I can still remember being 5 years old, sitting in the hallway outside my kindergarten classroom, while my buddy–an eighth grader–taught me the Ma Nishtana, the four questions for the Passover seder. Eight years later, and it was my turn to help a new kindergartner learn the tune and words to the same questions.
I’m a Schechter gal, through and through. From kindergarten through eighth grade, I attended Ezra Academy, a Solomon Schechter Jewish day school in the suburbs of New Haven, CT. Not only did I attend the school, but my mother was there long before I started, teaching a variety of grade levels before settling into her current position as the school’s computer instructor. The Jewish day school experience was an integral part of my childhood, and one that I truly look back upon fondly.
I’m also a public school gal. After spending nine years at a Jewish day school, I attended my local public high school, then attended a state college for my undergraduate degree. Both places encouraged and nurtured my interest in social justice, which was birthed at my Schechter school. I went on to teach social studies at a public high school, further cementing my love of public education.
That’s why, when it came to deciding where to send my son for kindergarten, I was truly torn. We are fortunate to live in an area that boasts some excellent public and charter schools as well as a host of phenomenal private ones. We also happen to live less than five minutes away from an incredible, progressive Schechter day school.
To complicate matters, we were already madly in love with the Montessori school my son had been attending for the past three years. The school went up until sixth grade, so we could have easily kept him there for kindergarten and beyond.
What’s a nice, unaffiliated Jewish family supposed to do? Everyone had their opinions. My mother, of course, shared her affinity for going the Schechter route, telling stories about our local school that she had met during a Teva (nature) trip that both schools attended. Neighbors regaled us with praise for the local public and charter schools, reminding us that not only were they top notch, but they were free! And of course, the families at the school we were already at did their best to convince us to stay.
It didn’t help that there wasn’t a consensus between me and my husband. While I had attended a Jewish day school–complete with our own Maccabee games, lunches in the school sukkah, and grogger-making–he had gone through the public school system for the entirety of his education, leaving him to take Hebrew and religious after-school classes. His Jewish educational experience seemed light-years apart from mine, as he felt like he was being pulled away from friends, sports, and after-school activities to attend Hebrew school, causing his to Judaism become the “other.” He wasn’t opposed to a Jewish day school education, but he had serious reservations.
So, we did what we do best: we procrastinated. We tried not to think about the important decision looming over our heads until it couldn’t be avoided anymore. The school my son was attending sent out their yearly letter asking families if they’ll be returning the following year. The local public schools started sending out information packets about their programs complete with Open House dates so we could check out the schools for ourselves. And the myriad of private schools had admission deadlines creeping up, basically forcing us to make a decision.
We figured we knew plenty about the school we had already been at for the last three years, and we had gathered a plethora of information about the local public schools, but we decided that if we wanted to know more about the Schechter school in our community, we’d have to go and visit. So, we did.
In lieu of attending an official Open House, we scheduled a meeting with the admissions director, who ended up taking us on a tour of the school. We stopped into every single classroom and were treated to glimpses into their day to day process. None of the classes had been expecting us, so we truly caught them doing what they would have regularly done. We saw fourth graders, their desks positioned in a circle, reporting on their seedlings they were experimenting on, sixth graders rehearsing in Hebrew for a school production, and a kindergarten that looked so warm, welcoming, and fun that I wanted to stick around for story time.
We capped off our visit with a meeting in the principal’s office. Only I didn’t feel as if we were about to get scolded for anything. We learned more about the school, the teachers, the community we would be joining if we applied. The principal explained how they integrate both Hebrew and Judaism into the curriculum in a way that enhances a student’s education rather than accessorizes it. I tried to hold back, allowing my husband to ask his own questions, wanting him to decide for himself, without me coloring his opinion, despite wanting to jump from my seat, fistpump the air and declare “Yes! We have found our school!”
After thanking both the admissions director and principal, we left the school and walked toward our car, staying uncharacteristically silent. As we pulled out and started our short drive back home, I turned to my husband and asked, “So?”
When he answered, I didn’t bother hiding the fistpump that so fiercely wanted to come out.
“Yeah. That’s the school.”
It really was. And it is. My son has only been in kindergarten for two months, yet everyday we find something else to love about his Schechter school, whether it’s the friends he’s made, the amazing art projects he brings home, the phenomenal writing workshops he participates in, or the fact that I now find him singing Adon Olam to himself while playing Legos.
While I don’t doubt that he would be happy and doing well at any of the other academic options we had, I can safely say that he is thriving at his Jewish day school. It’s also influenced us as a family. You’ll now find us singing more Hebrew songs around the house, doing our best to celebrate Shabbat, and talking more about topics that might not have been brought up otherwise, like tzedakah (charity).
Our choice might not be the best for every family, but it certainly feels like the right choice for our family. My son is beyond happy with his school, my husband feels confident that we made the right decision, despite his earlier questioning, and I? I’m still a Schechter gal, through and through. And now I have a Schechter son of my very own.
If you need help choosing the perfect school for your kids, check out our top ten questions to ask a preschool, what yours kids will learn at a Jewish kindergarten, and why one mom is sending her Jewish son to Catholic school.