A BIG Change: From Progressive Elementary School To Traditional Middle School

Potomac, MD, July 2014
A visit to Potomac, MD, July 2014

There is a common narrative that says moving from a progressive to a traditional school could mean your kid might be unprepared or even fall behind. I’ve never believed that sentiment, mainly because successful students come from all kinds of schools. I hope my kids’ experience helps further dispel that notion. Not surprisingly, some parents wonder (and often worry) about what the transition from a developmental/progressive to a traditional school will be like for their kid. I’ll admit, I was concerned too, but I tend to worry about everything, so this isn’t anything new.  Will this change be smooth, with few adjustments needed to deal with different educational philosophies? Or, will the transition between different types of schools require tutoring, lots of hours studying and stress for their kid? Will programs align or will there be a big gap between the schools?


Coming from a progressive/developmental elementary school, my kids entered their new traditional school with valuable skills and strengths. The approach to learning acquired during their early education is intrinsically part of who they are. Yet, crossing over to a new type of school meant they had to quickly learn new skills in areas that were unfamiliar to them.


After seven years at The Willows, we realized it was time for our kids to make a change. By nature they are structured, competitive and self-motivated. This signaled to us that it was time to look at traditional schools.


Below, I’ve listed some of the most/least challenging aspects of the progressive-to-traditional school transition for my kids.



Here’s what has been the MOST challenging for my kids:


1. Standardized tests. Generally speaking, progressive schools place less emphasis on the value of standardized tests than their traditional counterparts. Therefore, very little time is spent preparing kids for these tests. In progressive schools, classroom work isn’t geared to generating high standardized test scores and the way material is taught differs from the way it appears on standardized tests. During the 4th grade ERBs (mandated for all Independent Schools) at Willows, my daughter got strep throat and missed 4 out of the 5 test days. We asked for a make-up test date and were told there wasn’t going to be an opportunity to make up the test. Let’s just say that response didn’t go over well with my husband who pushed for a make-up test, which was administered for my daughter (it was optional for other kids). The concept, Teach To The Test isn’t found in progressive schools, while there are some traditional L.A. private elementary schools that spend substantial time getting kids ready for standardized tests. Test-preparation was money well spent to prepare my daughter for the ISEE (middle school entrance exam).


2.  Learning how to take a traditional test. Traditional schools give tests using multiple- choice questions. Sometimes, there are essay and multiple choice portions, but rarely are there tests that only have an essay question.  The way progressive and traditional schools test similar material (a book, for example) will be very different. For my kids, this required learning a new study skill. Multiple choice tests with answer choices that are very similar are common at traditional schools. This requires reading and studying with a focus on small details of a story, a poem or a chapter. Scantron tests were also new to my kids.


3. An increase in the amount of homework, tests and quizzes.  At a developmental/progressive school, students are given more project-oriented work that requires research, collaboration, planning and writing. In a traditional school, especially in middle school, there is homework in every class and several tests and/or quizzes each week. Tests and quizzes were less frequent at our developmental/progressive school and the homework was much lighter. The first time my son heard the term “pop test” was this year. My daughter had to adjust to a heavy volume of tests and homework, a big jump from the previous year.



Here’s what has been the LEAST challenging for my kids:


1. Organizational skills. My kids benefitted tremendously from their developmental/progressive school’s big, bold projects, which required extensive planning, organization and attention to a timeline/schedule. Staying organized, knowing what comes next and turning in assignments on time has been seamless for both my kids.


2. Working in groups. At the core of a developmental/progressive school is the belief that the sharing of ideas and working with each other is essential to learning.  Collaborating with other kids, sharing and expressing thoughts, listening to others’ opinions respectfully are concepts my kids understand. There is a lot less group work at a traditional school, but my kids have leadership skills that have been recognized—and called upon—by their peers.


3. Critical thinking. My kids both developed excellent critical thinking skills at their former school. The ability to ask thoughtful questions both in class–and after class– is also something they learned because it was encouraged. Asking questions and questioning the teacher (appropriately…think debate style) are essential skills progressive schools can teach kids.


Ultimately, your kid’s personality and other factors, along with your own preferences, will help determine the type of school that’s right for him/her. For my kids, a progressive elementary school worked well, but as the kids got older we knew we wanted a more traditional secondary school, one that aligned more closely with their interests and goals. I’m grateful my kids will have the benefit of both progressive and traditional private schools.


