Your Family’s Key Messages Part 2: Who Is Your Family?

Who Is Your Family?

Your Family’s Key Messages: Make Your Application Standout is our most-read blog post. We think it resonates with readers because the idea of developing a “family message” makes sense when you are preparing to be asked to answer a variety of questions about your family in written applications and parent interviews. 

It’s not always easy to discuss your family’s values, interests, work, volunteerism, academics, educational philosophies, diversity, your child’s personality and interests–and more– with numerous admissions directors. That’s why thinking about what you’ll write and say ahead of time will help convey the most important things you want each school to know about your family. When I was applying to schools, I found it helpful to think of my family as a  “brand”. 

A family “brand” or set of messages is really just a clear, concise way of describing the most important, meaningful things about your family that will be remembered by your audience: admissions directors. What makes your family unique? What is memorable about your family? What is it about school X that would be great for your kid? What unique attributes will your child offer to school X if accepted?

Being able to describe both your family and your child in an authentic and interesting way is an essential part of communicating with admissions directors. When you talk and write about your family, you want admissions directors to get to know you and your child and understand why you think their school is the best fit for your child. Of course, you know that your family is different from every other family applying. But how will admissions directors know this unless you tell them? Don’t be afraid to ask yourself, “Who are you?” “Who is your child?” What real-life examples can you write about or talk about in interviews or on the make your family stand out? What can you say in parent interviews that will leave a lasting, positive impression on the admissions directors who interview you? What should you write to make your application “pop”? Admissions directors often receive written applications that are too long, boring and sound like a brochure. 

In Part 1, I list my own family’s key messages. Here are a few more examples of what we mean by family messages. You’ll notice that in each of these messages, the family’s values and/or interests is discussed, backed up by examples. Or, the child’s behavior, personality trait or interests is described in a clear, honest example. Ideally, you should talk about  your family’s values or interests, illustrated by a real-life description to give the example.  

  • When Henry plays soccer, he passes to any kid on the team who is open, not only to the “best” players. (note: this is instead of saying, “Henry is a leader”)
  • Our family loves to travel. We want to expose our kids to other cultures and places. Our trips aren’t elaborate or expensive, but always involve an educational component for our kids.
  • We enjoy entertaining family and friends. We’re in the catering business. Opening our home for events and parties is one of our favorite things to do. We would welcome the opportunity to host school events at our home. 
  • Our daughter’s preschool has a strong sense of community and we’ve made close friends with other parents. We are looking for a school with a strong emphasis on community spirit in both students and parents. 
  • School X appeals to us because my husband and I both attended very traditional east coast private schools. We are seeking a traditional education for our kids. We feel our child will benefit from school X’s structured classroom environment, academic excellence, strong athletic program and a focus on religious values. We have been members of your school’s church for 3 years. 
  • I’m a former yoga and dance teacher. I’d welcome the opportunity to volunteer with your after-school enrichment program to teach a kids dance or yoga class. 
  • We are both scientists. Our daughter is showing some real potential in the arts. We want a school that will inspire and support her artistic interests. Your school has a fantastic arts program that our daughter would embrace. 
  • I’m a graduate of your school, class of 1985. My education gave me an excellent, well-rounded foundation that I’ve been able to use to build a successful career in medicine. I’ve also stayed close to a group of friends I met during my years as a student here.  I want my kids to be able to have the same incredible education I received from my alma matter. 
  • I chaired our preschool auction for two years. We raised a record amount of money and were able to solicit amazing donations from local businesses –and have fun at the same time! I think my auction experience would be beneficial to your school’s fundraising efforts. 
  • Our entire family is interested in sports. We play tennis, volleyball and soccer. The fact that your school has beautiful athletic fields, a former professional athlete as the athletic director and a new gym would definitely be an asset for our kids. 
  • Our daughter is very interested in mechanical objects. She is fascinated by the way things work and likes to build and take apart legos and other toys/objects. This isn’t a surprise since her mother is an engineer. She is observant and quiet and is known for being friendly to other kids in her preschool class. 
  • If accepted to private school, our son will be the first member of my husband and my family to attend private school. I was the first person in my family to go to college, after coming to the U.S. at age 8 from El Salvador. We are a bilingual family. 
Hopefully, giving thought to who your family is (parents and child) and what you are seeking in a school will help admissions directors get to know you and want to learn more about you. You’re creating a connection between your family and the school.  That means learning as much as possible about the school and illuminating the ways your child and family will be a good fit for the school. 

