Welcoming the Special Olympics USA Games to Seattle

The Special Olympics USA Games is a premier, national sports competition that showcases the power and joy of sports at the highest levels. From July 1-6, 2018 more than 4,000 athletes and coaches from all 50 states and the District of Columbia arrived in Seattle and the surrounding region along with 10,000 family members and friends. 

In addition to showcasing the awe-inspiring abilities of thousands of athletes with intellectual disabilities, the 2018 USA Games in Seattle models the ideals of inclusion and celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics movement.

The USA Games take place every four years with previous host cities being: Ames, Iowa (2006); Lincoln, Nebraska (2010); and Lawrenceville, New Jersey (2014). Now, in its fourth running, the Special Olympics USA Games is in Seattle.

I was one of the 10,000+ volunteers working to help support the Games. I loved having the opportunity to welcome the families and athletes to Seattle by volunteering the first 2 days of the event at the Family Welcoming Center.  I was part of a volunteer group that greeted all the families fresh from the airport and worked to get them settled in the Seattle area.

It was so fun to meet families from across the U.S. and provide them information on family activities, demonstrate how to use light rail and the bus system, recommend restaurants and must see Seattle sights. Almost everyone wanted to ride the elevator to the top of the newly renovated Space Needle, attend a Mariners baseball game and get a peak at Mt. Rainier.  The athletes stay with their coaches in the dorms on the University of Washington campus and their families wanted to make the best of their "down time' to see the area.  

The games offer 14 sports including swimming, flag football and soccer. With the exception of the Opening Ceremony, all events are free and local families are encourage to come cheer, wave signs and make some noise.  Venues include the University of Washington, King County Aquatic Center, Seattle University and Celebration Park.

The Special Olympics USA Games is the biggest sporting event to hit the Seattle area in more than 25 years and I am so glad that I was able to volunteer, use my knowledge of Seattle and the area to introduce so many families to Seattle!  


Meet the Global Families of Puget Sound

I love this article from ParentMap magazine written by Jiaying Grygiel. A big part of my business is working with new families relocating the Seattle area from other cities in the U.S and several of my client families are relocating to the U.S. as expats with plans to return to their home country.  An interesting and welcoming read.



Seattle Mama Doc Podcast

I love podcasts and now enjoy getting stuck in Seattle traffic as it allows me more time to stay current on all my subscriptions.  I just recently discovered the Mama Doc Podcast - a parenting and health podcast hosted by a local Seattle mom and doctor.  Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson is also the Executive Director of Digital Health for Seattle Children’s Hospital and a news reporter for NBC KING5 in Seattle.  You can find this free podcast on ITunes and subscribe to its bimonthly feed. 

Great topics from teens and e-cigarettes to information about the recent mumps outbreak around several communities to advice on screen time for kids of all ages.  These podcasts vary in time from 5-15 minutes with two of her longer and highly rated episodes on ADHD - offering parenting tips and how to recognize ADHD signs in children. 

Do you have a favorite podcast?  What about one about Seattle? I'd love to hear about it and add to my podcast list.   


Lakeside's New Micro School

Projected to Open Fall 2018

There has been a lot of talk about Lakeside expanding their school in Seattle. While demand at Lakeside's original campus continues to be high, the school administration is looking at other way to educate students outside of their traditional school and campus.

I had a very informative phone call with Sue Belcher, Lakeside School's Director of Micro School Research and Development to learn more about this new school model. They refer to their new school as a micro school. Lakeside's micro school will have a different education model, but still keeps to their standards of academic excellence and innovation. 

The school is slated to open for the 2018-19 school year and will service grades 9-12 with 160 total students = 40 students across each grade.  When the school opens in the Fall of 2018, it will accept only 9th and 10th grade students and (80 students total) grow by a grade each year (adding a new 9th grade class each application year) until reaching capacity and filling out all four grade levels by the 2021-22 school year. 

