Reader Question: Will You Please Share Information From Your Event re: Family Message

Christina Simon, Celebrity Mom, Dayna Devon and Porcha Dodson at an event Dayna held at her home for Wagon Wheel and Montessori Shir-Hashirim Preschool parents last year. Dayna is now a mom at Curtis School.

Whenever we speak to groups of parents who are applying to private elementary schools, I talk about how I developed a “family message.” This is a concept Anne Simon, my co-author and step-mom, helped me come up with. It’s the way I was able to write about and discuss our family’s attributes, interests and child. I used these points in our written applications, parent interviews and even thank you notes.

My family message included these points:

1. We are well-educated (Harvard and Berkeley) and have advanced degrees from Harvard Law School and UCLA

2. We are committed to private school. We have ruled out public school

3. We have volunteered in our community and served on non-profit boards

4. We have a shy, studious daughter who will benefit from a developmental school

5. Our family is NOT artistic, but we want our kids exposed to the arts  

6. We have specific skills that can benefit your school i.e. fundraising and finance       
My family


Your family message should be unique to your family. But, don’t be afraid to share things that your family values like diversity, the outdoors or the arts. This is really about helping the admissions directors get to know your family!


During talks, we mention that if you are a graduate of one of the schools where you are applying, you should discuss that. For example, “As a graduate of XYZ school, I would like my child to benefit from the outstanding education I received. My experience at XYZ school has benefited me academically and socially throughout my life (explain further if needed).


We also discuss ways you can describe your child that steer away from cliches like “leader” or “precocious” which tend to be overused and vague. Try to explain your child’s unique attributes in a straightforward manner. For example, “Henry will pass the ball to any kid who is open on his soccer team. He doesn’t care whether the kid is the best player or not.” This describes qualities like maturity, sharing and leadership without using those words.


Also, think about how your child learns, the environment where he learns best. For example, my son needs a lot of physical activity…he’s super high energy, but can still focus and follow classroom instruction. I needed a school that had a lot of yard time, PE, etc. He’s outgoing and friendly. I wrote about this in his application.


Hope this helps!


Your Family’s Key Messages Part 2: Who Is Your Family?

Who Is Your Family?

Your Family’s Key Messages: Make Your Application Standout is our most-read blog post. We think it resonates with readers because the idea of developing a “family message” makes sense when you are preparing to be asked to answer a variety of questions about your family in written applications and parent interviews. 

It’s not always easy to discuss your family’s values, interests, work, volunteerism, academics, educational philosophies, diversity, your child’s personality and interests–and more– with numerous admissions directors. That’s why thinking about what you’ll write and say ahead of time will help convey the most important things you want each school to know about your family. When I was applying to schools, I found it helpful to think of my family as a  “brand”. 

A family “brand” or set of messages is really just a clear, concise way of describing the most important, meaningful things about your family that will be remembered by your audience: admissions directors. What makes your family unique? What is memorable about your family? What is it about school X that would be great for your kid? What unique attributes will your child offer to school X if accepted?

Being able to describe both your family and your child in an authentic and interesting way is an essential part of communicating with admissions directors. When you talk and write about your family, you want admissions directors to get to know you and your child and understand why you think their school is the best fit for your child. Of course, you know that your family is different from every other family applying. But how will admissions directors know this unless you tell them? Don’t be afraid to ask yourself, “Who are you?” “Who is your child?” What real-life examples can you write about or talk about in interviews or on the make your family stand out? What can you say in parent interviews that will leave a lasting, positive impression on the admissions directors who interview you? What should you write to make your application “pop”? Admissions directors often receive written applications that are too long, boring and sound like a brochure. 

In Part 1, I list my own family’s key messages. Here are a few more examples of what we mean by family messages. You’ll notice that in each of these messages, the family’s values and/or interests is discussed, backed up by examples. Or, the child’s behavior, personality trait or interests is described in a clear, honest example. Ideally, you should talk about  your family’s values or interests, illustrated by a real-life description to give the example.  

