Losses in Conservative, Reform movements; Camp foundation mapping special-needs services.
Overall day school enrollment outside the fervently Orthodox yeshiva world was relatively stable this year,
despite concerns that the economy would spur sharp declines.
According to a newly released census of 2012-13 enrollment conducted by Marvin Schick, a consultant for the Avi Chai Foundation, 83,008 children attended centrist Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and nondenominational Jewish schools, down by 0.3 percent from last year. However, the total number of Jewish day schools actually increased slightly (303, compared to 297).
The enrollment trends differed sharply from movement to movement, however. While enrollment increased 1.8 percent at centrist Orthodox schools and was stable in nondenominational schools, two sectors that collectively account for almost half of total enrollment, the situation at Modern Orthodox, Conservative and Reform schools was less favorable. Continuing a pattern of the past decade, the Conservative movement’s Schechter schools lost 3.8 percent of their students. One Schechter school, the Reuben Gittelman Hebrew Day School in Rockland County, closed last spring, while Rockland Jewish Academy, a new nondenominational Jewish school that shares some of the same leadership, opened in September 2012.
Modern Orthodox school enrollment dropped by 0.1 percent, but such schools are still more numerous and enroll more children than Centrist Orthodox ones. Reform day schools, by far the smallest sector of the day school world, saw enrollment drop by 4.8 percent.
Day school leaders from all these sectors will come together next month in Washington, D.C., for the fourth annual North American Jewish Day School Conference.
In a press release, the Avi Chai Foundation presented the findings as an indication that day school enrollment, aside from at the Schechter schools, “has remained fairly stable, despite the continued stresses of the economy.”
“This year’s essentially flat enrollment suggests that on the whole day schools have thus far weathered the economic crisis, notwithstanding the strains on both parents and scholarship budgets,” the press release noted.
Schick’s research does not include fervently Orthodox yeshivas, which he said are growing at a rapid pace.
The Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) is launching what is believed to be the first-ever research project mapping current services available to children with special needs and physical disabilities at nonprofit Jewish overnight camps across North America.
Using a $60,000 grant from Dr. Allan and Nan Lipton of Hershey, Pa., FJC is working with Laszlo Strategies, a consulting firm with a focus in helping nonprofit groups champion the causes of medical science and people with physical and developmental disabilities, to survey the field beginning this month. The research will detail the options Jewish camps offer and provide a baseline for expanding services. The research will be followed by a convening of the field — both Jewish camp professionals and special-needs experts — to allow FJC to locate the gaps, establish where and how the needs can be filled and develop a set of guidelines for camps to use as a resource.
A bus tour in July 2012 launched the Foundation’s formal exploration of the issue. Done in conjunction with the Jewish Funders Network, the three-day tour took staff, board members, and potential funders to eight camps in the Northeast to see firsthand the types of programs nonprofit and for-profit camps offer, speak with experts in the field, and discuss options and ideas for next steps.
Many Jewish camps are already accommodating special-needs children with inclusive or parallel programs, and several assess and enroll children with special needs on a case-by-case basis. Even so, although Jewish overnight camps serve nearly 75,000 children each camping season, they are able to accommodate fewer than 1,000 special needs campers every summer; the need is far greater with growing wait lists for many Jewish camps that serve children with disabilities.
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