On Balance: Parenting and Education

Building Community through Admissions with Genevieve Little

October 16, 2020 Blue School / Genevieve Little Season 2 Episode 4
On Balance: Parenting and Education
Building Community through Admissions with Genevieve Little
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Dawn Williams speaks with Blue School’s Director of Admissions, Genevieve Little. Genevieve shares what the Blue School admissions process looks like, how children are involved in the admissions process, tips for combating Zoom fatigue during assessments, and what excites her about doing this work.

Visit Blue School's website to learn more about our education philosophy and how to apply. BlueSchool.org

DAWN: Welcome to On Balance, a podcast for parents created by Blue School educators. We know that even in ideal circumstances, finding balance can be a challenge. And now, so many of us are finding that our work, home, school and parenting lives are more tangled than ever. We see you and we’re here to partner with you.

Blue School is an independent school in New York City that has successfully pioneered a balanced educational experience, empowering children to be creative, analytical, joyful, and compassionate. I am Dawn Williams, Blue School’s Director of Enrollment, and proud parent of a Blue School graduate. Every week I will be talking to an educator, a Blue School advisory board member, or a special guest about today’s ever changing landscape and how we can help each other find our footing. Whether you’re the parent of a toddler or a teenager or anything in between, we’re glad to be on this journey with you. Together we will find our way. 

Today I am beyond excited to be talking with Blue School’s Director of Admissions, Genevieve Little. Genevieve, welcome to On Balance!

GENEVIEVE LITTLE: Thank you. I’m really excited to be here. 

DAWN: It feels so, so lovely to have time to talk to you about admissions. I wonder, to you, what does it mean to work in admissions? How do you spend your days? 

GENEVIEVE LITTLE: Sure. So I feel like admissions can seem like this very specific process-driven role, but for me and I think for you too it’s really about being the open door to our school and community. And sometimes that’s figurative and we’re welcoming people in, and sometimes it’s really literal. Because I actually love just standing at the front door of our school and saying hi to everyone in the morning. 

We’re always the first people that families meet when they start getting to know Blue School. So I think my biggest job is really just to share as much as I can about our school, and to build relationships with families so that I can get to know them and their children really deeply. And then in order to build those relationships, we have to really know our school and community members well so that we can tell their stories and share the work that’s going on really authentically. And then in terms of the day to day, first of all we spend a lot of time together. I spend a lot of my time with you. 

DAWN: I’m so lucky to spend a lot of my time with you.

GENEVIEVE LITTLE: I think we joke a lot about being a small but mighty team, but it’s really true. Especially during admissions season. We’re together a lot, and sometimes it can feel like we even start to think with one brain as we’re going through everything. 

DAWN: Absolutely. 

GENEVIEVE LITTLE: But I spend a lot of my time touring the school, both with and without prospective families. Both to show people the space, and also to find out what’s going on in the classrooms. And I do that because it’s one thing to know the curriculum and what classes are studying, but it’s another to really watch it come to life each year and see the ways that it shifts as children ask questions and bring their ideas to the group. 

And I think especially in our school, where children really have a hand in the direction of their work over the course of the year, that’s so important to really check in and just see how things are progressing. I also get to meet children when they visit the school and interview parents as part of the admissions process, and that is probably my favorite part. Because those are the times that the connections and the relationships are really built. And then kind of the last piece is that I’m also a resource for families once they’ve enrolled. So whether that means just making the couch in our office available when little ones are going through phase in and parents just want to be close by, or connecting parents with the right people as they get acclimated and settled into the school year. 

DAWN: Absolutely. I’m wondering if you could share a little bit about Blue School’s admissions process.

GENEVIEVE LITTLE: Of course. So usually the first step that a family can take is visiting by either coming on a tour or to an open house. We have tours constantly. By November we’re usually touring like five or six times a week, several times a day sometimes. And we also have open houses in the evening. And then from there families can submit an application for their child, which is a form that is submitted online. Children come for a visit, and depending on the age that is either a really fun play group with a few other applicants, mornings spent in one of our classrooms, or an interview for prospective middle schoolers. 

