” to the perfect “private school?” That could be my commute.


I initially thought I’d be in a small carpool to start, maybe just one other family, and we’d all switch off. But instead, it turned into a four family carpool, including two moms I don’t know at all. Fine. It means even less driving for everyone. Except that I have a small car that can only fit three kids (my daughter is big enough to ride in the passenger seat in relative safety), a slight wrinkle that has since been worked out to everyone’s relative satisfaction. Frankly, I would’ve jumped through hoops of fire to make this carpool work out.

Thus far, the actual commute has been unpredictable. Due to the mercurial nature of L.A. traffic patterns, it seems impossible to choose a reliable route. On my first day of afternoon pickup, the traffic on the 101 just stopped. I mean, stopped dead. For fifteen minutes. I really got concerned when people started getting out of their cars and rummaging in their trunks for bottles of water. I kept thinking: there must be a logical reason for this. No. Traffic started up as mysteriously as it had stopped, and the rest of the commute was smooth sailing.

What’s really brutal is the morning pickup. Carpools depend on the requirements of the individual drivers, and two of those drivers want their kids to have time on the playground before school begins, necessitating a 6:45 pickup time. Seriously. My daughter has taken to awakening to her alarm at 6am, turning it off in a stupor, and waking in a panic at 6:20. She’s developed the sleeping habits of an adolescent overnight.

Still, it’s hard to complain. This is a good carpool. This is a carpool I need. This is a carpool I must keep sacrosanct. Other people’s horror stories, however, abound. There are stories of forgotten children, awaiting carpools that never showed. Or extra kids showing up, requiring “doubling up” of seatbelts (probably illegal, but what’s a mom to do, leave them? Don’t buckle them at all?). I know of one kid who refuses to let his parents join a carpool, because he doesn’t like having other kids in “his” car. How about kids who hate each other and fight all the way, every day? Or fears about someone’s car model and safety (unfounded, but in this fear-laden culture, probably unavoidable).

Sometimes I look back with nostalgia to my high school Crossroads carpool. Sitting in my friend’s mom’s Country Squire station wagon, the mom’s long crimson fingernails clicking on the steering wheel in time with the crooning of Neil Diamond. That carpool had many different characters: the silent, hulking, smelly 9th grader, the hapless boy who stumbled out his front door always half-dressed, the mean girl duo who refused to speak to me. My mother says she learned more about teenagers in that carpool than she ever wanted to know, just by listening to our morning conversations (“You guys must have thought I was deaf,” she says).

Once your child is in the perfect private school, in the most inconvenient location, you’ll become a tolerant carpool soul. There will be pickups at the crack of dawn, or pickups that are outrageously late. There will be punches thrown in the way back of a minivan while on the freeway. There will be smelly breakfasts to-go, which leave grease all over the backseat. Someone’s child, at some point, will be forgotten, and everyone will have to be forgiven. You know why? Because it’s your carpool, damn it, and without it, life will be unmanageable.

Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.