Reader Question: How Do Private Elementary Schools Handle Gifted Kids?


Portrait Of Boy Looking Excited

One of our blog readers asked us how private elementary schools handled gifted/highly gifted kids. We’ve been asked this question several times so Anne and I thought we’d answer with a blog post.


Unlike public schools, which have gifted magnet programs, most private schools handle gifted students on an as-needed basis. The Mirman School is the only private school in Los Angeles specifically for highly gifted kids and there is an IQ test required for admission.


Many private elementary schools (progressive and traditional) have the ability to meet the needs of gifted children. Typically, it is the teachers who determine which kids need more advanced work in one or more subjects. Sometimes a family will have their child tested by a psychologist to determine whether or not they are gifted and parental requests will be considered, but the teachers need to observe a child’s work within the classroom setting before requesting a child be given advanced work. Creating an individualized program or curriculum for one or a small group of kids requires additional work and resources from the school.


Here are the most common ways private schools meet the needs of gifted students:


1. Private schools will often put kids into ability groups for subjects like reading and math, beginning as early as first grade. The groups happen in the classroom and can be flexible, adding additional kids as the year progresses and as teachers observe certain kids who more advanced work.


2. Creating an advanced curriculum. If a school has one or two gifted kids who are working well beyond the curriculum that is being taught in the class, a school can create an advanced, individualized program for that child. In the lower elementary grades, this is typically what happens. Rather than have a 2nd grader attend a 4th grade math class, the school may pull the child out to work with a specialist teacher or faculty member several times a week. Homework would be included along with the advanced curriculum.


Really good, experienced teachers recognize the student who grasps the curriculum quickly and moves through the material ahead of schedule. They will find creative ways to extend the learning for these students. It is not just moving them ahead in the subject matter, but can include giving those students extra challenges in how they apply their advanced learning. This may take the form of an independent project that is designed by the student and teacher and woven into the fabric of class presentations. This deepens and broadens the learning rather than pushes the student into territory that they might not be developmentally prepared to take on.


It is more common to see this kind of accommodation in the language arts area than in math, though there are many ways to extend understandings of math concepts as well. For example, a language arts extension might include a student taking on an author study of a particular writer they have covered or creating their own story in the style of that writer. In math, a student who is extremely spatially proficient and jams through the geometry unit at an upper elementary level can come up with and construct a creative project that demonstrates to classmates some cool applications of the concepts they are learning.  Both of these allow gifted students to immerse themselves in the subject matter while relating it back to their classroom curriculum and to their peers.


3. In the upper elementary and middle school grades, it is not unusual to see gifted students attend an above grade level class. For example, several 6th graders might be placed in a 7th grade math class. This can happen at the request of the teacher or based on a placement test.


It is not common for a child to skip a grade in private elementary schools. For social and emotional reasons, this is rarely done, although it does happen. And, if the child is highly gifted advancing one grade level will probably not challenge the child enough. The most common difficulty for gifted students who move ahead and attend classes with older kids is a feeling of separation from peers and potential intimidation by older students. Often, the problem for gifted students who do not move ahead is a feeling of intellectual loneliness. It is important to strike a critical balance that avoids both of these pitfalls. Sensitive parents and schools can work together to do this well in most circumstances.


This post was written by Anne Simon and Christina Simon

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Upcoming Event: “Elementary School, Here I Come” with Betsy Brown Braun

Boy on climbing frame

Many of you who read this blog know I’m a big fan of Betsy Brown Braun. I’ve taken her parenting classes and read her books and she has always provided me with excellent practical and timely advice (just when I really needed it!). Here’s her annual private schools event, which I’m sure will be extremely useful.


Betsy Brown Braun- ELEMENTARY SCHOOL,  HERE I COME!                      

Wednesday,. January 29, 2014,  7:30 to 9:30  p.m. A framework for observing, assessing, and choosing an elementary school will be presented at this seminar. Private and public schools in the City and the Valley will be discussed along with the application process, school visits, interviews, and a timeline for applications.


Here’s my Q&A with Betsy (Under Educational Consultants): Name A School, She’s Sent A Client There

Weekend Links: Articles, Events and More!

Cheers to my son's team, Pacific Elite, champs at the SGV Aloha hoops tournament in Anaheim last weekend. What a pass!
Cheers to my son’s team, Pacific Elite, champs at the SGV Aloha hoops tournament in Anaheim last weekend. What a pass! This is my favorite shot from the tournament.

Contrary to popular opinion, private school teachers earn less than public school teachers.  The Secret Lives Of Private School Teachers in Take Part


Harvard-Westlake’s high school is planning to expand and some neighbors are upset, reports the Daily News. I live in Coldwater Canyon so I’ll be curious to see how this issue evolves. Check out the architectural rendering for the proposed sky-bridge over Coldwater.


One of the coolest open house invitations I’ve ever seen. Check out the Sequoyah School in Pasadena invitation to see its newly completed campus expansion. Sat. Nov. 9th. On You Tube. In case you missed it, here’s our profile of Sequoyah. 


My favorite parenting guru, Betsy Brown Braun, will be speaking Tuesday evening (Oct. 22).

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A new documentary, American Promise, has just been released. It chronicles the life of an African American Dalton student and the film was made by his own parents. Over-invested parents or filmmakers reflecting on their kid’s education at an elite NYC private school?  I’m curious to see it. Here’s the New York Times review.