* Thank you to Anne Simon for her contributions to this post!

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Guest Blogger Jenny: Puberty Already? How Mirman School Deals with the Hormones, the Moods, and Yes, the Smells.

I know it’s hard for parents of young children to believe, but soon enough your adorable squishy angels won’t be quite as appealing anymore. My daughter, Anna, is now in Room 5 (5th grade) at Mirman, and change is in the air.

Change is in the air quite literally, apparently. One of the biggest topics of teacher concern on Mirman’s Curriculum Night inside Room 5 was the air quality inside the room, particularly after lunch. “This is the year that, about halfway through, it all changes from smelly kid to gamey kid,” Anna’s teacher announced. “I just wish you guys could be in here for just one afternoon to experience it. The days of bathing two or three times a week are coming to an end.”
Naturally, the Room 5 parents tittered with embarrassed amusement, many of them thinking: Not my kid. Not yet. But yes, puberty is striking the Room 5 population hard, and the teachers are thinking quite creatively to cut down on body odor and athlete’s foot, while not shaming the kids into thinking they’re really gross.
The very first study topic in Room 5 Science tackled this subject with remarkable humor. Understanding that kids are all fascinated by the truly disgusting, the teacher dreamed up Grossology, a topic exploring what the human body innocently produces all by itself unless blocked by a little proper hygiene. For instance, in Anna’s class the kids took swab samples from one another’s underarms and feet, and then grew out the samples in petri dishes.
This experiment turned out to be the great leveler. Sure, some samples grew out more bacteria than others, but everyone pretty much grew something (although Anna did mention that one boy had some pretty tough critters taking up residence in his armpit. I think he felt proud on some level).  All the kids were, of course, fascinated by this experimentation.
This bloom of unwanted life then led to an opportunity to discuss prophylactic measures such as deodorant and washing one’s feet and shoes. Kill the stench was the overall message, and the teacher had simple solutions like soap and water. Somehow, even though I’m sure all the parents had at least broached this subject with our kids, the message meant a lot more once they could see what they were destroying. After all, this was science, not bath time.
There were other gross topics discussed, like boogers and snot (Anna’s explanation of hard vs. soft boogers should have been recorded and used as an advertisement for Kleenex). Flatulence, I won’t even go there. And while all this potty humor might seem sophomoric to some, these are kids, and therefore are, by definition, sophomoric. Grossology was a simply perfect way to clue them all in regarding their changing bodies, while accepting the changes without massive judgment and teasing.
All in all, if this is how Mirman handles the kids’ entrance to pubescence, I’d say they’re off to a pretty good start. By craftily incorporating health information into the hard sciences, the school demystifies the bodily changes the kids’ experience. And hey, if it leads to cleaner hair and remembering the roll on every morning, I consider it a triumph.
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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When Middle School Looms by Anne Simon

The issues surrounding application to private middle schools in the Los Angeles area are at once similar and different from those that parents face when seeking to enroll their child in a private elementary school. The similarities can be summed up in a few words: a lengthy admissions process and decisions to make about where to apply. What is different is that for middle school admissions, your child has already developed a history as a student and he/she will need to be more involved in both the process and the decision regarding this next important step in their education.

