Tara and Patrick McElfresh, Class of 2024 Parents

When Tara and Patrick McElfresh sought out a new school for their daughter, Liadan, Class of 2024, they wanted a place that would not only challenge her academically, but personally as she moved from elementary to middle school. A place that would encourage her to be an independent thinker, confident student, and compassionate friend. A place that would provide unrivaled educational opportunities in a supportive, safe, and diverse environment. A place where their daughter could truly thrive. After Liadan visited Ellis for a shadow day—and left beaming ear-to-ear—it was clear to them that The Ellis School was that place for Liadan and the right place for them as parents.
Daughter:Liadan McElfresh, Class of 2024
Years At Ellis:2
Occupations:Tara, Stay-at-home parent | Patrick, Clinical Psychologist

Why did you and your daughter choose Ellis?
Patrick: We were very active in Liadan’s education while attending public school, but we faced concerns in regards to her needs being met in the long-term. We had always considered Ellis as an option given that we had friends whose daughters had spoken highly of their experiences. After Liadan and Tara shadowed and interviewed with the faculty, admissions team, and division head, both Liadan and her mother responded enthusiastically to what they observed in the curriculum and camaraderie among students. We were impressed at the depth and breadth of educational enrichment and opportunity, and especially, the focus on helping Liadan develop as an informed, empowered, and confident young woman. We have been incredibly happy and grateful to be a part of the Ellis community, and we have felt welcomed since our first encounter with the Ellis staff and families.

Tara: We were looking for a school that would help pull Liadan out of her shell and to not only challenge her academically but to challenge her personally as well. She is a student who could easily blend in with the group and stay silent in class. It was clear to me after our observation day that the faculty at Ellis would not allow that of her. It was clear to me that Ellis was a school that would challenge Liadan to be the best version of herself.

What did the decision-making process look like for your family? What stood out about Ellis?
Patrick: To be honest, we were quite anxious about what to do for Liadan after her fourth grade year. We had left a rather wounding experience from her previous school in which my wife and I were very active at the school and district level trying to maintain and enrich what her school offered. When prospects for her continued to decline, we were frantic to find an opportunity that offered the full experience that we wanted for Liadan. This included rigorous but diverse educational experiences, community investment, and social and extracurricular activities that were meaningful and dependable. Ellis checked off every one of these boxes. We also found Ellis to be very fair and accommodating with our family’s financial needs so that this wonderful opportunity could happen and be maintained. The community and the focus on our daughter as a growing individual really spoke to us, and we have seen that borne out in her experience at Ellis.

Tara: What stood out to me about Ellis was how warm the environment was. I got a sense that the School really found a perfect balance of foster independence and responsibility in the girls while also being nurturing and very visible to the girls. I love how the girls have the opportunity to make pretty big decisions about their education and for themselves. Ellis provides a safe environment where the faculty and staff guide them just enough so the choices the girls make end up being successful. As far as what the decision-making process looked like for us? This was pretty easy. When I picked Liadan up from her day of shadowing and I asked her how it all went, she was grinning from ear to ear. She said the library “is bigger then the Carnegie” and she was so excited to tell us about everything she was learning in the classrooms. After just a few hours at Ellis, I was able to see the love of learning coming back to Liadan. I knew at that moment we would become an Ellis Family.
Why do you stay at Ellis?
Patrick: Stated simply, our daughter is happy and proud to be at school every day. We see her thriving, forming meaningful and reciprocal relationships with peers and teachers, and she is being challenged to grow. It is a good problem to have when your daughter is upset to miss school.

Tara: I can’t imagine Liadan being anywhere else. She is receiving such a well-rounded education at Ellis and she is genuinely happy to go to school every day.

What does your daughter love about Ellis? What do you love about Ellis?
Patrick: Our daughter feels pride in being identified with Ellis. Whether at school, home, or out for activities, she is rarely seen without wearing some form of Ellis paraphernalia. She finds meaning in being identified as an Ellis student. Not only does our daughter enjoy the curriculum and programming, but she believes in it and also finds solace in the study habits and life skills that she develops in relationship to her studies.

As for what we love about Ellis? These are givens that we are able to enjoy about the Ellis School, day-in, day-out: 1) Liadan will have a rounded academic/educational experience, 2) she will be in a safe and nurturing environment, 3) she will be encouraged to be herself on her terms and given a platform and structure to achieve autonomy, and 4) she will learn to respect others and herself authentically. In addition to these benefits, we find a community of educators and families who share similar goals and aspirations to develop young women who believe in themselves.

Tara: I agree with all that Patrick said here. Liadan loves the challenge, the environment, and the opportunities. She enjoys being trusted that she can walk herself from classroom to classroom. She enjoys eating with any friend she wants and having options of what to eat and where to eat it. She loves study hall at the end of the day and having the opportunity to get a lot of her homework complete before she gets home and/or having the opportunity to get help on work if needed. She loves having choices of which classes and electives she can take every year. I love that she has all of these things to love. My biggest goal as a parent is being able to provide my children with opportunities that they not only love but will help them become adults that other adults want to be around because they are kind, smart, funny, educated and can contribute to a group.

