Guest Blogger Wendy: Why I love St. Brendan School

Forgotten Lunch: St. Brendan Superheroes To The Rescue!
What do I love about St. Brendan School near Hancock Park?  It’s a small, Catholic school in the middle of a city of 7 million people.  There’s no losing your kid among the six different kindergarten classes.  Every teacher knows just about every kid there, and every kid knows just about every kid there, K-8!  Almost every parent has an eye on every student.  I actually have a story that exemplifies the wonderful, community-minded nature of the school.  
My son (he was 6 and in first grade at the time) was without a lunch one day, due to my mixing up the hot lunch days.  When he realized he had no lunch, his teacher offered to call me on her cell phone. She called and left a message. But, I didn’t get the message until that NIGHT.  When I listened to the message, I realized the teacher had not hung up the phone and it was recording her call with my son. 
On the message, I could hear my son’s voice. I could tell he was trying to speak without crying, but then the flood gates opened when he said, “I don’t know what to do.” Yes, my heart broke, but then I could hear the first grade aide asking him what was wrong, and him crying about not having lunch.  Then a friend and fourth grade teacher approached him and said “We’ll find you a lunch.”  Next, I heard another friend and parent, who was volunteering that day, say “We have a lunch for you. ” It’s waiting for you out here.”  The voices faded way as the phone was handed to someone, unbeknownst to them that it was still recording.  There were murmurs of “poor little guy,” “he’s so sweet…” yadayada. Then, the phone went off.  
Some people say, “I can’t believe the school didn’t call you or tell you,” etc…but I’m not really that type parent anyway.  I figure, if they handled it, they handled it and I would hear from my kid if he/she didn’t think it was fair.  And in reality it was handled.  They didn’t know I was listening and I heard exactly how it went down.  I hung up my phone and immediately emailed all parties involved thanking them for being there for my kid.  I really felt at that moment, that my kids were in the right place (I have two at St. Brendan).  They are well-looked after.  They are not forgotten amidst the other 34 kids in their class.  
When I was looking at schools, I don’t think I really knew what I was looking for.  Finding the right academic fit for a 5-year old seemed vague and intangible at the time.  What I wanted was a place that would keep my treasures safe and protected until I picked them up at school.  When I heard my son’s message I realized I made the right choice.  I saved it for months, and every now and then I’d listen to his distressed little voice, and to the heroes that rescued him when I couldn’t.
Wendy B. is the mom of a 2nd and 3rd grader at St. Brendan School


Reader Question: How Honest is TOO Honest During Parent Interview?

Here’s an interesting two part question we got from a reader: 

A. How Honest Should I Be During A Parent Interview If I Have Concerns About How Far The School Is From My House?

B. Should I Express Concerns About Whether Twins Should Be In The Same Class If A School Only Has One Class Per Grade?

Anne Simon, Co-Author of Beyond The Brochure answers the questions:  

Do your homework and then make positive statements that deal with the elephants in the room. Instead of asking about buses, tell the Admissions Director that you think your children would LOVE riding the bus to school. Lots of kids, including my first grade granddaughter, enjoy the time with friends they make outside their own class. 

In the case of one class per grade, simply stating that you want your kids to be together is the only thing you can say. It is then the school’s place to decide if that fits their policy and respond to you. You can then discuss the issue openly. It’s natural to have anxiety about any school, whether it’s the distance from your house, the amount of homework or other issues. But, sharing your anxiety during the parent interview about an issue the school can’t change, like the distance to your home, could be misinterpreted as a dislike for the school. 

So, You Have A Parent Interview…

Parent interviews. Sort of like a job interview, except there’s somebody in the room who is a big topic of conversation without even being there: your child. Therefore, in addition to yourself, you’ll have to be prepared to discuss your child in depth.


When my husband and I went on our parent interviews, we approached it like we would a job interview. Prepared. On time. Confident about what our family would offer each school.


Oh, and nervous.


