MAKING SUPPLEMENTAL EDUCATION WORK
Submitted by: Dan Category: Ensuring the Jewish Future
The Big Idea
It's no secret that post- Bar/Bat Mitzvah Supplemental Jewish education is plagued by high drop-out rates. Unfortunately, the response by many supplemental programs has been to cut school hours and material from the curriculum. But with rising intermarriage rates and lower levels of education among many Jewish youth, attempts to keep students in the classroom by decreasing emphasis on education should strike many as troubling. It is for this reason that I propose the creation of a program in which Jewish high school students are given the opportunity to receive an intensive Jewish education by studying in classes taught by Jewish Studies professors at a college level.
These students should be rewarded for their efforts with college credit for their work and the opportunity to earn an Associate's Degree upon the completion of this program and graduation from their secular high school. The main reason for student dissatisfaction with supplemental Jewish education is not the fact that these students are uninterested in learning or dedicating time to study. As it is widely known, Jewish students tend to do well academically and are strongly represented at all of the United States' top universities. Jewish students don't like supplemental Hebrew school because, unlike their other pursuits, they see no tangible reward for their study. As Dr. David Schoem put it, Going to Hebrew School won't get you into Harvard and based on the academic requirements of most Hebrew schools, such a comment should not be too surprising. This reality does not have to be the case. Jewish supplemental education can offer an intellectually stimulating and worthwhile education to its students and the Jewish community must make attempts to offer such an alternative supplemental education.
The key is providing students with practical incentives. Capable Jewish high school students should have the opportunity to study with professors at a college level and be rewarded for their efforts. An honors program as the one I propose would benefit everyone involved: a degree granting program would allow Jewish high school students to stand out in the all-to-competitive college admissions process because he or she has already shown the capacity for college level work with top-flight faculty. Jewish parents, who might have previously seen post bar-mitzvah education as a financial burden with few tangible rewards, may send their children to such a program for the economic benefits of two years worth of paid excellent college education before graduation from high school; graduates of such a program would even be able to complete their college education by the age of 20 and be able to start their careers or graduate studies at a younger age. Such a program could even prove to be a less expensive alternative to day school education. Jewish Colleges and Universities would also benefit from more tuition-paying students. When we, the Jewish Community, do not have programs that demand the most from our post-Bar/Bat Mitzvah students, we often lose the most capable and interested students at pivotal points in their lives. Such a program as the one I recommend not only gives the structure for educators to expect the most from their students, but also gives the students compelling reasons to continue their Jewish education.
The goal of this program is simple: give interested and capable youth who may not have the means or interest in attending a private Jewish Day School the opportunity to have an in-depth education about his or her religion and heritage. Such a strong Jewish education would also create a ripple effect in the community: According to Dr. Steven M. Cohen, among other benefits, more Jewish education leads to embracing ritual observance, stronger communal affiliation, and a higher likelihood of in-marring. If we keep more Jewish students in the classroom, everybody wins.
This Is A Great Idea Because
What's unique about this project is that it makes Jewish education practical for many Jewish high school students. Unfortunately, for too many students supplemental Jewish education has little real world value. Since many supplemental programs emphasize informal education and give students little tangible educational value or recognition for their efforts, students drop out to pursue other more worthwhile endeavors. If given the opportunity to provide an excellent education and an Associate's Degree, Jewish education can offer a real world application and allow Jewish students who are faced with real-world choices the opportunity to matriculate and stay. But besides that, there's nothing new or innovative about high school students doing college level work. Many students take Advanced Placement Classes (APs) at their respective high schools, and with a sufficient grade on the final exam, earn college credit. Up until recently, California State University at Los Angeles also offered a the ACE/PACE program, which allowed high school students who have demonstrated high academic ability and have at least an overall GPA of 3.00 to take college classes. If Cal State can do it, why can't a Jewish College or University?