They are currently scouting downtown South Seattle locations and access to light rail is a priority. It will not be a campus school, but instead reside in an office building or like structure with a lease secured by winter 2017. The tuition is currently estimated at $17K per year (vs Lakeside's main campus cost of $32K per year).  This cost will make the school more affordable to families looking for a private school and also reflects a no frills school model. They do not anticipate the micro school will pull from the current Lakeside population, but will draw in a new group of students seeking out this style of learning experience at a lower price point.  What is a no frills model? No athletics (students will be able to participate at their local public school), PE classes or art electives.  

The micro school will integrate the city into the curriculum including required internships. The core curriculum for each grade will be signature to Lakeside and also revolve around a singular learning concept for each grade incorporating history, English and math.  The school will teach wellness and art appreciation with the goal of utilizing the city and neighborhood resources. Spanish language will be the only foreign language option.  They may also utilize the growing online program, Global Online Academy, to add additional course offerings geared toward the independent student.

I am looking forward to following the development of Lakeside's micro school and will continue to see how other Seattle area schools move forward and introduce new learning models.
It is already application time for independent schools for the 2017-18 school year and I am in the middle of touring many of them.  I have 12 tours scheduled over the next month and I am always happy to talk to families about the Seattle independent school scene. 


Racial diversity and Seattle area schools

Racially diverse schools and communities are top of mind for many of my client families moving from outside of the Seattle area.  Many families are coming from international schools, large metropolitan areas (like Boston, NYC) and have questions about Seattle area public schools with regards to race and family income. 

I find many families unfamiliar with Seattle view it as a very homogeneous city and are surprised when they see how diverse many of the schools are with regard to race and income.  I also assist families coming from smaller school districts and city suburbs and their children have not been in a racially diverse school and they have questions about how schools in the Seattle area "look and feel" compared to their current district. 

Seattle no longer buses students outside of their neighborhood schools and schools reflect the population of the neighborhood. The Eastside (Bellevue, Issaquah, Kirkland) never bussed outside of area and their schools racial make up has changed along with the changing population following the tech industry. 

Recently, The Seattle Times published this very informative article about race and our public schools andincluded an interactive tool to view your school or target school and look up the diversity index score for any school in King or Snohomish County.


I am available to discuss these statistics and specific schools assisting you in finding the right fit schools for your children. 















Seattle Themed books for Adults

As a follow up to my previous post on Seattle-centric books for kids, I am now sharing some of my favorite books for adults:

As I previewed in the last blog, The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown in a great read.  This nonfiction story is set during the Great Depression and tells the story of the University of Washington’s eight-oar crew team as they qualified to compete in the Berlin Olympics.   An inspiring read and a wonderful introduction to Seattle, University of Washington and the lake you see all around you - Lake Washington.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a fun, light novel with many Seattle cultural references writen by Maria Semple.  Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom. Then Bernadette disappears. To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence--creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet: This is an old-fashioned historical novel that alternates between the early 1940s and 1984 written by Jamie Ford.  The story focuses on Henry Lee, a 12-year-old Chinese boy who falls in love with Keiko Okabe, a 12-year-old Japanese girl, while they are scholarship students at a prestigious private school during the World War II time period in Seattle. The story alternates between this time period and the 1980's when the belongings of Japanese immigrants interned during WWII were found in the basement of the Panama Hotel. *This book is on several middle school reading lists - as it is appropriate for adults and teens.

Also story revolving around World War II and the Japanese interment, David Guterson wrote the beautiful book - Snow Falling on Cedars.   Fighting the distrust and prejudice of his neighbors on a remote island in Puget Sound, a Japanese-American man who spent time in an internment camp during World War II, finds himself on trial for murder. The histories of the accused and the victim, both fishermen and residents of a small town unfold as newspaperman Ishmael Chambers embarks on a quest for the truth. Snow Falling on Cedars won the 1995 PEN/Faulkner Award.  

Some notable Seattle authors with novels set in the area include:  Tom Robbins, Sherman Alexie, Garth Stein, Jim Lynch, Timothy Egan and don't forget Seattle is home to Nancy Pearl, America's favorite librarian, NPR contributor and author of several books on books including Book Lust and Book Crush.  Rick Steves, the author and PBS travel show host is also from Seattle and is most likely the Seattleite holding the title of most books authored - I think last count was 100+ travel guides. 

