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Day school to ease transition for new students
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Day school to ease transition for new students

Golda Och Academy targets kids lacking Judaics proficiency

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Golda Och Academy in West Orange has eased its requirements for students entering in higher grades, aiming to lower enrollment barriers for new students who may lack a strong background in Judaics or Hebrew.

Known as Go Connect, the program allows students at any grade level to enroll without the support of tutors outside of school. Prior to this initiative, students could enroll only with extensive outside support, particularly for the Judaics curriculum.

“Previously, the school regularly turned away students unwilling or unable to make this commitment,” said Gail Shapiro, director of admissions and community outreach at the Conservative day school.

Go Connect will begin in the 2012-13 school year.

Students in the program will work independently and in small groups to build Jewish literacy and skills. The curriculum will be individualized for the new students so that they can gradually transition into the school’s standard Judaics curriculum.

Go Connect is aimed at “families who for whatever reason didn’t think about day school in the early grades, but want their children to have the benefits of a college prep program that is infused with Jewish values,” said Shapiro. “We have seen a surge in interest, particularly for middle school.”

This year, the school has had requests from four prospective middle schoolers and three prospective high school students with no day school background, compared with just two middle schoolers last year.

Shapiro acknowledged that the initiative is also a way of managing the natural attrition between elementary school and middle school, and again before high school; but, she said, this wasn’t the school’s primary incentive, since GOA’s attrition has decreased over the last few years.

On average, she said, the school has had three to five students transitioning into the school with heavy support outside of school. Administrators hope the new initiative will increase the numbers.

Shapiro declined to offer target numbers, but said the school would accommodate “as many students who want to enroll.”

The program is being funded by the school’s endowment.

Harder transitions

The shift coincides with a redesign of the high school Judaics curriculum that will incorporate more flexibility, with multi-grade Judaics electives, Shapiro said. GOA is planning to review and propose changes to its middle school Judaics curriculum as well.

Other area day schools accept students in higher grades on a case-by-case basis, and usually with heavy outside support, but rarely in high school.

“I am reluctant to admit students to the high school with limited background,” said Rabbi Eliezer Rubin, principal of the Orthodox Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston. “As the work intensifies, it becomes harder for these students to make the transition. We do not have a special program. If there is a need and resources, I would consider opening a special transitional track for transfers from public school, but few students have inquired over the years.”

He added that students with limited background have been admitted to the middle school but they need tutors and support.

In the lower grades, at the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy, it’s a bit easier, although head of school Susan Dworken said the school gets “very few inquiries” from students with limited background. Students must have preparation over the summer and tutoring in reading and writing Hebrew. Tutoring is also encouraged through the first year at the school.

“If there was more interest and the funds were available we would welcome a program to address this type of population,” said Dworken.

At the kindergarten-eighth grade Nathan Bohrer-Abraham Kaufman Hebrew Academy of Morris County in Randolph, students are accepted “if we think the student can work hard and benefit from the program,” said Naomi Bacharach, director of marketing and development at the community, or nondenominational, school. They are pulled out of Hebrew classes for individualized lessons and expected to use Rosetta Stone multimedia materials to help catch up.

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