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Advantages and Disadvantages of Pinewood

Original post made by Just Looking for Now, Midtown, on Dec 21, 2009

Hello all,

The question about Menlo School prompts this one from me about Pinewood.

We are considering sending my daughter to Pinewood for High School. She has been at JLS for middle school and has reasonably well academically, but seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle quite a bit. She just does her work and comes home. Hasn't really made good friends with any teachers or connected with the place.

Because she never needs extra attention to get her work done, or to solve any social problems, and because she isn't an incredible standout academically, I feel like the school has been content to basically ignore her in favor of the higher-need and flashier kids.

I suspect it will be similar at Gunn or Paly.

I'm wondering if Pinewood would do better in this regard--with smaller classes and a more friendly environment. And more broadly, what Pinewood is like. We expect to set up a shadow day and all of that, but some third party opinions would be very helpful.

Just Looking for Now

Comments (13)

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 21, 2009 at 3:27 pm

What a great idea - I encourage both these posters to look into their options!
I can't comment on specifics about Menlo or Pinewood, because I am not close with them, but I want to give my strong recommendation to investigate and consider applying to private high school(s). Almost any time would be the right time to thoughtfully consider this.
My general impression of Menlo, SHP, Pinewood is favorable.
Sometimes students can transfer in. Check that out. Maybe your student could transfer in in 10th grade. Naturallly, the school would prefer everyone come in in 9th grade, but policies vary. In many cases, 9th grade is too young for private boarding school, for example, but highly suited to the independent 10th or 11th grader. You've got to be old enough to appreciate what you are doing.
For background, I am personally familiar with two internationally known private high schools. They are mainly boarding schools. They are both far from here.
Sometimes private schools are off the radar screen unless you attended one or are quite thoughtful about your educational options.
The two schools I know are life changing and have special character. They are not remedial in any fashion (for some reason Palo Altans may imply that the only reason someone would consider private school is because of some need for remediation or a behavior problem. This puzzles me, and is contrary to my experience and knowledge.)
The private HS student may be more likely to have a lifelong network of friends and professional associates, in my opinion.
It may take time to "get" the special character and attributes of a private school (and determine a match for your values, interests, needs), so if the idea appeals to you and your children at all, you should dive in and find out all you can. Speaking with alumni may help, though it can be hard to express everything about a private school. It's hard to know what they're like unless you've been "through it," then it's hard to communicate it to another person.
When you attend a boarding school, you learn great independence yet with today's technology you can stay very connected.

Posted by Mom
a resident of Duveneck School
on Dec 21, 2009 at 4:51 pm


You didn't name the boarding schools. Afraid of a run on them?

We are a close family and enjoy being together. Kids have enough time to live on their own later in life. How can a child feel the love of their parents in their hearts if he/she is sent off to boarding school? If the child already does not feel loved, then boarding school would be a beneficial option rather than being in a dysfunctional family. Oftentimes children who attend boarding school become selfish due to having to fend for themselves and absence of family life.

And neither of us answered the original poster's question.

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 21, 2009 at 6:01 pm

I have heard nothing but good things about Pinewood, especially about the staff. The kids I know who have attended blossomed in the smaller school with the additional attention.

anonymous - your comment about private schools being for remediation or a behavior problem is not true about the local private schools at all, but is probably true for boarding schools. Very few Palo Alto parents send their kids to boarding schools, it is much more common on the east coast. Those who do send their kids don't send them to the usual "prep" type of boarding schools. The Palo Alto students I know who have attended boarding schools chose them because they wanted a school with strong drama or music program or their parents sent them because they needed treatment for substance abuse.

