Christina Simon: Los Angeles, California, United States
I'm the mom of a daughter (12th grade) and a son (9th grade) who attend Viewpoint School in Calabasas. I live in Coldwater Canyon with my family and a rescue pit bull, Piper. Contact me at email@example.com
Hi Friends, we hope your family is staying safe and healthy. It’s been a long time since we’ve featured one of these Buzz posts, but here goes! –Christina
There’s a group of private/independent schools that has created a coalition to fight to re-open schools during the pandemic: The Student First Coalition. The problem is, they’ve made public school unions the enemy (see letter to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors). Not only is this wrong–the coronavirus is the enemy–but it’s also politically tone deaf. The board of supervisors has a majority that is strongly pro-union.
The tension between the Curtis School head of school and current/alumni parents is heating up. An anonymous Instagram account, SadForCurtisSchool, details some of the complaints from parents. From what I can tell, the new-ish head, Meera Ratnesar, has angered those who love Curtis traditions and want them to remain in place (like the school logo, which she changed). But, it goes beyond the logo. Longtime teachers have been fired or have resigned. Programs have been cut. The board and head of school appear to see these changes as necessary, while the contingent of unhappy current and former parents see them as antithetical to the culture and mission of the school. Is this a battle for the soul of Curtis School?
During the pandemic, Brentwood School and others have decided to use group “playdates” on Zoom as part of the admissions process. I cannot think of a more stressful way to have my child evaluated. During normal times, the child assessment part of the admissions process involves dropping your kid off at the school for a mock “playdate” and you’re not in the room. Can you imagine sitting next to your elementary schooler on Zoom during this assessment? I can’t.
Even the most benign Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives developed by most of the L.A. private schools are being met with strong resistance by families who don’t like topics like “white privilege” or the murder of George Floyd and organizations like “Black Lives Matter” being talked about in class or at school assemblies. Savvy school administrators know exactly how to deal with these Trump supporters’ attempts to snuff out progress.
Hi Friends! I’m thrilled to share my interview on the new Motherbird podcast. I chat with Mia Sable Hays, the amazing host and founder of Motherbird Los Angeles, a social club where moms in L.A. connect (Mia’s voice will make you want to listen all day long). We talk about how Beyond The Brochure got started, my thoughts on the current Diversity, Equity and Inclusion movements at private schools, how parents can get the real scoop on schools they are considering, my big regret about our private school choices — and more! I hope you enjoy the interview–Christina
Season 1 of the Motherbird L.A. podcast is all about L.A. public and private schools. In her first 8 episodes, Mia interviews L.A. preschool directors and other experts on public and private school admissions.
Tips on how to adjust to a unique & unprecedented admissions season
The pandemic has affected just about every facet of life. This we already know. And for people applying to K-12 private schools, the constraints of COVID-19 are presenting new and never-before-seen challenges.
In the good old days, you went to a school’s open house event, a coffee with the Head of School at a current parent’s home, or maybe even to a football or volleyball game to check out the school community and culture. This is how you learned about the school, its nuances, and whether it was a fit for your child and family. Not so much during the pandemic. We can no longer visit a campus and get a visceral sense of the school. We can’t talk to parents, alumni, and faculty during events. We don’t have access to a lot of things that we’d have during normal times.
So how can we manage? Here are a few tips:
Still sign up for virtual open houses, coffees, etc.
It’s not being on campus, but it’s the best we can do for now. An open house or virtual coffee over Zoom still gives you a sense about the school and its community. Plus, these virtual events have some advantages. For example, if the open house or coffee has a chat room, use it to ask relevant questions that you might not have asked at a bigger in-person event.
Dive deep into the school’s website.
Scour the school’s website. Check out as many photos, watch as many videos, and read as much as you can. Explore the academic offerings, athletic teams, service/volunteering opportunities (for both students and parents), and extracurricular options. Examine the pedagogy (e.g., traditional vs. progressive) and K-12, K-8 and K-6 options and the campus facilities.
In this year of making the best out of a challenging situation, the school website is a proxy for an on-campus tour. Additionally, keep in mind that this is marketing – the school obviously is only going to display the best and most compelling photos and narratives. Nonetheless, you’ll get to “see” what the educational setting is like.
Prepare for the Zoom (or video) interview.
This might be the biggest change for the admissions process. The context to make an impression and connect during an interview is vastly different over Zoom than in-person. To help you prepare and make the most of these circumstances, here are several helpful pointers.
Keep the background simple and not too distracting. Choose a plain wall over that multicolor floral print wallpaper.
Sit in a stationary chair (not a swivel chair). It’s too tempting for kids to move around, especially when nervous.
Make sure you are centered in the middle of the screen.
Look at the screen and occasionally at the camera. No need to stare into the camera (that can be creepy), but looking off to the side or not at the interviewer creates a disconnected energy.
Keep only a couple of inches between the top of the screen and the top of your head. Your head should not be too low on the screen, nor should it be cut off at the top of the screen.
A respite from the ISEE/SSAT.
