Is it a Progressive or Traditional School? Maybe it’s Developmental?

One of the first things to do when you’re applying to L.A. private schools is to determine what type of school will be best for your child. But, when you tour so many schools it may be hard to tell from just a tour and an open house. Many schools in L.A. are a hybrid or mix of philosophies. But, there are certain characteristics that stand out and will help you recognize the type of school you’re considering. Generally, L.A. private schools fall into three categories: Traditional, Progressive and Developmental. Religious schools can be any of those school types, although most are traditional.

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know we’ve written about this issue previously because it’s so important to find the right kind of school for your kid. If you ask a school about their educational philosophy, they should be able to explain it clearly! The other day, I had lunch with a mom of four kids who told me she’d toured almost every private school in the city because her kids are very different from each other. My kids attended Willows, a progressive school, but moved to Viewpoint, a traditional school for 7-12th grades. One philosophy isn’t better than the other–just different. Kids from all types of school go on to great colleges. You’ll note that a few schools I listed are in overlapping categories because I consider them to be a mix of educational philosophies. And, my list is merely my own observation of various schools–discussions about this topic can be subjective. For example, some people might consider Brentwood Lower School to be purely traditional. But, when I went on the tour, they described the school curriculum as developmental. In my opinion, Brentwood has both traditional and developmental qualities. Also, traditional schools aren’t all “stale” or “dull” and progressive schools aren’t “cutting edge” or “hip”…you get the point! Maybe a school wants to emphasize its progressive qualities, but really it has a lot of traditional elements. Sometimes, when a school hires a new head of school, it can be a bring a change in educational philosophy. In the end, its about finding a school where your kid will thrive and where you, as a parent, will understand and embrace the way the school teaches, assigns homework, creates community among parents, disciplines, coaches and more. –Christina

Examples of Traditional Schools: Viewpoint, Harvard-Westlake, Polytechnic, Brentwood Upper School, Laurel Hall, Campbell Hall, St. Matthew’s, Wesley, Curtis, Carlthorp, John Thomas Dye.

Hallmarks of traditional schools:

  • Much like public schools many of us attended when we were kids
  • Teacher centered-not kid centered
  • Kids expected to meet academic milestones by certain time (reading by mid-year kindergarten, etc. )
  • Homework in elementary schools, multiple choice tests, quizzes, pop quizzes
  • Very few group projects
  • Teacher directed work, not kid directed
  • Classroom setup has teacher at front, desks facing front of room
  • Grades start in early elementary schools
  • Lots of memorization
  • Competitive sports teams, tryouts, not everyone places, A, B, C teams
  • AP and honors classes offered in high school

Developmental: Brentwood Lower School, Campbell Hall Lower School, Laurence School, Echo Horizon, Temple Israel of Hollywood and Westridge.

  • Kids learn at their own pace, eventually all arriving at the same place (reading). That is celebrated, not penalized
  • Kids can help each other learn, not just teacher directed learning
  • Teaching big concepts, not a ton of detail/memorization
  • Integrated curriculum…where what’s happening in science relates to language arts, which also relates to art class

Progressive: Oakwood, Children’s Community School, Westland, PS#1, Crossroads and Sequoyah.

  • Child-centered learning, kid-initiated projects, learn through playing
  • Concepts like sharing, creating, caring are emphasized in the curriculum
  • Engaging kids in learning about world around them…kids are part of a global community
  • Rejection of memorizing big amounts of information
  • A whole child approach-social, emotional and academic
  • Lots of group projects, discussion and debate among kids
  • Classroom may be set up with kids at big tables facing each and the teacher may not be in front of the class
  • Very little homework in elementary school
  • No grades until late elementary or even middle school
  • Lots of expository writing
  • High school may not offer AP Classes (AP equivalent offered at Crossroads)
  • Integrated curriculum where what’s happening in science relates to language arts which also relates to art class

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Four Questions For Gaby Fogelson, Former Interim Admissions Director at Archer School

Gaby Fogelson is an educational consultant based in Los Angeles

1.How do admissions directors try to figure out if a family will be high-maintenance or difficult? There are many signs of a high maintenance parent! Since I spent six years of my admissions career at Archer and held every role in the office beginning with Admissions Assistant to Interim Director of Admissions, I have seen how each person in an Admissions Office experiences the high maintenance parent and that each member of the team’s impressions can impact a family’s chance of admission.The Admissions Assistant is typically the first line of defense and they bear the brunt of both the parent who is extremely rude and entitled and they also field phone calls from parents who call constantly asking many questions that can be answered online!

On the other hand, Admissions Directors and their Assistant Directors typically interview most parents and it is their job to assess whether a family would be a good fit for the school community. In the interview setting an Admissions Director often will learn if a parent has unrealistic expectations of their child and/or a school. For example, the parent may believe that their child is an ideal fit for a highly academic and traditional school but their child and his interview/assessment and supporting recommendations may present a much different story. These mismatched expectations tend to follow when a family enrolls in a school and create a lot of work for teachers and administrators. Finally, when parents blame their teacher or school for every issue that can indicate difficult and high maintenance. 

