Guest Blogger Jenny: Holiday Gift Giving At Private Elementary Schools

It’s Gift Giving Season At LA Private Elementary Schools

For years now, I have heard horror stories about holiday season at private schools. Rumor had it that super expensive gifts were an unspoken requirement, that the “group gift” given by all the parents forced the dropping of hundreds of dollars. This is fairly foreign to me. I may have gone to Crossroads a million years ago, but I don’t remember any holiday gifts handed out. Possibly the “gift” of not having to deal with obnoxious teenagers for two whole weeks was enough.

The definitive (and excellent) piece written on the gifting subject (specifically targeting Los Angeles private schools), was published in The New Yorker in 2004 by Caitlin Flanagan. Ms. Flanagan had firsthand experience with the phenomenon, with her progeny then attending The Center for Early Education. While she did make it sound like The Center had a new (in 2004) no gifts policy, she also made it clear that wealthy parents often ignore these edicts. Big gift item tales from other schools ranged from the truly over-the-top (Prince tickets) to bizarrely awful (green plastic shrimp forks). I wondered, then, how much, if anything, had changed since 2004?

Keep in mind, too, that my daughter attended Third St. Elementary for three years before switching to private school. Public school teacher gifts are pretty low key. Typically, a room parent would collect roughly twenty bucks from each family and then purchase a gift certificate at Nordstrom or its equivalent. One year, I gave a book on travel to one of her teachers who was particularly wonderful (he traveled extensively during his time off). It was mellow, partly because it was public school, and partly because the student body was so socio-economically diverse. And while Ms. Flanagan pointed out in her aforementioned article that Korean parents (who are legion at Third St.) have a cultural veneration for teachers, and thus give lavish gifts, I didn’t notice it (maybe they kept it on the down low).

So, I’ve been approaching the holidays with a certain degree of trepidation. We’re new to the school, we’d like to fit in, but spending hundreds of dollars on a teacher’s gift seems insane (especially since, at Mirman, she has a main teacher, an assistant teacher, and individual Music, Science, Spanish, Art, P.E., Violin, and Drama teachers (I’m sure I’m leaving someone out here, like maybe the assistants to all those specialty teachers). That’s a LOT of presents. And I’m not saying these dedicated educators, who work very hard and are devoted to the kids, don’t deserve recognition. They do, lots of it; just maybe not recognition in the form of Prada wallets or Lakers tickets.

Well, not to worry. Every good school has policies, and Mirman covers all the bases. Its gift giving policy advocates (I’m quoting here from the Info Manual) “…a voluntary policy for those wishing to give a token of appreciation to an individual member of the faculty or staff. In keeping with this policy, room parents are instructed not to collect for a group gift at either the winter holiday or the end of the year. Anyone wishing to show their appreciation should send either a note of thanks or a modest individual gift.”

Now, I guess “modest” is pretty subjective. What’s “modest” to a billionaire is far different than what’s “modest” to me. But I’ll take my chances on a card my kid makes and some Barnes and Noble gift cards in “modest” amounts. Maybe I’ll throw in my famous cinnamon nuts (a real crowd pleaser; recipe on my blog Find A Toad).

So that’s the scoop at Mirman on holiday giving. I know Willows Community School has a policy in which every family gives anonymously and it’s divvied up amongst the staff (a truly elegant and egalitarian arrangement, giving teachers and staff what they really want, which is cash). The average gift per family at The Willows is $100. I’ve heard rumors of far more elaborate expectations at some other very popular private elementary schools, but I have no idea if these are true.

So, readers, what has your experience been around the holidays at private school? Inquiring minds and gifters want to know! Leave a comment!

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. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.

What Happens When Your Second Child Doesn’t Get Into Your Private Elementary School?

In Beyond The Brochure, we talk about choosing a school for your oldest child, which most of you are probably going to have to do. But, what happens if the school you choose doesn’t admit your second child? Most schools admit siblings, so this doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it can be very difficult.

New York Times: Schools Weed Out Students

E Online Picks Up Our "Perfect Mommy" Blog Post

From E Online, Friday, Dec. 3, 2010


A new celebrity kinship has blossomed.

Though she sweetly protests that Gisele Bündchen is “wealthier” and “much more famous” than she is, and “never has days where she looks as crappy,” Mayim Bialik is flattered to be compared to her.

And not just because of the whole supermodel thing.

PHOTOS: Fashion Police Jr.

“I respect Gisele tremendously for her courageous statements about global health and breastfeeding (the evolutionary and natural way to feed and nourish human babies),” Bialik, an advocate of au naturel kid rearing, wrote yesterday on the Holistic Moms Network.

“However, I don’t think I should be grouped with her,” she protested. “First of all, she is much wealthier than I am, I promise, so she may get help with her ‘perfect’ parenting that I do not have the luxury of.”

