Guest Blogger Sharie: Six Things I Learned in a Hurry When Starting My School Search

Portrait Of Boy Looking Excited

As the mother of a preschooler, I’ve been a faithful reader of this blog and the Beyond The Brochure book for a while now, so when it finally came time to start finding a Kindergarten for our son for next fall I felt pretty prepared. A month into the process, though, it was obvious I still had some lessons to learn!


1. Time flies

Wow, I feel like we just got into preschool and *bam* it’s already time to look for a Kindergarten. And I quickly discovered that the time between the fall Kindergarten fair and “tour season” is pretty short. I had to quickly finish my research in order to come up with our list of prospectives in time to rsvp for tours. Tours fill up fast so RSVP early!


2. Your preschool administrator really is your greatest resource

I think our son is perfect, of course, and would do well at any school but I was very overwhelmed trying to decide what school style would be the best fit for us. Traditional? Progressive? Big? Small? Our preschool director was a tremendous help here, and we really worked closely with her to come up with a list of prospective schools where our son could really thrive.


3. Tour early, tour often

This is one of the biggies that I wish I’d taken more to heart. If I’d toured even a few schools last year (ie: two years before our Kindergarten entry) like Beyond the Brochure recommends, that’s a few more schools I could’ve either seen again or crossed off the list and saved some hurried pavement pounding.


4. Take notes

This seems like a no-brainer, but I was surprised at how few parents at fairs or on tours actually take notes. Through fairs, tours, events, etc. we probably met easily 4-6 people associated with each school on our list. That’s a lot of names to mix up. When it’s application time I definitely want to be able to reference some of the administrators and teachers we met along the way.


5. Drive the route. During rush-hour.

There were some schools on our list that we really loved but after doing some test runs during the morning and afternoon commutes it became painfully obvious that it just wasn’t feasible to make it to school in one direction and then head all the way across town to work in the opposite direction. What seems like a blow-off at 10am for a tour is a completely different story at 8am, so unfortunately we had to cross an entire area of goods schools off our list. Because remember, however far away the school is, you’re in the car for four times that duration, going there and back and there and back!


6.  Do your research and keep an open mind

The first school we toured I didn’t know much about and had considered it more as a backup but ended up loving it. Conversely, a couple of schools we really had high hopes for seemed great on the surface, but going, well, beyond the brochure and asking friends and fellow parents about the schools turned up some unpleasant surprises about their academics. And one popular school everyone raves about seemed perfect for us from the website but 30 seconds into the tour we could tell it wasn’t right for our family at all. School websites and brochures can tell you a lot about the place but don’t be afraid to dig a little deeper. And please, don’t be that parent on the tour who asks questions that are obviously answered on the school’s website!


The fall tour season seems a little frantic, but thanks to great tips from the Beyond The Brochure blog and book I actually feel somewhat prepared. Now that we’ve narrowed our list down to schools we like, I can’t wait for the next phase of the process: applications!


Sharie Piper (not her real name) is on pins and needles to see where her son ends up going to school next year and can’t wait to do it all again in a few years for her daughter.

Guest Blogger Audrey: Starting Preschool, Now What? Thinking Ahead To Elementary School Admissions

Whether a working or stay-at-home parent, there are various tips to prepare for the private school admission process once your child begins preschool.


Begin to look at your child’s personality as it relates to learning style, social interactions and emerging interests.  Talk to your preschool teachers on a regular basis, asking open-ended questions about listening skills, responsiveness when asked to complete a task, interactions with friends, new talents, etc.  Keep in mind that your child may act differently at school than at home.


For instance, when my daughter was 3-years old I perceived her as having the personality of a follower but at a parent/teacher conference I was told that she was equally comfortable as a leader and a follower and a source of comfort to friends.  For working parents without as much opportunity to interact with teachers, find out if they’re willing to give you an e-mail address so you can touch base more often.  What you’re ultimately looking for is in what school environment would your child best thrive.  A few examples are structured, academic, progressive, a very small school (with only one class per grade) or artsy.


