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.
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.
I’d been to Heschel as a spectator when my son was in 5th grade and Viewpoint played their school in sports. I always remember how courteous and hospitable the kids and parents were during and after games, treating us as guests as opposed to rivals. Win or lose, Heschel always exhibited excellent sportsmanship, which I’ve learned, is an important part of a school’s culture. Since then, I’d been curious about the school, so I was pleased to accept the invitation to tour Heschel. Last month, I met Larry, along with Lara Martin, admissions director and Susan Kussin, head of marketing and alumni relations. Before walking around the lovely, sparkling campus–set on three acres– we chatted about Larry’s vision for the school’s future and his nearly lifelong connection to the school. I was inspired by his belief that the skills kids need most for the future include collaboration, critical thinking and, among others, empathy. The inclusion of empathy as a necessary skill is the type of forward-thinking leadership our world needs now and indefinitely. Heschel is a Jewish Day School grades TK-8 located in Northridge. –Christina
1. You have a long history with Heschel, from student, teacher, coach and now head of school. What has kept you connected to the school for so long?
Any Heschel student will tell you that once you attend our school, you remain a part of the Heschel community long past graduation. As a transitional kindergarten through eighth grade program, our students spend their formative years learning and growing on our campus, and the connection lasts a lifetime. Heschel played an important role in my youth, and when I made the decision to have a career in education, I was lucky enough to come home to Heschel.
I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of a dynamic, collaborative, and innovative administrative team and Board of Directors who have continuously supported and inspired my growth as an educator and leader. Having a long history with Heschel affords me a unique perspective in balancing the ever-evolving nature of a school environment, while keeping the traditions and underlying values of our school at the heart of our mission.
2. How would you describe the educational philosophy of the school?
We hold onto the best of the principles and traditions upon which Heschel was founded, and strive constantly to learn and embrace current and forward thinking concepts, research, and strategies best suited to prepare our students for the future. Balancing individual engagement and joyful learning with rigorous studies within a dual curriculum is at the forefront of a Heschel education.
We are fortunate that the size of our school and the expertise of our faculty allow us to put into action the best elements from multiple learning approaches including project based learning, design thinking, and small group and ability-based instruction. The professional growth and development of our faculty promotes our innovative and fresh curriculum focused on critical thinking and curiosity, and as a result Heschel students experience true intellectual and ethical inquiry.
3. You described the 5 skills students will need for the future: Creativity, Collaboration, Design Thinking, Critical Thinking and Empathy. I’m pleased to see “empathy” is included. Can you talk about how you ensure students leave Heschel possessing these important skills and values?
Students in transitional kindergarten through eighth grade are encouraged to question and engage in respectful debate, problem solve and think critically as they master new math concepts, strategize in games, interpret and respond to literature, and express themselves via writing and the arts.
While we do not know what jobs may exist when our current students join the work force, we do know they will need to possess a strong sense of self, have a “growth mindset” – a willingness to work hard, take risks, and challenge their own comfort level.
As a pluralistic Jewish school, we have a natural lens for the inclusion of empathy, which is woven throughout the program in both general and Judaic studies. By exploring Jewish roots and other cultures, we encourage our students to explore sameness and difference. Our students know who they are and what they stand for, and as a result, they have the ability to take on others’ perspectives. Every grade level participates in Tikkun Olam, acts of kindness which are performed to repair the world at large. The relevant and developmentally appropriate grade level projects are instrumental in instilling not just an understanding of the concept, but teaching students to live it in the form of action as a lifelong responsibility.
4. A big vote of confidence in a school is when alumni parents return to enroll their own children. Heschel has 69 legacy students! What did Heschel give so many families that they want for their own children? Does this make admissions more competitive for non-legacy families?
In my experience, all parents of our incoming new students want what any parent is seeking for their child; to grow confident, healthy individuals who make a positive difference in our world. Our alumni families are already familiar with the Heschel partnership and community, and our new families quickly become part of the Heschel experience as they attend new parent events, community events, and experience Jewish holidays.
It is amazing how many Heschel alums share that their closest friends today are still the friends they made at Heschel. This is remarkable when considering our program concludes in eighth grade! Walking alumni through our school as prospective parents are some of my favorite tours. The reminiscing is endless and they are always amazed at the updated facility and incredible faculty. They see that the values, strong academic programs, and amazing community are still here, and they want that for their children.
In terms of admissions, we accept mission appropriate families where we can serve the child(ren) and family well. New and legacy families go through the same admissions process. When it comes to accepting new students, the competitive nature of private school admissions is dependent on class size and the applicant pool.
5. Where do Heschel’s eighth graders matriculate to and what is your process for helping place families in L.A. area private high schools?
This year our eighth graders have been accepted to 14 schools, which include Archer, Buckley, Campbell Hall, Chaminade, de Toledo High School, Harvard-Westlake, Marlborough, Milken, Shalhevet, Sierra Canyon, Valley Torah, Viewpoint, Village Christian, and Yula. We guide families through each step of the process, helping them transition from acceptance to graduation to matriculation. We recognize what an important process this is for our families, and our eighth grade faculty and the entire administration work hard to create an atmosphere of exploration and excitement for our families, rather than one of stress and angst. As a result, students feel empowered and excited to spread their wings after Heschel! We see Heschel as a place that opens endless opportunities to our students, and our matriculation process is no different.
