As the school year draws to a close, 25 students whose former Jewish day school closed last year have found a warm welcome at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Monmouth County in Marlboro.
The youngsters were students at Solomon Schechter Day School of Raritan Valley in East Brunswick, which closed two weeks before the start of this school year. The 31-year-old kindergarten-eighth grade Conservative school, which had 99 students, was beset with declining enrollment and financial issues.
“We met with parents before the school year started to listen to their concerns and do anything that was humanly possible to make the transition smooth for the children and their families,” said Monmouth SSDS head of school Yoti Yarhi. “We were saddened by the closing of the Raritan Valley Solomon Schechter and felt honored as a sister Jewish day school to continue to provide a Jewish education for these children.”
To ease the trauma of students who had to switch schools so close to September, she said, each new student was immediately matched with a current student so that they already had a new friend by that first day.
“The week before school started we held an orientation and ice cream party for the new families,” said Yarhi. “Our goal was to be there for the children. We put ourselves in their shoes. We laughed with them. We cried with them as we tried to meet every single one of their needs.”
She said that support has continued as the year progressed as part of the school’s goal of “letting these families know how valued they are by the Monmouth Schechter family.”
Many Monmouth families have reached out to new Raritan Valley families to include them in social events.
The Monmouth school, which now has just under 200 students, established a new bus route to the East Brunswick Jewish Center, the former home of Raritan Valley SSDS.
The Orthodox Yeshivat Netivot Montessori, now housed in Edison, will move in September to the larger space vacated by Schechter at EBJC.
While most of the former Raritan Valley SSDS students come from East Brunswick, Yarhi said, there are some who come from Ocean County and even Staten Island. A bus route includes stops in Toms River and Pelican Island, just across the bridge from Seaside Heights.
Matty Fisher, an 11-year-old sixth-grader from East Brunswick, told NJJN he liked his teachers and enjoyed playing Michael in the school’s production of Peter Pan.
Matty had just received the school’s community service award in recognition of his volunteering at the Super Sunday of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County, on the school’s safety patrol, and as a student bus supervisor.
The kids and adults at Monmouth SSDS “welcomed me and made me feel comfortable,” said Matty, who also has a brother in third grade and sister in kindergarten at the school.
Michele Bernstein of East Brunswick has a fourth-grade son, Ryan, at the school. She and her husband, Andy, chose the Marlboro school because it was the closest option after Raritan Valley SSDS closed.
“It’s definitely academically fabulous,” said Bernstein. “The teachers are fabulous and they made it very easy for us to transition. It’s meeting all my son’s social needs as well. He has a bigger class than at the Raritan Valley Schechter.”
She said Ryan has participated in a plant sale for Mother’s Day and described the Purim carnival as “amazing.”
“The Jewish learning and academics have been great, but it’s all the little things that have made it special,” said Bernstein, although she admitted having the bus stop at his former school site “was a little sad.”
Sani Stein of East Brunswick has two daughters — Gillian, a first-grader, and third-grader Natalie — at the school. She said she and her husband, Sam, also decided to send them to Marlboro because “the other schools were too far away and we aren’t Orthodox, so we wanted something Conservative.”
Her daughters “really love it there,” she said. “I love the fact that both children have small classes; one has 10 and the other 11. The teachers are extremely attentive, and we love the individual attention they get.”
The couple also appreciates its “differential learning” style, recognizing that not every child learns the same way, and called the school’s Jewish studies program “phenomenal.”
“We were worried it would not be as good as the old school,” said Stein. “But their Hebrew and Jewish studies teachers have turned out to be great, and the kids are learning a lot. It’s been a wonderful school, a very nurturing environment where kids are loved and cared for.”