AVI CHAI concluded its general grant making on December 31, 2019.

Day School Decisions: An Interview

Posted by: Deborah Fishman

February 29, 2012

In an effort to build conversation and generate ideas around what would make Jewish day school more attractive to non-Orthodox parents, the AVI CHAI and Steinhardt foundations have opened a discussion here on AVI CHAI’s blog where we will be sharing a series of guest blog posts. These posts represent the personal views of the authors and should not be regarded as statements of the views of either foundation.
Interview with Becky Voorwinde
Where do you anticipate sending your daughter when she is school-aged?
For most of my life, I hoped I could send my children to Jewish day school when the time came. My husband is not Jewish; he went to a Christian school growing up. I went to Jewish day school until eighth grade – at two different schools, because my family moved. One was a Schechter school and the other a community school. I have explained to my husband that questioning was such a big part of my Jewish schooling experience. My favorite Jewish studies teacher kept the name of the student who had asked the most outstanding question displayed on the blackboard until the next outstanding question was asked. It was very much, “This is your tradition: how to analyze.” I said to my husband that this was important to me, and he respects these values. But at this juncture, with the costs of living in Brooklyn, it’s becoming harder to imagine how we could pull off sending kids to Jewish school, or private school in general.
What ideas do you have that might cause you and other parents to be more likely to send your kids day school?
The financial component is going to be one of the key decision factors for us. I wonder what opportunities there might be for schools to value services families might be willing to provide and monetize them to offset financial costs? Also, maybe the schools could make it less confusing to find out about the financial aid options. What about holding an open house with workshops for families with toddlers to walk them through what is taken into account in the financial aid process?
Also, I think Jewish day schools could articulate more what training is required of their teachers and their educational philosophies. A friend who went to the Schechter school with me was deciding between sending her son to a Schechter or a Montessori school. She ultimately decided on the Montessori school, because she felt that educationally it had a better philosophy. The only educational philosophy the Jewish school articulated was that they taught Jewish kids. Schools need to show professionalism to reach families on the fence.
Finally, I’ve heard from a few people deciding between New York City Jewish day schools and secular schools who ended up choosing a Jewish school because it was the most haimish and had the least competitive atmosphere. If Jewish schools could highlight in the kindergarten selection process that they’re private but not exclusive, that also might appeal to undecided parents.
What do you feel you gained from your day school education? What were some of the disadvantages?
I gained a clarity and understanding of the breadth of what it means to have a Jewish background. The immersion in Jewish and Hebrew studies require hours that only a full-day program can offer. Socially there was a family aspect to it – I felt parents inculcated in the kids: you have to invite everyone in the class because we’re Jewish. There was a sense of, “This is your people.” But there was a lack of diversity. When I went to public high school, I gravitated to other Jewish kids because it was comfortable rather than because of a real connection. Only when I went to college did I have more of a diverse friendship circle.
What concerns would you have about sending your daughter to Jewish day school?
I’m currently looking at daycare options, and I’m actually attracted to daycares that have a diverse socio-economic group of families. It’s important in the world we live in; we can provide the Jewish aspect through our personal circle of family and friends. Also, in my day school experience the Jewish, English, and social studies education was good, but the math and science education was not at the level of top public or secular private schools. There aren’t as many extracurricular opportunities either, because it’s hard to fit them in to a day that is already longer to accommodate both Jewish and secular studies. That’s why my parents felt they wanted me to go to public high school.
What interesting models have you seen that day schools might be able to apply?
Rabbi Andy Bachman’s synagogue Beth Elohim in Brooklyn not only has Hebrew school after-school programs but also a series of kids’ programs marketed to everyone in the Park Slope neighborhood, not just Jewish kids. What if Jewish schools had afterschool programs that they made available to other communities? If there’s a concern that kids will be in a cloistered program, this could help create connections so that kids are more integrated into the wider community.
I’m also very excited about two after-school programs founded by Bronfman alumni: Sulam in Brookline that aims to provide intensive Judaic and Hebrew studies in an afterschool timeframe; and The Jewish Enrichment Center in Hyde Park Chicago that combines afterschool care for kids in day school and public school while offering innovative and fun Jewish learning.

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