3 Things I (Unexpectedly) Found Challenging About L.A. Kindergarten Admissions


Photo: Emran Kassin, Flickr Creative Commons
Photo: Emran Kassin, Flickr Creative Commons


If you talked to me the summer before we applied to kindergarten for my daughter, I would have told you certain things I was predicting would go smoothly and other things I was worried about. (I use “we” because schools are evaluating both your kid and your family.)


As with so many things in life, I got it only partially right. The stuff that was easy (in retrospect) wasn’t the stuff I thought would cause me to stumble. The things that I expected to go smoothly didn’t for one reason or another.


The private school admissions process in L.A. is very unpredictable. We all know that, but until you have the admissions letters in your hand, or an email in your inbox, you just don’t know how erratic it can be.


My kids have been accepted, wait-listed and in one case, we withdrew our application because the parent interview went so badly we knew the school would never admit our family (I write about this in the book). We were so appalled at they way the admissions director handled the interview we lost interest in the school.


Here are 3 things I (unexpectedly) found challenging:


  1. Getting to the school on time at the correct location. Actually, I went to the wrong location at one school, completely stressing me out and leaving me a frazzled wreck. The school has two separate campuses and I went to the high school, not the elementary school. With L.A. traffic, the drive time is so unpredictable, it’s not even slightly humorous to discuss what it feels like to be running late to a school interview. Just leave even earlier than you think is super-early.


  1. Sitting in a room with prospective parents while our kids were being tested for kindergarten. Listening to the conversations happening around me made me want to exit the room through a secret back door, if only one existed. “Kate is hosting Board Member X at her Aspen house and we’ll be there in a few weeks so I’m not worried,” says one mom to another.” “Alex tested off the charts gifted so Mirman is always an option for us,” says the other mom. “Ava’s soccer coach says he’s never seen a kid with so much talent.” “Ben’s writing his first book. So adorbable!” And so on and on and on and ON AND ON. BLAH BLAH BLAH. Bring a book or a magazine or a Kindle or something so you can block out all this chatter.


  1. Realizing that the mom giving the tour isn’t always the best reflection of the school. Yes, she may be an ambassador for the school since she’s holding a very visible volunteer position. But, if her behavior is rude, disinterested or cluelessly uninformed, it doesn’t always mean the school is all of those things. Parents can be selected to lead tours for various reasons ($$$ donations) and now I know these volunteers are just one out of many parents at the school. Unfortunately, they just happen to be showing you around that day. Instead of focusing on her, here’s what you should be looking for.


Beyond The Brochure, the book and the blog contains all the information I wish I’d had before we applied to Los Angeles private elementary schools. It’s the issues, big and small, I’d tell you about if we were having coffee, just the two of us.


Coming Soon: Things I Thought Would Be Difficult, But Were Not So Bad


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5 Tips To Get A Head Start L.A.’s Fall Private School Admissions Frenzy


Few things can cause parents as much stress as navigating the private school admissions process. More and more, getting in to private schools, even starting at the elementary level, can be a daunting process.

Tip #1: Spend a few hours researching private elementary school websites; create a list of schools you want to tour, create a binder with sections for each school. If you prefer to organize your school search online, bookmark school sites and create folders for each school, adding information as you find it. This will save you a lot of time in the fall.

Tip #2: Familiarize yourself with the types of schools in your area; traditional, developmental, progressive, parochial. Keep an open mind and plan to tour more than one type of school!

Tip #3: Test drive the route. Drive to the school and back during morning rush hour with kids in the car to see if it’s too far from your home. If the school is a long walk or bus ride from your home, give that a try too. Many parents who enroll in schools that require extremely long commutes end up leaving the school after a year or two.

Tip #4: Tell everyone you know that you’re thinking about private elementary school; you’ll be surprised at the knowledge and contacts this will reveal. People are often willing to help by sharing information or even offering to write letters of recommendation.

Tip #5: If you’re interested in a school, request an application packet now, either online or by calling the school. They will gladly send you one immediately or add you to the list if the applications aren’t ready yet.

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An L.A. Private School Kid’s Very Unproductive Summer

What's your kid doing this summer?  Photo: NASA
What’s your kid doing this summer?
Photo: NASA

Not sure about you, but it’s mid-July and I think I have to chalk this summer up to failure. My poor L.A. private school son is becoming totally uneducated as the days race unproductively by.

