I’ve just signed the contract for Alexander’s High School. Now that we’ve completed the application process for a second child I’d like to talk to you about The Wesley School where both my children attended elementary and middle school. In the coming weeks parents of middle school kids and then a week later elementary students will get their acceptance letters and have decisions to make about which school to attend. This is written for you, the prospective parent. Hopefully it will help you make a decision.
As a rule I do not blog about my children’s schools. There’s no admissions officer anywhere in the country that looks at an application and thinks, “Oh good! A mom blogger. We should admit this child and then we’ll have a mouthy lady chronicling every tantrum on campus! It’s just what we need.”
We didn’t want to be a private school family. Jane was in second grade at the public school around the corner with a tremendous teacher. We were happy and we decided to send Alexander to the public school for kindergarten and he ended up with the world’s worst teacher. She refused to help him clean his glasses unless we got an IEP.
Have you looked at a five year old lately? Can you imagine teaching kindergarten and not being willing to help a kid clean their glasses?
I thank that angry woman silently many times a week because without her driving us out of public school the kids wouldn’t have ended up at The Wesley School. It’s a long and uninteresting story but the punchline is that there was room for a boy in the kindergarten class at Wesley and one of the moms I know sent us there to take a look. We immediately fell in love with the setting.
There is much to love about a small school tucked away behind a church.
Alexander was able to attend Wesley from Kindergarten through 8th grade (minus a week) and Jane attended from 3rd to 8th grades. Since high school placement is obviously very important you should know that my children were accepted to five top schools in Los Angeles and each of them were able to choose which they attended.
One of the best parts of sending your children to a small school is that everyone knows who they are. When I say everyone, I mean every single person. Every parent, every teacher, every aide and every specialist. Imagine being a 5, 8 or 11 year old child and having that many adults know and care for your academic and emotional achievements.
Academically both the lower and upper schools challenge the kids without stressing them out. Yes there is homework and yes there is a manageable amount of it. I’m trying to reflect on the earliest days of the lowest grades and I remember lots of projects and writing. My mother (a thirty year school teacher) and I would delight in the amount of writing assigned. It’s the most difficult subject for schools to teach in part because it can be subjective and in larger part because grading papers is time consuming. The small class sizes at Wesley allow teachers time to teach these skills.
There are specialists for foreign language, technology, PE, art, music and more. Middle school math and english has been consistently joy filled and exciting for my kids and for the kids who visit my house and talk about it. I remember my middle school math teachers, I have no recollection of talking about their PhDs with reverence.
The good news is Wesley is a small school. The bad news is that Wesley is a small school. These kids are nice. Not like nice: boring vanilla but like nice as in the admissions office does an amazing job of finding families who are grounded and generous and raising children who will be taught to give. Community Service begins in kindergarten and only escalates. Families who want to raise altruists are drawn to the school so that makes life a lot easier.
The problem with a small school is that it’s hard to field teams and during breaks there’s a good chance that there will be few school friends in town. In the lower grades you’ll need to have your kids in extracurricular activities if the school doesn’t specifically offer what you’re looking for. The reality is that the folks in larger schools will be searching out extracurriculars too so this may not be a problem unique to a small school, but it’s the only experience I have to personally draw on.
If your child is starting Wesley for kindergarten I’d take a look at the school and the distance you are willing to drive to get there and then know that you’ll need to double that for playdates as their best friend will inevitably live the same distance away – in the opposite direction. Middle school is different, kids hang out longer and travel in groups, the distance will be less of a problem so I’d be open to traveling a bit further but that’s a very personal decision, you know your limits better than I do.
I can tell you that if my son wanted to go home with any of the kids in his class I’d be okay with that. 100% of the families in his grade are trustworthy. The same went for my daughter’s grade. I don’t know how many parents can say that about their children’s classmates.
A few years ago the first day of school was either Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur. I remember feeling conflicted as we don’t go to temple but we also don’t send our children to school on those days. This year there was no school either day and I noted both days are marked off for 2015. Wesley is a young school and this is it’s adolescence. Every year it becomes a little more inclusive. That they are growing is wonderful, some people want to be in a school that’s evolving, some people want to be in a school that’s steeped in tradition.
If you are same sex couple and thinking of sending your kids to Wesley you’ll find families like yours there. You’ll find faculty with homes like yours and a whole lot of people not caring if there are two moms, two dads, stepparents or grandparents raising kids. Conversely if you are bothered by same sex marriages Wesley is possibly not the school for you.
The K-8 Model
Approximately two years ago when my first child went through the high school application process I write about the surprising benefits of a K – 8 school. If you’re thinking about attending Wesley or a different type of school I’d recommend reading it. Since I didn’t do a lot of Kindergarten shopping I’m not all that familiar with what other private schools in the area offer to prepare student and families for next steps but I do know from personal experience that Wesley is graduating kids and placing them in appropriate high schools in a reasonably low stress manner.
As a parent you’ll deal with the staff and faculty quite a bit. You’ll call the office for everything from forgotten lunches to scheduling issues and they will know you. They will also know your child. If you’re me they’ll also know that you’re dropping off In and Out for the umpteenth time because you didn’t feel like waking up early enough to make your kid a sandwich and the probably won’t judge you and if they do they’re keeping it a secret which also totally works for me.
The security guard knows every kid and is well versed in playground politics. When Alexander was tiny I’d sit with him after school and watch the kids play, he knows them all and he knows when to help them and when to let them work it out. Speaking of which, the kids love to stay for daycare. I’m not all that familiar with the current daycare system but my son is always asking to stay late and play with his friends (I usually say no, I’m a monster).
The administration is impressive. Schools aren’t like other businesses, they can be emotionally charged places. Parents hand over their children for more hours a day than they might spend with them so small issues have the possibility of becoming forest fires in a hare’s breath. The current administration is dazzling in their ability to run a school while keeping parents happy and fulfilling their mission of academic excellence and nurturing character development.
I feel like I’m writing an advertisement for The Wesley School so let me tell you why you shouldn’t have your kids go there.
If you are looking for a school where parents are in the classroom this is not the school for you. Yes, there will be some parents who linger in parking lots but if you’re looking for a classroom where parents serve as de facto aides this is not going to be a good match.
If you are looking for a school that is completely project based this isn’t the right school for you. You’ll want something super progressive, try New Roads or a Waldorf school.
If you’re looking for religion you’ll be disappointed. Friends of ours left the school because they’d really liked that the kids attended Chapel three mornings a week and then were bummed to find out that there was no religion there. It was just an assembly that happened to take place in a chapel because that’s the building they rent from.
It’s a beautiful way to start a day.
I get it. Tuition sucks. If you have two or more kids it’s like driving a luxury car off a cliff every summer. 2014-15 tuition and fees are listed here. One thing that I must mention is that Wesley maxes out with a $500 carrying charge if you choose to pay monthly whereas other area schools charge as much as 18% APR. My daughter’s current high school’s interest plus mandatory insurance for folks who finance adds $5,000 to the tuition per child. I didn’t appreciate the frugality of the carrying fee until I looked elsewhere.
Alexander will be graduating Wesley in a few short months. I’ve sent a few friends to the school and on the whole we’ve been delighted by the kids’ time there. It’s tough being a blogger and not wanting to talk about where your kids go to school, particularly when you have great things to say about it.
If you’re reading this and holding an acceptance letter in your hand: Congratulations! You’ve found your child a truly exceptional school. Now you just need to be sure that it’s the best possible fit.