Attend as many preschool events as possible.  This can provide opportunities to interact with families who have older children already at a private school and also to network with other parents who are usually eager to exchange information.  Approach parents who have a private school’s bumper sticker on their car or have older children who come to drop off or pick up and find out what school their child attends.  Ask about their experiences, what they like/dislike about the school, etc.  I had never heard of any of the private schools to which we applied before my daughter was in her 2nd year of preschool and they came by word-of-mouth from fellow parents at our school.


Volunteer at your preschool, if possible.  For working parents, this could involve helping at weekend or evening events.  This not only increases your contact with other involved parents who may be in a similar situation but also it has the potential to look good on your private school application résumé.


Create a good relationship with your preschool director.  Directors can be one of your closest allies when it comes time to apply to private schools.  Not only should they have their pulse on the best private schools and what each offers but also on which would be a good fit for your child.


Attend a kindergarten panel if your preschool offers one.  At my daughter’s preschool this consisted of an evening program where current and former parents with children at various local private, public and charter schools spoke about their school’s philosophy, admission process and personal experience.  During the Fall or Spring, attend the Los Angeles Area Independent Elementary School’s Kindergarten Fair.  Admission Directors from most of L.A.’s private elementary schools are present to answer questions about their programs and admission process.


Do online research.  If your child is even two years away from kindergarten, many schools will not allow you to tour until the year prior to kindergarten.   Look at each school’s mission and philosophy statement on their website.  Does it seem to fit with what you want for your child?  Check on tuition, uniform policy, or anything else that is important to your family.


Consider if you will want to enroll your child at a private school with a Pre-K program (often called DK, TK, or EK).  This may be a factor depending on your child’s birthday (many schools have a summer cut-off) as this will move your timeline up by a year.


Last but not least, enjoy this precious time in your toddler’s life!


Audrey Young has a background in Healthcare Compliance where she performed detailed research and analysis.  She is a native of Los Angeles and attended public schools and universities.  Her private school admission experience set in motion a desire to help guide parents through this process and ease any confusion, fear and anxiety.  She is launching an admission consulting business, The Admission Team, and will be available to families applying for the 2013-14 school year and beyond.  Audrey can be reached at  Her daughter will be attending Kindergarten at Viewpoint School in September.





Guest Blogger Samantha: What Is It Really Like At Wildwood School?


So, you want to know what it’s really like at Wildwood School…Well, the truth is, it’s awesome – or I should say, it’s awesome for my family.


I was worried, as I think most sane parents are, about the level of entitlement that might exist at a Los Angeles private school.  Worried for my child, but also worried for me.  I mean look, I was well aware that I was gonna have to see these folks everyday – potentially for years.  Now, for the kind of misanthropic person I can sometimes be, well, that’s a HUGE commitment!


Thankfully, thus far, it’s been pretty smooth sailing and I’ve met lots of great people at Wildwood!


Cue the applause.


Admittedly, I’m a new parent at Wildwood, my son just having started last year, but really, so far so good…


Families come from all over town at Wildwood.  Most folks that I hang with and have met are down to earth, normal, like-minded souls — just regular people trying to live interesting, thoughtful lives.  And, the same can be said of the Administration, Faculty and Staff.  I was thrilled to realize, once school started, that there were many people who worked at Wildwood with whom I would HAPPILY have a beer or glass of wine – maybe even two.


Now that’s a recommendation in my book!


There are families with money at Wildwood.  Some of them have, I would imagine, A LOT of money.  There are also families with not so much.  Some families have their parents help with tuition.  Some don’t.  It really seems like a hodgepodge of differing scenarios.


Wildwood is, in my opinion, very “normal” in terms of people and their relationship to money.  The cars at pick-up are just that — cars, not a replica of the Barney’s parking lot.  People don’t wear couture clothing to drop off their kids…

I have yet to see a tiara.


Volunteering, happily, seems to really mean volunteering.  I was involved this year at Wildwood, but was selective about where I spent my time.  Some of my friends took their first year “off”, as it were, and wanted to get the lay of the land before they committed to anything.  Others hit the ground running, and really rolled up their proverbial sleeves.


