Guest Blogger Jenny: Chaperoning A Mirman School Field Trip

Going Into The Field

Well, I finally bit the bullet and did it: I went on a Mirman field trip. I’d been putting it off all year for some reason, figuring that eventually I’d find a trip that worked with my schedule. The Norton Simon room 4 field trip came up, and I decided that I’d just go for it.

My previous experiences with field trips wasn’t exemplary. When I was in school, field trips were a day off of sorts, a chance to get out of the classroom and into an environment where the standard rules didn’t apply. I remember a particularly awful Disneyland field trip in high school (Crossroads, exploring the tightly run and dictatorial aspects of Walt’s world through a Marxist lens. This was considered normal by Crossroads standards). On that trip, two boys got stoned on the People Mover and then tried to exit during the ride; they landed in Security Land, much to the chaperones’ chagrin.

When my daughter went to Third St. Elementary, I helped out on a couple of trips before deciding that my nerves simply couldn’t take the noise level, or the fact that many of the boys seemed more interested in hitting each other than focusing on the trip at hand. Since I couldn’t really discipline the kids (and the teacher didn’t seemed inclined, either), it was a really awful time.


Mirman, however, proved to be the opposite. Tightly controlled and bound by non-negotiable rules, the kids filed in a fairly organized fashion onto the bus. The noise level was completely bearable; I sat with another mom the whole time and had a really nice time. Lunch was held across the street from the Norton Simon, and again it was so orderly you would’ve thought it was a Garden Party. There was no running around, no screaming, just kids arranged in groups on blankets happily gorging their lunches. Wow.

About a week prior to going on the trip, Anna had handed me a packet of materials, detailing each gallery and work we were to discuss with our assigned group. It was the sort of art history material that seemed better suited to an AP Art History course than a group of 4th graders, but she appeared unfazed. “Please memorize it,” she told me. I think I stuck my tongue out at her.


I was relieved to discover that none of the parents had memorized the packet. We all seemed kind of intimidated, even the dad who was an artist. I shouldn’t have worried, though. As scholarly and serious as the handout was, it was also made clear that getting through the entire thing was probably impossible, and the teacher was going to help move our groups along in a timely fashion.

I was assigned three kids (not my child. No one was matched with their own child). Three of these kids was definitely enough, because they couldn’t have been more different. I got The Dreamer, The Businesslike Scholar, and The One Who Wouldn’t Shut Up.


“What would happen if I touched this painting?” The One Who Wouldn’t Shut Up asked, stepping perilously close to a Degas.

“I press an Eject button, and a catapult throws you out of the museum and into the parking lot,” I responded.

“Really?” she asked, intrigued.


I tried to keep them moving. Luckily, The Businesslike Scholar moved into action, hunting down the paintings we were supposed to study. He was so efficient, in fact, that sometimes he even wrote about works we didn’t need to focus on. He particularly liked Brancusi.


The Dreamer had difficulty getting a word in edgewise, mostly because she kept raising her hand, something that The One Who Wouldn’t Shut Up didn’t appear to honor. The Dreamer rose to the occasion, though, once we reached Popova’s cubist masterpiece, The Traveler. Made up of bright, colorful cones, it had letters scattered within it.


“That’s Russian,” The Dreamer said, pointing to the letters. “It’s all broken up, but I can make some of it out.”



When I mentioned the dramatic personality differences, one parent told me I had it easy in comparison to her charges. “One of the kids said he 

was going to be in charge of the group,” she said. “I had to shut that down pretty fast.”


The rest of the tour was a blur. Sit in front of this painting and write a poem based on a particular format. Discuss the differences and similarities between two Picassos painted during difference periods. Finally, free write for three minutes on the energy evoked from the nonrepresentational work of Sam Francis.  Once they all settled down, it was amazing how enthusiastic they were about their work. They honestly liked it. And they really understood the concepts, which was gratifying since I was frantically trying to keep up and wasn’t sure I was doing the trip justice.


Since this is the first Mirman field trip I’ve been on, I’m not sure they’re all this rigorous. It definitely wasn’t a “free day.” It was work, it was school, and it was taken very seriously. All in all, I enjoyed it. And the kids seemed happy too. Overall, I found it refreshing that a field trip really was taken seriously as an educational opportunity. Now, my daughter seems to relate to art in a very different, much more connected way.