Most schools are making these standardized exams either optional or not admissible this year. That’s great – it results in less pressure on young students, a more level playing field, and saved financial resources for parents (all those tutoring bills!). If you are coming from an independent school, they may look at your child’s past ERB scores. If you are coming from a public school, previous standardized tests are part of the record that will be sent to schools.
Stay Calm & Focused This year’s process is hard for everyone, including admissions officers. It’s stressful, clunky, and exhausting. There will be technical glitches along the way. Be as calm as possible. Be flexible.
Yet . . . don’t lose sight of want you want. You don’t need to make concessions just because of COVID. If you want a progressive school with an urban campus, stay focused on those choices. If you want something more traditional with a sprawling suburban feel, don’t get distracted or forced into looking at options that are not your ideal. Also, this is not the time to apply to a school just because they’re not accepting the ISEE; target schools because of how they match your goals, and not because of this year’s unusual circumstances. Essentially, don’t let the online process distract you from what will be the best for your child and family.
Lastly, try to keep an upbeat attitude during virtual open houses and Zoom interviews. The admissions offices are doing the best they can, and they greatly appreciate parents and applicants who can laugh about the pandemic challenges and who have compassion and understanding for this crazy time. We’re all in this together.
Priya and Sanjay Nambiar run Nambiar Advising, a consulting practice that shepherds families through the private school admissions process, from helping clients find the best-fit schools for children to application support, essay editing, interview preparation, and more. Priya has spent more than 20 years in education and was the Associate Director of Admissions at the Brentwood School in Los Angeles. She earned a B.A. in Education from Brown University and an M.Ed. from Harvard University. Sanjay is an entrepreneur and professional writer who has written several award-winning children’s books. He earned a B.A. in Economics and Neurobiology from U.C. Berkeley and an M.B.A. from UCLA. To learn more, please visitwww.nambiaradvising.com
We are excited to feature guest writer Ethan Lachman, who shares some of his experiences about being a student at Harvard-Westlake. We’re always interested in perspectives about the culture of L.A. private schools and we know you are too. Ethan is the incoming Editor-in-Chief of The Chronicle, the school’s student newspaper. He wrote about recent student and alumni allegations of racism at Harvard-Westlake and about his experience quitting basketball. –Christina
After attending Wonderland Avenue Elementary School from kindergarten to fifth grade, my public school experience had essentially come to an end. My family and I had never explicitly decided to aim for Harvard-Westlake, yet there was an unspoken agreement that my future was there. As a result, we immediately set out to find a school for a single sixth grade year: we applied to The Center for Early Education (CEE).
As soon I met the then Director of Admissions Deedie Hudnut, the unrelenting positivity of what it is known as ‘The Center’ drew me in. When I was luckily one of the two kids accepted for the sixth grade, I learned that the school was a substantial ‘feeder’ to Harvard-Westlake, a secondary school that at that point, I still desperately wanted to attend. At the time, I was playing basketball very seriously and was involved with multiple AAU club teams, so after sitting in the bleachers of the Upper School’s seemingly transcendent Taper Gymnasium, I knew I wanted to be a part of the stellar athletic-academic combination.
After two years in a row of dreaded ISEE testing, I got into Harvard-Westlake, but my life both there and at The Center was not what I had expected. At The Center, the luxury of chilled milk perched on the playground tables at lunch astounded me. It was in stark contrast to the dirty bathrooms littered with toilet paper stuck to the ceiling that I had become accustomed to at Wonderland. At both The Center and Harvard-Westlake, the work-load increased exponentially and things didn’t come quite as easily to me. I realized that a public school ‘4’ for effort, the maximum possible grade, really meant nothing in these new, more rigorous academic environments that constantly looked towards the future, specifically college.
At Harvard-Westlake, the competition only increased. Although I continued to succeed in school, it took more of my time and I felt increased pressure. I remember that I even began feeling self-conscious about my basketball skills entering 7th grade at Harvard-Westlake because I was no longer the best player on a small playground.
Looking back, I think the transition to Harvard-Westlake was probably similar to what a transition would have been like at other schools. Despite the fact that I knew a lot of kids when I started seventh grade, it often felt that people had neither the time nor the energy to truly connect. Today, I no longer play basketball. Now, I’m a member of track and field, band and the school newspaper, opportunities I would have never taken advantage of without the school’s encouragement to try new classes and activities.
Right before seventh grade began, Harvard-Westlake held a welcome barbeque, something they still do today to provide an effective opportunity for new students to get to know each other and learn about the school. Even so, the school’s friendly admissions team, accepting and devoted faculty and seemingly never-ending stock of helpful resources could never completely prevent the inevitable feeling of uncomfortable change I experienced as I initially began middle school. As a rising senior, I now juggle a major workload, making it hard to find time for a personal life. Nevertheless, reflecting upon my time at Harvard-Westlake so far, I am confident I have taken a step forward in understanding my complete-self more fully, from the sometimes drained part to the unfailingly passionate part.
Ethan Lachman is a rising senior at Harvard-Westlake School. A student-journalist, Ethan is the incoming editor-in-chief of The Chronicle, Harvard-Westlake’s school newspaper. He is passionate about sports and music and plays French Horn in the symphony. His favorite movie of all time is Forrest Gump.