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Choosing A Jewish Day School Is A Journey

Twenty years ago, I had never considered a Jewish education for my own children. Fast forward to today: my three children are all Bialik graduates and I’ve been the Director of Admissions at Bialik for the past nine years!

What happened, you may ask, and how did I do a full 180 to become an ardent advocate for Jewish day school education?

Let me take you back: I was a product of the public school system while my husband was a Jewish day school graduate. When we started thinking about schools for our young family, it was challenging to agree on what we felt was the best approach. Since Jewish education was foreign to me, I was not convinced it was the right choice for our us.

I wondered why we couldn’t just teach our kids how to be Jewish at home? How hard could it be? After all, we both came from Jewish families and were surrounded by Jewish friends. My husband was very persuasive and convinced me to first explore a few day schools before making our decision.

While I knew Bialik had a very strong reputation for its academic excellence, I wasn’t convinced that the school’s philosophy was consistent with my beliefs and values. All the schools that we visited offered different options, but it was Bialik’s approach to incorporating Judaism, values, and Jewish identity that really hooked me. It still took considerable thought and discussion before my husband and I finally agreed that we would try it out.

Fifteen years later, all three of our children have happily graduated from Bialik, all choosing — independently — to go to TanenbaumCHAT for high school. They still talk about their great Bialik trips, memorable stories, teachers, and the many friends they made.

Since then, I have spoken to hundreds of prospective families. I have learned that my story and feelings are not atypical. Choosing a school for your child(ren) is one of the biggest early decisions parents make and it often burdens them with much stress and anxiety. Understandably, the process can seem complicated and the variety of choices overwhelming. I share my journey with them because I can really empathize with their feelings and concerns.

There is just no substitute for a school tour, which is one of the most effective ways of determining if a school is a good fit. By observing learning in the classroom, interactions between teachers and students, and peer collaboration, parents leave with a true sense of the climate and culture of the school.

That being said, a tour is just one snippet of Bialik life. I wish all parents could witness what I see each and every day.

Children are eager to enter the building first thing in the morning. Students of all grades warmly and energetically welcoming me into their classrooms, proud to share their learning. Never prompted, they confidently approach guests with smiles as they explain what they are working on. They want parents to know all the wonderful things they are accomplishing during the school day. Whether it’s building bridges in our STEM lab, rehearsing for a Tu B’Shvat play or seeing classmates sway back and forth as they sing Shabbat songs, parents always comment on how engaged Bialik students appear and the special feeling “in the air.”  They marvel at our dynamic teachers, motivated students and how learning has evolved since they were students themselves!

I feel such tremendous pride, having watched our students grow from JK to Grade 8. Shy, timid kindergarten students now tower over me as they prepare to graduate in the spring. I have seen, over the years, the benefits of differentiated instruction and how Bialik accommodates different types of learners. Life-long friendships begin and many endure; children are encouraged by teachers to strive for their best and to make a difference in their communities and the world. I watch teachers beam with pride as their students acquire a new skill. It’s beautiful to see them champion and cheerlead their students so that they maximize their own individual growth.

And yet, with all these accolades, the biggest transformation I have felt has been within my own soul. Bialik has changed me forever. Through the eyes of my own children first and the students I have met since, they have been given a gift that cannot exist in a public school. Their bond with Judaism and Israel is deep and profound. Whether it is animating holidays through plays, seeing them draped in Israeli flags, or connecting with their Eastern European roots, it is a feeling of connection that is truly hard to describe.

I had started out extremely resolute about never sending my children to a Jewish day school. Oh, how wrong I was. My experience with my own kids as well as in my professional role at Bialik has changed my ideas completely!

I feel privileged to be able to speak to so many parents who are facing the same uncertainty I once did. Bialik was the single best investment my husband and I ever made, the fruits of which will continue to unfold for years to come. My children are proud to be Jewish and are engaged in the world. This is thanks to the exceptional education they received at Bialik and I am forever grateful to the school and all that it has provided my family. There is no way I could have done this on my own without the partnership of Bialik.

 

Danielle Waltman
Director of Admissions