I talk to his classmate’s mothers and I know I’ve failed. His friends are in “coding” camp, or studying programming at UCLA. Or they are working out their artistic muscles doing theatre, studying music or painting. Others still are being tutored twice a week in preparation for fifth grade.

Those who aren’t so systematically being educated, seem to be on various educational trips, seeing Washington DC, or other important geographical locations in Europe or India.

In contrast, my kid is getting a lot of TV watching in, becoming more proficient at Googling inappropriate things and improving his Play Station 3 skills. He’s also learned Twitter. I’m so proud.

In my defense, I’d like to say he does read with his father and plays a lot of baseball. He has pretty much summarily rejected all camp as cruel and unusal punshiment. Even the baseball camps are too much for him any more. He wants to be “FREE!”

A few choice quotes from my poetic son: “I work all year, this is my time now!” “Parents send their kids to camps because they don’t like their kids! Don’t you like me?” “No more learning! I learned all year long. Enough!!”

He’s hard to argue with. But the $26K a year we spend on a private school education in L.A. is also apparently not enough. All the other parents seem to have gotten the memo early that more summer education would be required in order to succeed. In truth, I got the memo but ignored it. Now here it is mid-July and I’m scared. What if this summer of idle behavior and lazy days gets him so off course that we never recover? What if 5th grade is the end of him, because he’s the kid who forgets how to do math or spell his name?

I’m prone to hyperbole and am known to be a little dramatic, but the underlying fear is real. Everyone has it. None of those kids begged to go to “coding camp” or to brush up on their pre algebra. It’s just another lap in the rat race that we willing enter when we sign up for a private school education.

I know what I should have done. I’ve done some of those kind of camps before. We all know the list… Those places and offerings that will enlighten and educate our kids. This year I just boldly ignored it.


Mother of three, Alice attended east coast private schools as a child and has been in the private school world as a parent for nearly twenty years. Her kids attended Mirman for elementary, then Harvard-Westlake and Brentwood for high school, with one still to go. She is a writer working in film, TV and for various magazines such as Family Fun, Wondertime, Glamour and Brides.

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The Sycamore School in Malibu, Opening September 2015

Sycamore School Logo 


 Revolutionary Independent Elementary School Starts with 20 Students Ages 6-8


The Sycamore School, an independent elementary school featuring a curriculum rooted in collaboration, innovation, and learning through play and creativity, opens in Malibu on September 1, 2015 for 20 children ages 6-8. Sycamore is the realization of Los Angeles-based Catalyst Education’s vision and philosophy. Catalyst was formed with the belief that education can look different and a desire to change the discussion about what learning can be. Its three founders, Tedd Wakeman, AJ Webster and Christy Durham, comprise the leadership team at Sycamore and bring their distinctive approach to learning and their extensive experience to their roles as its founding teachers and administrators.


“We are very excited to bring an alternative option for elementary education to Malibu families,” said Tedd Wakeman, Sycamore School. “The world we live in now demands a different approach to education. Students need a learning experience that is continuous, future-focused and engagement based. We’re giving them just that on this beautiful campus.” Sycamore is located on 3504 Las Flores Canyon Road, in the area formerly occupied by New Roads Middle School. Two school buildings, filled with natural light, are surrounded by trees, grass and green flora, which also serve as learning spaces. On campus, there’s an idea lab, maker space, adventure room (with a soaring ceiling and mobile furniture so kids can create their own learning environment), tinker zone, greenhouse, kitchen, reading nook/game room, sports court and the school office. Beginning mid-April, the campus is undergoing renovations to prepare for opening in September.


Student Experience

The student experience at Sycamore features 10 tenets: reading and writing, social emotional learning, enriched learning, technology, field trips, play, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math), unique learning spaces, making, and environmental stewardship. At a family open house held at Sycamore on March 21, the dynamic leadership team led prospective students in fun games demonstrating these tenets in action. A fast-paced game called “Haystacks” in the adventure room encouraged mathematical thinking, developing numeracy, social dynamics, systems thinking and problem solving. A second game outdoors demonstrated how Sycamore utilizes its outside spaces for learning – in this game, to build literacy, pre-literacy and teamwork. A third project-based maker activity had the kids building a theme park without even realizing they were developing skills in creative thinking, design, physics, problem solving, materials science, mathematical thinking, individualized student instruction or failure redesigned as iteration.


