With the arrival of September, students are back in school and young families have a variety of options for Jewish education – from day schools for those seeking full-time immersion in a Jewish educational atmosphere to several supplementary schools available for families that have chosen the public school system.
Indeed, many families have chosen the public school route as witnessed by the declining enrolment in recent years at Jewish day schools throughout North America, including here in Ottawa.
According to numbers analyzed by Statistics Canada sociologist Jackie Luffman, there was a 28 per cent decline in enrolment in Ottawa’s Jewish day schools between 2004 and 2011, and the decline has continued.
However, Luffman adds that, over the same time period, there has also been a 17 per cent drop in supplemental school enrolment. Luffman has tracked the state of Jewish education in Ottawa on her Ottawa Shtetl blog – http://ottawashtetl.wordpress.com – using statistics from reports released by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.
Luffman’s son, Zev, is in Grade 5 in public school and also attends Ottawa Talmud Torah Afternoon School. Her daughter, Rachel, is in Grade 6 at the Ottawa Jewish Community School (OJCS).
Luffman said it was a tough decision to take Zev out of OJCS two years ago, as she is a fervent supporter of day school, but added it was the best decision for him.
“It’s not a path I would have [initially] chosen,” she said.
For young parents deciding how to give their kids a well-rounded education while fostering a strong connection to Judaism, other Ottawa parents say to simply find a solution that works best for your family.
There are a variety of options for Jewish education in Ottawa.
Preschools include Ganon at the SJCC and the Westboro Jewish Montessori Preschool at the Chabad-affiliated Jewish Youth Library.
Day schools include OJCS (kindergarten to Grade 12), the Orthodox-oriented Torah Academy of Ottawa (preschool to Grade 8), the Chabad-affiliated Rambam Day School (preschool to Grade 8), and Orthodox high schools Ottawa Torah Institute – a school for boys, which is re-launching this year with a Grade 9 class after being closed last year – and Machon Sarah High School for Girls.
Supplemental schools in Ottawa include Chabad Hebrew School, Ottawa Talmud Torah Afternoon School, Temple Israel Religious School, Ottawa Modern Jewish School, Star of David Hebrew School, and, at the high school level, Torah High. As well, Talmud Torah and Torah High have teamed up to launch Talmud Torah High, a new supplemental program for Grade 8 students.
Cost, priorities, convenience, location and curriculum are all factors parents need to deliberate. Sometimes one of these aspects is either the main deterrent or the major draw when considering Jewish educational options.
“It is an individual choice, but I do think that what strikes against the [day] schools is that we do have very good public schools in Ottawa,” Luffman said, adding that it is a popular, convenient and cost-effective option for families with many children.
While there are obvious challenges, Lisa Leith of Centrepointe said her busy family has found the solution that works for them. Leith’s two children attend public school and go to Chabad Hebrew School on Sunday.
“When I attended Hebrew school, it was looked on as extra schooling, but, for my kids, it was always another extracurricular activity,” she said of her kids, Zachary, 8, and Sydney, 13.
They always want to go on Sunday and come home to tell Leith and her husband, David, what they learned and experienced, she said.
The kids’ enthusiasm and success tells Leith that it was a good choice for her family.
Both Leith and Luffman said they are aware their families’ stories will not necessarily be the case for all, but they are making the best of a complex situation.
The common thread among families who are happier about their experience with Jewish education is that it hasn’t been a forced undertaking. It’s a commitment to something bigger than themselves. Yes, there are concessions and some manoeuvring to find balance within hectic schedules, but, as long as their kids are happy and learning, Luffman and Leith said they’ll continue on their chosen paths.
“I think that, if people want to be involved, they can be involved,” Leith said. “There’s everything, but you have to want it.”