Happy New Year! Here’s Lookin’ At 2013!

Happy New Year! We’re so excited to welcome 2013! Thanks to our wonderful, incredible, loyal readers, we had a terrific 2012 here at Beyond The Brochure. We’re thrilled for those of you who got into the schools you wanted. And, unfortunately along with the private school admissions process comes disappointment and frustration for some of you. We understand the rejection and urge you not to give up in your quest for the right school.


Throughout the year, your emails, comments and questions have kept our blog interesting and engaging! After three years, we still look forward to writing posts and accepting speaking invitations at preschools. We’ve also had a great time meeting many of you at our events with Momangeles at Kidville and Romp. We plan to do more of these events in 2013.


We don’t have to tell you that our fabulous guest bloggers bring expertise, perspective and humor to the site. Thank you to everyone who contributed this year!


Earlier this year, we completed our blog’s new more user-friendly (please excuse the lingering formatting issues on older posts).


Looking ahead, the big news for 2013 will be…deep breath…the Second Edition of Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles. It will be published in September 2013 and will have more of everything you want! More sample applications, letters of recommendations, an expanded list of schools and answers to questions you’ve asked.

Project Knapsack board member Katie Kornfield, CEO/Founder, Porcha Dodson and Christina Simon at PK's annual fundraiser, Il Moro Restaurant. December 2012.

Supporting charitable causes we believe in is an important part of who we are. I’m very happy to join the board of directors of Project Knapsack, the non-profit founded by Porcha Dodson, which delivers much-needed school supplies to children in Africa.


Perhaps the highlight of the year for our blog was being featured in The Hollywood Reporter and the international style site, Elizabeth Street, among other publications. Truly an honor! Our book and blog continue to expand to more parents, thanks to our amazing readers.


Congratulations to Anne and her daughter, Carrie (a Crossroads alumni!), on the birth of Carrie’s adorable baby boy a few weeks ago!


From our families to yours, Happy New Year!

Christina, Anne and Porcha




Parent Interviews: Plenty To Unexpect

For better or worse, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to parent interviews. It’s clear that every school has its own style of parent interview based on who the admissions director is.


Some parents are thrilled when they have a great interview at a school that is “ridiculously hard to get into.” The elation leads to dismay when their child is wait-listed at the school.


“How could this have happened?” they wonder.


“That woman has lunch with our Mother-In-Law every week!”


“We felt like the admissions director was an old friend…I’m so furious at being misled.”


“We were sure we were in!”


What some parents don’t realize is that the same admissions director is making everyone feel like a beloved old friend. Each family leaves the interview feeling great and convinced they will get in.


Big personality, quiet introvert, young or experienced, friendly or aloof.  Admissions directors can reflect both their own style and the culture of the school.


The formal interview is another common style typical of certain schools. Impossible to read, the admissions director is typically nice, but not overly familiar or friendly. Parents may leave the interview not knowing what will happen. “I don’t know if it went well,” they’ll say.


At some schools, the admissions director will give a family signals the school just isn’t interested in them i.e. the freezing-cold shoulder. It’s not hard to realize when this is happening. “Poker face” turns to “rude poker face” within minutes. It happened to my husband and me, so I can attest to the surprise and dismay at being treated so unprofessionally. I wrote about this in Beyond The Brochure.


Every so often, a parent interview can start off well and take a turn for the worse based on a parental statement or question like, “I hear you admit a lot of problem kids.” Why yes, a question like that can ruin an interview!


It’s equally difficult to read too much into the overly friendly admissions director, as it is the chilly professional. Every admissions director has his/her own style. The key is not to read too much into any individual interviewing style.


Personality sometimes extends into the accessibility of an admissions director. Some admissions directors don’t mine emails or chatty calls from prospective parents about the process. Others prefer to keep communication strictly on an as-needed, more formal basis. Whether an admissions director will share information about the number of spaces available or whether the school admits students from the wait-list, also depends.


Since you really don’t know what the parent interview will be like, the best thing to do is be prepared to talk about why your child and your family are a great fit for the school. Be specific. Research specific things you like about the school and share that with the admissions director. Ask smart questions that can lead to a conversation, rather than “yes” or “no” responses. A question about how long it will take to get from your house to the school isn’t a good question. Asking about types of volunteer opportunities for parents might lead to a great opportunity for you to tout your expertise in a certain area and for the admissions director to elaborate on the school’s signature volunteer projects and opportunities.


The bottom line is that the parent interview is a necessary step in the process. It may or may not be the interview you envisioned. But, once your child is (hopefully) admitted, you can laugh about your perceptions (or misperceptions) with the admissions director for many years to come.


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Sequoyah School: A Sensational Place Inspired By A Native American Wordsmith

Sequoyah School, Pasadena

* July 8, 2015 update: Exciting News! Sequoyah School will add a high school Fall 2016. Click here for more information.

The minute I walked into Sequoyah School in Pasadena the I-Wish-I-Had-Gone-Here-As-A-Kid feeling swept over me. Because the school was founded 54 years ago, some very lucky people did attend Sequoyah, including its director, Josh Brody and Azizi Williams, the assistant admissions director.


