Friday, January 18, 2008

A real moment at Marin Country Day School

Last night I made a difficult phone call.

"Hi Honey, it's me," I said to Ryan on my cell.

"Yeah, I'm on my way. I'll be home in about five minutes."

"Well, I got the time mixed up," I nervously told him. "The bus left at 5:30, not 6:30 p.m. I'm so sorry. I misread the invite."

"You know I'm busy at work and I left early . . ."

"We can still drive over to Marin and go to the panel thing they're having. Maybe one of us can ride the bus back to the city. I'm so sorry."

"It's okay. I'm almost home. I love you," he said.

On Thursday night Marin Country Day School hosted an Informational Evening for parents of applicants. Before the event, San Francisco moms and dads were invited to ride the school bus from Crissy Field to Marin. It's a way to experience the bus ride, which seems to be the most anxiety-inducing aspect of this school for interested San Francisco parents.

I had signed us up to take the bus but I got the time confused so Ryan and I missed the boat—again. This time it was due to my absent-mindedness—a good lesson for me who had gotten upset at my husband for forgetting about a major MCDS deadline. (Now I'm feeling badly about my earlier post that picked on my husband who often stops by the bakery on his way home from work to buy me a chocolate-chip cookie, makes me oatmeal in the morning, rubs my back when it aches, brings home roses whenever he goes to Costco, and always says, "I love you" before getting off the phone, even when he's annoyed.)

Since we missed the bus, we drove to Marin—yet another panicked drive across the bridge. En route, I was thinking, "We could never send our kids to school in Marin and live in the city. This commute would kill us."

When we finally entered the MCDS multipurpose room, some 100 parents were watching a movie on a huge screen. Arriving to a movie late is uncomfortable when it's simply at a multiplex, but at a private school function it's downright nerve-racking. I walked to the back of the room (there weren't any empty chairs) thinking, "We're never going to get in. They must think we're the biggest flakes." But nobody gave us any disapproving "your late" looks. Rather, we got a lot of welcoming smiles. I started to relax.

We caught the end of the video—humorous, touching footage of MCDS students in action. Then the head of the lower school Barbara Kraemer-Cook talked about the second graders' study of San Francisco Bay, conveniently located across the road from the campus. Barbara told a story about a nature photographer, Dennis Anderson, who did a presentation for the second graders. The students were so inspired that they decided they wanted to study the Bay through photography. The tech teacher tracked down digital cameras for all the kids who then went on to photograph the Bay. They eventually put on an art show at the Bay Area Discovery Museum.

Next: a panel of current parents lined up and the audience threw out questions. Of course, the panelists all gushed about the school. The easy commute from San Francisco to Marin. The wonderful parent community. The amazing teachers. The good-natured students. And then a prospective parent asked, "So what's wrong with the place? What do your children complain about?"

"The food is too healthy," a woman on the panel responded, "That's the only thing my kids complain about."

Everyone laughed.

Another panelist added that her children love their school—but they're kids and like all kids they have their problems. They get in conflicts with their friends. They struggle with homework.

This opened the door for other parents to share. A mom talked about her son with ADHD. Another described her child's conflict with a teacher.

They brought up typical kid issues—but with every story about a struggle, there was a story about the school and staff and parents working as a team to deal with the kid's issue. They talked about how the school didn't see problems as problems but as opportunities to grow. They talked about how everyone at the school was open and they were able to talk about things. The panel's open discussion was a perfect example of this. It was real.

I rode the bus back to San Francisco. Ryan followed in our car. The ride was fast, smooth, and relaxing. As we headed out of the rainbow tunnel and down the hill, the Golden Gate came into view and then the city's glittering lights. Not a bad commute, I thought.


  1. We are parents at MCDS and love it to death. Everything they say is true and we cannot be happier at this school. Good luck!

  2. sounds worth moving to marin for if you get in. forget about the three bedrooms -- just make sure there's yard and sleep under the stars in the summer.

  3. Sounds amazing. Probably is all true. Can't afford it. How do other parents who feel the privates may very well be a better education but its not an option feel? What is the difference between an above average education and an exceptional one for the same child. How much different would they turn out?

  4. I just couldn't keep myself from responding though I'm from Seattle, not SF, because I've been enjoying this blog's really thoughtful wrestling about choosing on behalf of our kids. However, as a parent on the other side of a couple rounds of choice now (my kids are 1st, 4th, and 7th grades), I find myself frustrated by the ease with which we are seduced by the "magic moments" we hear about in schools whose continuing existence depends on marketing such stories. Not that they don't exist. As the first commenter noted, it's an excellent school, and families there are happy with it.

    But a lot of schools that are closer by, less expensive, etc. also provide "magic moments" along with caring communities, collaborative problem solving, and happy families (and kids). They may not always involve expensive technology (digital cameras) or noted visitors, but they're no less magical for the inspired teaching and learning they reflect. And a lot of schools don't have admissions officers whose job it is to produce promotional videos or rent buses to reach out to "wow" the widest possible parent body.

    There is a lot of compromise in selecting and pursuing educational paths for your children (don't get me started on the slippery slope of sports or musics learning). The point is, there's a lot that's good, and I don't think we need to get so attached to what may look "amazing"

  5. I have to say I'm getting less and less starry-eyed about the private schools. We applied to one private, and it still seems like an incredible opportunity for our kids, IF we got in. But $20K a year for 2 kids? Expectations of giving on top of that? Rich families that leave my kids feeling insecure? Yuck!