Sycamore School’s Leadership Team

Research shows that schools do better when educators are collaborative. To that end, Sycamore does not have a principal, per se. Instead, the three-member leadership team shares teaching and decision-making responsibilities and each governs a particular sphere of influence. AJ Webster oversees curriculum; Christy Durham, logistics and operations; Tedd Wakeman, community and outreach.

  • AJ Webster has more than 15 years of classroom experience teaching science, Latin, language arts, math and social science at schools including Buckley in Sherman Oaks and the PlayMaker program at New Roads in Santa Monica. He holds a Master’s in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. He embraces the Maker Movement, in which students design, construct and “think with their hands.” Webster has conducted workshops for the national Game Learning Society and was the keynote speaker for the 2014 Milken Playful Learning Summit. His work with PlayMaker was featured on PBS NewsHour.
  • Christy Durham has more than 15 years of elementary and middle school teaching experience. She holds a Master’s in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and was a sixth grade teacher at Buckley, where she orchestrated an outdoor educational program and created a diversity initiative round table for the faculty. In 2011 she was awarded the Buckley School’s Parents’ Association Award, which allowed her to study in Peru. She received the National Junior Honor Society Teacher of the Year Award in 2012. Durham left Buckley in 2012 to teach fourth and fifth grade at Los Encinos School in Encino, which embraces integrated, project-based learning. She has presented at the Archer School for Girls STEM conference and the Milken Community School Playful Learning Summit.
  • Tedd Wakeman has been working with children in education, recreation, and research for 20 years. For 13 of those, he taught inner-city youth in LAUSD at the elementary level, concurrently traveling the country teaching and developing STEM curriculum for Nike/Eco Educators. He has taught extensively across the globe, working in the Republic of the Maldives teaching English to groups of adults from more than 25 different nations while diving the local coral reefs as a dive master. In Bali, he lived and worked with Indonesian rice farmers and taught local teenagers. He taught fourth and fifth grade for two years in Costa Rica, while exploring the local rainforest ecosystems. Wakeman then joined the GameDesk team in Los Angeles to found the revolutionary PlayMaker School, which has gained notoriety for its unique approach to 21st Century learning and game-based curriculum.


A Sycamore School advisory board is being assembled and will include local and national leaders in education, business and development.

Funding and How to Apply

Funding for the Sycamore School is provided by a generous private grant. Tuition is relatively low due to this funding. Financial assistance is available. Applications are due May 15 and admission is determined on the basis of applications and family interviews. Interviews for qualified applicants will be conducted starting April 13. Please see note below.

For more details about Sycamore’s mission and educational philosophy, and to download an application packet, please visit www.sycamore-school.org.

Contact Heather Boylston at heather@h-rpr.com to set up interviews or a campus tour.

Note: Information provided by Sycamore School’s press release. The school’s first class is full, but there is a wait-list so if you’re interested, go ahead and contact the school! –Christina

Sequoyah School in Pasadena Will Add New High School, Fall 2016

Sequoyah School


Sequoyah School is an independent, K-8 day school located in Pasadena, California. Sequoyah is now expanding its program to high school starting with enrollment of 9th and 10th grade in the fall of 2016. Founded in 1958, the school is committed to an education that “challenges the mind, nurtures the heart, and celebrates human dignity”. Through Sequoyah’s project-based curriculum, language arts, mathematics, social studies, Spanish, science, the visual and performing arts are all taught as related subjects in the elementary and junior high program. Teachers guide students to be able to work independently and collaboratively, and to make inspired connections between one discipline and another. Sequoyah’s high school students will be further challenged to apply their knowledge and skills in advanced college preparatory coursework and interdisciplinary field studies emphasizing global perspectives and cultural competency.

The school is named after the Cherokee leader and silversmith who invented an alphabet for his native language. The Sequoyah community honors and reflects the ethnic, cultural and economic diversity of Southern California. Sequoyah is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and is a member of the National Association of Independent Schools.”–Sequoyah School

For more information, click on Sequoyah High School

See Beyond The Brochure’s School Profile of Sequoyah School’s K-8 program HERE.


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