If you are applying with a child who attended public elementary schools,  you may not be as familiar with either the culture or the expectations of LA’s private middle schools. When this is the case, I think it is important to follow many of the same steps as are outlined for elementary parents (and discussed in depth in our book). For example:


– Define your family’s educational values – what are your priorities when it comes to your child’s education? Are you looking for a school that focuses on traditional educational excellence, or does your child need a school where the culture will nurture and support their need for educational motivation in a less competitive academic environment?

– Contact as many schools in your geographic area as possible and ask to visit and tour the school. The program for admission to secondary schools is not as orchestrated as for elementary because a majority of their students come from the private schools in their area or from their own lower school division. An important question will be to determine how many actual places there are for new students at the grade level you are seeking. Points of entry for many secondary schools are 7th grade, with fewer openings for 9th grade. Some schools also have openings for 6th grade if they have an elementary school. This takes effort on your part to find out this information from school websites or by calling the school. 

– Consider the annual tuition for each school. Secondary schools are expensive, with some as high as $30,000 per year per student. Others are less expensive, particularly some of the parochial schools. Schools do offer financial aid, which also requires an application process. 

If you are facing the decision about middle school following years at a private elementary school, the process is a bit different. Your child’s school will have a history of trends toward secondary placement. You should also expect support from your school with the secondary school admissions. Your job, along with that of your child, will be to sort through these patterns and decide which is best for you and your family. If you have felt that the fit at your child’s elementary school has been just right, then seek out the schools that most seem to continue in that tradition. If you feel your child has outgrown the school culture and would benefit from something different, that feeling may guide you in a different direction than the mainstream of schools their classmates will attend.

One thing that is the same, no matter where you are coming from, is that most middle schools schools require students to take the ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) as part of the application process. Some schools rely heavily on the scores from these tests and some do not. This information is something you should try to gather in your search, but the bottom line is that it is a very good idea to help your child prepare by taking a prep course. This will assist your student in gaining confidence and competence, regardless of the weight your chosen school places upon these scores.

Other factors that bear on the application might include your child’s special interests, talents, and extra-curricular activities. If your child is an accomplished musician or a competitive ice skater, be sure that you find a way to communicate these things to the schools where you apply. There is a piece of this process that is “selling” your child and your family to the school. Student interviews and written materials, combined with parent interviews, teacher recommendations, test scores and grades all factor into this equation. 

The biggest single difference between elementary and secondary admission, whether you are coming from public or private school, is that your child will need and want to participate in the process and have a voice in the decision. Secondary schools traditionally tour students – sometimes with and sometimes without their parents, and many have students visit for part of a day. It is most important for there to be an active dialogue between parents and children as this decision is made. Schools will be assessing your child’s interest in their school as well as their fit with the school culture. The role of the admissions staff becomes a bit more like that of a guidance counselor, getting to know the student and family to see if there is a good fit between the school and the child. 

Start your conversation with your child early. What kind of school does he/she think is best for him/her? What are her interests and goals for her education? To the extent possible, formulate a consistent family message that you and your child will present to the school. This will help the admissions folks feel the cohesion of your family and see how it will fit with their school and its mission.

And, make sure to apply to more than one or two secondary schools. The top schools are competitive and you want to ensure your child has options to choose from!

Finally, there are very good educational consultants who place students in top LA secondary schools. 


Anne Simon is the co-author of Beyond The Brochure. She is the former dean of the Crossroads Middle School and the former head of Wildwood Elementary School. 

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What If You Don’t LOVE The Schools You’ve Toured?

When One Stands Out: That “Ah-Ha” Moment

I’ve talked to a few moms recently who’ve said they haven’t seen any schools they’ve really loved. They like them, but don’t really understand what the big deal is. That said, they’re applying to these schools that they don’t really love. So far, they haven’t had that “ah-ha” moment.

