What I Did (and Did Not) Expect About Mirman School by Jenny Heitz (re-post)

Today is Throwback Thursday (TBT) in social media. So, I’m posting this piece by Jenny Heitz from the archives. It’s not often you get an insider’s look at a school like Mirman. –Christina

 

Mirman is one of those schools that has a certain mystique surrounding it. Because it accepts only highly gifted children, there are people who refer to it as “the freak school,” “the geek school,” or, in one stunning instance, “the Hitler school” (I have no idea what that means). While I took all these nicknames with a grain of salt, I had some apprehension about sending my daughter Anna there. I felt it was probably the right place for her, but I was worried that it would be too serious, too high powered, and, frankly, too dorky.

 

Happily, none of these fears manifested into reality.

 

Here’s What Surprised Me:

 

  • The kids are not weird. Well, ok, there might be a few little boys running around speaking in monotone voices, but they are few and far between. One of the interesting things about Mirman students is how normal they actually are. They may be super smart kids, but they’re still kids, and they act like kids. The only difference is that the level of carpool conversation is suddenly elevated.

 

  • The parents are far nicer than I expected. I was worried that the parents would be way too into their super gifted children. But what I’ve found is that most of the parents seem sort of puzzled and bemused to have these kids. The parent body is, for the most part, very smart, very educated, a bit shy, and really not snobby in the least. The “not snobby” factor makes dealing with Mirman parents a pleasure, especially on field trips. As far as I know, there are no celebrities at Mirman. Interesting. You can draw your own conclusions about that.

 

  • The workload isn’t nearly as heavy as I thought it would be. Naturally, I’d heard horror stories about Mirman kids working constantly, even during carpool, and how “unnatural” the whole thing was. That turned out to be nonsense. Anna definitely has homework, and it’s homework she has to schedule for herself during the week. It’s made her into quite the little time management pro. And while the school works the kids really hard during the school day, Anna actually seems to spend less of her time at home doing homework than some of her public school friends. I would not say that she is overworked on any level.

 

  • Parents are not treated like royalty. Unlike some private schools, where wealthy parents get the kid glove treatment, Mirman generally treats the parents like idiots. I’m not kidding. I’ve even brought up this fact to other Mirman parents and they crack up as they agree. All the school’s emphasis and efforts involve the kids; it is the most kid focused school I’ve encountered. While Mirman wants parents to give money and be on committees and be involved, it will not brownnose you when you enter the front office. If you’re looking for adulation, seek it elsewhere.

 

  • The commute isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Commuting from Hollywood to Mirman seemed like a nightmare at first, but it’s turned out to be ok. It’s made ok only by the fact that I’m in a carpool that I’ll defend with my life. At the moment, we’re trying to get together enough kids on this side of town to justify a bus. I dream about the bus, and someday my dream will be made a reality.

 

  • My child is even happier at Mirman than I ever imagined. I had a feeling that Mirman was the right place for Anna, but her transformation over her first year there has been extraordinary. She came in at fourth grade, at a distinct academic disadvantage, and has still managed to get really good grades. It has focused her competitive instincts, but also emphasized good citizenship and kindness. Her self-confidence in terms of public speaking has skyrocketed. She’s making new friends. All in all, she’s a different child now, and I really credit Mirman with all the positive changes.

 

  • The kids are so nice. Really, they’re nice. The bullying problems that seem so prevalent at other schools are far less at Mirman. If there’s a problem, it gets handled. And one of the advantages of putting together so many highly gifted kids, who were so often the butts of jokes, is that they’re generally kind to one another. These kids have empathy for one another. While Anna has had some girl politics moments, they have been mild and easily handled.

 

  • It’s more diverse than I thought. The reality about private school is that it will never be as diverse as public school. So, while Mirman doesn’t resemble a microcosm of Los Angeles, diversity wise, it’s still better than I anticipated. And because all the kids share the trait of high intelligence (that’s the main criterion for entrance to Mirman), this seems to be what draws them together, not race. My daughter heard plenty of racial slurs at her old public school, but hasn’t heard one thing at Mirman. Good.

