Experts observe

As planning for the start of the school year yielded to performing, many educators offered their reflections and insights about the lessons learned over the past six months of pandemic-related “revolution”.

Seven acknowledged experts in the fields of Early Childhood Education, Part-Time Jewish Education, Day Schools, Jewish Camp, Teen Engagement and Education, and College Engagement and Education, published a synopsis article last week on the eJewishPhilanthropy website entitled “What’s Going on in Jewish Education? Answers from Leaders in the Field.”
The article is worthy of our attention due to the collective expertise it gathers in one place.

We shall reproduce but a few of the authors’ conclusions. All of the educational fields discussed in the article are vital in and of themselves as well as for how they fit together to form an integrated, inter-dependent communal system matching families and children to appropriate learning format, where the diversity of approaches adds strength and where all parts understand that the sum is the surety for the individual.

From the three overarching themes identified by the authors, we note:
The last six months have affirmed that Jewish learning can play an important, even vital, role in people’s lives. Demand for Torah study and other educational offerings shows that people want these opportunities especially at difficult times in life. Some look to Jewish learning for deeply personal reasons. Others look at these learning experiences as ways to create or strengthen a support network of peers. Whatever the reason, Jewish education is part of many people’s lives right now.”

From observations about day school education:
Perhaps the most poignant lesson to emerge is the fundamental understanding of the role teachers play in creating a vibrant community. We all know that our educators do much more than teach a subject – they build connections with our children to Judaism, to learning, and to their community. Faculty, true front-line heroes, have become role models of resilience, flexibility, and hope.”

From observations about college students:
Young Jews are clamoring for meaning, friendship, and community. They will hungrily participate in the study of Torah if invited through a warm, giving relationship. Even as our classroom shifts, from the quad to the Zoom room, the demand for Jewish learning endures.”

There is much in these observations for us to consider and take to heart and on which to continue building the infrastructure – education – that is the best guarantor, in perpetuity, of the future of the Jewish people. It falls to us to help ensure that all families can afford to find their place in that infrastructure.

•••

Be safe. Stay safe. Be well. Stay well. Be strong. Stay strong.

Shabbat shalom. Gmar chatimah tovah.

GAJE

Posted in Uncategorized

Well done

The self-reflection and the purposeful soul-searching that are the individual, private gateways to Rosh Hashanah compel us to dedicate this last missive of 5780 to the diverse, caring, giving Jewish community of the GTA. We do so in keeping with the always-important value of hakarat hatov, i.e., acknowledging the good that others do for us.

Covid-19 has indiscriminately and relentlessly swung a scythe of harm, sorrow and anxiety throughout the world. After absorbing its initial shock, our community assessed, planned, resolved and responded. Not perfectly of course, but successfully, with constantly refining adjustments, driven by the belief that we cannot retreat from finding the answer.

We will direct our comments to matters of education – the core of our mission – though praise should be cast in a far wider net.

It is a remarkable achievement for the community that for the first time in 17 years, enrollment in our day schools increased. Enrollment is 2.5% higher today than this time one year ago. There are two reasons for the increase:

  • More parents noticed the excellence of the day schools. As the pandemic debilitated public school, the day schools quickly pivoted, innovated, adapted and guided their students through the Covid-caused disruptions. The remarkable performance of the schools was even noticed by the general media. Some parents decided to move their children from the public to Jewish day school.
  • The decisions of the Federation and the Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Education to focus on the immediate needs of families whose sources of income were impaired if not ravaged by Covid. The Federation/Centre introduced two new financial programs – emergency scholarships and interest free loans – that attempted to abate somewhat the widespread financial hardship on young families especially and make tuitions more affordable.

The increase in enrollment is a tribute to parents, schools and the Federation/Centre leadership. We would be horribly remiss were we not to acknowledge their collective fine effort. We urge more families to consider enrolling their children in the school system next year and in years to come. This system sparkles with excellence, devotion to its children and as Covid-19 proved, the ability to respond quickly to unforeseen dire pressures.

Well done.

•••

Be safe. Stay safe. Be well. Stay well. Be strong. Stay strong.

Shabbat shalom. Shana tovah techatevu vetechatemu.

GAJE

Posted in Uncategorized

More information about independent school families

From time to time we have referred readers to educationally related research from Cardus, an Ontario-based think tank studying – inter alia – “the institutions, communities, beliefs, leaders, and intricacies of civil society that collectively compose the social architecture of our common life.”