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We’re super-excited to feature a Q&A with Emily Ingistov, the new head of Westchester Lutheran School! Westchester Lutheran School is a private Christian school serving Preschool-8thGrade located in Westchester, CA. Emily has been a familiar face at the school for years and now she’s earned the top job. Congratulations, Emily! –Christina
Question: After receiving your teaching credential and a Master’s of Arts in elementary education from Loyola Marymount University in 2003, you started teaching at Westchester Lutheran School (WLS). Most recently you taught math for grades 6-8. You also hold an administrative credential and a Master’s of Science. What are some of your most important short and long-term goals now that you’re the head of school?
Answer: My short-term goals include implementing a resource program this school year for gifted-students and students with special learning needs, beautifying our campus with improvements to the playground and yard play space, and developing a campus-wide STEM program. My long-term goal for WLS is to welcome more families to our wonderful school, support ongoing continuing education and professional development for teachers, increase school-wide communication, and continue efforts to integrate technology into the classroom and into the hands of our students.
Question: How would you describe the educational philosophy of WLS? At WLS, our motto is Believing and Achieving. We have been educating students since 1950.
Answer: At WLS, we make it our mission and goal to educate the whole child so that each child is provided opportunities and experiences to discover and develop their unique gifts and talents in a Christian, nurturing and caring atmosphere. We aim for high academic success and achievement through our standards-based, differentiated instruction. We want our students to graduate WLS knowing they have the confidence, knowledge, and skills necessary for succeeding in the world.
Question: What do you think are some of the most innovative trends happening in education right now? Are there any you’d like to incorporate into the curriculum at WLS?
Answer: One innovative trend I am seeing in the field of education is the emphasis of a STEM program so that students are leaders of the world in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. At WLS, we are going to expand and enhance our STEM program and Portals to Science. This is where students will build and learn through hands-on activities about energy and environmental conservation by installing solar panels, creating a battery from a potato, installing rain collection barrels, composting bins, solar ovens, and developing a school-wide recycling program. In addition to this, we will have a STEM quad for our 6th-8thgrade students where Math, Science, and Technology curriculum will be integrated to promote student learning. The integration of technology of across the curriculum is another important educational trend we embrace.
Question: What are qualities you look for in applicant students? What about the parents?
Answer: We are looking for students who are eager to learn, understand new concepts, and grow in a caring, Christian environment where all members are valued and respected for unique differences, weaknesses and strengths. At WLS, we take pride in our strong tradition of academic excellence. We seek students who are eager to be challenged and engaged in their learning experience. We welcome parents who understand and value the notion that it takes a village to raise a child and want to be contributing members of our school community through the many volunteer activities we offer. We see parents as partners in educating our students.
Question: Do families need to belong to the Westchester Lutheran Church to enroll at the school?
Answer: We welcome and value ALL students of diverse ethnic backgrounds and faiths at Westchester Lutheran School. One does not have to be a member of the church to attend our school or be of the Lutheran faith.
Question: Over ninety percent of the school’s eighth graders are accepted by their first choice private high school. Can you talk about how you help prepare kids to apply to private high schools? What are some of the private high schools your students attend?
Answer: Over ninety percent of our students not only are accepted into the high school of their choice, but many of them also receive advanced placement at entrance, including honors programs, and receive academic scholarships for their excellence and achievement. Our students typically attend the following schools after graduation: Loyola H.S., Marymount H.S., St. Monica’s Catholic H.S., Notre Dame Academy, Notre Dame H.S., Pacifica Christian H.S., St. John Bosco, Bishop Montgomery, Harvard Westlake, Windward, and Vista Mar. Our students are highly prepared for the rigors of high school. Students are taught time management through balancing rigorous academics, various athletics, and extra-curricular activities. We provide leadership opportunities, including student clubs such as Math Mentor Club, Girl Up, and Student Government. Students take Spanish in elementary and middle school years at WLS which often places students in advanced placement in high school. Many students place into Honors Geometry, Honors English, and Honors Biology as Freshmen in high school and are very successful in these courses. We are proud of our students and all that they have accomplished while at WLS. They continue to amaze us and make us proud with their continued accomplishments in high school and many prestigious universities. At WLS, we provide students with the foundation and skills needed to achieve their professional aspirations and goals. Believing and Achieving!
A native of Sacramento, Emily Ingistov arrived in Los Angeles in 1997 after graduating from Saint Francis High School to pursue a degree in Political Science from Loyola Marymount University. It was during this time at LMU, that Mrs. Ingistov discovered her professional calling to become a teacher while completing a work-study program at Cowan Avenue School as a Site Coordinator in the government-funded program America Reads. Mrs. Ingistov graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelors of Arts degree in Political Science in 2001. Upon graduation, she entered and completed a teaching credential and Masters of Arts in Elementary Education graduate program at LMU while simultaneously teaching 1st and 3rd grade at Visitation School in Westchester. She was inducted into Kappa Delta Pi, an international honor society in education. In 2003, Mrs. Ingistov joined Westchester Lutheran School to teach 5th grade. During this time, she found a love for teaching math and became the math teacher for grades 6-8 in 2009. Mrs. Ingistov obtained a grant to complete a graduate program to earn her Administrative Credential and Masters of Science in School Administration from National University in 2009. She was inducted into Pi Lambda Theta, an international honor society in education. Mrs. Ingistov is committed to social justice and academic excellence. She is ready to effect change at a higher level as the new Head of School at Westchester Lutheran School which proudly serves preschool-8th grade students of all religious and ethnic backgrounds.