Even though I was apprehensive, this field trip was a positive experience. I’d definitely do it again. Although definitely NOT the Sacramento overnight; I was exhausted enough after just four hours.

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: Waste Not, Want Not?

So here I am again, in the plastics section of the market, selecting more small, single sized, “reusable” plastic containers. It’s my third such trip in the last month. And it’s all for the sake of the environment.


How can buying plastic be good for the environment? Great question! There were many changes that came with switching from public to private school, but one of the most unexpected changes was the school’s “Waste-Free Program.” This program demands that the campus be as “waste-free” as possible. That means nothing disposable should be brought to campus. That’s quite a change from public school, where (although I didn’t purchase them), Lunchables were popular and the school sold Sun Chips.


“Waste-Free” sounds reasonable enough, in theory. In practice, however, the logic gets way fuzzier. The idea of a “waste-free” lunch was easy enough: Anna* buys her hot lunch on campus every day, and the catering company takes care of the waste part. That’s been a welcome relief; if your kid hates sandwiches and longs for hot food, the private school’s hot lunch program is a dream come true (and, serving salads and fruit, way more nutritious than you might think).


No, it’s the snack that really screws the whole plan up. Think about it: most “snack” food is either pre-packaged or is easy to stuff into little plastic baggies (hey, I’d even opt for a paper bag). But when a school institutes a “waste-free” policy, the kids are told they can’t throw anything away (a friend’s daughter even freaked over taking a banana, because, after all, she’d have to throw the peel away). Thus, those little individually-sized reusable plastic containers come into play. And that would be fine, if kids (at least my kid) didn’t lose the little individually-sized plastic containers at a shocking rate (many parents experience the same thing regarding those $20 a pop SIGG bottles). How often are these containers “reused?” I’d say the record is about five times, before vanishing into the same parallel universe that houses single socks and lost ballpoint pens.


Far be it from me to deride the school’s excellent intentions. And they are excellent; who wouldn’t want less waste and less trash on campus? The school has done an admirable job recycling plastic bottles and sending the proceeds to a Global Buddies Program in South Africa. You can’t argue with such laudable goals.


Yet, every morning when I ponder the snack supply, and often realize once again that the container supply is back to zero, I’m fraught with the anxiety of the absurd. Send my child to school with no snack and leave her with plummeting blood sugar. Send my child to school with a snack in the verboten plastic baggie, and have her risk reprisal. And then there’s the irony when I do have the right container: that every time my kid misplaces her plastic snack container, that’s more plastic tossed into the world that won’t get reused or recycled. It’s transformed from “waste-free” to “waste-ful,” in an instant.


So be aware: private school sometimes means dealing with policies and practices that, while well intentioned, aren’t always effective. In the end, I guess it’s better if Anna ends up hyper-conscious about waste and recycling, rather than oblivious.


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. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.

Guest Blogger Jenny: How Does A Private Elementary School Handle Bullies?

Bullying is getting a ton of press these days, mostly due to the use of the internet (whether on social networking sites or live streaming video) to harass victims, sometimes, it seems, to death. In those cases, “bullying” seems a bit too mild a term for what occurred; complete invasion of privacy, harassment, and true criminal intent fits the bill a bit better.



The type of behavior our kids experience on the playground is usually of a lesser grade, more in line with what we once experienced at school ourselves. Kids get shoved off of playground equipment, excluded from games, called names, are ostracized for unique physical traits, and have their names mocked. Though highly unpleasant, this seems to be a childhood rite of passage, and I’m not sure anyone escapes unscathed.



My daughter got her first true taste of bullying in first grade, and she got it right between the eyes. Some fourth grader terrorized her on the playground, demanding her immediate removal from the monkey bars (she did not back down). This went on for weeks until she finally asked for help. Although the threat of physical violence seems bad, the worst was coming. The girl terror in her classroom, run almost solely by a very manipulative and obviously miserable little girl, was highly exclusionary and very sophisticated. My child could easily defend herself against a physical bully and win out (a decent life lesson), but she had little to no defense against the whispering rumor mongering wretch who made her whole year miserable.



