This article was written and published in the November 21, 2015, issue of the CJN.
A pilot project that will give parents a discount on their tuition in exchange for taking Jewish studies classes will be launched at the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto next school year.
The program, which will only be open to families who are new to the school, offers a $5,000 discount on tuition for parents who commit to a 24-week course of Jewish studies, taught by TanenbaumCHAT’s own faculty.
The initiative, called Scholars’ Circle, will be open to parents, regardless of income, but will certainly assist those who find tuition steep, said head of school Rabbi Lee Buckman. Tuition for 2015-16 is $26,500.
Scholars’ Circle is also intended to give parents a greater understanding of what actually happens during the school day. Parents generally only spend a few minutes a year meeting their children’s teachers.
“If parents have a deep connection with our teachers and the quality of our teaching, they’ll be stronger ambassadors of the program,” Rabbi Buckman said.
The program will demonstrate the importance parents place on Jewish studies and give parents and children a common background to discuss what is being taught in school.
“My hope is that it will create conversations among parents and kids that will enrich the Jewish experiences of the child,” he said.
A version of the program was first initiated by the Kohelet Foundation in Philadelphia, a private foundation that explores how to improve day school education. Rabbi Buckman implemented a variation of it at Atlanta’s Greenfield Hebrew Academy, where he was head of school before coming to TanenbaumCHAT two years ago.
In Atlanta, about 60 parents participated, but both the time demands and the tuition subsidy were smaller.
Donors Dov and Nancy Friedberg, who are underwriting the program here, wanted the bar to be higher in terms of the Jewish studies requirement.
“The donor was clear that [instead of] just giving away money, we could leverage that money and get something back that was more valuable and enriching to a child’s education,” Rabbi Buckman said.
Funding has been provided for 16 families to participate in the 2016 academic year. Parents will be required to participate in 24 weeks of 90-minute-long classes on Jewish history, Tanach (Bible) and Jewish ethics taught by faculty from both the north and south campuses. Twice a year, before Chanukah and Passover, parents and students will study together.
The tuition discount for families who complete the program will be applied the following year.
The Scholars’ Circle initiative fits into the school’s strategic plan aimed at increasing enrolment, enhancing education, tightening expenses and intensifying fundraising.
After a few years of declining enrolment, the school has shifted to actively recruiting new students, rather than simply managing applications, Rabbi Buckman said.
Enrolment at both campuses is 1,035 students. This year’s Grade 9 class was slightly larger than the previous year’s, he said.
As well, a group of 35 parent ambassadors has been formed to promote the school. It’s anticipated that participants in the Scholars’ Circle program will also bolster efforts to promote the school.
TanenbaumCHAT has also stepped up its fundraising efforts. In addition to the funding for the Scholars’ Choice program, a $1.5-million donation from Anita and Daniel Chai was recently announced for a new robotics and engineering program.