2. For kindergarten, the preschool director can help…how? Preschool Directors can absolutely play an important role in the kindergarten admissions process. The level of involvement depends on the individual preschool. If a preschool sends the majority of their students to private elementary schools, that usually means the preschool director has experience and contacts with the elementary school which they can use during the process to help families get in.

These relationships can be especially helpful is if a child has a challenging visit during a school assessment. In that case, the admission director can call the preschool director and candidly inquire further about the child.  It may have just been an off day for the preschooler or there may be more to the story but this relationship allows for the admission director to be able to pick up the phone and call the preschool director. This might lead to an observation at the child’s preschool which might give a better sense of who the child is in a more comfortable environment.

3. Qualities of a bad parent interview? The worst parent interviews are typically when a parent knows nothing about a school or comes across as disinterested. Some examples: confusing one school for another, unrealistic view of their child or confusing what is best for their child with their own needs, twitching their leg constantly or checking the clock every five minutes. Finally, a personal pet peeve of mine is when a parent would show up to the interview in dressed in workout clothes, I think it’s important to show you to take the process seriously!

4. Elements of a great written application? The best applications I have read give the reader a very clear sense of who the applicant and family are. While a middle or high school applicant’s supplement should illustrate what specifically they love about their current school, how are they involved in their community and what they are passionate about, an application stands out is when it goes beyond the surface. For example, it’s great to learn that a student plays volleyball and is on student council but when you read that he used to be extremely shy, terrified of public speaking, and that having to stand up in front of his classmates to give his student council speech was one of the most challenging experiences that ultimately gave him confidence which has helped him in school and volleyball. This gives the reader greater insight into who the student really is.

Gaby has over a decade of experience working in independent school admissions at Archer, Crossroads, Marymount and Westside Neighborhood School (WNS).  As a native of Los Angeles, an independent school graduate, and an independent school parent, Gaby understands admissions from every perspective.  Gaby began her career in admissions at The Archer School for Girls. During her six years at Archer, she served as Assistant Director of Admissions and as a 6th grade advisor. She then worked at at Marymount High School as the Associate Director of Admission. She worked as the Assistant Director of Admissions at the Westside Neighborhood School (WNS) a PS through 8th grade private school in Playa Vista. Finally, for two years, Gaby supported the Crossroads School admissions office as an interviewer before moving into her role as an independent educational consultant. Gaby understands the many educational models given her wide array of experience working in K-12, PS-8, 6-12, and 9-12  schools and in both co-ed and single sex school environments. Gaby volunteers annually with the Gabriella Foundation Charter School preparing students for independent school admissions interviews. Gaby holds an MA in Educational Studies from Loyola Marymount University and a BS in Psychology from Union College, NY.

Stay up to date on the latest L.A. private schools news and events! Follow Beyond The Brochure on Facebook. Buy the book on Amazon.

From Mirman to Harvard-Westlake For 10th Grade: A Cautionary Tale by Jenny Heitz

I need to say this up front: it all turned out perfectly fine in the end. But, if you’re thinking of switching your child into a new private school for the 10th grade, I would advise against it. And if you have no choice, I do have some advice.

My daughter, Anna, ended up at the Mirman School from 4th-9th grades. We did try, rather half-heartedly, to get her into Marlborough for 7th, but it didn’t happen and no one was heartbroken about it. Anna was extremely happy at Mirman, a school for highly gifted students. She didn’t want to leave. She wanted to stay through 9th grade (Mirman now only goes to 8th grade). We felt we couldn’t deny her the opportunity to be with such a close knit class at such a wonderful place.

But then it was time to apply out to 10th grade. That’s rough.

The strange and somewhat counter intuitive solution for high school admission for Mirman students was that they repeated 9th grade. This was odd, but possible because Mirman (at least at the time) didn’t have a kindergarten; school started in Room 1, or first grade. As a result, many of the kids were young for their grade, anyway.

Anna, however, had come to Mirman at the age of nine, for Room 4 (4th grade). She’d transferred from Third Street Elementary. She was age appropriate. She was also an outstanding student, and I couldn’t see how repeating 9th grade would benefit her. So, it was decided that Anna would apply to roughly five million private Los Angeles schools for a 10th grade spot. How bad, we thought, could the odds be?

Not great, as it turned out.

Anna did all the ISEE prep, because at this point we knew that being smart has nothing to do with being great at a standardized test. Everyone benefits from test prep, and anyone who tells you it’s unnecessary is a liar. We used both Team Tutors and Intelligentsia and both were excellent. Her scores were very good.

Anna was a straight A student. She had glowing recommendations from teachers and from the headmaster. She had excellent interviews. Well, except for one, an all girls school on the west side. The woman who interviewed Anna told us she felt Anna was “too competitive.” That didn’t sound like a very feminist criticism. We left this woman on her fainting couch and marched on. Yes, the Victorian era is alive and well.

