Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Musings Of A Private Elementary School Mom In LA (And Her Husband)

By Christina Simon-Co-Author of Beyond the Brochure 

Shortly after we enrolled our daughter in a private elementary school in Los Angeles, my husband, Barry, told me he thought he was a scarce commodity at the school: a dad who worked at a “real job”. Terms like "hand me down money" and "born on third base, but thought they hit a triple", have been tossed about in our conversations. You get the picture. At the time, Barry was CEO of a company with thirty locations around the globe. He wasn’t exactly working 9-5. It was more like 24/7.
Barry thinks that parents who don’t have to work at “real jobs”, and instead create “vanity projects” appear to dominate LA private elementary schools. Wineries, artistic endeavors, clothing stores that are shuttered quickly and oversized, money-losing, signature projects are rampant.
I remind him that a lot of families work hard to pay school tuition. He thinks it’s a small percentage of the families, unless you include the grandparents who pay tuition for their grandchildren. Who really knows? But, it can make for some hilarious social situations when we find ourselves nodding supportively as a parent talks about their "business" or a "huge deal" they are working on. We feign interest, knowing it’s not making or breaking the family finances.
Now that we have kids, my family recently visited NYC for a pre-reception to celebrate Barry’s 25th Harvard College Reunion next year. Barry has suddenly decided, along with his college friends (who also have kids) that Harvard is a really good cause to give money to.
During our time in New York, we got together with Barry’s college friend and his wife who have boys at Collegiate. Of course, the topic turned to schools. This family would dazzle any private school admissions director. Both parents went to Harvard. The dad is a self-made, very high net worth business owner. They are nice and low-key. The mom, a corporate executive in Manhattan, told me she bought every book about applying to schools in NYC. Like me, she was extremely anxious during the process. Ultimately, it worked out and they love their school. But, there’s never time to stop worrying. Now the focus for all of us is…yes, you guessed it: Harvard College.
My kids attend The Willows Community School in Culver City. It is understated compared to some of the other LA private schools I'm familiar with. We don’t see the outrageousness found at other schools. I’m talking about play dates based solely on social status, not on the child's friendships. Or enrolling a child in a school for the parent's networking opportunities. That stuff is pretty non-existent at The Willows, thankfully.
The high quality of the education is what makes private school worth it. I believe private elementary school families have a common thread that keeps us at our respective schools, even if that thread isn't so "common" or is sometimes badly frayed. When all is said and done, it’s about the education of our kids.
Christina Simon is the co-author of Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles. She is the parent of a 4th grade daughter and a 2nd grade son at The Willows Community School in Culver City, CA. Christina writes about the private elementary school admissions process and life as a private school mom on her blog.