Cardus recently concluded a three-part, pan-Canadian investigation into the perceptions by Canadians of independent-school parents. The study examined perceptions in BC, Ontario and Alberta.

GAJE pointed to the Ontario study when it appeared a year ago September. Cardus has just published the third, final, paper of the series in relation to its findings of perceptions in Alberta. The study used the same research question and methodology as in the BC and Ontario studies.

The findings from Alberta are applicable – as they were from the BC and the Ontario studies – to GAJE’s efforts. It is important that the general public and the government of Ontario have an accurate understanding of who comprises the independent-school community. The Cardus findings contribute significantly to painting an accurate portrait of this community.

We shall reproduce only a handful of the key conclusions from the executive summary of the Alberta study. We urge readers to read the complete report of the findings at:
https://www.cardus.ca/research/education/reports/who-chooses-alberta-independent-schools-and-why/

“Independent-school households are more likely to be community-oriented, married-couple families than Albertans in general. For example, Alberta independent school parents are:

  • 40 percent more likely to be active in a group, organization, or association, and are involved on average in two.
  • 30 percent more likely than other Alberta households with children to be married-couple families.
  • Considerably more likely to be people of faith or religiously affiliated. Even in non-religious independent schools, the overwhelming majority of families—70 percent—identify as religious.
  • Considerably more likely to vote in every municipal, provincial, and federal election (86 percent compared to less than half of Albertans).

“Independent-school parents in Alberta are also better educated, but their occupations and income do not reflect “elite” socioeconomic stereotypes. [They] work middle-class jobs and earn less income than their middle-class peers, despite having more education. In addition, there are at least two more reasons to dismiss myths of elitism:

  • 85 percent of non-religious independent schools’ parents went to government schools.
  • Only 1.7 percent found it very difficult to enroll in their preferred school, while 93 percent report it being very or somewhat easy. Put plainly, they are not socially exclusive establishments.

“However, affording tuition can be a challenge. Specifically:

  • 88 percent of parents have made financial sacrifices to afford the cost of independent schooling.
  • Over 20 percent have made major financial sacrifices—as defined by working multiple jobs, changing jobs, taking out a new loan, or moving or downsizing their house.”

The Cardus studies provide empirical findings that independent-school families are not the privileged elite of our society. Moreover, independent-school families tend to be the sorts of community-minded, volunteer-oriented and charity-giving people on which strong, caring, multi-cultural, democratic societies rely.

•••

As we did last week, we consider it appropriate to include in this update the inspirational words from the prophet Jeremiah. They are the concluding words of the Haftarah reading on the second day of Rosh Hashana (31:16-17). His words are quite Covid-relevant as we anxiously receive our children each day back home from their day at school.

“Weep no more. Our hard work will be rewarded, God says. Our children will return from harm’s way. There is hope for our future. Our children will return safely to where they belong”. (Our free translation)

•••

Be safe. Stay safe. Be well. Stay well. Be strong. Stay strong.

Shabbat shalom

GAJE

Posted in Uncategorized

And so we have arrived at the end of the summer

One year ago, at this time our key parental/grandparental concerns before the children’s return-to-school were schedules, carpools, backpacks, school supplies, new shoes, class designations and extra-curricular activities. This year, we still have those concerns. But Covid-19 arches over and envelopes all of them.

All our concerns for the return-to-school are reasonable. We make no effort to make light of them or to look past them. In a truly significant manner, in their loaded backpacks this year, our children also carry the aspirations of an entire society, hoping that the transition to in-person learning will be safe and a harbinger of better, Covid-free days ahead.

In advance of next week, we call readers’ attention to an article written by Paul Bernstein, CEO of Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools, a New York-based network of North American Jewish day schools for professional development and the sharing of leading practices.

The article is akin to a pep talk ahead of the imminent restarting of school and a tribute to the schools that will soon reopen – in effusive welcome and undiminished embrace – for the children entering their buildings.

Bernstein writes: “Even in the face of all of these [Covid-19] challenges, as the school year begins there is cause for great hope. The determination of so many schools to open in-person, if they can do so safely, means that Jewish day school students will begin this year with the richest possible education, social environment, and powerful community around them. In addition to the tireless work on practical matters of re-opening, schools have invested huge amounts of time and energy this summer in training and preparing for an adaptable in-person and on-line curriculum for the year, as well as strengthening their mental health supports for faculty and students.