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School’s Out, Summer’s Here!

Viewpoint Art: The kids painted pictures that were used to create  sets of beautiful notecards. Of course, my heart melted when I saw my son's notecards (above)
Viewpoint Art: The kids painted pictures that were used to create sets of beautiful notecards. Of course, my heart melted when I saw my son’s notecard (pictured above).

My kids just completed their first year at Viewpoint School. And what a year it has been!


Both my kids started the school year excited but slightly apprehensive about a new school. They’ve finished this year happy, tired, confident, dazzled and inspired. They will be both be spending time at the school this summer. My son will be at basketball camp and my daughter will be a Counselor In Training at Viewpoint’s Roadrunner camp.

My son performing at the 4th grade California Fiesta Assembly…part of the study of California history.
My son performing at the 4th grade California Fiesta Assembly…part of the study of California history.

Viewpoint School welcomed our family in a way words cannot explain. The warmth, kindness and sense of community is real. It is a school where much is expected of the kids and much is given back to them. It is traditional, rigorous and competitive academically. The dress code is enforced. Good behavior is expected. Achievement to one’s fullest potential is encouraged and expected. Along with those qualities, there is an ever-present nurturing quality about Viewpoint that my kids intuitively appreciate.

A happy Viewpoint mom!
A happy Viewpoint mom!

Viewpoint Gala Night On The Town

Most of all, we are grateful for the kindest, most genuine welcome our family could have imagined.We have been embraced by the headmaster, the admissions director, the teachers and administrators. And the other parents too. This made our first year at the school a huge success. We look forward to many more years there. It’s a good feeling.


Thank you, Viewpoint School. Thank you.


Let’s be social! Like Beyond The Brochure on Facebook or Follow us on Twitter. Are you more the email type? Get our posts in your in box by subscribing (enter your email in the subscribe” box on the right sidebar of the blog. Or, buy the Second Edition of our book at Amazon.com or your local bookstores!

Reader Question: How Do I Know If I Selected The Right Private Elementary School?



One of our wonderful blog readers emailed me with a question about picking the right school. This question is personal for me because I often wonder if I made a mistake with our previous school. See my conclusion below.  –Christina


Question: It’s been a long week of intense debate, extreme list and spreadsheet making and we finally selected a school. The school we didn’t choose seemed pretentious, but it had a lot to offer. We picked the school that also offers a lot, but where we think the parents are “our people.” Now, I feel some remorse (and regret?) with our decision. How do I know if I picked the right school?


Answer: Selecting a school for your kid can be filled with uncertainty (it was for me!). Second-guessing your decision, doubts, lingering thoughts about “what if” may persist until you just decide to embrace your decision and forget about the other school.


Let me just say that you’ll never be able to answer the question fully until your child is a student at your school and some time has passed. Then, most likely, it will become “your school” and the fleeting doubts will be a distant memory. Transitions to a new school are usually uneventful, but for some kids it can be a bumpy few months. So, try to resist judging the school until your family is settled there. Then, if your intuition tells you something isn’t right or if your child isn’t happy, you can try to figure out what’s really going on.


Unfortunately, I have frequent regrets about selecting The Willows Community School where my kids were generally happy, but Barry and I were not. Why did we spend so many years there? I know I need to put this chapter behind me. For various reasons, my family didn’t fit in at The Willows like we do at Viewpoint.


My decisions for selecting the Willows weren’t entirely flawed. For elementary school, I wanted a progressive/developmental school with excellent teachers and a small, nurturing environment with all the “bells and whistles.” The Willows is all that. It was the wrong school for our family for completely subjective, not objective reasons. The problem for us wasn’t something I could point to on a school brochure or during a tour. The culture of the school wasn’t right for us. We didn’t fit the very specific culture of the school. The more I volunteered and tried to make the fit work, the worse it got. Contributing to the school, both financially and with our free time was a wasted effort. I watched great families in a similar situation leave the school in first grade and second grade. We stayed. Every year I hoped something would change. It never did.  In retrospect, I realized the priorities of the school administration, the board and many of the parents were far different than ours. However, if we hadn’t stayed at Willows, we probably wouldn’t be at Viewpoint School now. Of course, I find myself thinking, “I wish my kids had started kindergarten at Viewpoint!” But, in the end everything worked out better than I could have imagined. Isn’t that how life works?