I must have looked surprised during these conversations because when I toured schools I had trouble narrowing down the list. It seemed like each school I looked at was more amazing then the next. But, geography limited our choices.
If you haven’t seen any private elementary schools you’ve fallen in love with, keep looking! More likely than not, you’ll find a school or two that will find you making a mental note, “must get our kid into this school” category.  If that doesn’t happen, tour more schools. Expand your options. Then, if you still don’t find at least one or two schools you absolutely must get your kid into, tour your local public school to see if it would be a good fit for your family. Private schools are expensive, especially if you think they’re just ok. And, try to find something about each school you are enthusiastic about before your parent interview. A lack of interest in the school will definitely be obvious to the admissions directors.
Tour, tour, tour. Tour some more! You gotta love it! And, when those letters arrive in late March, you want to know you’ve given your family as many options as possible. Opening one painfully thin envelope because you didn’t see enough schools probably won’t be a good thing.

Here are some of our blog’s most popular posts. Our guest bloggers and I went on lots of tours before we found the right schools. And, thinking about what defines your unique family can help you figure out which schools will be best for your child. 

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Guest Blogger Jenny: The Redshirting Dilema That Never Ends (Part 2)

The Redshirt Dilema That Won’t Go Away

Let me just say that I never intended to redshirt my daughter (delay her entrance to K by a year). She started preschool at just over two, mostly because she was dying for more stimulation. Her hunger for information and activity was strong and constant. And while she often didn’t go with the social flow, she got along with other kids well enough that I knew she’d be fine socially.

Everything proceeded normally until fourth grade, when Anna transferred from Third St. Elementary to Mirman. It was a big transition, and Anna ended up one of the older kids in the class, although she has a late June birthday. The reason for the age jump is that, if your child starts out at Mirman, she will automatically skip kindergarten, because Mirman begins in Room 1, also known as first grade. This means that if your child is five, she’s automatically been put ahead a year upon entry to Mirman. And, if you redshirted your child, she will be one of the older kids in a grade appropriate class.

All of this was fine with me. Anna was kept at grade level, although what they teach at Mirman is quite different from what she was used to at Third St. It wouldn’t have been fair or appropriate to bump her up a grade, so that she was with the majority of the nine-year olds in Rooms 5. Plus, since redshirting at age five happens in every school, she was hardly the only nine year old in Room 4. So far, so good.

The challenge of this plan, though, is coming soon, upon matriculation to a middle school. Because most Mirman kids are a year younger than grade level, they stay at the school (unless they’re staying through middle school) through 7th grade instead of 6th grade. Then, when they enter their new middle school, they enter in….7th grade.

Yes, you heard right: the majority of middle school matriculating Mirman students (try saying that five times fast) end up repeating 7th grade. Even though they’re ahead academically, most students are behind socially because they were skipped ahead a grade. I guess the thinking is that they need to be on the same social age level as the other students in their grade.

This all makes sense for Mirman students who start out at age five at the school. But what about the redshirted kids, or kids like my daughter who have transferred in from other schools? Now, it seems, Anna will be redshirted for 7th grade, thus entering it a whole year older than her peers. As a child who has always enjoyed being surrounded by older people, I don’t think this arrangement will suit Anna’s personality at all.

So, I have this dilemma. Should I try and get Anna into a new middle school after 6th grade at Mirman, so that she enters 7th grade at her new school at the appropriate age? Seventh grade is the main point of entry for most private middle schools. Waiting until 9th grade means fewer spaces…so few spaces I could probably count them for all the top secondary schools on one hand.  Should I just sign onto the program, trust the system, and have Anna stay at Mirman through 7th grade, and then have to repeat 7th grade (and the 7th grade tuition).

In the end, I might have to have Anna repeat 7th grade in order to get her into the middle/upper school of our choice. And that decision will effect her down the line, when we have a possibly surly adolescent living for yet another year under our roof, since she won’t be entering college until the ripe old age of 19. Although this inadvertent redshirting might be a small price to pay for a truly excellent education, I do keep wondering if it’s really all necessary. And I’ll probably keep looking for a work around, too.

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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