“The challenges, particularly financial, for Jewish day schools and their families are substantial, yet we tackle them – as we do all the issues we face through COVID-19 – with determination, empathy, and a undying passion for a brilliant Jewish education and the social-emotional growth of our younger generation – the Jewish future.”

•••

And there is one other matter ahead of the return-to-school that is appropriate to keep in mind.

In two weeks we celebrate Rosh Hashana. Many of our Sages have pointed out the somewhat counter-intuitive emphasis the holiday places on our children. All of the Torah and Haftarah readings relate specifically and repeatedly to our children. They do not relate, as one might imagine, to the mysteries and wonders of Creation. Indeed, the concluding passages in the Haftarah reading on the second day of the holiday can serve with heightened emphasis as a marker of optimism and/or a guidepost for calm, purposeful action. The prophet Jeremiah (31:16-17) offers remarkably Covid-relevant inspiration.

“Weep no more. Our hard work will be rewarded, God says. Our children will return from harm’s way. There is hope for our future. Our children will return safely to where they belong”.
(Our free translation)

•••

Be safe. Stay safe. Be well. Stay well. Be strong. Stay strong.

Shabbat shalom

GAJE

Posted in Uncategorized

Will Ontario will be fair to our schools too?

The news this week that the federal government is transferring some $2B to the provinces to help schools be ready to receive students in our new Covid-19 world was gratifying. Ontario is slated to receive up to $760 million.

That the federal government has earmarked funds for the exclusive provincial jurisdictional purpose of education is itself a novel and, we would add, a welcome development. We must ask however, whether all taxpaying Canadians will benefit from this initiative. Will any of the funds be shared with independent schools?

We hope this is a question that penetrates the hearts of all Ontarians.

We also hope that our community advocates are pursuing the possibility with the Government of Ontario. The common humanity of the situation cries out for positive government response. This is ever more so compelling for students with learning disabilities in independent schools who receive differentiated health support services, if any at all, from students dealing with exactly the same disability who attend publicly-funded schools.

We urge readers of this update to contact their Member of the Provincial Parliament to make the case for disbursing some of the newly-received Covid-19 funds on behalf of the families whose children attend independent schools.

Will the Government of Ontario be fair to our community’s schools too?

•••

Be safe. Stay safe. Be well. Stay well. Be strong. Stay strong.

Shabbat shalom

GAJE

Posted in Uncategorized

Converting crisis to opportunity

As the number of days before back-to-school diminish, anxieties heighten. We want our children to be in the classroom. That is where they belong. We want them, first and foremost however, to be safe. Every school has a plan to ensure the children’s safety. We hope and pray no child’s safety will be compromised.

The pandemic has understandably and justifiably occasioned a great many anxieties. One of the overarching anxieties related to the return-to-school, is an abiding concern for the very future of our schools.

The lay and professional leaders of our community share this concern and understand the threat wrought by the pandemic to our schools. They have promised to place the security of the future of the Jewish school system at the top of their priorities. But it is not an easy task. Nor is the outcome assured.

It falls to all of us – who care about our Jewish future and the indispensable role that Jewish schools play in ensuring that future – to help assure that outcome.

Rabbi Chaim Perkal, the founder and director of Alei Siach, a Jerusalem-based non-profit providing all-inclusive solutions for people living with special needs and their families, recently published a cry-of-the-heart expressing deep worry for day schools in the United States and for the parents who may be unable to afford to send their children to those schools.

The article is entitled “The impending day-school crisis is a golden opportunity.”

Rabbi Perkal’s essential argument is the following:

“This fall, we can expect a significant drop in the number of children enrolled in Jewish day schools. Due to the financial crisis caused by the pandemic, many families are in dire straits and cannot afford to spend tens of thousands of dollars for their children’s education. That’s without factoring in families who will choose not to send their children to school due to the health risks.

“We must use this moment of crisis as an opportunity to make a meaningful change in the day-school system. With rapidly declining enrollment numbers, and more parents than ever who can’t afford tuition, we must come up with a plan to make sure day schools don’t die out.
Our priority should be getting as many Jewish students as possible enrolled in day schools, period.”

Some of Rabbi Perkal’s suggestions are not appropriate or even implementable in our community. But the fervour and sincerity of his argument deserve attention. His views are illustrative of the anxiety that has risen to the top of inter-communal discussion.

