Illustration by Steven Burke
Archer School for Girls
Independent | Girls | 6-12
Students run the campus store and curate gallery exhibits at Archer, which was started 13 years ago by three girls’ school graduates who wanted to create a model for modern single-sex education. The curriculum embraces the belief that girls “thrive on making connections” between ideas—so, for instance, archaeology and ancient history are taught together. Archer promotes off-campus learning through events such as “Arrow Week,” during which students can shoot a documentary or build houses with Habitat for Humanity. For nine years the school has occupied an elegant 1931 Spanish colonial revival building on Sunset Boulevard. Each May Day seniors and their fathers erect a maypole on the front lawn, a tradition inherited from the building’s former residents, the women of the Eastern Star retirement home.
Independent | K-12
After Isabelle Buckley opened her first nursery school in L.A. in the 1930s, Time magazine called her a “counter-revolutionary with a passion for sound minds, manners and morals.” Today Buckley School remains devoted to its founder’s “4-Fold Plan of Education,” which gives equal weight to academics, the arts, athletics, and moral education. The course work tilts toward the liberal arts but includes such topical additions as Mandarin and 21st-century leadership. Despite its size (18 rustic acres on the grounds of a former country club), Buckley retains a sense of hominess: Milk is provided to each student at the request of Isabelle Buckley.
Palos Verdes Peninsula
Independent | K-12
Perched on a hill overlooking the Pacific, Chadwick sprawls across grounds so vast, they include a canyon and hiking trails. The heart of the 45-acre campus is a tranquil expanse known as Vanderlip Lawn. The Upper School is based in Roessler Hall, one of the oldest buildings at Chadwick, which was founded in 1935. More recent additions to the campus are a 35,000-volume library, computer labs, a performing arts complex, and a sports pavilion. Outdoor education is mandatory for upper-grade students. Seniors may participate in a 21-day backpacking trip in the Sierra that includes a few days spent going solo, or they can perform community service.
Flintridge Prep School
La Cañada Flintridge
Independent | 7-12
Flintridge Prep’s curriculum is a mix of the poetic and the pragmatic; students have written a collective novel inspired by William Faulkner, deciphered the intricacies of multivariable calculus, or spent a year immersed in the basics of accounting and investment. Teachers at the 75-year-old school are known for their accessibility and, students say, for trying to make sure that attending Prep is a fulfilling experience and not just a conduit to college. That said, the academic standards are tough, and juniors and seniors take weekly classes in which the progress of their university applications is monitored.
Independent | 7-12
Harvard-Westlake’s reputation as one of the nation’s leading prep schools is built on its abundant resources and a demanding curriculum that includes 105 advanced placement sections. Mindful that universities care about more than test scores, Harvard-Westlake requires community service and offers an unusual range of extracurricular activities and classes. The Upper School in North Hollywood may not be as scenic as the Middle School in Bel-Air, but its facilities would be the envy of many colleges. The science center has an electron microscope, and the weight room is so well equipped that athletes return to work out even after they’ve graduated and turned pro. Formed by the 1991 merger of two of L.A.’s top private schools, Harvard-Westlake has twice as many high school students as most of its peers, and some parents say it can be easy for kids to get lost in such a highly competitive crowd.
Independent | Girls | 7-12
The biggest cheers at this spring’s awards ceremony were given to a basketball all-star and the Most Valuable Mathlete. At Marlborough, girls say, they can feel free to be jocks or nerds. The faculty, which includes 17 Ph.D.s, has developed such distinctive electives as courses in Arabic literature and Anna Karenina and a research program that enables students to work with scientists at UCLA and other institutions. Marlborough, which is nearing its 120th anniversary, is the oldest independent girls’ school in Southern California. The sense of history is strong. Seventh graders write poems to alumnae, and decades of senior class photographs line one hallway. Substantial donations from two families have fueled a $65 million modernization of the campus.
Independent | K-12
Student murals adorn the walls. Kids ponder script changes as they lounge on shady redwood benches. CalArts graduate students teach Super 8 filmmaking and the jaw harp. Oakwood’s emphasis on the arts is part of a broader mission: to blend a college prep curriculum with individualized learning, a commitment that dates to the school’s founding by progressive parents in 1951. The dissatisfaction with the rigidity of mainstream education is reflected in the variety of mentorships and independent projects Oakwood offers as well as in the special studies courses (subjects include anime and baseball) that are devised by teachers, alumni, and students.
Independent | K-12
Ask students what distin-guishes Poly from its peers, and they mention its intimate atmosphere. Everybody—children, teachers, and the college counselor—knows everybody and, it seems, has known one another for years. Poly was founded in 1907 as a combination academic-manual arts training school, and it added a high school in 1959. It has since emerged as one of Southern California’s elite prep schools. Poly, says Head of School Deborah E. Reed, tries to extend learning “beyond the traditional classroom” through arts programs, community service, and river camping treks. Generations of alumni return for the spring musical, one of many traditions celebrated on the leafy campus, which sits next to Caltech.
Vivian Webb School & Webb School of California
Independent | Girls | 9-12
Independent | Boys | 9-12
With its navy dress blazers and an honor code that cautions against cowardice, the Webb School of California resembles an old-fashioned East Coast prep school. It was started in 1922 as a boys’ boarding school; in 1981, a girls’ school was established. Despite the traditional trappings, Webb, as the two schools are known, takes a nonconventional approach to single-sex education; boys and girls study separately until junior year. Day students make up one-third of the enrollment. Webb’s curriculum is particularly strong in the social and natural sciences: Within the 75-acre campus stand an observatory and a paleontology museum, most of whose fossils were discovered by students, faculty, and alumni.
Independent | Girls | 4-12
Westridge began in 1913 after two mothers asked Mary Lowther Ranney, a teacher and architect, if she would create a nurturing learning environment for their daughters. Enrollment has risen to more than 500, and the school has moved from Ranney’s home to a nine-acre campus dotted with architectural gems designed by Greene & Greene and Marston, Van Pelt & Maybury, among others. Westridge, however, remains what one parent calls “a safe and welcoming place for girls”—albeit one that has grown increasingly competitive academically. The science, music, and drama programs are especially notable. Each year high school students spend time exploring the world beyond Pasadena, be it on trips to downtown Los Angeles or historic Rome.