Book Review: “Liv On Life” by Wildwood School Mom Elizabeth Gorcey

Liv On Life


Imagine how nice it was for my family to pull into our driveway to find Elizabeth Gorcey dropping off a copy of her new children’s book, Liv On Life: Going To The Park. Elizabeth is a friend of a friend, so we chatted about the book, mutual friends and our kids.  Friendly and outgoing, Elizabeth is a mom, an artist and a parent at Wildwood Elementary School. Her daughter, Liv, is the inspiration for the book, which encourages kids to embrace their authentic voices. The message of the book, that parents should pause to slow down in our busiest times to be mindful of our kid’s honesty and perspective, is a concept that fits perfectly with Wildwood School’s progressive philosophy.


Going To The Park captures moments in Liv’s life as she introduces the reader to her dog Bowie and her home life. The book is the first in a series. Stuck in traffic, Liv is thrilled because she and Bowie can look out the window. Her distracted mom isn’t so happy. Liv discovers a puppy in the car next to them, but her mom doesn’t even notice. Liv, naturally curious and creative, finds excitement in the little details that make up a quick trip to the store, the park and in her own home.


If you have a preschooler, especially one who loves pink as much as Liv, they’ll enjoy reading this delightful book with a deeper message, reminding us to take the time to be present for our kids in this high-tech, fast-paced world. With her patient persistence and wit, Liv encourages us all to slow down to notice the beautiful, funny everyday moments in our lives. Because that’s exactly what Liv does.


Please join author Elizabeth Gorcey at Skylight Books on Sunday, Oct. 5, 3-5 p.m. for a book launch party! Enjoy sweet treats and espresso with the author, her daughter and other families. For more information or to buy the book, visit Skylight Books.


About the Author: Director, producer and actor Elizabeth Gorcey has expanded her repertoire to book publishing with the LIV ON LIFE (”LOL”) children’s book series. The twelve-book series is written from the endearing perspective of Elizabeth’s daughter, Olivia, who shares her insights and observations on modern-day life. Elizabeth currently lives in LA with her family. When not making films or publishing books, she works diligently on her non-profit art program for terminally ill children called the CARING STROKES ART PROGRAM. For more info, please vist 


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Q and A: Emma Katznelson, Wildwood School’s New Director of Admissions


Emma Katznelson
Emma Katznelson, Director of Admissions and Enrollment Management, Wildwood School

We’re delighted to welcome Emma Katznelson to Beyond The Brochure! Emma is the new  Director of Admissions and Enrollment Management at Wildwood School.  Emma earned her B.A. from Columbia University and her masters in education from UC Berkeley. Emma began her work at Wildwood as a Division Three (9th and 10th grades) humanities teacher in 2009 and subsequently served as a division coordinator. She joined the admission team as associate director last year. I’ve written about Wildwood School’s beautiful outdoor space previously on the blog. Congratulations on your new job, Emma! – Christina


Question: You have a very busy job that involves interviewing lots of families and deciding who to admit. How do you plan to approach your new job?


Answer: First and foremost, at the heart of my job, is doing what’s best for students. I joined Wildwood four years ago as a 9th and 10th grade humanities teacher, advisor, and division coordinator (teacher leader). Each of these roles has allowed me to expand my understanding of how to prepare young people for today’s world.  As the director of admission, I continue to use my experience in the classroom to inform my approach to outreach, admission, and community building.  Wildwood is a progressive, college-prep school. Our program is unique and a large part of my job is to ensure families understand the benefits of an education that is student-centered, project-based, and multicultural. As families go through our application process, my goal is to assess the best fit for students, especially considering if they will be and feel successful here—academically, socially, emotionally and including extracurricular activities.  Part of what creates that success is our warm community.  An important aspect of my role is engaging current students and their parents in fostering an environment where all feel welcome.


Question:  What are the most important qualities Wildwood looks for in applicant children for kindergarten?


Answer: At our elementary school, life skills are embedded throughout the curriculum. These include concepts of flexibility, perseverance, curiosity, and integrity, to name a few. These qualities inform our practice. Our admissions process for students entering kindergarten includes a school tour, parent interview, Saturday campus visit day to explore school readiness, and a recommendation letter from the child’s current preschool director.  Our evaluative approach is holistic, looking at the whole child.

Wildwood Elementary School: Big Yard
Wildwood Elementary School: Big Yard


Question: Is there a certain type of family that Wildwood admits?


Answer: At Wildwood, we celebrate differences and value commonalities. The families who join us feel at home here, are eager to be part of an intellectually vibrant place, and want to connect—through volunteering in the library, cheering our athletes at a game, or sharing expertise and insights.  They believe in the power of personal discovery and the pursuit of passion.  When parents are key collaborators in their child’s education, their children thrive.


Question: Do you have any tips for parents who will be applying to Wildwood?