One of our interviews was more like an intake interview. The Admissions Director was out that day and somebody from the secondary school was filling in. It was hard to get a read on what she was thinking. She took a lot of notes and asked a few questions. But, it went fine.


Our interview at The Willows went very well. We hit instantly clicked with Kim Feldman, the Admissions Director. She created a warm, conversational interview that demonstrated a sincere interest in our daughter and us. She also asked a lot of questions. Every topic was covered: our daughter, our jobs, volunteering, diversity, what we do for fun, parenting philosophies, educational backgrounds, etc. We were very straightforward and offered up a lot of information. We wanted her to know we thought the school would be a great place for our daughter.


I’ve discussed our worst parent interview in detail in Beyond The Brochure. It’s possible for everything to go sideways during a parent interview. It happened to us. We had no control over it. It was worse than bad. It was uncomfortable and unprofessional. So, we were relieved we had applied to other schools after the “big disaster.”


The bottom line about parent interviews is this: imagine yourself interviewing someone for a job. All the things you’d expect from a job candidate are the same things an Admissions Director will be looking for from you. These include a positive attitude, knowledge about the school, well-informed questions, openness about your family, promptness and professionalism and a genuine interest in the school. The same way a job candidate needs to have great qualifications AND the “right fit” also applies in the admissions process. Does the job candidate need to be perfect? No! Neither do you or your child. As we’ve said before, send a thank you note after every step in the admissions process.


Here’s a good blog post about tips for parent interviews from Kate who writes the SFK files.


This is a great parent interview primer by Kim Hamer:


What are you going to say?


Interviews are a two-way conversation. Interviewing is a tool used by most private elementary schools to assess whether or not a family is a good fit. It is also a time for you to assess a school.

You should be looking for the same fit. You are looking for a school to partner with in raising your child, a school that extends, partially, the way you parent into the classroom, a school that makes you want to be part of the community for a long time.

Mastering an interview is a combination of luck and preparation. To prepare you will want to: Do your research. Outline your responses to the common interview questions.  Prepare your own questions. Know what not to do or ask. Follow up.


Review your notes from your tour for research. What was it that made you think, “THIS IS IT!” or, “Umm, okay but not perfect”? What values did you see the school demonstrate? The more specific you are, the better prepared you will be to answer certain questions.


The kinds of questions an admissions director can ask vary widely, but the most common question is:

  • Tell me about your child.

Most parents are so nervous they forget they have questions too. Come up with a list of questions that you want to ask. Here is one you can use as a jumping off point:


  • Is there a type of child or family that excels at this school?


  • Don’t ask questions that are confrontational

Watch your tone as well. A really bad question to ask would be: What are our chances of getting in? Ask that and you will have just lowered your chances of getting in.


Snafus happen. I wish I didn’t have to include this list but alas, every year, parents commit these interview blunders.


▪   Do not answer your cell phone in an interview unless it’s the person caring for your child. And that person should be instructed to only call you if there is an emergency.


▪   Do yourself a favor and arrive early. You can sit in the car if sitting in the school office will make you too nervous. Give yourself time to relax before the interview.


 After the interview, write a thank you note. Write it on a notecard and be brief. Thank the interviewer for his/her time, note what you really like about the school and only if the school is your first choice include, “If offered a spot we will happily accept.”


Be prepared for your interview!

Kim Hamer is a parent at Windward School and PS#1 Elementary. She is a former educational consultant.

Guest Blogger Jenny: What LA Private School Would A "Tiger Mom" Pick? Progressive? Traditional?

Talk about hype. Honestly, everyone’s been abuzzing about Amy Chua’s memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Her brash, hardcore, take no prisoners approach to parenting is giving more indulgent parents plenty to think about. Because, after all, her parenting somehow must have something to do with your parenting, right?