This happened at a public school, and when I approached the teacher to complain, she just looked tired and replied she was late for a meeting. Some conference with the girl’s mother and the teacher happened eventually, but the girl terror pretty much lasted the entire year. I had to promise my daughter she would never, ever again share a classroom with that girl. A girl who, much like the girl bullies portrayed in the NYT article Christina previously posted, seemed old for her age, wielded a cell phone at six, and emulated teenage behavior.



Keep in mind: bullying behavior creates more bullying behavior. Kids learn it from somewhere, and most bullies were victims themselves. I watched this in action during her third grade year, as most of the class (my kid included) teamed up against an overweight girl who had often bullied others herself. It might have been payback, but it was still unacceptable. Thankfully, the teacher called the entire class to task, and everyone learned something, except the victim herself, who kept calling herself the victim even as she continued to shove my daughter off the ends of benches. Whatever.



So, that’s my experience with bullying at a public school. What would private school be like? I had no illusions that it would be a bully free environment; I went to Crossroads starting in 8th grade, and the social bullying was tremendous. And Anna* had been left with the impression that all kids were mean, so the idea of being the new kid, and thus an easy mark, weighed heavily upon her.



I’m happy to report that, at least at Mirman, bullying appears to be non-existent. Anna’s transition into the social scene has been pretty easy. There are some kids there who do appear to have poor social skills, and are less than diplomatic about wanting a turn on the monkey bars, but there seems to be none of the Lord of the Flies atmosphere of 3rd St. Anna has been included in impromptu recess theater performances and older girls teach her new gymnastic bar tricks every day. If someone gets a wrong answer in class, it isn’t an opportunity for humiliation.



Anna informed me (and this just might be Mirman student rumor mill) that some upper school students were busted for bullying, and were actually suspended. I’m not sure if this is entirely accurate, but the information certainly reassured her that she was safe from harassment at her new school. The kids at Mirman might be precocious, but they’re not particularly sophisticated in a pop culture way. The nastiness, disrespect and sarcasm of “Hannah Montana” and “The Suite Life” (shows my daughter is forbidden to watch) just doesn’t gain any points in the Mirman environment.



Mirman has a Character Counts education program, with six pillars: caring, citizenship, fairness, respect, responsibility, and trustworthiness; students voted to add cooperation, perseverance and friendship as well. If a school truly pushes this agenda, it doesn’t make for an easy bullying environment.



Plus, The Mirman Parent/Student Information Manual states very clearly: “The school does not condone physical/verbal/cyber harassment of bullying of any kind. Such actions are considered suspendable offenses, Extreme offenses may result in explusion.



So, since I can only speak for our limited time at the Mirman School, I’m curious: what do other private school parents deal with in terms of bullying (The Willows has a similar policy on its campus). Do the other schools have a definitive policy with genuine follow through? Have there been cases of outrageous bullying at your school? And, if so, how did the school deal with it?



In some ways, I worry that the extreme zero tolerance for bullying of any kind might just infantilize our kids. Learning to defend oneself from nonsense is a good skill to have; learning to ignore the malicious whispers and persevere builds great character. But, when bullying becomes almost organized on the playground and entrenched in the social scene, it leads to a break down in the natural order of things, and fosters an entire bullying environment where nothing is off limits. In the end, it’s another one of life’s delicate balancing acts: allowing enough adversity to build valuable life skills, while squelching the truly evil stuff before it poisons everything. And that’s the challenge all schools face when it comes to bullying.


Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. She has been published in the Daily News. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.

Our Guest Blogger’s Daily News Op-Ed Re: Gifted Testing

Jenny Heitz: How to get the school GATE to open in LAUSD

By Jenny Heitz, Published in the Daily News, Sunday, August 29, 2010
Updated: 08/29/2010 08:55:34 AM PDT

My daughter, Anna*, was accepted (miraculously, in fourth grade and off the wait list) to The Mirman School. The Mirman School is a private school on the Westside that has an extra requirement for entry: an IQ score in the “highly gifted” range.


Such a score, of course, requires a test. And although it sounds simple – you just schedule the test, take it, and see the results – the process is far more serpentine. There are tests, and there are tests. And when it comes to trying to get tested through the LAUSD, the process gets sticky and drawn out.


Anna completed kindergarten at her preschool. Upon entrance into first grade at Third Street Elementary School in Hancock Park, an LAUSD school, there were signs of trouble. Anna had no difficulty with the work. But she drove her inexperienced first year teacher crazy with questions and queries, to the point where the teacher humiliated her for it. Never have I been so angry with a teacher. Her standardized STAR tests, however, were excellent.


Second grade was better. A very experienced teacher took Anna in hand, gave her extra responsibilities and she seemed to flourish. He recommended testing so that she would receive “Gifted and Talented” status, something that might not do much for her at Third Street, which has almost no extra programs for GATE, but would help her in the public system later on in terms of magnet and other specialized programs.


She was tested the weekend after school let out for summer break. And it wasn’t a true IQ test. It was something called the Raven’s Progressive Matrices, which is a non-verbal intelligence test given (at least by LAUSD) in a group setting. Anna is a very verbal kid. We found out later that she left the test early. Repeat: She blew it off. And they let her.


Timeliness is not LAUSD’s strong suit. After waiting for the results for months and calling the headquarters repeatedly, we decided to get her an independent test. Independent tests, by the way, are not recognized by LAUSD. One of its own psychologists would have to administer an IQ test to have it count. Good luck scheduling that. At this point, Anna was in third grade, finishing her homework in 10 minutes, and apparently having “listening” problems in class. She didn’t have Attention Deficiency Hyperactivity Disorder. Her grades were great. So what was up?


An IQ test is given one-on-one by a psychologist, and we found Beth Levy through a friend’s recommendation. She tests kids out of her very cozy home office. There was absolutely nothing stressful about the test process. Levy was warm and friendly, a mom herself. She told us to go on a walk, and she and Anna got down to business.


Upon completion, Anna was sent into the yard to play and Levy sat down with us to go over the results. There are two IQ tests commonly used: Stanford Binet and the WISC IV. There’s a slight difference in the scoring. Levy uses the WISC IV. The test’s total score is divided into categories like verbal, performance, working memory and processing speed, which in turn are divided into subtests. There are no math problems or anxiety-provoking scenarios. Anna enjoyed the test and the individual attention. And her score was pretty high. In fact, I was surprised. Then again, it’s nice to know exactly why she’s always been such a pain in the neck.


Of course, once the cat was out of the bag, it’s hard to jam it, hissing and clawing, back in. Levy almost immediately recommended a private school situation for Anna. She pushed Mirman, a school I always thought was for scary smart kids (not my kid, I thought), as being a good choice for her. We went from being merely curious about a test score to full on shopping for private schools.


Ironically, after getting her IQ tested, her Raven’s score came back. LAUSD decided she was not gifted or talented. I guess that’s what happens when you let the kid leave the test. We would either have to push for a second, LAUSD administered one-on-one IQ test, or scream, yell, and get her teachers to write letters attesting to her working at least two levels above her grade. We went with that option, she ended up in the GATE program. But, as there are no GATE programs at Third Street, it did her no good at all. Then came the last-minute acceptance to Mirman, and suddenly it was no longer relevant.


So, how beneficial is it to get your kid IQ tested? Even after the debacle with LAUSD, I still think, that it’s absolutely worth it for public schools. There are good magnets out there and some schools do have specific programs. If nothing else, it gives you some extra leverage with your child’s teacher and gives them some perspective on your child. For private school, in most cases, it’s really not necessary, since most private schools will work with your child on a much more individual level anyway.


Anna will start at Mirman this week. She has no idea what kind of school it is, only that it’s going to be more of a challenge. She’s about to go from academically skating to possibly flailing for a while, until she gets her bearings. But that’s OK. I’d rather have a kid who’s challenged and often surpassed by her peers than going through life thinking everything’s going to be easy.



* Name changed for privacy. Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.

Congratulations to our wonderful guest blogger, Jenny, for being published in the Daily News! Dr. Beth Levy can be reached at 310-487-2206.




One Mom’s Story: From Public to Private Elementary School For 4th Grade

An Unlikely Private School Success Story


I guess I’ve given away any chance of a surprise ending to this blog post. Yes, unlike many private school admissions horror stories, this scenario has a happy ending.


There’s really no reason why it should. As an applicant, my nine year old daughter wasn’t any sort of shoo-in on the admissions front. Anna* was a public school kid, matriculating through the grades at 3rd St. Elementary pretty seamlessly. But the clock was ticking on the public school front. She seemed under stimulated. Funding for the school was in constant jeopardy, with programs under threat of extinction. And then, there was that dreaded “gap year” to worry about. It all finally came to a head when LAUSD was slow to test Anna for gifted status. I arranged for a private test, just to see what was what. And when the results came in, it seemed clear that private school was in her immediate future.


In retrospect, we were total idiots about the whole process. Completely naïve. Because we hadn’t reached this private school revelation until Anna was in 3rd grade, she’d missed that private school 3rd grade entrance year. Fourth grade would be harder. We are a divorced family, and while everyone is doing just fine, thanks, it’s not like anyone’s rolling in dough; there would be no school buildings with our names on it.


Nevertheless, we moved blithely onwards. Next step was picking the schools. We divided and conquered on this one, with my significant other helping as well. It was clear that Anna needed a lot of structure, since in a looser progressive environment she’d probably stage a military junta and start her own small country. We looked at St. James, which was lovely, but perhaps not academically challenging enough. We looked at Curtis, but we weren’t sure it was a good fit for a number of reasons. We also looked at a school that was well-meaning, but was so gooey and precious, we knew it wouldn’t work for Anna. That was out.


Here’s where we were idiots once again: we only ended up applying to two schools. No safety. This narrowed our chances for success even further. So Mirman and John Thomas Dye it was, based solely on what we felt was right for her: traditional, academically challenging, and small.


And then there were the interviews. It’s probably stressful for everyone, but in a divorce situation you really feel like you’re under the microscope. I think admissions directors are looking for any sort of tension between the ex-spouses, constantly checking for signs of trouble. It’s hard to blame them, really. We get along just fine, but I did feel the scrutiny bearing down on us. As far as appearances for the interviews, I went for something slightly more conservative than my usual garb (I teach Pilates and write. My style can best be described as “fashionable slob”). So my t-shirts were traded for button downs, I kept the jeans but wore flats rather than Converse, and I added a lovely scarf. We wrote the ADs very correct thank-you notes.


There were some notable differences in the interview process at each school. Mirman was primarily interested in the child. She was interviewed solo; we were interviewed with her present. She spent a half day at the school, simply participating in classroom activities. She took a test, of course. The whole process was extremely child centered, which we liked since she’s the one who would attend the place.


John Thomas Dye, on the other hand, was all about the family. We were interviewed together, which meant Anna clammed up. There was a huge stress put on the families engaging as a community, which sounded great, except that I couldn’t get a handle on what sort of families belonged there. There was a lot of stress put on the divorced status, with the AD talking about divorced couples she’d interviewed who couldn’t stand to be in the same room together. Obviously, that’s not the case here, but I got the feeling that we were being tested as a “unit” the entire time.


Both schools were great, though. There was no question that each would keep Anna engaged, involved, and out of trouble. The kids at both schools seemed very nice. Anna liked the schools, although she was apprehensive about leaving her environment. We settled in to wait for the letters.


And then she was wait listed. At both schools.


Oh, boy. Although we knew that with only two schools in the running and a 4th grade entrance Anna’s chances were slim, it was still a bummer. But, we did all the right things. Made the calls, stressed how interested we were, offered to build a science lab (kidding). And then we promptly forgot all about it.


The call from Mirman came in early July. It was a complete surprise. “There’s a spot that’s opened up in Room 4,” the admissions director said on my voicemail. “We’d like to offer it to Anna.” Needless to say, we jumped at it.


So how lucky is that? Admission for an off year, only applying to two schools, not offering millions of dollars, no reference letters from titans of business, initially wait listed, and then, finally, acceptance. Yes, we didn’t do everything right. It was stressful and, as I’ve previously mentioned, we were idiots. But, somehow, the whole thing worked out.


I really wish I’d known about this blog when we first started this process. I would have been far more prepared for the private school admissions reality. And then, perhaps, I could have relied more upon wits than luck. But, there’s always middle school admission to worry about, so I guess there’s another opportunity on the distant horizon. Bleh.


* Name changed for privacy. Thank you to our guest blogger, Jenny Heitz, for sharing her story. Jenny’s daughter attended preschool at Montessori Shir-Hashirim. You can find her blogging at a fabulous, well-edited site for adult and kids gifts under $200.

Next time we’ll post a list of some of the recent private elementary school acceptances from public schools.