  • When Henry plays soccer, he passes to any kid on the team who is open, not only to the “best” players. (note: this is instead of saying, “Henry is a leader”)
  • Our family loves to travel. We want to expose our kids to other cultures and places. Our trips aren’t elaborate or expensive, but always involve an educational component for our kids.
  • We enjoy entertaining family and friends. We’re in the catering business. Opening our home for events and parties is one of our favorite things to do. We would welcome the opportunity to host school events at our home. 
  • Our daughter’s preschool has a strong sense of community and we’ve made close friends with other parents. We are looking for a school with a strong emphasis on community spirit in both students and parents. 
  • School X appeals to us because my husband and I both attended very traditional east coast private schools. We are seeking a traditional education for our kids. We feel our child will benefit from school X’s structured classroom environment, academic excellence, strong athletic program and a focus on religious values. We have been members of your school’s church for 3 years. 
  • I’m a former yoga and dance teacher. I’d welcome the opportunity to volunteer with your after-school enrichment program to teach a kids dance or yoga class. 
  • We are both scientists. Our daughter is showing some real potential in the arts. We want a school that will inspire and support her artistic interests. Your school has a fantastic arts program that our daughter would embrace. 
  • I’m a graduate of your school, class of 1985. My education gave me an excellent, well-rounded foundation that I’ve been able to use to build a successful career in medicine. I’ve also stayed close to a group of friends I met during my years as a student here.  I want my kids to be able to have the same incredible education I received from my alma matter. 
  • I chaired our preschool auction for two years. We raised a record amount of money and were able to solicit amazing donations from local businesses –and have fun at the same time! I think my auction experience would be beneficial to your school’s fundraising efforts. 
  • Our entire family is interested in sports. We play tennis, volleyball and soccer. The fact that your school has beautiful athletic fields, a former professional athlete as the athletic director and a new gym would definitely be an asset for our kids. 
  • Our daughter is very interested in mechanical objects. She is fascinated by the way things work and likes to build and take apart legos and other toys/objects. This isn’t a surprise since her mother is an engineer. She is observant and quiet and is known for being friendly to other kids in her preschool class. 
  • If accepted to private school, our son will be the first member of my husband and my family to attend private school. I was the first person in my family to go to college, after coming to the U.S. at age 8 from El Salvador. We are a bilingual family. 
Hopefully, giving thought to who your family is (parents and child) and what you are seeking in a school will help admissions directors get to know you and want to learn more about you. You’re creating a connection between your family and the school.  That means learning as much as possible about the school and illuminating the ways your child and family will be a good fit for the school. 

* Thank you to Anne Simon for her contributions to this post!

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Your Family’s Key Messages: Make Your Application Standout

If you missed our event on April 1 at the Beverly Hills Country Club, one of the ideas we discussed is the concept of developing “key messages” about your family and your child that you will use throughout the private elementary school application process.

I’m a former vice president at Fleishman-Hillard, a global public relations firm. So, developing key messages to define a client’s campaign or image is second nature to me. When it came time to write our daughter’s applications for kindergarten, I applied the same techniques I had practiced as a public relations professional. I developed clear, concise ideas or messages I wanted admissions directors to know about us.
The image of the family on the right is generic. It could be any family. It’s your job to add color to that photo. Give schools a reason to be excited about your child. Illuminate that image on the right. Standout from the competition. Use the admissions process to capture admissions directors’ attention and hold it.
Once you develop your family’s key messages, you can repeat them again and again, whenever possible, throughout your written application, your parent interview, your follow-up thank you notes to admissions directors and in letters of recommendation friends write for you. Then, when an admissions director thinks about your family, hopefully, they will think, “That’s the family that is involved with their local Red Cross Chapter”, or “They are the family with the kid who loves to perform in school plays or draw comic books”.
When I say key messages what do I really mean? I’m simply referring to the most important things you want a school to know about your child and your family. If an admissions director thinks about your child or your family after your parent interview, what do you want him/her to remember?
For our family, here are the key messages I developed:
  1. Both my husband and I are well-educated and we understand the value of education for personal and professional success. I graduated from UC Berkeley and have an MA from UCLA. Barry has a BA from Harvard in Math and a JD from Harvard Law.
  2. We are not an artistic family, but we would like our kids to be exposed to the arts.
  3. Our daughter is shy and studious.
  4. We have served on non-profit boards and we understand the mission of private elementary schools.
  5. I have fundraising experience that I’d love to put to work for your school. I’d welcome the opportunity to serve on fundraising committees.
  6. We have ruled out our local public school and we are only interested in private schools.
This is just one example of how to define your family in a few key sentences. Take a minute to think about well-known American public figures like Oprah Winfrey. When her name is mentioned, we instantly think of an outspoken, charitable, wealthy, groundbreaking woman. What about Brooke Shields? She’s an actress and mom. You get the idea. What comes to mind when people think about your family and your child?
The key is to be specific about what makes your family unique! Why should a top private school want to enroll your child and by extension, your family? Are you from another country? Would you bring diversity to the school? Do you volunteer in your community? Do you have professional skills a school needs i.e. computer skills, graphic design skills, the ability to organize an after-school program or enrichment class, fundraising or auction experience? One note here: private elementary schools have lots of parents who want to volunteer to bake cookies or read to the kids. That’s great, but it doesn’t help the school with their enormous volunteer needs in other areas.
Every child and every family is unique. We have friends with whom we’ve always joked that one day their child will be running the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai. Very bright, with a bold personality and tons of energy, their child was just accepted at all the private middle schools where they applied (from an LAUSD public elementary school). That brief description of their child leaves a lasting impression of someone a school would like to have as part of their student body.
The goal is to make sure you communicate the one-of-a-kind contribution your child will offer to each school where you apply. You’re helping admissions directors get acquainted with your family in a meaningful way. This takes some thought, but it’s well worth the effort. It will help ensure you make a lasting impression at the private elementary schools where you apply.