Why has your family prioritized and invested in an all-girls school?
Patrick: Although there is much in the literature about how girls begin to sacrifice goals, dreams, and individuality when among the opposite sex beginning in middle school (see Carol Gilligan), I believe that Ellis’ philosophy transcends gender differences. Our decision to send our daughter to an all-girls school has less to do with this particular structure and much more to do with the unique Ellis philosophy. Ellis prioritizes individual growth, respect, and excellence. This desire is clearly demonstrated in the manner in which our girls are guided in the classroom as well as in programming and engagement with the families at large.

Tara: There is something nice about being in a learning environment with all girls. The world is still very much a ‘boy’s club’ and I have seen girls in coed environments silence themselves.

What do you hope your daughter will get out of an Ellis education?
Patrick: Although Liadan is intelligent, talented, and privately confident, she has long been shy and reserved. We have seen The Ellis School enable her to assert herself more confidently and hope that this trend continues. We hope that she becomes a well-rounded and independent thinker. We hope that she leaves Ellis with confidence moving into university life, not just academically, but also socially with tremendous self-respect. We believe that The Ellis School encourages these goals. Of course, given the Ellis reputation, we also hope that she avails herself to competitive university schools with opportunities for scholarships.

Tara: My hope is that Liadan continues to love to learn and that she will pursue any career that she desires. We hope that Ellis gives her the foundation to make her competitive in the application process, gives her the confidence to pursue any dream she has, and the skills to be successful on that journey.
 
What doors does Ellis open for your daughter?
Patrick: Ellis affords Liadan consistently diverse learning opportunities, locally, nationally, and internationally. It exposes her to opportunities to work with leaders in the Pittsburgh region given special projects that aim to develop skills in business, the arts, and civic pride. Ellis also has resources basic to our campus that are lacking in other educational environments, including the visual and performing arts, which are clearly important to our community, opportunities to engage in special academic projects, and a solid athletics program.

Tara: We like that Liadan is exposed to so many different things at Ellis. The School isn’t just focused on reading and math so that they can score well on a standardized test. Liadan is enriched in the arts, academics, clubs, and she’s encouraged to participate in community organizations as well.

What is the biggest difference or change you have seen in your daughter since she started at Ellis?
Patrick:  She has developed more confidence and is unafraid to engage peers and adults.  Although she has always been self-directed and has had high standards for her academic and extracurricular activities, I see her being very connected to her projects at Ellis and wanting each one to count toward a larger objective. I see her feeling quite at home with her peers and only developing deepening relationships.

Tara: I have seen an improvement in Liadan’s confidence since she started Ellis. I have seen Liadan gain the love of learning since being at Ellis. She comes home from school and talks to me about her day, what she’s learning in class, projects she is working on, books she is reading, and she will share funny stories about the teachers and her friends. When we ask her if she has any homework she reacts with a calm demeanor and will tell us what she has to do by when and she completes her work with us not having to push or motivate her at all.  She wants to do her work because she is enjoying what she is learning and she is engaged. She feels pride in what she does at Ellis.
 
What is your favorite Ellis memory as an Ellis parent?
Patrick: A memory that really sticks out for me was Liadan’s participation in the Ellis entrepreneurs program. This is a wonderful program that connects mathematics, engaged practical business exposure and guidance, and a connection between how results directly correlate with the effort one puts in. Students typically sell their wares at the holiday sale at school, but this past year, students were able to sell products to real-world consumers at Handmade Arcade. This year, she made several very trendy bracelets (over 120!) and decided to send half of her proceeds to a worthy cause (she chose our veterinarian’s office—another passion of hers). Liadan sold her bracelets at this event while sitting with one of her best friends. She handled herself with poise when making sales, and she beamed with pride when she raised a good deal of money for pets in need. There was a clear thread through every step of the process that Liadan realized at the end of her Handmade Arcade encounter, and her satisfied smile suggested that she was a part of something special.

Tara: It’s hard to pick a favorite memory. I can, however, think of a moment that told me we were in the right place. I was watching her play one of her soccer games after school and Liadan finally got her chance on the field to play a bit. It amazed me how many parents in the stands knew her name and were cheering her on. At this point, we had only been a part of the Ellis community for a few months and I know many of the families have been there for years and have had time to get to know each other. It touched me that families were making an effort to make Liadan feel welcomed.

Do you have any anecdotes or stories that stand out about your or your daughter’s time at Ellis?
Patrick: This anecdote is quite plain, but it suggests to me the brilliance of The Ellis School even in the mundane. Today, actually, I drove Liadan into school with about 50 lbs of magazines for a magazine drive. This is held every year, and it is part of the larger competition between the four Ellis “houses” (Liadan is in Cassatt). Liadan beamed with pride when we added our loot to an already enormous pile for her house. She was swarmed by friends, and one really got a sense of how connected the girls are to their houses and helping their teams win competitions. However, that was not the only thing that struck me. The environment was laid back, even during a pretty busy time of day. They girls were genuinely happy to see each other, and I had the feeling of community that just produced an ear-to-ear smile on my face.

Tara: I can’t think of any one experience that stands out and I think of that as a positive thing. We are just in our second year at Ellis and yet it seems like we have years of positive experiences there already. I think of the class play and how they created masks during Art class that they used in the play and how that tied in with their classroom studies. I think of all the stories Liadan tells me about the teachers being silly, doing flash mob dances on the first day of classes. I think of the smiles on the girls faces when I’m in the school volunteering in a classroom party. I love that Liadan has the opportunity to sit with a group of friends outside during lunchtime and can get some fresh air in the middle of the day. There are so many things.
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