Answer: Admissions is a reciprocal process.  Our intent is to get to know prospective students and parents as authentically as possible. We invite families to do the same: get to know our culture and program, visit our website, attend open houses, parent education evenings, and school tours, and, most importantly, ask lots of questions. Take advantage of the many opportunities we provide to learn what differentiates Wildwood.


Question: If a child is wait-listed, is there any chance of being admitted at Wildwood? How does that work?


Answer: Every year, we have more students apply than the number of spaces available at each entry point. Our ability to accept children off the wait-list varies with each admission cycle. In any given year, if an opening presents itself, we look to our wait-list. We are intentional about considering the make-up of a particular class and the applicant as an individual.


Question: Can you give our readers a sense of the financial aid outlook at Wildwood for 2013-14?


Answer: Wildwood is committed to developing a multicultural school population that mirrors the broader Los Angeles community. Our endowment fund was established specifically for financial aid to provide students who could not otherwise afford a Wildwood education the opportunity to enroll in our school. We support the needs of as many families as possible and our fundraising efforts continue to allow us to uphold this important part of our mission.


For more information, please visit,


Guest Blogger Samantha: My Son Wasn’t Held Back…He Was Given A Chance To Move To The Front!


Redshirting For Kindergarten: A Popular Trend

I’m from Texas, and there, redshirting is a term used in football.  I had no idea what it meant concerning kindergarten, but I was soon to find out…


My son has a summer birthday.  I didn’t plan it that way, of course, that was up to the Gods.  In fact, he was born 9.5 weeks early, so he would have been almost an Autumn baby if things had worked out as they were supposed to, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.


Anyway, when it came time for kindergarten, my kiddo still seemed young.  Not chronologically, necessarily, but he was still carrying around his transitional object, read: lovey.  Need I say more?


It’s not that my boy couldn’t go to kindergarten — he’d met all the cut off dates, and he was ready intellectually.  It’s that he would probably be learning phonics from underneath a table or while somersaulting, because emotionally it was clear that he wasn’t ready.


Initially my husband wasn’t happy with the idea that he was being “held back”.  But, as I told him, and now share with you, I think that’s the wrong way to think about it.


See, my son wasn’t held back, he was given room to move to the front.


We gave my son a gift, which allowed him to have a little more time to mature and, as a consequence, gain self-confidence.  As one of the oldest boys in his class, he became a leader at his preschool; a child the other kids looked up to.   He was the cool, older guy.  Ya know, the one who’d moved past Star Wars and graduated to Harry Potter. That’s serious stuff at a preschool. It was truly wonderful to watch!


When kindergarten time came, my son was six and he was ready.  My boy felt good about himself and I knew I didn’t have to worry.  Juxtaposed to how unsure I was of his ability the year before, it was such a relief!


And, it goes without saying, my husband thinks it’s one of the greatest ideas he ever came up with (whose idea was it?), and both of us think it was one of the best decisions we ever made.


In the end I gave my son a better head on his shoulders as he starts his journey through school and into adulthood, and who can argue that isn’t a good thing?


Here’s a previous post on Redshirting from Perfectly Disheved. It includes the 60 Minutes story on the topic.
Samantha Goodman is the mom of a First Grader at Wildwood School and a preschooler at 10th St. Preschool in Santa Monica. Samantha’s son also attended 10th St. Preschool. Before her current parenting hiatus she was a screenwriter in Hollywood.


Guest Blogger Samantha: What Is It Really Like At Wildwood School?


So, you want to know what it’s really like at Wildwood School…Well, the truth is, it’s awesome – or I should say, it’s awesome for my family.


I was worried, as I think most sane parents are, about the level of entitlement that might exist at a Los Angeles private school.  Worried for my child, but also worried for me.  I mean look, I was well aware that I was gonna have to see these folks everyday – potentially for years.  Now, for the kind of misanthropic person I can sometimes be, well, that’s a HUGE commitment!


Thankfully, thus far, it’s been pretty smooth sailing and I’ve met lots of great people at Wildwood!


Cue the applause.


Admittedly, I’m a new parent at Wildwood, my son just having started last year, but really, so far so good…


Families come from all over town at Wildwood.  Most folks that I hang with and have met are down to earth, normal, like-minded souls — just regular people trying to live interesting, thoughtful lives.  And, the same can be said of the Administration, Faculty and Staff.  I was thrilled to realize, once school started, that there were many people who worked at Wildwood with whom I would HAPPILY have a beer or glass of wine – maybe even two.


Now that’s a recommendation in my book!


There are families with money at Wildwood.  Some of them have, I would imagine, A LOT of money.  There are also families with not so much.  Some families have their parents help with tuition.  Some don’t.  It really seems like a hodgepodge of differing scenarios.


Wildwood is, in my opinion, very “normal” in terms of people and their relationship to money.  The cars at pick-up are just that — cars, not a replica of the Barney’s parking lot.  People don’t wear couture clothing to drop off their kids…

I have yet to see a tiara.