Let’s be social! Like Beyond The Brochure on Facebook or Follow us on Twitter. Are you more the email type? Get our posts in your in box by subscribing (enter your email in the subscribe” box on the right sidebar of the blog. Or, buy the Second Edition of our book at Amazon.com or your local bookstores!


Weekend Links: Articles, Photos, Events and More!


Beyond The Brochure's 3rd year speaking at the wonderful Aria Montessori Preschool in Pasadena. What a great place!
Beyond The Brochure’s 3rd year speaking to families about kindergarten admissions at the wonderful Aria Montessori Preschool in Pasadena. What a great place!

Oakwood School Holiday Boutique is open to the community.  A chance to see the school and shop! November 13, 2013, 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM in the Music, Dance and Athletic Center. Valet parking available on Lemp Ave. Kick-start your holiday shopping at the Oakwood School Holiday Boutique! Get a jump on some chic and festive shopping while supporting a great cause. The impressive and thoughtfully curated vendor list includes Joe’s Jeans, Jacqueline B., Shelley’s Fashion, Soto Boutique, SY Devore, Curio and Kind, Clare Vivier, Classy Bag Lady, and Tough Cookies. Browse jewelry from Eden Rox, Stella & Dot and Maya Brenner, to name a few. For additional updates follow us at Oakwood School or https://www.facebook.com/OakwoodSchoolHolidayBoutique.


We spent last weekend in Anaheim for a hoops tournament:



Here’s a piece about one of Viewpoint School’s assemblies written by my friend Matt Steiner of Launch Education Group. It gives insight into the amazing culture of my kids’ school! (Launch Education Group)


Are standards too high at Harvard-Westlake School? An interesting article about the stress and demands on students at this top-ranked school.  (LA Times)


At Scottsdale Country Day School in Arizona, a 3rd grader was threatened with expulsion for these graphic drawings and journal entries that depict and describe violence.  The kid’s parents are furious and pulled him out of the school. (CNN and CBS5az.com)


The headmaster of the elite Tower Hill School in Wilmington, Delaware has been arrested on charges of dealing in child porn. The school’s alumni include Dr. Oz and congressman and senators. (abclocal.com)


I’ll be chatting with moms at BabyTalk LA later this week. Have a great weekend! Christina


Click on This Girl Walks Into A Bar to check out Bungalow Clothing shopping experience

Getting Started At Viewpoint, Our New School

Ready for school

The lazy days of summer continue with time off for our family, a short vacation to see friends and family in the Washington D.C. area, tons of my son’s basketball games and tournaments and, of course, preparation for the kids to start school at Viewpoint in the fall.

Baller heaven. A 3-day tournament in Anaheim
Baller heaven. A 3-day tournament in Anaheim

We’ve been to new parent welcome events at the school and have a few more coming up. My daughter took a creative writing class at Viewpoint last week. She loved it. A fabulous teacher and new friends! What could be better? My daughter and I met a new family at the her orientation day and the girls have already had two playdates. My son is in basketball star Lisa Leslie’s camp, held at Viewpoint, and it is excellent. She combines drills, playing and techniques with social skills like how to introduce yourself to someone. The kids are all ears. He’s also doing a week of sports camp there. The welcome to Viewpoint has been warm, friendly and incredibly well organized.


When I got the list of possible volunteer activities from the school, I immediately signed up to work on the annual giving campaign and I plan to join the multicultural committee. But, the list of ways to get involved had something for everyone, from chairing committees to being a room parent to working on the annual fundraiser. The way you get involved depends somewhat on your kids’ grade level. Volunteering when your kid is in high school might involve different activities than when you have a kindergartner. After all, would your high schooler want or need you as a room parent?


A few days ago, I got a super-nice email from our host family who has a daughter entering 7th grade. We’ll get to meet them at an event soon.


I can’t say enough good things about how friendly and welcoming Viewpoint has been to our entire family.


Change is good. I don’t take any of this for granted. Not even for a moment. I’m just very grateful for it all.