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Ziva Hassenfeld explores Jewish day school communities

Ziva Hassenfeld (ED), a Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Assistant Professor of Education, has recently explored the factors that have led families to transfer from public schools to Jewish day schools during the pandemic. To this end, she analyzed interviews conducted by Prizmah, the center for Jewish day schools in New York City in an article published by JewishBoston.

According to the article, these interviews closely observed why many families decided to stay in Jewish day schools despite reopening of public schools after the COVID-19 pandemic. These families mostly cited the sense of community, for both the children and the adults, as the principal reason that they stayed in these day schools. Many interviewees claimed that there was a stark contrast in the sense of community between Jewish day schools and public schools, with many families feeling isolated in their previous school systems.

In this article, Hassenfeld brings up a common critique against the perception of these parents: why do day schools need to be communities? Under this lens, Hassenfeld claims that these academic institutions should simply be places of formal learning, and whether a sense of community forms or not is irrelevant. 

In response to this critique, Hassenfeld writes that she noticed that a large number of events were set up and created by the parents, and joked with these parents that they must “love standing around at playgrounds.” After laughing at the joke, the parent then claimed “that the classes where parents know each other, where they have real relationships, these classes always end up being very strong classes all the way through. Classes where parents don’t, these classes end up being weaker classes. I do this to make sure my kids have the best experience they can.” Therefore, for Hassenfeld, the sense of community within Jewish day schools empower academic institutions to be places for learning.

After this conversation, Hassenfeld writes that this is because “when parents know each other, when they’ve had many low-stakes touch points, they are fundamentally better equipped to support their children as learners.” According to the article, this is likely because when all of a child’s support network such as their parents, teachers, administrations and siblings are all in communication with one another, the students are more easily supported and benefit. Hassenfeld concludes that this measure ensures that students, and hence the next generation, are set up for success more than if their support networks were all isolated from one another.

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