 

As Anna’s first year at Mirman draws to a close, I’m delighted with the school. It has exceeded every expectation I had for it, and my child is having a wonderful educational experience. It’s so nice when a school turns out to be such a pleasant surprise.

 

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.

 

Guest Blogger Jenny: A “Nurturing” Environment: Does Mirman School Deliver?

 

Mirman School (Photo: Google Images)

The word “nurture” means to nourish or feed, either in the form of food and sustenance or skills and education. By that definition, any Los Angeles private school has a “nurturing” environment. Each educates children every day, and most even gives them a balanced lunch, too.

 

But, (sigh) “nurturing” has taken on a much more involved and expanded definition according to our crop of private school helicopter parents.  Apparently, “nurturing” also means listening to and respecting everything the child says or desires, not letting them ever feel bad for even a moment about themselves (this includes bad grades that they earned), praising everything they do (no matter how mediocre it might be), and just generally kowtowing to the so-called “self esteem” movement (a movement which actually has produced kids with lower self esteem, but don’t get me started on that rant).

 

Thus, when parents are looking at private schools, they might be looking for the most “nurturing” environment, a place where their child is accepted for who she is in everything she does (even if she turns out to be disruptive, disrespectful, and refuses to eat her broccoli). Some schools do better at presenting the “nurturing” image better than others; The Willows School, for example, has a sterling reputation in this regard. In some ways, these schools appear to be nurturing the parents’ needs, not the children’s.

 

Well, my child doesn’t go to The Willows. My child goes to Mirman, a school with an air of mystery. What do they do there? I’ve heard it called (from rather clueless sources) everything from elitist (any private school earns this adjective in an instant) to “the Nazi school” (obviously listening to Rush Limbaugh instead of reading the brochure). So what’s the story? Is Mirman “nurturing?”

 

My daughter didn’t enter Mirman until 4th grade. She was understandably nervous about going to a new school with kids who’d mostly been there since Room 1 (there is no kindergarten). She was also uptight about the academic expectations; Mirman is a school for “highly gifted” students, and Anna came from public school. She worried about having to play catch up.

 

From the first day, Anna settled in quickly. Her teacher, a real pro, was kind to her while still expecting excellent work. Anna’s emotional comfort was greatly considered; nasty girl politics were shut down. Friends were made. Lunches were eaten. All in all, it was the easiest school transition Anna has ever had. Sure, she was the “new girl” for the first year. But that’s life.

 

If you define “nurturing” as educating, I honestly can’t think of a school that does a better job. The kinds of assignments they’re given are pretty extraordinary. Mirman teaches the kids to work in small groups, and encourages them to analyze their group’s dynamic in order to improve performance. Honest self-evaluation is a valuable skill, and Anna learned it early.  From self-analysis comes improvement, and that’s a true self-esteem booster.

 

Is the school squishy and warm and full of free time? Well, no it’s not. Mirman students are smart and wily; they’re a tough room. Mirman teachers are hyper organized and structured, because highly gifted children need to keep their brains occupied at all times. Those kids are stimulated all day long with constant knowledge and problem solving. They’re encouraged to have good manners (my daughter’s manners skyrocketed) and be able to make good conversation. They’re also expected to manage their own time, be responsible for their own work, remember the school’s honor code, and use their school distributed laptops according to the school’s ultra strict use agreement they signed.

 

Does that mean there’s no jokes or hugs? Of course not! Students get plenty of positive feedback, when it’s merited. The students are still treated like children, not like adults. Anna has had great, funny , respectful relationships with her teachers. This respect is reflected in the way the students treat one another; I’ve seen no substantive bullying or mean girl behavior there.

 

I think Mirman nurtures students in the best, purest possible way. The education is incredible, the social skills invaluable, the campus itself a lovely little oasis where the nerdy kids can be themselves. What’s more nurturing than that?

 

You know whom they don’t nurture? The parents! Seriously, the school just wants parents to drop the kids off, pay the tuition, help out when asked, and otherwise vaporize.  And I’m totally fine with that, because my daughter gets exactly what she needs to thrive.