A vintage photo of Sequoyah students. Director Josh Brody is the tall one in back row.


Arriving at the school on a recent morning, Azizi introduced me to Josh, who stepped out of his office to chat about the school for a few minutes. He’s very proud of Sequoyah, both its history and the evolution it’s taken over the years to become one of the most highly coveted progressive schools in the San Gabriel Valley. Josh is genuinely nice and welcoming, with a sense of humor and relaxed personality that kids can relate to. He’s been profiled in The LA Weekly, traveled to Nepal on a Harvard Fellowship, recorded a top-selling album in Nepal and posed for Sequoyah parent and sculptor, Chris Slatoff, for a rendition of Jesus and Joseph for the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels downtown. Let’s face it. He’s one cool, smart dude who just happens to run one of the most impressive schools in town!


Sequoyah is an educational triumph, staying true to its roots while creating a forward-thinking school with a clear, multi-faceted vision. As Azizi explained, what kids need now governs the school, while always keeping in mind the original mission statement. The Native American influence is present in the name “Sequoyah” which comes from an 18th century Cherokee silversmith who invented a set of symbols used for writing words.


The campus!


An urban campus with rustic buildings punctuated by green spaces and located on two acres in the heart of Pasadena, Sequoyah is a K-8 school that puts its own stamp on progressive education. Mixed age classes, a second year experience where kids remain with the same teacher at least twice (student can have the same teacher for K and 1), an integrated curriculum and a focus on descriptive, narrative reports rather than grades (percentages are given starting in 3rd-4th grades), are just some of the elements which define it.


Inside the multi-age K-1 classroom
Inside the K-1 classroom
Another view of K-1 classroom


Creativity, building authentic community and hands-on learning are key to the school’s signature programs. Notably, teachers, parents and students created a set of guiding principles to inform the teaching and learning that happens at Sequoyah. It’s called Habits of Mind and includes seven customs: Perspective, Inquiry, Communication, Collaboration, Application, Stewardship and Ownership. Each concept offers a short description. For example, Perspective is “to seek, honor and reflect on multiple viewpoints in order to broaden understanding and solve problems.”


Rustic and warm


Azizi is one of the most down-to-earth, likable admissions staff members I’ve met. She’s the mom of two Sequoyah daughters and a graduate of the school. so she knows it inside and out. I appreciated her deep, detailed knowledge, along with her incredibly friendly, low-key demeanor. Azizi told me that while admission to Sequoyah is very competitive and the school has a high acceptance rate, they do admit families from the very large wait-list almost every year.


Sequoyah’s library!


Azizi said more than 50 percent of the students are ethnically and socio-economically diverse, with about 40 percent of the student body receiving financial aid (this is very impressive!). The school has a strong commitment to a diversity that reflects its community and backs this up with its robust financial aid program.


What better way to learn than through real-world experience? At Sequoyah, the Field Studies program, which expands the classroom to include the surrounding community and natural world, is a beloved and renowned aspect of the kids’ education at all grade levels. Beginning in kindergarten, students begin studying the desert a month before embarking on a camping trip Anza-Borrego Desert State Park near San Diego. Along with their parents and staff, kindergartners learn how to take care of each other and the environment by setting up tents, helping cook meals and exploring the geology and indigenous aspects of the area. Each year, students at every grade level venture to various locations including, El Capitan, Morro Bay, Big Sir, Yosemite and beyond. This standout program gives kids a change to travel outside their everyday environment to encounter new and rewarding learning experiences.


Spanish classroom!


One of the most comprehensive, useful materials for parents is the Curriculum Map, a descriptive, detailed guide to understanding what will be taught at each grade level, the skills and concepts learned, as well as essential questions that will be raised in class and discussed throughout each study area. Subject areas like Spanish, visual arts, theater and music are included. And, how kids are assessed is also part of the Curriculum Map. This is an extremely helpful way to understanding both what will be taught and how each subject will be approached.


Science class explores the question, “How do our food choices affect us, our families, our community, the world?”


Heralding several new additions to the campus, Sequoyah will soon be expanding, with the addition of a new multi-purpose and performing arts building, a new art and science building and new 5th-8th grade classrooms, all opening in Fall 2013. 


Preparing students for high school is very important at Sequoyah. The school offers extensive ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) prep through test taking skills, a weekly seminar where 8th graders visit high schools, have a mock interview and receive support for their personal essays. Sequoyah students have been accepted to Flintridge-Prepartory, Harvard-Westlake, Loyola High, Marlborough, Mayfield Senior School, Oakwood School, Polytechnic, The Waverly School and many other top schools in recent years.


New facilities coming in Fall of 2013!


Being at Sequoyah is like dreaming a dream about a fabulous place to learn. Only its not a dream. It really exists. Sequoyah is an intellectually stimulating, nurturing and open-minded, a school where social justice is an important as learning the ABCs. I can promise you, this school will catch your attention and hold it. If your family visits Sequoyah, it will stay in your memory…and your child’s too!


For more information, visit, www.sequoyahschool.org