•••

Be safe. Stay safe. Be well. Stay well. Be strong. Stay strong.

Shabbat shalom

GAJE

Posted in Uncategorized

‘In it together to preserve our day school system’

By now, schools have communicated return-to-school plans to their respective parent bodies. We hope and we pray the transition to September learning will be medically safe, educationally successful, emotionally and psychologically safe.

Though questions persist and absolute certainty in decision-making is impossible, our community has arrived at this place with relative calm and an accompanying sense of the mutual respect and abiding decency that each of us owes the other.

Intra-societal feuding however, still characterizes the discussion in the United States about the uncertainties surrounding re-opening our schools. As we did last week, we are featuring an essay this week that highlights some of the deep anguished feelings about return-to-school.

The essay is entitled “Don’t skip out on Jewish day school this year. It’s an ethical issue.” It was written by Jack C. Bendheim and published in the Times of Israel last week. Bendheim is president of SAR Academy & SAR High School in Riverdale New York.

He writes from a yeshiva perspective but on behalf of Jewish education broadly. By pointing to parental decisions about whether or not to enroll their children this year in Jewish school as a matter of ethics, Bendheim courts controversy, even though he purports to qualify his words and his opinions. The qualification does not work. But his views are important to read.

We reproduce his concluding words, for they are the gravamen of the message about Jewish education.

“For centuries, the Jewish people have confronted physical danger, spiritual threat, economic challenge. Through it all, the Jewish people have championed Jewish education, even in the most dangerous of times. It is now our turn. We must take a stand for Jewish education. These great communities, our schools, and their leaders have worked so hard for so long to provide children with the Jewish education that we have come to love and respect. We are all in it together to preserve our day school system. We must do all that we can to keep it strong for a post-COVID world.”

•••

Be safe. Stay safe. Be well. Stay well. Be strong. Stay strong.

Shabbat shalom

GAJE

Posted in Uncategorized

Our first responsibility as Jews…

Since writing last week’s update, the Government of Ontario has provided official guidelines for the return to school in September. As of this writing, parents await official instructions from Jewish day schools to advise them how their respective school will apply the province’s requirements.

It is our hope, if not also our expectation, that the transition to September teaching will be safe for all concerned, effective and conducted in a manner that exemplarizes civic and social order and mutual respect.

Such is not the expectation, alas, in the United States.

The Great Disruption, as many there have taken to calling the human, social, economic, cultural and medical impact of Covid-19, has inspired educators and thinkers of diverse disciplines to reflect upon and re-imagine the Covid-altered future of their society.

Last week Eric Cohen, executive director of the Tikvah Fund and the author of In the Shadow of Progress: Being Human in the Age of Technology (2008), published a comprehensive article in Mosaic Magazine entitled The Jewish Schools of the Future.

The article is far-ranging in its scope. It examines Jewish schools, Jewish education for young and for older, and the place of meaningfully expressed Jewishness within a culture and society pulling individuals ever more strongly away from traditional roots. Cohen offers suggestions for “marrying Jewish classical education and novel technology, and confronting the cultural crisis with Jewish exceptionalism.”

Despite the fact that Cohen is addressing fellow American Jews, core observations of his cri de Coeur apply also to our Canadian context. Therefore, inasmuch as we part of mega-North American culture, we should pay close attention to Cohen’s essay, then adopt and adapt its relevant principles. The essay is long, some 7,400 words. But it may likely prove to be a seminal document along the currently cluttered path to future Jewish life in North America.

We reproduce but two key passages from the introductory portion of the article.

“To weather the current storm, the Jewish community needs to focus nearly all its energy—and philanthropic resources—on American Jewish schools. There are many worthy recipients of Jewish dollars: hospitals, orchestras, myriad social causes. There are also many seductive misuses of Jewish money, including donations to most American colleges and universities (more on this later). But under duress, Jewish day schools should come first, in the belief that only American Jews can sustain these indispensable institutions, and that our first responsibility as Jews is the perpetuation of Jewish life one school-aged child at a time.