And you know what?  Any and all of that seemed ok.  There seemed to be no pressure, no — do more, give more, be more attitude – at all.  It really has felt genuinely relaxed, and I’m thrilled…


And did I mention?   Relieved.

Samantha Goodman is the mom of a First Grader at Wildwood School and a preschooler at 10th St. Preschool in Santa Monica. Samantha’s son also attended 10th St. Preschool. Before her current parenting hiatus she was a screenwriter in Hollywood.

Guest Blogger Jenny: Sleep Away Camp: A Transformative Experience

My child is no stranger to sleep away camp. By the tender age of seven, she was asking to go away (I said no; she couldn’t even brush her own hair then, so there was no way she was going away for two or more weeks). When she was eight, I gave in and sent her to the camp my sister, step-sister, and myself attended.


She did not love it. She said the kids were mean and the counselors unfeeling. Still, she gave it another try, returning at age nine for yet another session. She reached the same conclusions. After that, she was hesitant to go again.


But I knew that camp was good for her. Rather than spend the entire summer in smoggy L.A., going to day camps she didn’t much like, she could be in a beautiful, rural environment learning new skills. Besides, I didn’t want her to give up. It wasn’t camp that was the problem, it was finding the right camp. Her father sent away for info on camps in, of all places, Maine. And she found one she liked.


Three and a half weeks away on a lake in Maine. Formidable stuff for a kid who claimed to not like sleep away camp. I have to say, it looked amazing. All girls. There was an endless schedule of activities like riding, sailing, gymnastics, and tons of art stuff. There were plays and beach days and clambakes. After viewing the DVD, I wanted to go there, too.


Anna flew out of LAX with a positive attitude, and it served her well. I tracked the camp’s activities every day through its website, checking the photos for signs of her. She was happy and smiling in most of the shots. When I spoke to her for one of our two phone calls, on her birthday, she practically blew me off in an attempt to get back to her party (I was not upset by this; it’s a good sign when your kid is at camp and isn’t interested in speaking to you because there’s too much fun stuff going on. This is what you pay for). Her letters were laughably short and upbeat.


The time kind of dragged on for me. Almost a month without your child is a bit rough. I started to feel like part of me had been amputated. But hey, that’s my problem. My job as a parent is to let my child have new experiences, and learn to function without me.


Upon her homecoming, I fully expected her to be totally obnoxious. After all, she’d just spent almost a month with pubescent girls, getting as teenaged silly as possible. Surely, she’d be mouthy, sulky and difficult.


Nope. Just the opposite. She came back more mature. Not to mention helpful. Sleep away camp, you see, really is a character builder. It used to be that we went away to escape our parents and enjoy some freedom from the tyranny of chores and nagging. But kids don’t really have that relationship with their families anymore. Many of our kids go to private schools that offer tons of activities and endless amusement. Parents tend to want to be their kids’ friend rather than authority figure. And chores? Not so much.


So camp has become the place where kids are given housework to do, group responsibilities to fulfill, and self-reliance is paramount. Sure, they’re watched over, but they’re also expected to tow absolute lines. Anna came back with a new attitude of cooperation. She cooked her own oatmeal and offered to walk the dog (and took pride in the fact that he behaved so well for her). Camp gave her a sense of being a part of a larger unit, and she seems to have transferred that to our own tiny family unit. And my worries of Miley Cyrus mouth? Totally unfounded. If anything, Anna acts even more like the world’s smallest 30 year old.


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

Like Beyond The Brochure’s  Facebook Page!

Every School Tells A Story

Before too long you’ll be touring private schools and filling out applications and caught up in the admissions whirlwind. If you’ve tried to keep thoughts about all things private school off your mind because its summer, but your mind keeps wandering back to the topic, here are a few things to think about before you tour schools. If you pay close attention and talk to other parents, you’ll learn things about a school that probably won’t be discussed on a tour. They aren’t good or bad, but they’re some of the most subjective things about each school that may (or may not) appeal to you.

