Monday, January 14, 2008

Alice's Live Oak play date

When you overthink a private school screening, you realize that it's insane. You bring your four-year-old to a place she's visited maybe once, or never at all. You quickly introduce her to a group of adults and kids—maybe she knows a few or none of them. And then you leave her with these strangers. You nervously say: "I love you. I'll be back in two hours." Maybe you whisper, "We'll go out for hot fudge sundaes." Most likely, your child transitions easily into the situation but you leave feeling uncertain.

Live Oak seems entirely aware that a private school play date is an awkward, and for some scary or stressful, situation. The school takes a gentle approach to the process. When Alice and I recently visited the school over the weekend, I found that the administrators and staff did everything possible to make us feel at ease. If you've got a Live Oak play date on your calendar, I recommend that you don't overthink it. Forget worrying and get a goodnight's sleep. Show up—in a pair of jeans—and you'll be fine. And your child will have a lot of fun. I promise.

When we arrived—a few minute's early, yeah!—kids, parents, teachers, and administrators were beginning to gather in a play area outside. The kids were throwing balls and building structures with giant blocks, while the parents chatted. Alice, who is always shy in new situations, grabbed hold of my leg. The admissions director, Tracy Gertsen, immediately noticed Alice's shy nature, and approached us. She made clear that they would do everything possible to make the transition easy. Many of the teachers came up and said hello to Alice. If anything, I felt like we were special because Alice was shy. We played outside for about 20 minutes, by which time Alice was comfortably holding my hand.

We gathered in a big room. The kids sat in a circle, and the parents stood behind them. There was a brief explanation of the process and then the mommies and daddies were excused. Alice got a little clingy. I walked her up to one of the teachers who gave her a big hug and sat Alice down in her lap. I looked back at her before I walked out the door, and she was smiling.

The prospective parents gathered with current parents in the upstairs library. We noshed on bagels, drank coffee, and tried to put together a giant jigsaw puzzle. Holly Horton, the head of school, stopped in and casually chatted with parents. Gersten came in to tell me that Alice was doing great in her play date. Gersten also checked in with other parents.

When I went to pick up Alice, she was excited because they served snack. "Yummy letter-shaped cookies," she said. I'm not even going to overthink that one.


  1. We have a private school child observation, whatever you want to call it, coming up in February and I am really nervous about it. I don't think my son will let us leave. Hell, I'm worried about what the first day of K will be like. He has never been faced with anything even remotely close to this kind of situation and it all just seems so artificial to me. Do they expect a 5 year old to be fine going into a group full of complete strangers? I don't know what I'm going to do...this more than anything else is making me rethink the whole private school thing, and we're only applying to one.

  2. My son was extremely clingy and uncooperative at least at the beginning of his screening last year at Live Oak. He wouldn't let go of my hand, refused to pose for the family photo and cried and cried. The admissions director (a different one than the one mentioned by Kate -- must be a new one this year) tried her best to convince him to let go of me but it wasn't easy. Finally I managed to break free and just left knowing he'd do fine after a few minutes. Sure enough, the director came up to the library a few minutes later and told me he was doing fine. Later he told me he had a good time and wanted to go back. So I think he probably handled the rest of the session well but just had trouble separating at first. The admissions director told me her own son was just like this and not to worry. But, we didn't get in, so who knows whether his initial meltdown was a factor. The bright side is he's very happy at Grattan and transitioned very easily. Seems that a few months later, at age 5, he was ready to try something new without us by his side.

  3. My kids have been in 2 different private schools and there were kids who had some trouble separating for the first part of K in both of them, so it seems to me that if your kid doesn't separate easily then it's far from the kiss of death. good luck everyone!

  4. We have our only private school play date on the 26th. Based on Kate's story & the other parent comments, the unease I felt is gone. We are lucky to have a kid who almost never clings, and when he does, it's for show for about 30 seconds and then he's off & running. Thanks for the reassurances. We'll wear comfortable clothes, and my husband and I can look forward to learning more about the school while he does his play date.

  5. We just had screenings at Friends and SF Day. FWIW, SF Day had the transition down to a science. Kept everything in the same room, allowed the kids to play and get used to the space, had the kids sit in a circle and share what they thought their parents would do while they were gone (best answer: take a nap) and then wave good-bye. Friends has space issues, but they had a much more abrupt transition that wasn't as easy on our child. That said, he had a good time at both. I think it really is the parents who over think the process and make it worse for themselves.