Children entering first grade and above also spend some time with our literacy and math specialist during their visit, and that is both so that we can get a sense of where they are and their experiences in school so far, and so that they can start to get a feel for the kind of learning and assessment that happens at Blue School. I think we say a lot that we’re a school with constant assessment but very little test taking. So that assessment is really happening in relationship and conversation between children and their teachers. And sometimes our literary and math specialists too. 

So having that moment during children’s visit I think can be really helpful. And then after that, parents attend an interview with either me or you. We talk a little bit about their child’s experience during the visit, what they’re imagining in a school, maybe some of their past experiences, and answer any questions that they have. There are also some supplemental documents that we require, and those vary depending on the age of the child. So things like school reports and teacher recommendation forms and student essays. And then once all of those pieces are complete, we have a committee that reviews files together to see if we can envision each child and family really thriving at Blue School. 

DAWN: So can you say why there are so many steps in this process? 

GENEVIEVE LITTLE: There are so many steps. It’s very involved. And I think that this goes back to the idea of really building relationships through the admissions process. We want to be really thorough so that families are getting all the information that they need to choose a school, and so that we’re really seeing and knowing their child so that when we come together at the end we can really imagine how they might fit into our community. I think it takes time to build those relationships, and it’s a process we’re really asking families to bring their full selves to by going through all these steps and spending all this time together. I know that I’m hoping I can build genuine connections and a real understanding of who each child is. 

And then I think we’re also trying to find a balance all the time so that it isn’t too onerous for families, but we do definitely know that it’s a lot of work too, and really appreciate all the time and care that families are bringing to it. I also spend a lot of time just thinking about our process, and whether it’s doing the job we need it to do while also being equitable and inclusive for families. I want our process to be accessible so that everyone feels welcome and supported as they’re going through it. So I’m constantly looking at and thinking about, you know, what are we asking families to do, why are we asking them to do it, what are they getting out of it, is there a way that we can make this easier, are we doing everything we can to make this possible for families. So that’s some of the thinking around the process and why we have so many steps involved. 

DAWN: I so appreciate what you’re saying about what we’re asking of families when they partner with us in this process. I wonder if there are any thoughts that you have about some ways families can make the most out of this sometimes daunting process. I wonder if there are ways in which you think families might be able to use the process, or the admissions office to optimize their experience of the school. Whether they’re applying to Blue School or another school. 

GENEVIEVE LITTLE: Absolutely. I think the biggest thing to keep in mind is that the admissions process, no matter where you’re going through it, is really about finding your community. You know, your child is going to spend so much of their time at school. Their teachers and their classmates and their classmates’s families, all of those people are going to be your people too, and your community. So making the most out of the process is really important to get as much as you can. So I would say to really try and soak up as much as possible. Go to every event that is possible for your family. Ask questions about the things that are important to you and important to your child. 

And then really think of the admissions team as a resource. It is like actually our favorite thing to help families get to know our school. It’s why we do what we do. So any way we can help in that process, definitely call on us. There are things and steps that are going to be required like visits and interviews and forms, but there’s a lot outside of that that can be open to you as well. We always — there are several events that we make open to prospective families every year. Like our book fair, and we have a speaker series called Blue Notes. And I think that those kinds of things are really going to give you a sense of what it’s like to join a school. 

I also would say to talk to any friends that you have, or people that you see on the playground who have children at different schools, ask about their experiences. And if you don’t know someone at a particular school, definitely ask the admissions office to connect you. That’s something that I’m always really excited to do, because I really believe that that’s the best way to learn about a community, is to speak to the people who are actually in it. 

DAWN: So, so well said. I know that this year you and I are already in the mode of thinking about next fall, and imagining so much about all of the possibilities of next fall. But I also just want to acknowledge that we’re in this fall, which is such a tricky time to be in, and such a sort of in between time. And I wonder — I know we’re having such a different admissions season. So although we’re talking about all the ways that we love to interact with families during regular times, I’m wondering if you could share how things are different this year, how our admissions system is different this year. 

GENEVIEVE LITTLE: Yeah, so many things are different this year.

DAWN: So many things.

GENEVIEVE LITTLE: In admissions and the world obviously. And I’ve been working really hard to try and find ways, and build our process so that we can create the same kinds of connections that we’re so used to doing in person online. So we’ve moved every part of our admissions process online. So all our events will be taking place virtually. And the biggest change is that we won’t be able to physically show people around the school, or to meet families in person. So we’ve put together virtual tours that are available on our website, so people can on their own time get a sense of the space. 