And, aside from the supernatural-hotness thing, “the fact that I believe in every woman’s right to an empowering natural birth, encourage and practice extended nursing on demand with no social life in sight for the next few years, choose to make baby shampoo and granola and live a holistic lifestyle, and serve as my children’s primary caregiver does not make me an example of someone wanting to be ‘perfect.’ It just makes me me.”

And what prompted this stream of commentary from the Big Bang Theory star?

Bialik was responding to a post from a fellow mom on a website for parents trying to get their kids into private elementary schools that singled out the actress and Gisele for things they’ve said about motherhood under the heading, “Perfect Mommy Syndrome: Are Celebrity Moms Too Perfect?”


Read more:

Guest Blogger Andrea: The Center For Early Education, A Mom’s Perspective

Neither my husband nor I are from Los Angeles, so when it came time to look for preschools for our first-born, we were clueless. We were baffled by the frenzy surrounding the private school application process. Even as we were absorbing the daunting prospect of having to interview on behalf of our 18 month old son, potentially DESTROYING HIS LIFE if we somehow failed to be chosen, we soon understood what the fuss was about, even if we did not immediately embrace it. We had stumbled upon a very special place. The Center For Early Education (CEE).

No school is perfect. I acknowledge that even those that seem to come close do not fit the needs/expectations of every child and family. We are now in our eighth year at CEE, our family is still enthusiastic about singing its praises. We consider the talented faculty and administration valuable partners in this journey of parenthood. Most importantly, our children, the REAL stakeholders, could not imagine (and would not even entertain) the thought of being anywhere else!

The following is a list of some of the things that we love most about The Center for Early Education, affectionately known as CEE:

Academic preparation:

For some, the developmental approach takes too long to “feel” academic. Depending on your child’s individual development, it may be a year or two into the lower school program before its brilliance reveals itself. Now that we have a son in the Upper Elementary grades (4 – 6), we see the results of the gradual build for ourselves and guess what? The kids were having so much fun, they didn’t even see it coming! Besides, as the saying goes, “the proof is in the pudding”. Our graduates are well prepared for the top rated, academically rigorous middle schools to which they are admitted year after year.

CEE Resources:

Because of excellent leadership, dedicated faculty and staff and generous parental involvement (in terms of time, money and influence), CEE students enjoy a multi-faceted, comprehensive learning experience. Important resources include technology, excellent facilities as well as access to experiences and opportunities that are complementary to the academic program.

The greatest resource of all is the high quality of our teachers. Leading up to the 6th grade, the elementary teachers work in teams with two lead teachers for 30 children (in kindergarten, there is a 3rd teacher). The team approach allows the children to master the academic building blocks in small groups of 5 – 7 students, paired with children who are learning at a similar pace. When necessary, children are offered additional academic support outside of the classroom with a dedicated Learning Specialist. Careful attention is paid to the feelings of the child when tutoring and/or modifications are necessary.


When considering the various elementary school options, I asked an admissions director friend at a top private school about our options. Without hesitation, she said that from the large pool of schools from which they draw students, she would choose CEE for her own children. I never forgot the reason she cited: among the many elementary schools that adequately prepare students for the academic rigors of middle school, in her opinion, CEE most consistently breeds respectful students who are simply nice kids. We have found this to be more the rule than the exception. It is our belief that this is no accident: the administration places great emphasis on mutual respect and the responsibility of the individual to the larger community. It is not “lip service” as they model it in their own actions. To our great satisfaction, our children have wholeheartedly embraced this philosophy.

We are starting to feel somewhat sentimental about the inevitability of graduating out, but we are fully confident that our children will be well prepared for the next step, even if their parents are not emotionally ready. At least this time, thankfully, they will do their own interviewing.

Andrea is the mom of two kids at The Center For Early Education in West Hollywood.

To comment, click on “comments” at the end of any post. You don’t have to register or sign in. You can choose to leave your comment anonymously (just scroll down until you see “anonymous” under your name options).Sometimes Google Blogger requires you to click “Post” a few times before your comment will go through

This Private School Mom’s Unconventional, Hippie, Home-Schooling, Vegan Upbringing

Me and my kids, Oct. 2010

Right: Thornton Ave. Reunion, 1996.


Right: From the book, Venice of America, our family and neighbors, Thornton Ave. Venice

Venice Of America By Sweet William, 1976

From the book, Venice of America. Birthday party at our house, 22 Thornton Ave. Venice.
Me with ponytails. To my right, my late sister, Nani.

When I invited guest blogger Jenny Heitz to write a piece about Perfect Mommy Syndrome at LA private elementary schools, I though it would be of interest to our blog readers, many of whom are mid-way through the intensely competitive LA private elementary school admissions process. Our blog also focuses on what life at private elementary schools is like for moms and kids. These schools are filled with “perfect moms” of one type or another. Jenny’s piece accurately depicts the most common types of moms afflicted with “Perfect Mommy Syndrome”. I’m not a perfect mom…far from it. Read on and you’ll find out why.