    A dream, yes, but probably not a good fit for our family in the long run.

  6. I honestly can't imagine sending my kid across a bridge every day to go to school. I don't care "how good" it is. Yes, I am prone to imagine outrageous situations, but the worrying and stress—as well as the stress on my family (have you ever tried to go from Noe Valley to Crissy Field/environs in morning rush hour?)—just don't seem to warrant it.

    School (especially in K,1, 2 &3) is what you make of it - and I think everyone who reads this blog will be an involved, engaged parent, no matter where their child ends up.

    But if you really want to see the truth of a school (public or private) look at 4th and 5th grade. That's where the challenges come in. In public, how do kids adapt to the increased class size? In private, what's the turnover rate for 5th grade teachers?

    Real moments are lovely and enticing. But your child is in school for much longer than a moment.

  7. One of the previous posters questioned how happy your kids will be in the midst of wealth and it's a very real issue if you are middle class. They will likely get a slightly better education than at a public but will they (or you) be as happy when inviting friends who live in mansions over to modest dwellings or when classmates go to hannah montana concerts or on exotic vacations or to their country homes with horses?
    Luckily it may take a few years before your daughter fully sees all this but you will right away.

  8. ...will they (or you) be as happy... when classmates go to... their country homes with horses?

    Hell, yeah! As long as they invite us!

  9. ...will they (or you) be as happy when inviting friends who live in mansions over to modest dwellings...?

    If your sense of shame is a problem (and it has rubbed off on your kids), you can always invite their friends to the beach or to the movies instead. Maybe you'll want to rent a better car though.

  10. "They will likely get a slightly better education than at a public"

    Not always. Depends on the schools in question, and above all, the teachers. There are tracks in the SF public schools that are very rigorous, and some private schools that are less so. The private kids will generally do fine given their backgrounds, but that doesn't mean they are learning as much in the classroom.

    Seriously, if your kid went to Lawton or AFY and then to Lowell or through the honors science program at Lincoln, I would bet he/she would be better prepared in several key academic areas than a kid who went to any number of privates discussed on this blog. I work in science research in the UC system and I see this all the time, kids from Lowell and Lincoln who have been working hard and are prepared to work even harder at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

    If academics, or success through academics, is less of a priority for you than some other issues in picking a school, all this might not matter to you.

    Looking from another perspective, if your kid is more focused on the arts, you might consider Alvarado and any other number of arts-enriched elementaries, then Hoover, Aptos or Giannini for middle school, and aim for SOTA for high school. I hear Balboa has a good theater program too if SOTA seems too intense.

  11. "Maybe you'll want to rent a better car though."

    The truly wealthy at private schools drive relatively modest non-descript cars. They have anything to prove and they certainly dont want unwanted attention especially on thier kids. It is the less secure upwardly mobile families that show up with the nicest cars. One family in our class I'm sure is on financial aide drops off their kid in a big black bmw. Yes it does look ridiculous.

  12. My son was accepted for the Grade K next year. MCDS is a truly magical school. I wish you the best

  13. That's great...just wondering how you can already know he was accepted for K when the letters aren't mailed until mid-March. Are you already at the school?

  14. MCDS is a truly magical school. I am an alumni, and when I think about the school now, I miss it dearly. I learned so much there.

    To put one myth in the trash:
    No one at MCDS cares if you are rich or poor. Everybody in my grade got along great. We all learn to look past differences. That is something we were taught to do at a very early age.

    When I was in lower school (k-2) most of my friends lived in the city. It was no big deal.

  15. They have tuition assistance that helps out a bunch.

  16. I am a parent of a Kindergartener at MCDS. Truly a fantastic school - better than I imagined it would be. When they look at kids, they look at the whole individual and how well-rounded they are, so if you think that academics are the sole focus of admissions, you may be dissapointed.

    My child is having a fantastic year. I could not imagine a better experience for my child - it has truly been a great experience for us thus far!

    Last, I was hoping that this wouldn't turn into the whole 'private vs public' debate again. Can we please just stay on the subject of MCDS ..

  17. MCDS is such a fabulous school!

    Diversity is embraced and encouraged, in all of its forms and its foibles.

    Children receive a personal education tailored to their needs.

    The school attracts the cream of the cream, if you will, in that children from many different races, identities, and perspectives are embraced and accepted by the school's community.

  18. Have you looked at other Marin schools like Marin Primary & Middle School?

  19. ^^Thanks!!


  20. Well I'm an eighth grader, ready to graduate now. Haha, whoever said that the kids judge based on wealth or economical status or anything like that obviously doesn't know the school very well. I come from a pretty poor family: single black mom, living in a condo, always worries when she doesnt have a job. But my best friend lives in Kentfield in a "mansion" with more money that I have ever dreamt of. The kids just don't care about that. We care about how smart each kid is, how funny they are (that's huge, make sure you and your kids have a good sense of humor), and we care that they are great people. It sounds so cheesy but seriously MCDS is the best place I have ever been. You should definitely send your kid there, I'll give you all my allowance money if you don't like it. :)

  21. I am a parent at MCDS and I have to sadly disagree with many of the postings here. The school is extremely elitist and does not truly embrace diversity. Yes, all the token diverse families are represented in the school but it s a school designed for rich, white kids. They speak of diversity, community and inclusiveness but they do not practice it at all