For all the teens - there is always Stephenie Meyers.  Her Twilight Series, is set right here in the Olympic National Park area and the small town of  Forks, Washington. After you read the books you'll be ready to go tour the areas visited by Edward, Bella and Jacob. 

Preschool Primer - Parentmap Magazine

I have been busy working on updating my directory for preschools.  I attended ParentMap Magazine's preschool fair for the east side area (Bellevue, Issaquah, Redmond) this past week and will be attending the Seattle fair next weekend.  I love seeing familiar faces working the school booths and I also enjoy meeting the new teachers and owners to learn about their programs.  ParentMap is expecting over 1600 people to visit their four fairs this year - that is a lot of families looking for preschool! 

There are so many great preschools in the area with a program to fit every family and budget.  The problem may lie in this fact - so many choices and it is hard to narrow down the right school for your child.  Popular preschool programs start their registration process and accept deposits in the winter prior to the Fall start, at times making it difficult for families moving to the area to find a program in their new neighborhood.

I am consistently touring preschools, evaluating new programs and adding additional schools to my resource list.  I love helping families find the right preschool for their child and spending time observing in a preschool class is always a highlight of my day. 

Along with sponsoring the preschool fairs, ParentMap magazine published an excellent article explaining the different preschool teaching methods.  A great read and I am always happy to review in additional detail too. 




Evaluating Schools - Public and Independent

Families relocating to the Seattle area with school age children are very fortunate, as Seattle is home to a large number of highly regarded and nationally ranked public and private schools.   Many of my clients relocating from outside of the United States have asked me to explain the differences and similarities between the two models - Public and Private (Independent) Schools. 

PUBLIC SCHOOL- is State and Federally funded and follows all teaching and testing guidelines supervised by the School district and State Education Board. With funding dependent on the government, public school resources are always at risk of being cut and map to general state and federal budget cuts. Budget cuts may affect your child’s class size, the teacher/student ratio, as well as curricular or extra-curricular programs in the arts, music and sports. There is no cost to attend public schools from Grade 1 - 12.  There is a monthly cost for full-day Kindergarten and no cost for 1/2 day Kindergarten (3 hr program). 

Many schools with an active parent volunteer base (PTA) are able to fundraise and provide additional opportunities for students and teachers.  Fundraising may consist of holding an auction, cash based giving campaign, walk-a-thon and book sales to subsidize the school's budget. 

Public schools most frequently are neighborhood schools and I am able to work along side your real estate agent to make sure your desired school falls within your housing boundaries. Housing not employment boundaries will determine the public school your child attends. Due to the growth in the Seattle area, many public schools are overcrowded and class sizes range from 22-32 students. 

Most public schools will have a mix of academic ability. In the United States, schools are required to meet the needs of all students and make the proper accommodations, as needed. Assistance programs offered at no cost to families for qualified students may include speech, occupational and physical therapy and English as a second language training.   

Seattle area public schools also are required to offer gifted and talented programs.  Students must meet qualifying scores across a series of test for reading, math and cognitive skills. Public schools that serve gifted and talented students are limited to a few schools per district and all testing in managed by the school district. 

In the United States separation of church and state does not allow public schools to teach religion. As of now, public schools do not require a uniform, most districts provide bus transportation to/from school at no cost and serve a hot lunch daily at a minimal cost.   

PRIVATE/INDEPENDENT SCHOOL - Most private/independent schools are not-for-profit and receive no funding from the State. These schools rely on tuition and school specific fundraising efforts including an annual auction and giving campaign to cover the cost of education and facilities management. 

Most private schools will require entrance testing and an extensive application for admittance. The majority of private schools only allow admittance at the beginning of the school year (early September) with a very few exceptions for mid-year enrollment.  The application process begins with tours and admission testing in the Fall prior to the admittance year - i.e.:  Fall 2015 testing and application for Fall 2016 entrance. Acceptance announcement is communicated in the Spring with a nonrefundable deposit to hold your student's spot due within a few week timeframe.    