I thought it would be interesting to quote two celebrities who have strong (and controversial) opinions about parenting. Supermodel Gisele and Mayim Bialik have both been outspoken about their personal parenting opinions, both quoted in People magazines and other national publications. I asked the question, “Are Celebrity Moms Too Perfect as the lead-in to Jenny’s piece.

Wow! Mayim responded with a blog piece of her own. That’s great. What astonished Jenny and me were the comments left on this blog by Mayim’s followers (otherwise known as “trolls” or people who leave nasty comments on blogs they don’t usually read).These were some of the most hate-filled, ignorant and angry comments I’ve seen on a blog. Here are a few choice comments by anonymous posters:

“By pulling headlines and making up stuff, you just look dumb.” “Anonymous”

“What pathetic judgmental drivel! Jealous much? 
Oh and Josie, you are kidding right? How much did you research your CHOICE to inject toxins in your child’s blood veins? Trust me I know WAY MORE on the topic than you do! So yeah, I am a better parent if I took the time to research fully and not just take doctors (who are human and failable and many are just as ignorant and ill informed as many parents they are leading on) on their word seeing as they have the pharmaceutical reps in their back pocket! 

And what do you know about homeschool? Except that you would be a terrible homeschooling parent.

Get a life lady, you have no clue about the world around you! “Anonymous”

(Note: the troll above misspelled the word “fallible”)

My Hippie Childhood:

What very few people know about me is that I may not be a “typical” private elementary school mom. I was raised in Venice, CA. We moved to Topanga when I was 10 years old. I was home-schooled until 4th grade, when I enrolled at Topanga Elementary School. We were strict vegans. That meant no animal products and in addition, no sugar, white flour or anything else my parents deemed to be “toxic”.We left many activities like the Girl Scouts and other official functions because they served cookies or meat. It was strict and extreme.

Mine was a hippie family, in every way. From Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Black Panthers as idols to the “it’s ok to be nude 24/7” attitude. My mom was African American. My dad, white. We were the only—or one of the only– mixed race families in Topanga as far as I could tell. How do I know that? I was called “Zebra” too many times to count. The first time I went to the dentist, I was 12 years old. I had more than 25 cavities, that took a year to deal with. I lost 2 teeth as a result. I never saw a pediatrician. Headaches were not treated with Tylenol, but instead with herbal tea. My parents followed various Indian gurus, did yoga and lived a rather secluded life. We gardened, ate organic and composted. We shopped at health food stores. We didn’t have a television. My parents smoked pot. Our clothes were from thrift stores. We didn’t, however, live on a commune.

Death Without Doctors. When I was about 11 years old, the unimaginable happened. My mom, age 40, was self-diagnosed with breast cancer. She told us she injured her breast running on Venice beach years earlier (not true). Over time, she became very ill. She didn’t believe in Western medicine and refused to see a doctor. She was tired. She lost weight. By the time I was 17, she was extremely ill. At home, my sister, dad and I cared for her the best we could. No nurses or hospice. I’ll spare you the worst details, but if you’ve ever taken care of a dying person, it is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. The suffering of my mom is etched in my mind forever. She flew to the Phillipines to seek treatment from a holistic healer. It didn’t work. I begged her to live. I told her I still needed her, that I was only 18. She got sicker. Still no doctor. Paralysis set in. Then blindness. Brain damage. Coma. Death. I was 19 years old. She was 50 years old. I miss her every day. Somehow, I picked up the pieces of my broken soul and went off to UC Berkeley. My late sister also went to Berkeley and then to Harvard Law School (that’s how she met my husband, Barry, and introduced us).

Seeking Balance: Since I’ve had kids, I’ve realized that balance is key in all aspects of my family’s life. Celebrity moms influence us, without question. We look to them as perfect, even when we know they are not. My family isn’t vegan, but there are vegan restaurants we go to (I love Vegan Glory on Beverly Blvd.). We eat organic sometimes. I could care less how much sugar my kids’ progressive school serves on Halloween.

My Life Now: So there! Now you know a little bit more about me. I’ve lived the bohemian life. I know it inside and out. To me, it’s not glamorous. But, it’s the right choice for some families. Just not mine. What am I like now? I love Prada and Chloe handbags. I wear J. Crew and 7 For All Mankind jeans. My politics are left-of-center. I spent years working on staff for LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. I married someone from a wealthy, conservative Jewish background. Our upbringings are totally dissimilar. I’ve never met his parents because I’m black (or according to them, an “N” word).We give as much money as we can to charities, progressive elected officials and our kids’ school. My favorite writers are Cormac McCarthy, J.M. Coetzee and Toni Morrison. I never, ever shop on sale and I can’t stand vintage clothing. Oh, and my medicine cabinet is filled with Tylenol and other good stuff.

One of the things I loved most about my family was their tolerance for everyone. That, my friends, is absent in Mayim’s follower’s comments on this blog. As for those celebrity moms who give interviews about parenting to national magazines? If you can’t handle having your quotes repeated, don’t say them in the first place!