The Dynamics of Private School Host Family Get-Togethers


A lot of private schools want to help new families ease the transition to the school by hosting events, encouraging you to enroll your child in the summer program and sending out a school roster to help you facilitate playmates A host family program is another way private schools welcome new families.


Host families, who are current families at the school, are typically asked by the school to host an incoming family during the summer for a casual get-together. The host family will have a child in the same class as your child and will be the same gender. The event is based on a mutually convenient time and may take place at the host family’s home or at a park or other location.


Most of the time, host family get-togethers are great. Of course, I’ve heard host family horror stories like when the host family that is “too busy” all summer to get together with the new family or the host family who does make time for a get-together but then snubs the new family when they see each the first day of school. Sometimes, the host kid will start bullying the new kid at school, despite the fact that they are supposed to be the new kid’s friend. The schools rarely find out about these unfortunate situations since new families don’t want to start off the school year by complaining.


Luckily, my family has had really positive experiences with all our host families. We’ve been warmly welcomed at host family’s homes, met with our host family at a school event and watched our kids run off to play together. At our former school, the host family invited several families over for brunch. The photo above reminded me of the homemade pastries they baked. At our current school, Viewpoint, we went to my son’s host family’s home for a lovely dinner. We met up with my daughter’s host family at a school event (our kids are in middle school, so this worked nicely). Based on my experiences, I encourage you to accept your host family’s invitation, even if the timing isn’t convenient. It really does help ease the transition for parents and kids.


Here are a few tips to help your get together with the host family go smoothly:


  • If your child is entering kindergarten, keep the get-together short. Spending an entire afternoon together isn’t necessary, unless you both think it’s a good idea. Nobody on either end of this event wants their kid to have a meltdown.
  • Ask before you bring a sibling! These events are for kids entering the school and most often not for the entire family.
  • If the host suggests an activity you don’t think will work for your child (like swimming), politely suggest another plan.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable going to the host family’s house, it’s ok to suggest getting together at a neutral location like a park or a restaurant.
  • If the get-together with the host family goes well, let the school know. They will appreciate the feedback.


Host families volunteer for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes it is because they genuinely want to welcome a new family to the school. Other times, their agenda has nothing to do with new families, but involves their own social or personal ambition. In either case, keeping your expectations moderate and your schedule flexible will go a long way to having a good experience.


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What I Did (and Did Not) Expect About Mirman School by Jenny Heitz (re-post)

Today is Throwback Thursday (TBT) in social media. So, I’m posting this piece by Jenny Heitz from the archives. It’s not often you get an insider’s look at a school like Mirman. –Christina


Mirman is one of those schools that has a certain mystique surrounding it. Because it accepts only highly gifted children, there are people who refer to it as “the freak school,” “the geek school,” or, in one stunning instance, “the Hitler school” (I have no idea what that means). While I took all these nicknames with a grain of salt, I had some apprehension about sending my daughter Anna there. I felt it was probably the right place for her, but I was worried that it would be too serious, too high powered, and, frankly, too dorky.


Happily, none of these fears manifested into reality.


Here’s What Surprised Me:


  • The kids are not weird. Well, ok, there might be a few little boys running around speaking in monotone voices, but they are few and far between. One of the interesting things about Mirman students is how normal they actually are. They may be super smart kids, but they’re still kids, and they act like kids. The only difference is that the level of carpool conversation is suddenly elevated.


  • The parents are far nicer than I expected. I was worried that the parents would be way too into their super gifted children. But what I’ve found is that most of the parents seem sort of puzzled and bemused to have these kids. The parent body is, for the most part, very smart, very educated, a bit shy, and really not snobby in the least. The “not snobby” factor makes dealing with Mirman parents a pleasure, especially on field trips. As far as I know, there are no celebrities at Mirman. Interesting. You can draw your own conclusions about that.


  • The workload isn’t nearly as heavy as I thought it would be. Naturally, I’d heard horror stories about Mirman kids working constantly, even during carpool, and how “unnatural” the whole thing was. That turned out to be nonsense. Anna definitely has homework, and it’s homework she has to schedule for herself during the week. It’s made her into quite the little time management pro. And while the school works the kids really hard during the school day, Anna actually seems to spend less of her time at home doing homework than some of her public school friends. I would not say that she is overworked on any level.


  • Parents are not treated like royalty. Unlike some private schools, where wealthy parents get the kid glove treatment, Mirman generally treats the parents like idiots. I’m not kidding. I’ve even brought up this fact to other Mirman parents and they crack up as they agree. All the school’s emphasis and efforts involve the kids; it is the most kid focused school I’ve encountered. While Mirman wants parents to give money and be on committees and be involved, it will not brownnose you when you enter the front office. If you’re looking for adulation, seek it elsewhere.


  • The commute isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Commuting from Hollywood to Mirman seemed like a nightmare at first, but it’s turned out to be ok. It’s made ok only by the fact that I’m in a carpool that I’ll defend with my life. At the moment, we’re trying to get together enough kids on this side of town to justify a bus. I dream about the bus, and someday my dream will be made a reality.