 

Jenny Heitz Schulte 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 in 2010. She previously attended 3rd St. Elementary School. Jenny has been published in the Daily News and on Mamapedia, The Well Mom, Hybrid Mom and A Child Grows In Brooklyn. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Blogger Jenny: Applying out from Mirman School for 7th grade

Applying Out: When Does A List of Schools Go From Comprehensive to Absurd?

If you currently have a child going into 6th grade this Fall, you probably realize that she might be “applying out” to another school. It’s a sad fact that, just when you’ve gotten over the trauma of applying to private elementary school, you’re forced to do the horrible thing all over again. We’re so sorry.

 

My daughter Anna is going to go through this process, not because she doesn’t love her current school (she attends Mirman), but because, if she gets into Marlborough, she won’t have to be on a bus two hours every day. Maybe she can do an afterschool sport, since we’re eastsiders and Marlborough is far more geographically desirable. I figure that if she doesn’t get accepted, she’ll just stay at Mirman. For her, the process is fairly low risk.

 

For other kids who attend elementary only private schools, the risks go up. They have to get in somewhere, and the competition is fierce. Yet, I recently witnessed something that really made me question the way these private schools steer students.

 

One of Anna’s friends attends a very well known private elementary school. She has to apply out. Her parents met with an advisor at the school recently, who gave them a list of schools picked specifically for their daughter. Sounds all well and good.

 

Except that, upon hearing the list, I was mystified (I have no idea if her parents were mystified as well). This list of seven or eight schools ran the gamut from Marlborough to Campbell Hall to Windward to… New Roads.

 

Now, these are all good schools. But, it’s like a big list of apples and oranges. So, this girl’s a good enough student to handle the academic competitiveness and traditionalism of single sex Marlborough, but is self directed and artsy enough for the way loose atmosphere at New Roads? This list made no sense; it seemed scattershot. Again, all these schools are good, but a family that feels comfortable at Marlborough might not fit in quite as well at a New Roads.

 

Plus, keep in mind that while applying to dozens of colleges is easy now with that one common application, applying to private schools in Los Angeles is a constant and intense process. Each application costs money, each requires personal references and transcripts, and each school requires multiple events ranging from tours and info nights to interviews and student visiting days.  Multiply that process seven or eight times, with each disparate school wanting to hear different things, and you’ve got a new full time job for the next year. Add to this the pressure put on your kid, and 6th grade becomes the lost year.

 

Personally, I think you’re better off narrowing your school application focus to schools you and your kid really like, that fit your values and your kid’s abilities and interests. The more you dilute your efforts, the less effective those efforts will be.  Plus, when it comes to your kid, not all private schools are created equal. And the last thing you want is your child in an environment that’s just not right for her.

 

So, if your elementary school dribbles out a “hand selected” list of potential schools for your kid, peruse it closely. If some recommendations seem silly, they probably are. Eliminate some. And then focus your energy on the best choices. In the end, quality will win out over quantity.

 

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 in 2010. She previously attended 3rd St. Elementary School. Jenny has been published in the Daily News and on Mamapedia, The Well Mom, Hybrid Mom and A Child Grows In Brooklyn. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.

“Beverly Hills Nannies” (and Mannies): A New Show but Mannies Are Familiar Sight at L.A. Private Schools

Mannies aren’t just on reality tv shows. They work for L.A. private school families in real-life. (Life & Style)

He works for a Real Housewife of BH. How much you want to be her kids go to private school? (In Touch)

I read with great fascination about a new show called “Beverly Hills Nannies.” I haven’t seen the show (the first episode aired July 11 on ABC Family), but I will try to catch at least one episode of this potentially addictive reality TV show. (Whether it can rival my favorite, Real Housewives of New York, is unlikely). “Mansions, private jets and sports cars are the norm for the stars of this new guilty-pleasure reality series…” (Life and Style, July 16, 2012).