Well, not really. First off, Chua freely admits that even her parenting might be considered extreme by many Chinese parents. She discusses her style as being more in line with “immigrant style” parenting (even though she’s really a second generation Chinese American, and thus not really an immigrant). And, while one of her daughters is a concert level pianist, no doubt due to her obsessive hovering that rivals any Hollywood stage mother, even Chua admits that she might have gone too far. While her first child was a total pleaser, obedient, and a real achiever, her second daughter actively rebelled and actually won the battle. Guess who’s singing the victory battle hymn in her household now?

What I have noticed, at least in my Facebook circle, is some discussion regarding Chua in relation to schools and educational approach. The assumption seems to be that Chua, being so rigid and only interested in A’s, must only be in favor of a traditional, rote education. Well, I read the book (unlike many of the people commenting on it), and there’s hardly anything about the daughter’s academic education contained in it. She mentions school as a place for her daughters to spend part of their day, earning top grades, and then coming home and practicing their respective musical instruments. You see, Tiger Mother isn’t really about raising academic geniuses, it’s about trying, only partially successfully, to raise musical prodigies.

She does write, albeit briefly, about her daughter’s private school, complaining about the special events which demand extreme parental participation. You know what I mean: buying particular cultural items, preparing ethnic foods for festivals, doing tons of work while your child just gets to show up. Her complaint was, to my mind, perfectly valid; the kids should have to do all the work, not the parents.

Despite the paucity of school related material in the book, that hasn’t kept moms I know from starting to question not just their own mothering, but their children’s school’s academic approaches. What is better, progressive or traditional?

Perhaps a better question to ask is if truly traditional education exists in Los Angeles private schools at all. Outside of super religious schools, which might be viewed as traditional and rigid, most private schools here seem pretty forward thinking in terms of academic methods. While my daughter’s school, Mirman, is known for being more “traditional,” I think people are just looking at the uniforms and work load (not as heavy as everyone assumes), not at the teaching methods, which are quite hands on, imaginative, and the opposite of rote learning.

And at more progressive schools, I think the inverse is true. For instance, I went to Crossroads, a progressive school in Santa Monica. We called our teachers by their first names and shoes seemed optional. Yet, the education was rigorous. Rigorous enough that college seemed a cakewalk in comparison. Let’s face it: all these private elementary schools feed into the same competitive college preparatory upper schools. In order to keep acceptance rates (and their own admission rates) high, even progressive schools have to teach hardcore academics and demand excellence. There has to be a competitive edge, however blunted it’s being advertised to leery parents.

The irony of the progressive preference in Los Angeles is that so many of these parents are competitive, highly successful people. They say they want something less rigorous, more individually respectful, and less competitive than what they had academically. Yet, the moment a parent like Chua starts crowing about raising “superior” and competitive children, these same parents panic, thinking: “Her kids have an edge. How do I give my child the same edge?” They are so confused.

You think you want traditional education? Look no further than our lovely LAUSD. When my daughter went to Third St. Elementary, she received a completely rote, traditional education. She was required to memorize what would be on the tests, not look beyond the literal, and most of the subjects seemed mind numbingly dull. She hated science, for instance, because it was “boring.” Now, at Mirman, science is her favorite subject, mostly because it’s taught in such a concentrated, hands on way.

I know one kid who went to a fairly traditional private school in the Hancock Park area. He’s intensely smart, and his parents felt the school was, in its unyielding way, not flexible enough to meet his needs. They moved him to an extremely progressive school. He lasted barely a semester at the new school, switching back to the old one a scant four months later. His mom felt he got lost in the loose academic environment, that perhaps, for her child, the more structured curriculum was better. That seemed like excellent parenting. She looked at her child and decided what would be best for him, not what she necessarily wanted for him (and, by extension, for herself).

Perhaps instead of comparing Chua’s parenting approach and preferences to their own, moms should simply look at their children and follow their individual parenting instincts. What is right for their particular child? What teaching method would garner great results? Chua did that, following her instincts, for better or worse. And by the end of her memoir, I’m not sure she’s recommending her approach to anyone.
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