  • My child is even happier at Mirman than I ever imagined. I had a feeling that Mirman was the right place for Anna, but her transformation over her first year there has been extraordinary. She came in at fourth grade, at a distinct academic disadvantage, and has still managed to get really good grades. It has focused her competitive instincts, but also emphasized good citizenship and kindness. Her self-confidence in terms of public speaking has skyrocketed. She’s making new friends. All in all, she’s a different child now, and I really credit Mirman with all the positive changes.


  • The kids are so nice. Really, they’re nice. The bullying problems that seem so prevalent at other schools are far less at Mirman. If there’s a problem, it gets handled. And one of the advantages of putting together so many highly gifted kids, who were so often the butts of jokes, is that they’re generally kind to one another. These kids have empathy for one another. While Anna has had some girl politics moments, they have been mild and easily handled.


  • It’s more diverse than I thought. The reality about private school is that it will never be as diverse as public school. So, while Mirman doesn’t resemble a microcosm of Los Angeles, diversity wise, it’s still better than I anticipated. And because all the kids share the trait of high intelligence (that’s the main criterion for entrance to Mirman), this seems to be what draws them together, not race. My daughter heard plenty of racial slurs at her old public school, but hasn’t heard one thing at Mirman. Good.


As Anna’s first year at Mirman draws to a close, I’m delighted with the school. It has exceeded every expectation I had for it, and my child is having a wonderful educational experience. It’s so nice when a school turns out to be such a pleasant surprise.


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.


L.A. Private School and Privilege

Gossip Girl
Gossip Girl

The other day I took one of those ridiculously popular BuzzFeed quizzes. This one was called, How Privileged Are You? I scored a 58 out of 100 points.  Here’s what the quiz said about me:


“You’re quite privileged. You’ve had a few struggles, but overall your life has been far easier than most. This is not a bad thing, nor is it something to be ashamed of. But you should be aware of your advantages and work to help others who don’t have them. Thank you for checking your privilege.”


According to the quiz, I’m considered privileged, although less so than white men, because of my race and gender. No surprise there. I’m also less privileged than other people because I lost my mom to breast cancer as a teenager. I’d argue that I’ve been severely disadvantaged by this fact alone.


One of the BuzzFeed questions asked if I attended private school.


I did not attend private school, which deducted from my privileged status. Still, I scored more or less about where I thought I would, based on my level of education and other factors. The private school question jumped out at me. Attending private school gives you points on the privilege scale.


This silly quiz reminded me why my kids are in private school, even though I attended public school all the way through graduate school. My elementary and middle school experiences were so negative I wanted something better, something different, for my kids. For me, that didn’t mean the biggest house in the “right” neighborhood or the newest car. It only meant private school.


It’s an understatement to say that there is a tremendous amount of privilege among many families at L.A. private schools. I’ve seen it and so have my kids. Sure, there’s some imaginary wealth, but much of it is real. They’ve gone to school with kids who only fly on private jets, whose homes are the size of a city block and who have personal chefs, foundations bearing their family names, multiple nannies and mannys and house managers for their numerous houses around the globe. We have more than enough, thankfully, but we don’t have any of those things.


At private school, there will almost always be somebody richer than you. My kids, to their credit, don’t seem to care. They want to go to their friend’s houses to have fun and hang out. They’ve never asked why we don’t have our own airplane or a movie theater in the house. They’ve also had friends who are on financial aid, who have divorced parents whose lifestyles have been shattered by legal fees and kids with parents who work hard to pay tuition. There are the “rich hippies” who hide the fact that they have money, with long, messy hair, Birkenstocks, Volvos and multi-million dollar homes. I sort of like them because they’re so obvious. There are the social climbers whose mission has nothing to do with the parents, but only the kids. I avoid them like crazy. The most egregious social climbers I’ve met at private school aren’t the low-income families. Not even close.


When you have kids in private school, extreme wealth is an inherent part of the culture. The school roster tells you where your kid’s classmates live. The Annual Report tells you how much families give to the school. You may recognize some of the last names. You see the expensive cars in the carpool line. This is by no means limited to private school. There are L.A. public schools, especially at the elementary school level, that rival this stuff… it just depends on geography.


I’m pretty sure that even if we lived in an affluent suburb with excellent public schools, I’d still want my kids to attend private school. I’m biased because I had so many awful years as a student in L.A. public schools. I doubt anyone who had a similar experience to mine (being the constant target of bullies, being forced to change schools) would willingly entrust their own kids to the same school system.


For me, like you, all of this is highly personal and hard to sort out as a parent. We all want better for our kids than we had. Nobody wants an entitled brat. I know parents who talked non-stop about their belief in public schools until their kids got there, then changed their mind and enrolled them in private school. Families who started at private school are now in public school for various reasons, not only financial. After seeing the viral video of the kid and teacher fighting over drugs in the classroom at Santa Monica High, I wrote on my personal Facebook Page, “Nothing’s changed.” I went to that high school. It conjures up bad memories. Well, as sometimes happens on Facebook, somebody I know was offended. I wrote a response, than deleted it, replacing it with a funny meme about relationships. I have no interest in an online debate about that school, so far in my past, yet still obviously impacting my beliefs about my kids’ education.