We’re hosting even more events like open houses, and parent and student panels than we usually do. Really with the feeling that because we can’t be in the space together, we want to make sure that we’re giving families as many opportunities as possible to get to know us. We also thought a lot about how we can make things easier for families in this moment. With so many children learning online or with different school schedules and some parents working from home, we know that scheduling can get really complicated. So our process is a bit consolidated this year so that the only required event is a virtual family meeting, during which we’re meeting parents and children at the same time. 

So that also means that much of our contact with families this year is going to be one on one. So rather than group tours or play groups, we’re meeting with families individually so that we can really make the most out of our time together in the way that it’s limited this year. We’ve also been I think learning a lot from our teachers and specialists about what has been working for them in this new Zoom world. And the care and just the thoughtfulness that they have brought last spring and into this school year has seriously been astounding to me. 

The way that they’ve been able to continue to engage and connect and really build those relationships with children has been really special for me to see. So I’ve been thinking a lot about the things that they learned, and any advice that they have, and bringing it into our process as we think about admissions this year too. So I know that this year is going to be and feel really different, but I’m so excited to get back into this part of my job. I feel like over the summer we’re kind of without children a lot. So being back in the fall is really exciting. And I’ve already started having some of these meetings with families, and it has truly been the most fun so far. 

DAWN: Absolutely. So as you are having these experiences with children-- I know as a parent and as someone in the admissions process, it can be so daunting to think about bringing your family and especially your child to Zoom. And making them have to be in this Zoom world. I’m wondering if you have any tips and tricks for online play dates and Zoom visits and student assessments. 

GENEVIEVE LITTLE: Absolutely. I think for lots of families this part can feel like the most stressful part of the admissions process in a regular year and especially this year. So first of all, I really want to encourage people to try and take the pressure off of it. We know that we’re meeting your child in one very specific moment in a new environment this year, in a totally new reality, and that that isn’t going to be the easiest thing for all children to enter, and that we aren’t thinking that we’re going to learn everything about them in this moment. I think at our school and at any school, we do this work because we love meeting children and families. 

So going into any kind of visit, I would say just try to remember how excited we are. Also keep in mind that this is another opportunity for you to learn more about the school. You know, how are they meeting children, what are the expectations. Different schools do things in different ways, so it’s great to get kind of as much information as you can about what to expect beforehand. And then I think it can be really helpful to share that with your child, and talk to them about what to expect. If you’re going in person, tell them where you’re going and why, who they might meet, what they might do. Having that understanding going in can be really grounding for lots of children. 

And then in terms of Zoom meetings, there are definitely a few things that we have found to be really helpful. We always recommend that families set up whatever device that they’re going to be using in a quiet space where their children will be really comfortable. So don’t feel like you need to sit at the dining table. If your child is going to be more comfortable on the floor or in their room, that’s great. For younger children, we are asking families to have some of their child’s favorite things around. So maybe something to build with, a favorite stuffed animal, anything really that could help them connect and feel more comfortable in those moments. 

And then I also just want to say that when we talk about play dates, either in person or on Zoom, we really mean play. So anything that would make it more fun for your child, we absolutely welcome. And then for older children, we also don’t want our assessments to feel stressful at all. It isn’t something that we’re thinking about as a test. We’re really more interested in getting to know children, hearing about their school experiences, and starting to get to know who they are. 

So they will do some reading and writing and math with our specialists, but it’s also a chance for them to see what assessment and those relationships with teachers feel like at Blue School, and to share a little bit about themselves. So I think-- I know that it’s a big thing to ask of children, and I’m always feeling really grateful for their openness and willingness to engage. So I think just keeping those things in mind can be pretty helpful. 

DAWN: For sure. I’m thinking — you’re sharing all of these ways that children are invited to bring themselves into this admissions process, and that families are invited to bring themselves. We certainly are not wanting to make children perform for the admissions process, or make families perform for the admissions process. But really to be in relationship as human beings together. 


DAWN: I’m wondering if there are other ways that you have thought about children being involved in the admissions process. 