Of course, schools want to impress prospective parents with highlights of excellent programs, outstanding teachers and brand new facilities. But, when you’re looking at schools, think about how a school reveals itself in a more subtle or informal way. Pay attention to what the school says in the official publications of course, but also look for the less obvious things about a school you might otherwise overlook.  And, give some thought to what the school doesn’t mention on the tour.
Every school tells its own story. If you look closely as you tour a school, certain things will stand out for one reason or another. There will be things about the school that give you information about its culture, its educational philosophy and other factors the school administrators may or (may not) discuss.
Consider the following:
·     Location. We’ve written about location on this blog before because it matters and the location of your kid’s elementary school might impact your quality of life if there’s a geographic problem. Geography can become a challenge for playdates, drive-time (is it really 3 hours a day?), friendships, ethnic diversity, mandatory carpools and volunteering. If you’re thinking about a school’s location in terms of its accessibility to your house, that’s a good idea. But, you may also want to think about whether a school’s location will prevent it from having a diverse student population. Is it too remote for families who live outside the immediate neighborhood to attend? Does it offer a bus? Would it be possible for families with one car to get their kids there and back? Where do most of the families at the school live? A general answer about “we have families from everywhere” should make you look more closely at where the families really live, especially if you think you may live outside the area the school draws from.
·     Feeder preschools. Most elementary schools will tell you they accept students from a wide range of preschools. But, a quick check will tell you there are “feeder” schools to many of the top private elementary schools in L.A. If you have a sense of the community at the “feeder” preschool, that will give you insight into the culture of the elementary school which accepts the preschool’s students. If the “feeder” preschool to an elementary school that interests you is known to be insular and pretentious, it’s safe to assume those elements won’t magically disappear once the parents arrive at elementary school. Even the location of the “feeder” preschool(s) can give you insight into where the elementary school families live.
·     Cars in carpool. Does this sound funny? Silly? Maybe, but the cars in a school’s carpool lane can give away a lot about the school! If you get a chance, look at the cars in a school’s carpool. Are they super-fancy? Are they a mix of car types? Are nannies picking up kids in Range Rovers? Do kids have drivers? Or do you see a lot of common SUVs, Toyotas and Volvos? Are there Limos? Minivans?
·     Plaques on the wall. Ah, yes, the “must-see” plaques. Some schools adorn their walls with plaques naming big fundraising donors or even buildings. Would this bother you if you had to see it daily? Would a school that named every empty space after a family at the school annoy you? It might suggest a strong emphasis on fundraising and a “who’s-who” at the school.
·     School events. The type of events a school hosts gives you loads of information about the school’s culture and parent-body. If a school hosts an elaborate, over-the-top annual auction at a country club and you despise the notion of membership only clubs, maybe this isn’t the school for you. Does the school host an annual camping trip and you hate to camp? Maybe the school is too crunchy for your family. Once you’re at the school, it’s hard to avoid these events, even if they don’t appeal to you. Once you’re a parent at the school, complaints about an event being too fancy or too crunch will go unheard or just make you unpopular. Or, you may be handed the entire file and told, “If you think you can do a better job, you do it!” And, you’ll be expected to attend the event, fancy or not, crunchy or not.
·       Current parents. Talk to other parents at the school. Don’t be shy, talk, talk, talk, ask as many questions as you can. This is a frequently mentioned tactic for gathering information about a school. That’s because it’s effective. When you talk to parents at the school, don’t be afraid to ask about the other parents, kids’ activities, school events and anything else you can think of. A simple, “what are the other parents like?” is a great question, without bias. The question, “I hear that parents at the school are snobbish,” will just make the person you’re talking to defensive. Another good question is, “Are most of the moms stay-at-home or do they work outside the home?”. Any answers you get will ultimately provide you with valuable insight as to whether your child and your family will fit with that school.
These are just a few of the ways a school tells a story. There are definitely other clues that reveal more about a school than what is talked about on a tour. More to come on this topic!