    If you really want to practice transitioning with your child beforehand - take them to IKEA and leave them in their daycare for an hour. I don't think it matters for the schools - but it might make you feel better.

  6. Despite the fact that I urge you all to do the populist and community-spirited thing and THINK PUBLIC FIRST, I'll share the tip that a private-school admissions advisor (who is a friend of mine) gives:

    Be sure to have the parent, or caregiver, from whom the child separates most easily take the child to the "playdate," even if you have to seriously rearrange the adults' schedules to make that work. When my kids were little that would have been clear cut and would have made a major difference in the behavior.

  7. The few privates to which we are applying request that both parents come to the screening so that the school can provide us with more info while the kids are going through their screening. I've also heard the advice that Caroline's friend gave, but it seems that the schools want both of us there.

  8. the schools want both of us there.

    Which schools ask that? None of the schools to which we are applying have made such requests (unless maybe I missed something..?)

  9. thanks for the tip! i've got to be out of town the day of the screening anyway and the only private we're applying to does not request both of us to be there. but here's another question: since i'm going to be out of town, would it be okay for my husband to bring the younger sibling along? can he hang out with dad will big sister is in the screening?

  10. scater, I was at two screenings so far (Live Oak and SF Day) and at both screenings, there were at least one or two moms with younger sibs there.

    At both of our screens, it really seemed that the focus was on the kids, not on the parents.

    As to schools that request both parents, only one of mine did (that I'm aware of; I don't think I received my confirmation note for our Feb 2 screen yet), and that is apparently because the school uses the time to give the parents more information. I think you would know if your school requests both parents, because it would say so in the letter. And quite frankly, given that the screen is during the work week, I doubt that for most families both parents will be there.

  11. Was anyone else a bit underwhelmed by Live Oak? Nice facility, but not that impressive on academics.

    I think that about half of the public schools I toured impressed me more - McKinley, Harvey Milk, etc. seemed to be just better schools, never mind the $19K price tag. [Seems to me $19K would buy a lot of one-on-one tutoring for one's kid.]

    Also, I got a bad vibe off the parents - all those I talked to seemed to have been those who didn't get any of their public school choice (and seemed to be the 'Lillenthal or bust' school of thought), and had kids who had an issue, either social or learning, that made them not comfortable with taking the public option.

    De Gustibus Non Est Disputandem, but Live Oak wasn't for me.

  12. I'm quite happy at a public school, but our best friends are at Live Oak, and they didn't have that attitude about public schools they applied to last year, and their kids don't have issues, either. They're thrilled to be at Live Oak, too.
    And yes, they do have a new admissions person.

  13. re: bernal dad

    would love to hear what wasn't so impressive about the academics at live oak (vs. SFUSD standards at the publics you mentioned).

  14. Interesting..I thought Live Oak was the most down to earth school community. I was very impressed by the faculty when we applied 2 years ago.
    We have friends there who are very pleased with the education and community.
    An FYI- even though they are technically screening the kids, they are also "screening" the parents during this time.

  15. "would love to hear what wasn't so impressive about the academics at live oak (vs. SFUSD standards at the publics you mentioned)."

    Well, this thread is probably dead, but it was comparing the perceived academic level for Kindergarteners at levels at Rooftop, Alvarado, SF Community and Jose Ortega (Immersion) with those at Live Oak.

  16. When my kid went to "kindergarten try outs" (as we called it) we weren't even able to see through the window during the (no doubt) developmentally appropriate, gentle "play date." All David told us about the experience was that he had to meet with an adult who gave him a monkey and that he "threw it way high up, up, up in the air." Then he started laughing thinking about how funny that was. While his father and I shook our heads and figured we might as well forget about it.

    He got in. And, we like to say to his teachers, David was the one who threw the monkey! (at least he didn't stomp on it!)

  17. Our son had so much fun at his play date that he's got his heart set on going to the school. He loved the kindergarten teacher, loved the playground, loved the dragon mascot, exchanged phone numbers with a new friend, and we had to drag him away. Now what do we tell him if he's not accepted (he's the hyper boy who cartwheeled to his academic screening)? Has anyone else had this experience?