“Yet even as we rally—rightly—to sustain our existing Jewish schools, the current moment invites us to think anew about some long-standing challenges. Can we build viable schools that prepare traditional American Jews to live in an untraditional age? Can we integrate modern technologies of learning while opposing the excesses of modernity? Can we lower costs while promoting Jewish excellence? Can we win access to public funding without succumbing to the deforming regulations of the administrative state? And will we resist the progressive, anti-religious, anti-Zionist wave of elite American culture, or will we capitulate to our own gradual demoralization and demise? These are not easy challenges, but as the wealthiest and freest Diaspora community in Jewish history, we can take solace in knowing that Jews have faced much grimmer circumstances before.”

Cohen’s key statement is worth repeating:

“Our first responsibility as Jews is the perpetuation of Jewish life one school-aged child at a time.”

GAJE shares his view.

•••

Be safe. Stay safe. Be well. Stay well. Be strong. Stay strong.

Shabbat shalom

GAJE

Posted in Uncategorized

COVID-19, enrollment and Jewish day schools

As of this writing, the uncertainty hovering over the re-opening of schools significantly complicates families’ abilities to plan their lives. What form will learning take on the first Tuesday after Labour Day? In-class? Zoom? Hybrid?

In keeping with the conservative-evidence-based-science-protect-human-life-first philosophy that has characterized Ontario’s approach to contending with the virus, there are increasing signs that health officials may allow some form of modified, physically distant, in-class learning in September. No official governmental or school announcements has been made yet.

By sad comparison, the debate about the return to school is raging in the United States, much like the impact there of the virus itself.

Two instructive articles about the effect of COVID-19 on day schools in the U.S. appeared recently. They command our attention.

Emily Benedek, an experienced freelance journalist, wrote an article that appeared in Tablet, entitled, “COVID-19 Is Imperiling The Jewish Day School.” She traces the economic impact of the pandemic upon families’ abilities to enroll their children in day school.

Perhaps in partial response to Benedek’s article that appeared the week prior, Ben Harris, an experienced journalist with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, authored “Are Families Fleeing Jewish Day Schools? Far From It, But It’s Complicated.” Harris writes about the effect on day school enrollment of an in-country migratory phenomenon unfolding in the US as a result of the pandemic. Some families are moving from large metropolitan centres to smaller ones, seeking some form of refuge from the virus as well as day schools in which they can enroll their children.

The situation and experience described by Benedek will be more familiar to GTA parents than those described by Harris. Nevertheless, they are both worthwhile reading.

Especially worthwhile and even powerful is a statement by Benedek in the course of her research: “The day-school accomplishment is deep, preparing students to be fluent in their ancient tradition and qualified for admission to elite colleges.”

Her observation resonates with the beliefs of all day school parents irrespective of locale.

•••

Be safe. Stay safe. Be well. Stay well. Be strong. Stay strong.

Shabbat shalom

GAJE

Posted in Uncategorized

Return-to-school ideas welcome

Many years ago Joni Mitchell reminded us quite poetically that even dragging our heels won’t help to slow down the inevitable, cyclical return of the seasons.

And so, even now, some six weeks before school resumes after Labour Day, educators administrators, and community planners are forging the best instructional possibilities and learning environments for our children and grandchildren for the first day of school.

This very process is happening throughout most of the pandemic-struck world.

UJA’s Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Education welcomes serious-minded input from concerned individuals on the question of how best to bring our children back to school in September.

Daniel Held, the executive director of the Centre has issued an invitation to the caring public to offer suggestions and share ideas on this important matter. He asked:

“Do you have suggestions for space or facilities that our community’s schools could use to spread out classes and student activities?”

“Have you seen a brilliant approach to physical distance learning that enables children to safely gather in person?”

If you do, please send ideas and suggestions to ideas@ujafed.org.

The Centre will share the best ideas with their partner schools.

Alas, it is true we cannot slow down the circles of seasonal renewal. The carousel of time turns in its indefatigable inevitability. But what is not inevitable is our ability to become involved earnestly and purposefully in time’s turning, to do our utmost to make the renewal more meaningful and possibly too more successful for our young ones.

Shabbat shalom.

Be well. Stay well.

GAJE

Posted in Uncategorized
Like Us on Facebook!
Parents Tell Their Stories

We would like to share personal stories about how the affordability issue has affected families in our community. We will post these stories anonymously on our Facebook page and on our website.

We will not include any personal information such as names, schools, other institutions, or any other identifying information. We reserve the right to edit all submissions.

To share your story, either send us a message on our Facebook page or email us @ info @ gaje.ca.

%d bloggers like this: