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Jessica Gottlieb Headshot

High Stakes Interviews: Sixth Grade

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We haven't had many interviews, my son and I. There was an interview for Pre-K and another for Kindergarten. We only applied to one school for each of those years so this week's interview was our third, albeit many years later.

Interviewing for sixth grade admissions in Los Angeles is as high stakes an interview as any in my lifetime. There are only a handful of schools that admit students in the 6th grade, just a couple of those have high schools attached to them and only two interest us as a family.

My hope for both of my children is that I can put them in a school where they will find themselves at the center of the bell curve. I've tried to find schools where they are neither the smartest nor struggling and where other children have similar interests. Kids in Los Angeles are lucky because we have schools for performing arts, humanities, sciences, there's a Zoo magnet and too many others to name. Kids are unlucky because there are many more applicants for these schools than there are spaces.

When we drive up to the school a glance around the parking lot tells me that I should have borrowed an expensive car to park in the spot for Admissions. What if Alexander blows this interview or the ISEE's? At least in a pricey foreign car they'd be led to believe that we would be good for advancement. I'm squirmy and I'm pretty sure that we are the poorest family to sit in this lobby so now we have to be impressive.

I find myself sitting in an airy lobby flipping though a private school's award winning newspaper while my husband sits next to me browsing through yearbooks and our son is performing card tricks for an admissions officer. I've somehow become the mother that smooths her unruly hair and carefully selects a conservative outfit so that she can show the admissions officer just how seriously she takes education.

Alexander finishes his interview and it's time for my husband and I to go in. Alexander takes our spot in the lobby and reads the school paper while we chat with the admissions officer. I spot an NYU pennant and hope that he noted on our application that my husband is an alum. I manage to drop a few times that my mother and my grandmother both got their graduate degrees from NYU. Graduate, you hear that Mr. Admissions Man? This is a family that loves school. I'm begging now.

My son is excited about Chinese class in 6th grade and my husband loves the art room. I'm crazy about the canyon setting and the koi pond, but mostly I want my son to be in this pre collegiate Eden in the middle of Los Angeles because I'm scared that there are no other schools that can challenge him academically without turning him into a automaton. I see that a full ten percent of their graduates attend Ivy League Schools and I know for a fact that Princeton students cannot get loans. They graduate without debt and with jobs. There are plenty of kids going to Stanford and MIT and I'm ashamed to admit even to myself that those are totally second rate in my mind.

I'm that mom. I want this for my son and I've got tunnel vision.

The interview is going well, I'm saying the right things and I haven't dropped an F Bomb or mentioned the fact that it took me seven years to do my undergraduate work, beach days, skiing and parties slowed the process down. They seem to know that I went to the right schools as did my husband. I'm confident that we look like a couple of responsible adults although I certainly don't feel like one when the Admissions Officer says, "Well, you've heard a lot about us. Now what do you expect for your [insert unholy number here] tuition."

At which point my husband looks at him and says, "What"? There's an uncomfortable silence when he looks at me and says, "How much do we pay now?" My moment of adulthood ends abruptly and if there was a soundtrack to my life we all would have heard the sound of a needle scratching a record while I stuttered and stammered and hoped and prayed that my husband would love that koi pond and my son would somehow get into that swanky school.