Reader Question: Applying For Twins

Two For The Price Of…Two
Following our event at the Beverly Hills Country Club, we received several emails from parents of twins who asked if we have any suggestions for applying with twins. Anne Simon, co-author of Beyond The Brochure, has this answer:
The question of applying for twins is very interesting. On the one hand, the school is engaging with a family who immediately brings more than one child into the program. While families with more than one child create stability and continuity for the school, they usually come one at a time and the school is not taking a double risk that this family will not understand the school culture, partner with the teachers and administration on educating their children, or be willing to be substantial contributors to the school community in every way – including financially.
The important thing to impress on the admissions folks in the interviewing process–and throughout the application process– is that you, as parents, are not trying to get two children through their school as if they were one. You must let them know that you understand that you will be partners with them on each child, seeing your children individually, contributing to the school with your volunteer efforts for two, supporting the school financially beyond tuition for two, etc.
Of course this approach assumes that both children are equally appropriate for the school and that there exists the appropriate setting for them to enter. The “in class together or in separate classes” issue must be dealt with. Arguments can be made for either. The school’s interest in the balance issues is genuine – gender, age, ethnicity, etc., and will be part of the equation. It will also be helpful to apply to schools that have two classes per grade in case your children need to be in separate classes (for K and up). Your job is to convince the school that they will get that solid family that is committed to the school in every way, the same as a family with siblings who have enrolled over time. If this message is delivered effectively, everybody wins.

The Willows School’s New (Very) Healthy Hot Lunch Program

A few months ago, my kids school, The Willows, switched to a new, healthier hot lunch program. I have to say, not only do the kids LOVE it, but it really does offer healthy hot lunch options that my kids select again and again. For example:

  • Potsticker Dumplings with sugar snap peas and organic brownie
  • Spiral Pasta with Marinara Sauce, organic carrot and celery sticks and caesar dip
  • Bowl of turkey chili with organic beans, sides of cheese and steamed broccoli and organic apple sauce
Deliciously edible.
Thanks to Bonne Bouffe Catering.

Co-author Porcha Dodson takes Project Knapsack to S. Africa!


Good Works!


Beyond The Brochure Co-Author, Porcha Dodson, CEO of Project Knapsack, a non-profit pen-pal and back pack exchange program, paid a visit last week to students at the Molalatladi Primary School in Soweto, South Africa. This year, the students from Molalatladi wrote pen-pal letters to their new friends from Campbell Hall School and Jefferson Middle School in Lennox, CA. In partnership with Loyola Marymount University, the program was able to provide each student in Africa with their very own back-packs filled with school supplies as well as help expand the school’s technology lab.
Project Knapsack supporters include:
The Rock Foundation, The Sheila C. Johnson Foundation, Care, Staples, Element Skateboards and The Washington Mystics.
For more information, visit

Private School Annual Giving: Not Optional

We all know what this means: $$$$. It symbolizes an expensive restaurant. It could also be the symbol for private elementary school annual giving campaigns.


New parents at private elementary schools are often surprised that contributing to the school’s annual giving campaign is expected. Yes, expected. Not optional. Private schools rely on the annual giving campaign to cover expenses that are not covered by tuition. You may get a letter or a call from another parent asking for your contribution. Subtle hints will follow. Banners around the school and articles in the school’s newsletter announcing the kickoff of the annual giving campaign.


So, your first year at private school, even if you do a TON of volunteer work, chair a committee, serve as room parent, host a party, contribute to the fair or other events, you will still be expected to contribute to the annual giving campaign. The amount is totally up to you. Schools hope new families will be generous with their annual campaign gift. But, they know that you’re still getting acquainted with the private school environment. If you have questions, ask the development director for guidance. When they tell you the “gap” between what tuition covers and what the school’s expenses are, that’s your clue as to the amount needed per family.


At The Willows School, the category with the most families in is up to $1499.00. Next is the $1,500-$2,999 category. The smallest category of families is the $25,000 and up. The chart would like like a triangle.