Our absolute favorite school, and first choice for Anna, was Oakwood. We liked that it was close to our Los Feliz neighborhood (yes, “close” in LA terms is a joke, but whatever). We liked that there was tons of flexibility in the curriculum, and lots of creativity in the classroom. We figured that the social scene there was maybe a little less intense in some ways than other schools, or at least more accepting of differences (like, you know, inappropriate female competitiveness).

Oakwood loved Anna, too. But it didn’t matter. Because there were zero 10th grade spots.

Out of the five million schools Anna applied to, she got into one. One. Harvard-Westlake.

So don’t hold a pity party for Anna. Harvard-Westlake is well known as being an excellent school. It’s supposed to be a short cut to the ivy league (it’s not, but that explanation is probably best saved for a different post). It’s huge, and fancy, and packed with great teachers.

It wasn’t our first choice, but it was what Anna had, so we marched on.

We marched straight into her dean’s office at Harvard-Westlake, only to be told that any honors or AP classes would undoubtedly be “too hard” for Anna her first year, and that she should just take “regular” classes. We thought this sounded weird, since Anna had done so well at Mirman and was such a disciplined student. But we thought the dean was looking out for Anna. How nice!

Here’s what we didn’t know: 10th grade transfer students are full tuition cannon fodder at a big school like Harvard-Westlake. One might argue that the majority of Harvard-Westlake kids are just there to pay full tuition, while only a tiny group get the full attention and Ivy League grooming. By blocking Anna from taking a weighted class (AP or honors) or two in 10th grade, the dean essentially crippled her weighted GPA. There was simply no way that Anna could compete with longtime Harvard-Westlake students who had weighted classes on their transcripts since 9th grade.

So, if you have a kid who’s a 10th grade transfer student (and, again, I highly recommend you transfer your child in a point of entry like 9th grade where a school is filling an entire class or at least a big portion of the class, not 10th), make sure they have a class load that’s on an even playing field with other students. Otherwise, when it comes time to apply to colleges, your kid’s GPA won’t match up with her competitor’s. It’s an unnecessary hobbling.

That dean has since retired. Harvard-Westlake may have changed its tactics regarding incoming 10th graders; I have no idea how other schools handle this issue.

So, Anna’s 10th grade year was hard. The workload was, indeed, much harder, but that wasn’t much of an issue. Anna, as we now know, is “competitive” and rose to the top of her classes (unweighted classes, but still damn difficult) quickly. Socially, though, it was a challenge. She was lucky to have kept so many Mirman friends (she still gets together with them often, and is very close with a few), because she pretty much didn’t have any Harvard Westlake friends for about a full year.

Again, if she’d transferred in at 9th grade, the social aspect might have been easier by 10th grade. There’s a larger population of transfer kids for a 9th grade class, so they feel less left out. It took Anna until her senior year to truly have a good group of friends. Loneliness was an issue, although she was tough and didn’t let it show often.

Anna is now a college freshman. She loves her school, has adjusted beautifully, and has become the owner of a very warm down coat so that she doesn’t freeze to death. It’s all turned out just fine.

If you must get your kid into private school for 10th grade, here’s my advice, once again, but shortened for your convenience:

  1. Get her tutoring, preferably private, for the ISEE test.
  2. Apply to a LOT of schools.
  3. Make sure at least one of those schools has a larger student body, which means more available 10th grade spots.
  4. Make sure she takes at least one or even two weighted (honors and/or AP) classes in 10th grade. She can always switch out if it’s too hard. If the school doesn’t add weight to honors or AP classes, rejoice and let her take what she wants.
  5. Hope that she has a friend group that’s independent of the new school.

Jenny Heitz Schulte is a writer in Los Angeles and Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. She has over 25 years experience as a journalist, blogger, and advertising copywriter, and currently writes for sites like Parentology, Fem40Fitness, and Beyond the Brochure. She has one daughter who spent most of her education in Los Angeles private schools, and now attends college at Colgate University.

Stay up to date on the latest L.A. private schools news and events! Follow Beyond The Brochure on Facebook. Buy the book on Amazon.

EF Academy to Open Private International Boarding/Day High School in Pasadena

EF Education First, the world’s largest international education company plans to open EF Academy, a new international boarding and day school in Pasadena in 2020. Eventually the boarding day school will welcome an estimated 975 high school students hailing from 75 countries and the Los Angeles area for an academically rigorous program centered on expanding students’ worldviews. The high school will be located on a 16 acre campus.

EF Academy is redeveloping the former William Carey International University campus property with a focus on rehabilitating and modernizing existing facilities, preserving the iconic McGavran Hall, and building ground-up student dormitories. The plan includes brand-new sports facilities, such as a regulation-sized soccer field and swimming pool, as well as an auditorium, contemporary STEM center, and gallery space for student art exhibitions. 

“With an incredibly diverse student body hailing from around the globe, EF Academy’s curriculum is focused on building bridges between cultural groups and understanding diverse perspectives,” said George Stewart, incoming head of school. “We see education as a force to unite people, nations, and cultures in order to create a more peaceful and sustainable world.”

Approximately 95 percent of the students will be international and American with about 5 percent day students from Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley.

For more information, visit EF Academy.

Photos: EF Academy