Posted by pamom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 21, 2009 at 7:18 pm

Re Pinewood -- do talk to Pinewood staff and check on their expectations for incoming students. Pinewood students receive an excellent curriculum in English, math and social studies. Unfortunately our public middle schools do not offer this--often it's easy to get an "A" but the easy curriculum does not prepare otherwise very able students very well for high school, and they may end up struggling in our upper lanes at Paly and Gunn. You don't want your child to be struggling to keep up in math and writing. The private schools have entry tests which can also help you figure this out.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 21, 2009 at 8:28 pm

Mom, I do care to protect my kids' identity, since they are known in this community. I could get into describing all about their personal lives, which I choose not to do on this forum. I stand by my statement that private schools, including boarding schools, can be outstanding.
Palo Alto Mom, you are incorrect: the two boarding schools I know are: 1) a famous historical east coast one and 2) one with a specialty emphasis that is world famous.

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 21, 2009 at 8:45 pm

Anonymous - I wasn't talking about the boarding schools you know and there are many wonderful boarding schools. I was saying that since so few kids from PA attend boarding schools, the ones from PA who do attend boarding schools go to ones that have a speciality emphasis or are for kids who have substance problems.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 22, 2009 at 12:01 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

I have been impressed with grads of Castilleja and Crystal Springs, or Mary,Star of the Sea for parochial.

Posted by big momma
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 22, 2009 at 9:28 am

The only parents that I know who have sent their kids to boarding school are people who could not handle their kids. The kids weren't particularly difficult, the parents were just inept and had the money to make their problem go away.

The word on Pinewood is that they give a ridiculous amount of homework, but sending your kid there confers bragging rights if you are a Silicon Valley exec.

Posted by Just Looking for Now
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 22, 2009 at 11:22 am

Big Momma,

"A ridiculous amount of homework." Is that relative to Paly and Gunn, in absolute terms or by some other measure? I'm truly curious.

I thought the bragging rights came from Castilleja or Woodside Priory. Pinewood seems to be the least snotty of the group as far as I can tell. Sure, you have to have means to pay for a private school, but some require less than others.

The side-debate about boarding schools is somewhat amusing. I actually did go to a college-prep boarding high-school and would absolutely consider it for my daughter if I thought it was the best option. But I don't think it is.

Thanks again, keep the opinions coming.

Posted by pamom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 22, 2009 at 11:50 am

Interesting that some see the privates as snooty. I suppose there is some of that. But what matters most is how good of a job does the school do in providing for an excellent education which is what they focus on. If they don't, people take their kids (and dollars) somewhere else. Too bad we can't do that in the public schools. Seems our schools, especially the middle school level, have really dumbed down the curriculum. Our public high school upper lanes are excellent too, but good luck in getting your kids prepared for that.

Posted by Data
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 24, 2009 at 2:19 pm

The schools that get the highest percentage of their grads into the most selective colleges are (in alpha order): Branson (Marin), Castilleja, Crystal Springs, Menlo, University Prep (SF)

Posted by Marissa
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Unless your child is very easy going and self confident, I do not recommend sending her to Pinewood high school where kids have bonded since elementary school and fitting in might be challenging.
Los Altos girls from wealthy families are not the most inclusive socius.

Posted by GSB Parent
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 19, 2010 at 11:17 am

Pinewood has a pleasant and active parent community. Your best bet is to ask around within your network of friends and neighbors to find out who can introduce you to a Pinewood family. Then you can get in-depth, accurate insight into the school's curriculum and culture. Our children were very happy there. Involved teachers, excellent curriculum, excellent enrichment actitivies, great sport programs, the whole nine yards. There were a few transfer students from other schools every year, so being new is not that unusual.

Every private school in our bay area gives off some variation of the country-club vibe, due to the high tuition costs. Pinewood isn't snotty or snooty, in my opinion, but it does clearly have self-selected group of high-income families who have decided to pay for a specific "small-school" experience for their kids.

It's helpful to consider what Marissa said above regarding self-confidence, because while I think the general friendliness is definitely there, your daughter will need to find her own clique or niche, and that takes persistence no matter where she goes to school. What does your daughter say about her High School preferences? That will be the biggest predictor of "fit" and satisfaction.

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