The most important thing (besides one hundred percent particiation) is that you increase your giving every year. And, if your second child enrolls at the school, expect to be asked to give twice the “gap” amount, once for each child. The amount of the gap depends on the school and can range from $2000 up.


What drives private schools crazy? Families who say that they are opposed to annual giving “on principle” because they pay tuition. In addition to building goodwill within the school community, schools can receive grant money based on the school’s annual fund particiation rates. Board members, teachers, staff, alumni, grandparents and corporations also participate in the annual campaign.


While it may seem like tuition should cover all expenses, it doesn’t. And, all the wonderful things the school offers are only possibly with a robust annual campaign. Yes, its an additional expense, but the contribution from every family is appreciated, no matter the amount. It’s not what you give, but whether you give.


Take a deep breath. Your contribution will be tax deductible.

Your Family’s Key Messages: Make Your Application Standout

If you missed our event on April 1 at the Beverly Hills Country Club, one of the ideas we discussed is the concept of developing “key messages” about your family and your child that you will use throughout the private elementary school application process.

I’m a former vice president at Fleishman-Hillard, a global public relations firm. So, developing key messages to define a client’s campaign or image is second nature to me. When it came time to write our daughter’s applications for kindergarten, I applied the same techniques I had practiced as a public relations professional. I developed clear, concise ideas or messages I wanted admissions directors to know about us.
The image of the family on the right is generic. It could be any family. It’s your job to add color to that photo. Give schools a reason to be excited about your child. Illuminate that image on the right. Standout from the competition. Use the admissions process to capture admissions directors’ attention and hold it.
Once you develop your family’s key messages, you can repeat them again and again, whenever possible, throughout your written application, your parent interview, your follow-up thank you notes to admissions directors and in letters of recommendation friends write for you. Then, when an admissions director thinks about your family, hopefully, they will think, “That’s the family that is involved with their local Red Cross Chapter”, or “They are the family with the kid who loves to perform in school plays or draw comic books”.
When I say key messages what do I really mean? I’m simply referring to the most important things you want a school to know about your child and your family. If an admissions director thinks about your child or your family after your parent interview, what do you want him/her to remember?
For our family, here are the key messages I developed:
  1. Both my husband and I are well-educated and we understand the value of education for personal and professional success. I graduated from UC Berkeley and have an MA from UCLA. Barry has a BA from Harvard in Math and a JD from Harvard Law.
  2. We are not an artistic family, but we would like our kids to be exposed to the arts.
  3. Our daughter is shy and studious.
  4. We have served on non-profit boards and we understand the mission of private elementary schools.
  5. I have fundraising experience that I’d love to put to work for your school. I’d welcome the opportunity to serve on fundraising committees.
  6. We have ruled out our local public school and we are only interested in private schools.
This is just one example of how to define your family in a few key sentences. Take a minute to think about well-known American public figures like Oprah Winfrey. When her name is mentioned, we instantly think of an outspoken, charitable, wealthy, groundbreaking woman. What about Brooke Shields? She’s an actress and mom. You get the idea. What comes to mind when people think about your family and your child?
The key is to be specific about what makes your family unique! Why should a top private school want to enroll your child and by extension, your family? Are you from another country? Would you bring diversity to the school? Do you volunteer in your community? Do you have professional skills a school needs i.e. computer skills, graphic design skills, the ability to organize an after-school program or enrichment class, fundraising or auction experience? One note here: private elementary schools have lots of parents who want to volunteer to bake cookies or read to the kids. That’s great, but it doesn’t help the school with their enormous volunteer needs in other areas.
Every child and every family is unique. We have friends with whom we’ve always joked that one day their child will be running the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai. Very bright, with a bold personality and tons of energy, their child was just accepted at all the private middle schools where they applied (from an LAUSD public elementary school). That brief description of their child leaves a lasting impression of someone a school would like to have as part of their student body.
The goal is to make sure you communicate the one-of-a-kind contribution your child will offer to each school where you apply. You’re helping admissions directors get acquainted with your family in a meaningful way. This takes some thought, but it’s well worth the effort. It will help ensure you make a lasting impression at the private elementary schools where you apply.