Volunteering, happily, seems to really mean volunteering.  I was involved this year at Wildwood, but was selective about where I spent my time.  Some of my friends took their first year “off”, as it were, and wanted to get the lay of the land before they committed to anything.  Others hit the ground running, and really rolled up their proverbial sleeves.


And you know what?  Any and all of that seemed ok.  There seemed to be no pressure, no — do more, give more, be more attitude – at all.  It really has felt genuinely relaxed, and I’m thrilled…


And did I mention?   Relieved.

Samantha Goodman is the mom of a First Grader at Wildwood School and a preschooler at 10th St. Preschool in Santa Monica. Samantha’s son also attended 10th St. Preschool. Before her current parenting hiatus she was a screenwriter in Hollywood.

Guest Blogger Samantha: Seeing "The Race To Nowhere" Made Me Grateful For Wildwood School


Did you see the film The Race to Nowhere?  Well, if you didn’t, you should.  I’m not here to critique filmmaking (as if everyone needs to be Ingmar Bergman), but this film really gives one food for thought.  Not to mention also giving you dyspepsia, and a bout of depression as you contemplate the state of the world, and more specifically, the state of education in this country.  Oy vey.


Basically, as stated in the petition on the film’s website, Race to Nowhere wants to “end the race” by implementing these basic ideas:


•  Support a broad based quality curriculum (including the arts and physical education) and teaching in every school;


•  Eliminate the competitive allocation of resources based on high stakes tests;


•  Reflect quality research and practices supporting the developmental needs of “whole” children and adolescents;


•  Foster diverse talents, develop 21st century and citizen skills and encourage the growth of individual students and teachers and respect for both; and


•  Restrict the number of hours students are in school and working on schoolwork outside of school hours.


Clearly, there are many problems with our educational template.  Some caused by politicians, some caused by teachers unions, some caused by Boards of Education, and yes, some caused by us – the parents.  When I was thinking about schools for my son, and then, in turn, for my daughter, I pondered many of these issues as a concerned and relatively well-informed parent.  After seeing The Race to Nowhere I thanked my lucky stars to have chosen the educational path that we did for our children and I thanked my lucky stars for Wildwood School.  Miraculously, Wildwood was addressing almost every single issue discussed in the film, and they had been doing it long before the topic became the “it” subject across the country.


The thought process that led me to Wildwood School was as follows:  Of course, I am interested in my child doing well academically.  But, I believe that doing well in school is a desire that has to be ignited in children; they have to associate school with that which is enjoyable.  If school starts reminding a child of what it feels like to take medicine, well, you’ve lost them already.  I figured that if I wanted a shot for my kids academically I had to pick a place where they would really learn to love learning.  I had to pick a place where the journey to academic mastery was as important as the mastery itself.  I had to pick a place where children could be children, and where joy in the classroom didn’t compete with test scores.  Luckily, I found Wildwood.


Here is how Wildwood embraces the ideas proposed in The Race to Nowhere:


Wildwood uses Best Practices, which are philosophies and practices based upon 32 years of research from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  This ongoing study has looked into how the brain works and how students, all students, learn best. See, here at Wildwood, educational research is put into practice. Wildwood has a learner centered curriculum, which means that the kids really like learning! They get to be part of their own learning process. Now come on, how cool is that?  Don’t you wish you’d gone to a school that did that?


Wildwood assesses children beyond standard letter grades by giving a multi-dimensional picture of student growth.  The whole child is evaluated, so you really know how your child is doing, not just how they are doing on a test.


Homework isn’t assigned arbitrarily, and isn’t formalized until 3rd grade.


Route memorization and cramming useless facts and figures into your head is NOT what is happening at Wildwood!  Instead, Wildwood incorporates Project Based Learning, which has been proven to be one of the most effective ways that children learn.  Really.  Google it. Project-based learning (PBL): is an approach for classroom activity that emphasizes learning activities that are long-term, interdisciplinary and student-centered.


And don’t fool yourself, kids at Wildwood work really hard, and they learn all the things that they need to be competitive for college and in life.


It’s just that they like doing it a little more than at other schools and they won’t get an ulcer before they graduate.


I found The Race To Nowhere, frankly, to be a calling card for Wildwood.  I watched some of my friends at more traditional schools give serious pause to some of their choices.  They started cutting back on extracurricular activities for their kids, slowing down a bit, toning down the pressure, and maybe giving a second look at Wildwood come Middle School application time…


And I smile, because I remember the fable of the tortoise and the hare.

Samantha Goodman is the mom of a Kindergartner at Wildwood School and a preschooler at 10th St. Preschool in Santa Monica. Samantha’s son also attended 10th St. Preschool. Before her current parenting hiatus she was a screenwriter in Hollywood.