Talking to one of my private school mom friends recently, she joked that she thinks our kids live in a “bubble.” I only half-jokingly laughed, saying that’s exactly where I want them. Yet, my expectations for my kids are big when it comes to their understanding of how fortunate they are to attend private school. They are reminded of the educational opportunities they have and how they need to give back in meaningful ways to those who need their help.  This isn’t a topic that is ignored in our family. I want my kids to know that, according to BuzzFeed, going to private school counts as a privilege.


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LAAIS Spring Kindergarten and Secondary School Fairs

The Elementary School Admissions Directors (EASD) will host its annual Spring Kindergarten Fair with 45 private/independent schools in attendance for parents to meet with school admissions directors.

What: Spring Kindergarten Fair, 2014

When: May 8, 2014, 6:30 p.m.

Where: Crossroads School


The Los Angeles Area Independent Schools (LAAIS) is hosting this event. 

What: Spring Secondary School Fair

When: April 30, 2014

Time: 6:30PM – 8:00PM

Where: Curtis School


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8 Things Your Pre-Kindergartner Should Know by Academic Achievers

Julian, at Academic Achiever's Kinder-Prep
Julian, a super-cute student at Academic Achiever’s KinderPrep


For some of you, helping your preschooler get ready for kindergarten is something you’re thinking a lot about, maybe even worried about. If so, Academic Achievers has a program designed with your family in mind–a pre-kindergarten literacy program to help promote a secure foundation for when your little one starts kindergarten. Here’s what your pre-kindergartner should know when they start kindergarten at many of L.A.’s private schools.These are exactly the skills they will learn in the one-on-one KinderPrep Summer Camp at Academic Achievers. You may recall the previous guest post written by Janis Adams, founder of KinderPrep. She’s in the loop with L.A.’s admissions directors. This isn’t a sponsored post, it’s just information I’m sharing with our readers–Christina 


1. Explicit Instruction & Independent Practice: Our teachers first model, and then give explicit directions on learning strategies for our early learners. Once the student has had exposure to modeling of the specific learning skill, the student can begin to have independent practice with individual skills, which will help our teachers determine your student’s level of proficiency.


2. Shared Reading & Guided Reading: Early learners enrolled in our program will have unique exposure to shared and guided reading. During shared reading, students may review many literary terms such as characters, setting, vocabulary development, and more. During our guided reading time, students will be given pre-decodable and decodable stories based on their assessed level of development. Our teachers will pin point and monitor independent reading through this activity.


3. Phonological Awareness: Through a variety of activities encompassed in phonological awareness, children will explore through music, reading, and hands on fun!  Some of the specific skills we will focus on in our one on one sessions and summer program include: rhyming, syllabication, sentence segmentation, and onset/rime, the building blocks on phonological awareness.


4. Phonemic Awareness: Phonemic awareness is a great predictor of reading success and provides opportunities for young learners to blend, segment, and substitute sounds. Our teachers can provide kinesthetic opportunities for children to learn how to blend sounds by laying large letter cards on the carpet and having the student blend the sounds and walk by the word. This activity will reach learning through kinesthetic means and support active learners.


5. Oral Language Exposure: Our teachers use many forms musical experiences through songs, finger plays, and responsive communication to practice blending, segmenting, and substitution of sounds. For example, a teacher and child may sing the song Apples and Bananas, and substitute the word bananas for bononos!


6. Phonics Fun!: Our teachers use the latest in the application of letter and sound knowledge to teach consonants, short vowels, diagraphs, blends, and long vowels. Many of the fun activities we implement our sessions include word sorts, word work, and opportunities for interactive writing.


7. Vocabulary Development: Research by Tomkins (2011) suggests that kindergarten students should be able to identify words with opposite meanings and should have a repertoire of a few thousand vocabulary words. Here at Academic Achievers, teachers diligently work one on one with your child to ensure that their vocabulary is advancing through one on one conversations, the introduction to new vocabulary during shared reading time, and through word activities such as word sorts, which are used to group words by genre and word structure. Yet another activity we implement in our sessions is the use of Language Experience Approach (LEA), which gives children the opportunity to discuss stories and new information that has been learned.


8. Comprehension: Oftentimes, students can impact their depth and breadth of story content by retelling the events in recently read stories. Yet another strategy many of our teachers implement is the use of KWL charts to categorize the information that is known about a book, the information that is desired to be learned, and finally what was learned from the story. This activity helps children remember the information they knew at the beginning of reading and helps children see what they came away knowing.


By Elizabeth Fraley, M. Ed., Director, KinderPrep Camp, Academic Achievers, Santa Monica. For More Information, contact Academic Achievers at 310-883-5810 (June 23-July 31). Or click on Academic Achievers.