 

The reason I’m intrigued by the show is that two of the five nannies are actually “mannies” or male nannies. But, these aren’t just TV reality show creations. You can see these mannies in real-life at many of L.A.’s elite private schools. They are a status symbol. There’s something about a manny pulling up in a Mercedes that shrieks “rich family.” They also function as “house managers” and “estate managers” and various other titles required when a family has a large staff to manage their home. I don’t know for sure, but I can virtually guarantee you that the kids on “Beverly Hills Nannies” attend private schools.

 

When I asked my husband, Barry, about the manny trend, he wanted to know, “Why the sudden appearance of “mannies”? When I was growing up, in a pre-Sandusky world, the appearance of a manny would have brought a visit from the SWAT team.”

 

There are a few families at The Willows who have mannies. And, I’ve seen several at Marlborough Summer School when I pick up my daughter. Porcha Dodson, Beyond The Brochure co-author, pointed out that in her experience at Curtis School, sometimes a manny is hired to handle a particularly difficult child. Similarly, a friend told me about a manny who worked for a very high-net worth family at The Center For Early Education whose kid was extremely challenging and would be escorted into school unwillingly every morning by the manny.

 

So, Its not just on reality-tv where this luxe lifestyle of the manny flourishes. Its at L.A.’s private schools, too.

 

Here’s a previous piece, “I Want My Manny: At Private Schools, Mannies a Status Symbol” by guest blogger Jenny Heitz. It’s laugh-out-loud funny.

 

 

Guest Blogger Jenny: The Private School End of the Year Marathon and My New (smaller) House

Jenny Heitz

Our fabulous contributor/guest blogger Jenny Heitz has been super-busy. She got married! She also moved to a new house in the hills of Los Feliz, from a bigger house in Hancock Park. Yes, that’s correct, Jenny downsized in L.A. (gasp!). Check out her new blog series about the new house and what she’s doing to fix it up on her style blog, Find A Toad. We know once it’s complete, Jenny’s unique, modern sense of style will transform her new space into a very cool family house! Unfortunately, she realized they moved without a coffee maker, but she found an awesome espresso maker that would make a great house-warming gift.

 

Meanwhile, end of the year at Mirman is upon her. Read on:

 

Once your kid has been in private school for at least a year, you recognize it: the end of the year slog toward the summer break finish line.

 

It’s as if all the private school powers that be got together and decided: enough learning, we must have ceremony, and lots of it! Thus, at Mirman, we had the Pops Concert, followed by the Spring Fair, followed by Colonial Day (presentations given by Room 5 students in full colonial regalia), followed by a music recital (skipped this; my daughter isn’t playing an instrument), followed by Open House (Mulholland and the 405 at rush hour: such fun). Soon, there’s a violin concert, the Upper School play, and then the massive number of matriculation and awards ceremonies. Finally, there’s Field Day, the final day of school that’s all about play.

 

Just reading the last paragraph, much less writing it, makes me long for a solid nap.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Mirman and what it’s done for my daughter, but driving up there from Los Feliz makes me break out in hives. And having to haul up there repeatedly over a two month span of time during critical traffic hours has brought new levels of road rage to the surface. What happened to spreading these things out, to moderation? Why was Open House the same night as Obama’s visit to George Clooney’s estate?  Why bother asking why? My daughter’s lucky to go there.

 

I’ve written in the past about how wonderful it is to have a bus route from the east side, so that we no longer have to carpool 4X a week. But, the bus has spoiled us rotten. Now that we don’t have to schlep up to the campus constantly, the occasional sojourn is that much more painful. While I realize that road construction is a temporary state of affairs, it has made the commute, even done occasionally, a total unpredictable nightmare.

 

I also wonder a bit about families with two intensely working parents: how do they cope? I work from home and have a flexible schedule; I still have a bad attitude about the drive and the constant events. How do doctors, lawyers, bankers, and anyone else with a “normal” job manage it? Are you tag teaming the events, or perhaps letting relatives fill in? Really, I want to know.

 

In the meantime, we will schlep. And slog. And clap for our matriculating kids. And, finally, welcome summer and some sort of sleeping in.

 

Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. Jenny is a graduate of Crossroads. Her daughter started 4th grade at Mirman School last 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.