Private schools are located across the Puget Sound area and require families to provide their own transportation either by driving, carpool or paid bus service.  Uniforms are not common in the majority of private schools and tend to only be required in a few faith based schools. Private schools may teach religion and have discretion about how to celebrate religious traditions and culture awareness.   Private schools are not required to offer special education support and schools that offer support for learning differences increase the tuition by an average of 40% for that student.   

Many of your child's extracurricular activities will take place at the school and, unlike your neighborhood public school, friends will come from all over the Seattle area.  Many private schools offer a richer selection of "the extras" including sports, arts, theater, technology/maker spaces and music programs. 

Student to teacher ratios tend to be significantly smaller than public schools with size ranging from 12-18 students per subject period.  Not all private schools offer AP certified courses in high school, but even without official AP classes, the students have the ability to sit for the AP exams and obtain credit. 

Tuition will vary from $8000 to over $30,000 per year depending on the school and child's grade level.  Most independent high schools in Seattle area are $30,000 per year -  servinggrades 9-12. Financial aid is available from each school for a limited number of qualified families.  Faith based schools with parish sponsors (i.e. Catholic) tend to have tuition prices at approximately half of non-faith based schools. 

My services streamline the school search process and help you find the right fit for your family, housing area and budget. 

Public school overcrowding - Portable classroom debate

With the Seattle area continuing to grow and the economy strong, every school district within a commutable distance of the employment corridor is facing overcrowding.  While a strong economy is a positive, the increased population with school age children is putting a strain on existing facilities and the school property footprint.  School districts continue to look at ways to fund new school construction projects and accurately predict enrollment trends.

It is important when evaluating a school district and individual schools within the district to understand their growth plan, restraints and new construction plans. 

With overcrowding, the standard fix and the least expensive solution, is to add portable classrooms.  Portable classrooms are stand alone temporary units that add 1 usable classroom space to the school.  In most cases, a school needs to add several portables to accommodate student growth.  These portables sit on school property and in most cases occupy space that was used for a playground or sporting field.  Historically, they are inexpensive to construct,  unattractive, dark, poor air circulation and not well insulated. 

Just one of many schools in the Seattle area, Laurelhurst Elementary School has continued to see excessive growth for their K-5th grade school.  Many of the houses in this upscale neighborhood that borders Lake Washington and the University of Washington campus, have recently been purchased by young families. 

Laurelhurst Elementary School already has the smallest playground with the highest lot coverage percentage of any NE Seattle elementary school.  Over neighborhood and parent objections, The Seattle School District just added an additional portable for the 2015-16 school year, reducing the playground again.  The district has no plan in place to address the overcrowding and stated their is no money in the budget for construction or redesign of the school.  This is not unique to Laurelhurst and many public elementary schools in Seattle are operating classrooms in portables with parent groups lobbying for a long term solution to address the district's growth.

On the east side of Lake Washington, The Lake Washington School District, a high-performing public school district serving Kirkland, Redmond, and Sammamish, just opened 13 new green portable classrooms (SAGE) for the 2015-16 school year.  The rooms’ designs provide four times more natural light, fresh air and 150 percent more air circulation than traditional portable classrooms.  Even with parents and students preferring school building contained classrooms, the SAGE portables address many of the negatives associated with portable classrooms, but still reduce the school ground footprint.

The new SAGE classrooms will help accommodate the district’s growing student population, which increased by more than 10 percent in the past five years.  “We are bursting at the seams,” Lake Washington Director of Student Services Forrest Miller said. “The greatest need is a place for students to learn. And we want students to have spaces they can learn well in.”

The SAGE classrooms take a third less time to build than a standard portable classroom. The exact price of each room varies, but a SAGE classroom, on average, costs about twice as much as a standard portable.  The district invested in these newly designed greener portables, as they acknowledged these will be used longer term and offer a better classroom experience verses the standard portables. 

Overcrowding and the lack of school space is not unique to the Seattle area.  Many school districts in California are facing the same issues and continue to lobby for the school districts to address the growth with a long term plan verses spending money on a temporary fix.