GENEVIEVE LITTLE: I love this part. I think in short I would say as much as possible in any way that is possible for children to be involved, and that definitely will look different at different ages, but I always want children to feel like they're part of the process and they’re really engaging with the schools that they’re getting to know. The first thing I would say is to bring them to as many events or visits that are possible. So we always invite children to attend our middle school tours, we have primary students spend the morning in a classroom. 

Another thing that we’ve added in the last couple of years that has been I think really helpful is a drop-in class for toddlers. And that can be another way for you and your child to start to really get a feel for our classrooms and engage with the community. And then I’ll also just say that the admissions team is definitely a resource for children too. So parents and families can feel like they can call on us. But we love talking to parents, but there is actually nothing better than talking directly to children and answering their questions about the school. So any conversations that we can have with children, we definitely want to be in those.

DAWN: It’s so true. And I’m hearing this in your voice a little bit, but I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about what draws you to do this work. 

GENEVIEVE LITTLE: Sure. So as you know, Blue School is the first place where I’ve actually worked explicitly in admissions. And I’ve always known just as a human being that I wanted my work to be with and around children. That is something that feels really special to me. But that I wasn’t necessarily going to be teaching. And before Blue School I had been working in kind of out of school programming for children. So after school and weekend programming. And I found that really exciting as a way of building community and doing outreach, and just meeting kids where they are in those out of school times. I think it’s often those kind of in between moments where the magic can really happen. So I really loved that time. 

And that is actually how I came to Blue School originally, as part of the after school program. And then I ended up in the admissions office with you kind of by chance. And I think to be completely honest, when the opportunity presented itself I was really most excited to get to work with you. I didn’t know a lot about admissions, but I knew that you were such a big part of this community, and that you had been here since the very beginning. You know, first with your own child. So it seemed like a really great place to be if I wanted to really immerse myself in the culture of the school.

So now when I look back on it, I think I see kind of more clearly the ways that my previous work connects to my work in admissions. And again, just going back to relationship. I found this really special sweet spot at Blue School, where my job is about connecting with and getting to know children. And I get to have a hand in continuing to grow this really special community too. So it’s kind of everything all rolled into one. 

DAWN: I feel so lucky to do this work by your side. I wonder if you can share a little bit about sort of beyond the relationship piece, what it is about doing that work with relationships at Blue School. 

GENEVIEVE LITTLE: Yeah, I mean I think Blue School is really such a special school, and I think that I’ve always known that and been so happy to be a part of this community for the past four, almost I think five years. But I’m kind of having a new sense of that lately, and I think a lot of that comes with — I’m a new parent, relatively new parent, and I have an 18 month old child myself now. And I think that it’s always been really exciting for me to see the work and the community and the relationships happening at Blue School. 

But it’s kind of another to look at it through the lens of your own child, and to be able to kind of dream him into the classrooms and the spaces, and imagine the care and the love that the teachers would show to my child potentially at Blue School has just been another layer of that for me. So I feel like those teacher relationships, and the way that children are able to express themselves and develop into who they are is something that I’ve seen and known kind of intellectually, but I’m just feeling it that much more deeply now as I imagine my own child going through it. And think about what that would mean for him, and who he might be at fourteen if he were able to go through that kind of experience. 

DAWN: That makes me so emotional. As you know, I came to it the other way. I came to it having my child have the experience of Blue School and watching what it was doing to them, and then thinking, oh actually I want my work to be making this possible for others, and sort of holding other people in the way that I’ve watched my child be held. And to think about the full circle-ness of this is really beautiful. Thank you for sharing that.

GENEVIEVE LITTLE: Yeah, I hadn’t actually thought about that. That’s really interesting, that we’re kind of coming at it from opposite ends of the spectrum in our — the circle really. 

DAWN: Absolutely. So lovely. So Genevieve, thank you for this time. It’s really — it’s one of my favorite things, is to talk to you about admissions and Blue School. And thank you for sharing that with On Balance. 

GENEVIEVE LITTLE: Of course. Thank you Dawn. 

DAWN: If you share Blue School’s vision of a balanced approach to learning and living, so that children can be courageous and innovative thinkers, please take a moment to subscribe and listen in on our weekly discussions. You can also follow us on Instagram and Facebook @BlueSchoolNYC, or visit BlueSchool.org for more in depth content. We’re sending support and strength to you and your loved ones as you endeavor to create balance.