That’s all for now. We have soccer games, guitar and tennis lessons, kid’s birthday parties to attend and dinner with friends this weekend. And, we’re reviewing the final edits for the 2nd edition of our book. Have a great weekend! –Christina

Private Elementary School Buzz…

Buzz coffee cup

  • There is a Westside private school with a bus route that sounds more like “maps of the stars homes” because the school bus stops in front of private homes…personalized service to pick up the kids of wealthy and famous families, including a founding member of Fleetwood Mac, even though one home is only 3 blocks from the school.
  • A mom at this third-tier private elementary school in the Valley with a fancy sounding name stole the school’s credit card. She was arrested earlier this year, placed in the Van Nuys jail and sentenced to several years in jail for numerous forgery and other fraud charges. 
  • This school’s very desirable location and brief mention on the website that it was founded by Christian Scientists, belies its very conservative, religious culture and values. In fact, it’s so socially conservative that the word “gay” is discussed only in hushed whispers around campus. A former reality show plastic surgeon is a celebrity dad at the school.
  • Does your kid’s school hold a low-key annual family potluck? That’s definitely not the trend at one traditional Valley school where a group of moms insisted on doing away with the “low rent” potluck tradition and instead holding an upscale school event at a swank venue with fancy finger food at a cost of nearly $100 per family. They “forgot” to notify the school of this change, knowing the administration wouldn’t allow it.
  • One of our friends tells us that there are 18 girls in 7th grade at Marlborough this year who attended The Center For Early Education. Can you say, “feeder school?”


Q and A with Juliette Lange, Admissions Director of Lycee International de Los Angeles (LILA)

Juliette Lange, LILA's admissions director
Juliette Lange, LILA’s admissions director


I’m thrilled to welcome one of my favorite admissions directors, Juliette Lange, M.Ed., of Lycée International de Los Angeles (LILA), to the blog today! Juliette graciously agreed to answer my questions about LILA admissions. I first met Juliette when I wrote a school profile about LILA.


1.  How would you describe the educational philosophy of LILA?

LILA teaches a bilingual program from preschool through 12th grade culminating in the French Baccalauréat or the International Baccalaureate. Students are taught to read, write, and speak both languages by the end of their elementary education. Satisfying both the Common Core State Standards and the French Ministry of Education’s requirements, necessitates a rigorous schedule; the percentage of each language of instruction varies at each grade level.


2.   LILA is a dual immersion language school. Does this mean if students enter at kindergarten they will speak French when they graduate at 12th grade?

LILA aims to offer more than the mere knowledge of at least two languages. Our ultimate goal is to form fully bi-literate students capable of functioning in two linguistic worlds. To achieve this goal, LILA specifically avoids dividing students based upon their dominant language. At the very foundation of the educational program is a policy of integration: young Americans must be integrated into French classes and French children must study English along with their American classmates. Thus, by getting to know one another, students are able to appreciate both the French and American cultures; they are able to compete in both systems; they are able to feel at home in an American living room and à l’aise at a French dinner table.


3.   What do you look for in prospective families for kindergarten? What about for 6th or 7th grade?

Ultimately we look for enthusiasm and an understanding of what a bilingual education means – for commitment to the project.   At 6th grade, it takes a very special family and a very different kind of student to be able to integrate and follow a program that is designed for French native speakers.   This is usually only possible for those already coming from France, another Lycee or school teaching the same curriculum or a student who is already speaking French at home.


4.   Do you have to be French to be part of the school’s community?

Absolutely not.  In fact most of our students are not French.   What is paramount is an openness to the French culture and to the French philosophy of education.

Lycée International de Los Angeles, Los Feliz
Lycée International de Los Angeles, Los Feliz

5.    Applying for kindergarten in L.A. can be very stressful for parents and kids. Can you give our readers some tips for surviving the application process?

You need to be yourself and to be ready to convince us of why you want this for your family and your child.  Often this is about showing us that you understand different cultures and what it means to be immersed in another language.  Sometimes, it’s a sheer commitment to offering this to your child because you would have so wished it for yourself.


6.    In your opinion, what are some common mistakes parents make when applying to LILA?

Parents are often not prepared for the work involved and the cultural understanding required in having their child educated in a language and an educational system that is not their own.


7.   Does LILA offer financial aid?

Yes.   Financial aid is offered from the second year onward. In past years, up to 25% of LILA’s student body has received some degree of financial aid, either from France (15%) or directly from LILA (10%).


 8.   What are some of LILA’s qualities that you’re most proud of?

At LILA we adopt ways of thinking and expression that reflect an appreciation for cultural differences and multiple world views. Diverse groups learn more from each other when exchanging different points of view, introducing new pieces of information, and confronting alternative ideas. LILA’s small and nurturing classes facilitate the sharing of different viewpoints.


Being immersed in a truly multicultural environment helps develop the ability to better understand one’s own culture – what makes it different, but also in which ways it is similar.  This, in turn, helps maintain a strong sense of one’s own background. 
Teachers, staff and students come from all over the world, each bringing their own experiences and perspectives.  
Our students study and live in a world community every day.

LILA's new secondary school in Burbank
LILA’s new secondary school in Burbank

LILA just opened its new secondary school in Burbank. Congratulations!

For more information, please visit,