The Pros and Cons of a Day School Education

One parent shares her family's thoughts about the possibility of her daughter attending a Jewish day school.

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On the other hand, who can distinguish the value of community automatically inherent in a Jewish school. Beginning each day with tefillot that reminds each student of the role God plays in his or her life and that binds them to one another is an exercise that neither can nor should be imitated in the polyglot atmosphere of the public school.

My daughter's application to Solomon Schechter High School of New York for next fall is a step that makes sense in the evolution of her family's commitment to a Jewish lifestyle. As we have learned to embrace more and more of the Jewish rituals in our home on a routine basis‑‑kashrut (kosherlaws); lighting candles on Friday nights; refraining from errands, television and telephone conversations on Saturdays; doing havdalah‑‑they have become increasingly tied in with our cohesiveness as a family.

What seemed like an empty, meaningless exercise half a dozen years ago, has become an enriching experience that connects us to centuries‑old traditions and a system of values that we recognize as the basis for moral decisions. Did I happen to mention that it is also a lot of fun, from building a sukkah to delivering mishloach manot (baskets of food) to friends on Purim? Yiddishkeit (learning Yiddish) has added immeasurably to the joy of our lives.

So, where does that lead us in the very practical question of choosing a high school? Inevitably, to the conclusion that the benefits of a Jewish school outweigh the downside.

Yes. I would now rather take a risk that Joanna will find other opportunities to meet youngsters from different backgrounds‑‑through her extra‑curricular activities, such as tennis and art, and once she goes on to college‑‑than have her forfeit the opportunity to become thoroughly Jewishly educated.

I also strongly believe that her desire to follow Jewish traditions should not come at the expense of missing school or social experiences. There's plenty of time for her to have to make those tough calls later on, in college and the work world, but I hope by then that having internalized the importance of a Jewish lifestyle, she'll be secure in making such decisions.

And why not help her avoid the entire tricky business of interfaith dating at a time when she'll be just starting to navigate the adolescent social shoals? How can we, as parents, realistically expect our teens to have the maturity to turn down a date from a non‑Jewish suitor when often just getting “asked out” is hard enough? We can only have that expectation if we’ve done our best to provide them with a selection of Jewish girls and boys from whom to choose.

The dating stage, which is also the time that children are most susceptible to peer influence, is therefore the perfect stage to make the switch from public to Jewish school. I actually have no regrets that Joanna (and her two younger sisters who still attend public school) spent elementary and middle school in one of the finest public school systems in the country. My husband, in fact, has reminded me more than once in the high school application process that we moved to the community where we live specifically for the schools. True enough. But as she and each of them enters the next phase of life, it is our responsibility to meet their changing needs.

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Jane Calem Rosen

Jane Calem Rosen is director of communications at the Masorti Foundation and a staff writer for the Jewish Standard .