Westridge School: Where Girls Are Unstoppable!


Welcome to Westridge School!
Welcome to Westridge School!

Arriving at Westridge School in Pasadena on a cloudy morning, I was immediately struck by the serene beauty of the school, which sits on a cul-de-sac on a quiet residential street. Westridge is an assemblage of a set of 17 graceful, elegant Craftsman style buildings, interspersed with mid-century modern structures. The 9.5 acre campus is filled with trees and has the feel of a small college campus, appropriately scaled for girls grades 4-12.


WR 1

Helen Hopper, director of admissions and Monica Menez, the school’s communications director, welcomed me graciously to the office where we talked before setting off on a campus tour. Helen has been with Westridge for 26 years and Monica joined the staff almost 10 years ago. They are both lovely. Helen is the type of administrator I immediately connected with. I trusted her invaluable experience. She’s so friendly and articulate, with knowledge of both the big picture of the school and the tiniest detail. Monica is young and fun, a role model and someone the girls can identify with.


Craftsman inspired!
Craftsman inspired!

Sitting in Helen’s office, I asked about the overall educational philosophy of the school, which Helen described as a “progressive, college preparatory girls education.” Westridge begins in 4th grade because, as Helen explained, “Research shows that’s the age when girls benefit from a single sex education.” Under the leadership of head of school, Elizabeth McGregor, Westridge will celebrate its Centennial next year, an amazing accomplishment.” Founded in 1913 by Mary Lowther Ranney, a noted architect and teacher who had been denied the right to vote, Ms. Ranney opened the school in her home so that girls would have the right to be fully educated. The school has based its programs on girls’ developmental stages of learning with qualities like confidence and critical thinking demonstrated by girls, for girls, forming the central tenet of the school. The rest is, quite literally, history, as the school enters its second century!


How cool!
How cool!

Simply put, Westridge is astounding! The breath of programs and the warmth of the school are impossible to overlook. It boasts some formidable advantages, including very robust, state-of-the-art signature science and arts programs, a college preparatory curriculum, and top-tier faculty, many who have advanced degrees.


Lower School classroom
Lower School classroom

In the Lower School (Grades 4-6), there are about 100 girls. The language arts curriculum is integrated to connect the study units with what the students are leaning in science and other subjects. Math, performing arts and Spanish offer immersion into these subjects with a focus on collaboration, group work and hands on learning. This style of education underscores the school’s progressive approach.


The Sciences Are Front and Center

The Science and Math Building
The Science and Math Building

As I walked around the campus, not really wanting to leave the quaint oasis, we entered the incredible new upper school science and math building, a 14,000 square foot, two story space where students “do science, not just study it.” (Westridge School). It is filled with chemistry labs, math classrooms, physics labs, technology and a data center to support the school’s 150 laptops. The eco-friendly quality of the building (it is a Platium LEED-certified project) allows for teaching about green technology and environmental education.


Girls and science go together!
Girls and science go together!

Art With Panache

Equally as impressive as the school’s science programs are its performing arts programs. In the Lower School, choral music in all three grades is emphasized, adding string instruments in 5th and 6th grades. Art, drawing, painting and mixed media are offered in all three grades and ceramics is added for 6th grade. The Performing Arts Center, a 600 seat, state-of-the-art theater is the home for numerous theatrical productions, concerts, dances and more.



As Helen, Monica and I crisscrossed the courtyard to reach the Lower School, Helen stopped to ask a group of girls to chat about the school for a few minutes. Eager to share their Westridge experiences, the girls told me about the ease of making friends, the great teachers and their enthusiasm for coming to school every day. The quiet of the campus is filled with girls’ laughter, a lot of pink and purple backpacks and khaki-skirted uniforms. Helen pointed out that Westridge has human development programs, student council and a full-time nurse and counselor on staff, with courses to help girls navigate the social and health issues of tween/teen years in a safe, non-threatening place. Some of these life skills courses are offered in the after-school enrichment program for grades 4-8 that is included in the tuition. Clearly, Westridge has sharp insight into what girls want and need!


WR 25

Lower School Spanish
Lower School Spanish

According to Helen, the main entry points for admission are 4th, 6th, 7th and 9th grades. For 6th grade, the school adds between 8-10 students and about 1/3 of the students are admitted for 7th grade (about 20 new students). Incoming students are admitted from both public and private schools. Families from the San Gabriel Valley, Los Feliz, Silverlake, Atwater Village and other areas attend Westridge. The total enrollment, 4-12 grades is 480 students, with an average class size of 14 and a student/faculty ratio of 6:1. Tution for 2012-13 is $25,550 for grades 4-6. Financial aid is an important part of the school’s mission, with approximately 1/3 of the current students receiving some financial aid. Awards range from a few hundred dollars to full tuition. Tours are ongoing by request.


WR 2

College matriculation

Westridge is proud that in the past six years, it has produced 22 National Merit Scholarship finalists. The Class of 2012 gained admission to Brown, U.C. campuses, University of Chicago, Claremont McKenna College, Johns Hopkins, USC, Stanford, MIT and many more.


Athletics field
Athletics field

Westridge School’s past has informed its present in a remarkable way. It’s impossible to miss the impact and contributions of the school’s founder and its alumna over the years. Yet, Westridge has embraced state-of-the-art science, art and technology in a truly modern way.


WR 17

Westridge School is the belle of the ball…and of the world!


Saint Mark’s Episcopal School: Timeless Tradition, Talented Teachers, And Tech Tools!


Saint Mark’s Episcopal School’s front offices are housed in a stately, renovated home on a residential street in Altadena. It is private and welcoming, situated on a lovely campus. Located on several acres, the school’s ambience is graceful and spacious.


I visited the school on a sunny morning earlier this week. As a first-time visitor to the school, Joscelle Shen,* the assistant head of school, greeted me at the front door. She exudes warmth and kindness and was extremely attentive throughout our meeting and tour. Joscelle is the mom of three kids and a parent at Saint Mark’s, so she is extremely well versed in every aspect of the school.


We started by watching a short parent-made video about the school. I mention that parents created the video because Saint Mark’s is a school where parent involvement is both encouraged and expected. Each parent is asked to commit to 25 hours per year to help the school with a variety of projects, from the book fair or library to creating the annual report and a wide range of other activities. My guess is that many parents exceed the 25 hours because they enjoy helping the school so much. One of the most impressive aspects of this school is its genuine sense of community. Saint Mark’s parents are a cohesive group of families who volunteer and worship together. A friendly, low-key attitude defines this vibrant school. There is a marked lack of pretense and the solid foundation created by the school’s 50 years of tradition is apparent.


Classrooms and a courtyard


Saint Mark’s is a traditional, preschool-6th school. Students wear uniforms and call teachers by their last names. It is an in-demand school, well respected for its extremely academic curriculum, which is a carefully constructed to focus on the whole child (academic, social, emotional and spiritual). The school has a quiet dignity about it. Nothing is chaotic or uncontrolled, either within the classroom or outside. The school’s mission of academic excellence, respect for diversity, self-responsibility and spiritual growth informs and guides its daily work.


The art studio: A splendid space!


The academic curriculum at Saint Mark’s includes core classes and seven subject specialists for science, Spanish, music, art and other subjects. Respecting and building upon the school’s history, the program is rigorous and cutting-edge. The director of the school, Doreen Oleson, Ed.D., has a consistent vision and the extensive educational experience to deliver upon the school’s stated mission. And she does!


Young scientists learn here!


The multi-dimensional program is carefully constructed. As expected, it includes requirements like math, reading and other subjects. Students attend chapel twice per week. Science is taught with “hands and minds on,” Joscelle told me. Students learn through experiencing materials. Spanish is taught through reading and writing, and also cooking and art.  Notably, incorporating current affairs like immigration issues happens in Spanish class.


The technology lab: So right now!


One of the most impressive parts of the school is the robust Tech Lab. Saint Mark’s is an extremely tech-savvy school! The Tech Lab is visited by students one hour each week, where they use a variety of programs to  become proficient in PowerPoint, Excel, and Word. They also learn Google Sketch, Frames Amination, iMovie and more. Everything that happens in the Tech lab is integrated and coordinated with the kids’ classroom work. They aren’t learning PowerPoint just to know it; they are using it in their assignments. The Lab has two staff, who work with the students. Technology extends beyond the Lab too, into the classrooms and students’ hands. Every classroom at Saint Mark’s has a MondoPad, a very large iPad, at the front of the class. The 6th graders have their own iPads. Other grades share iPads with one other student. Saint Mark’s has made an investment in the latest technology and the staff has the skills to use it and teach with it. This is a standout program and it opens the world of technology to Saint Mark’s students in a meaningful way.


Kindergarten play area


Saint Mark’s has wonderful, authentic diversity in both its faculty and student body. There are students of virtually every ethnic background and one teacher in the video pointed out that many of his students are mixed-race, reflecting the local community.


One of two big kindergarten classrooms


The kindergarten classrooms at Saint Mark’s are very large, bright and welcoming. They are filled with colorful kids’ artwork, teacher’s information and inspiration. Each class has 20 students and one teacher who is assisted by a teacher intern (in the process of getting their teaching credential). There are two classes per grade.


Another view of the kindergarten classroom


The school will break ground next summer on a new lush, green outdoor classroom next to the courtyard that is sure to excite everyone.


Sports field


When students apply to secondary schools, Saint Mark’s graduates go on to the following schools: Barnhardt, Chandler, Gooden, Flintridge Prep., Mayfield Junior School, Polytechnic, Westridge School For Girls and other private and local public schools.


Hoop it up!


There is an understated clarity of purpose at Saint Mark’s that is truly impressive. Parents, faculty and students alike embrace the school’s tagline, “Passion For Learning, Compassion For The World” and it is evident throughout this magnificent gem of a school.


Saint Mark’s is a sophisticated salute to past, present and future! If you are looking for a state-of-the-art, traditional school, you should definitely tour this Saint Mark’s. And when you do, ask for Joscelle!


* Sadly Joschelle Shen lost her battle with cancer in August 2016. In July 2017 Dan Hare assumed the title of Director of Enrollment Management.” He can be reached at danh at saint-marks dot org.