This week, we got the privilege of catching up with Tanynya Hekymara, the Director of Admissions and Civic Engagement at The Oaks School. Tanynya emphasized the importance of getting on board with the mission of your child’s school and wants parents to let their children’s true personalities shine.
Looking for the right path for your child
Tanynya points out that every child that comes through the admissions process is unique, and being placed in the right program is ultimately the most important thing for students and their families. She says: “We strive to help parents recognize that everybody’s path isn’t the same—there is no clear pathway to getting into any one school. It’s important to ultimately consider what school would be good for their family.” Tanynya recognizes that parents have a lot of information to process, and a lot of it comes from the experiences of other parents. However she stresses that it’s important to keep an open mind from the get-go with the admissions process and not put too much weight on other people’s experience because each individual is unique.
A Family Matter
When it comes to admissions for incoming kindergartners, Tanynya explains that the process is really about the whole family. “At the kindergarten level, you’re admitting the entire family. So when you meet a family, the director of admissions, the head of the school, the teachers—whoever is involved with it is going to be picturing whether or not the parents are also going to be a good fit for the school.” She points out that part of the reason this is so important is because overall volunteerism and involvement from parents is higher in K-6 and the expectations are much higher in terms of parent-teacher conferences and teamwork. She notes that they still pay very close attention to the students and even do preschool visits to see the potential students in their natural environment to determine if they might be a good fit. She says “We feel that this is a fair way to assess a child because they’re comfortable and they’re doing what they do every day. When you take the child and put them in an artificial environment with kids and adults they don’t know, they’re not necessarily going to behave as they would if they were in our classroom—and that’s ultimately what we really want to see.” She goes on to note that it’s definitely not just about academics at this point. “We are looking for behavior. We want to know, do they share? Are they compassionate? Do they follow rules?”
Believe in the Mission
Tanynya believes that the most important thing for parents to ask themselves is whether or not they really believe in the mission of the school. She says if families can understand and agree with the nuances and the overall mission of the school, they’ll ultimately be able to make better choices in terms of the right school for their child.
Part of the mission of The Oaks School is to encourage an environment that is authentically capable of accepting and nurturing multiculturalism. A passionate advocate of equality and justice, Tanynya has spent much of her career working within the independent school world and watched the struggles that these programs had in crafting a program that was authentically diverse. Just as families need to be considerate of a school’s mission, Tanynya was hyper-aware of the work being done at The Oaks School on the platform of inclusion. Her work at the school has raised the bar in creating a dynamic student body that has the capacity to nurture a range of students and families—and the school is thriving from that mission.
The Nuances of the Interview
The Oaks School typically puts less emphasis on a formal interview in favor of ingratiating a family into school life and creating as much interaction with the student and family as possible. Tanynya says “We have Friday assembly, we invite families to that. We have all these different events and we invite them, so we see them often. We invite families to visit our school over and over again, so there are many casual conversations before we get to the interview stage, and I think it changes the way the interview feels”
Ultimately Tanynya wants parents to leave with this wisdom: “As long as the environment is an environment that a kid loves, they will learn—and if they’re transitioning at sixth or eighth grade, they will do well in that application process because it’s palatable that they love their school and they love learning. And when you love something, you also have respect for it; which means you respect your school, you respect the adults and you know you’re curious.” Tanynya says that being real and letting your child’s true personality shine is the most important thing. She points out that she’s seen kids get into schools with a great interview, even when they didn’t have the best test scores or grades because the school recognized that the fit was right. “People have to realize that you have to share your stories and you have to be interesting and allow your kid to be interesting—kids need to learn how to talk about themselves.”