Compiled with assistance from Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education

What is day school education?

Day schools provide children with Jewish and general education in a nurturing environment that provides a strong sense of community and Jewish identity. Day schools are private elementary, middle and high schools supported by Jewish communities. There are over 700 day schools in North America reflecting the ideological spectrum of the Jewish experience.

Why is the number of day schools and day school students growing so rapidly?

Until the middle of the 20th century, it was considered “un-American” for religious groups to educate their children in non-public schools. The public school system was the preferred way into the melting pot of American society. Hence, most of the Jews who arrived in the early part of the 1900s, as well as their children and grandchildren, received their education in public schools. In the 1960s, a cultural shift began to affirm religious and ethnic pluralism within the United States. This shift redefined the relationship of religious groups to American society and opened the door for rapid proliferation of Jewish day schools across the country. This trend was started initially in the Orthodox community, but eventually spread to the Conservative and Reform movements as well. In Canada, where there never was a melting pot ethos, day schools were established immediately upon the arrival of the Jews to those communities in the early 20th century. To this day, the Canadian day school enterprise enrolls a much greater percentage of the community’s children. More recent concerns about intermarriage and Jewish continuity have brought greater attention and resources to day schools. In addition, Jewish parents are seeking a high-quality Jewish and general education that will yield a Jewishly-literate next generation. Day schools, through the intensity of their program and the quality of their instruction, have become attractive places to acquire an education. As the demand for quality Jewish education has grown, so have the number and diversity of Jewish day schools.

What is the difference between a Jewish Day School and a Yeshiva?

As a Day School, Mazel is different than most Yeshiva schools in that both boys and girls attend classes together. Yeshiva schools typically enroll one gender or another (all boys or all girls). Day schools are usually co-ed. In addition, as a Day School it is open for all Jewish children regardless of their level of religious observance. You will not be asked what you observe at home, nor will your child be told that they “have to” become more religious. Every family is respected for their own level of involvement in Jewish life. No one is made to feel uncomfortable and everyone is free to choose their own path. Children learn that Jewish identity is important for all Jews but “different families observe in different ways”. Another primary difference between our day school and other Yeshivas is that the general studies program takes up the majority of the daily schedule, with 60-70% of the day between devoted to math, science, reading, writing, social studies (compared to 50% in other schools).

What Jewish denomination is Mazel Day School affiliated with?

All Judaic studies taught at Mazel Day School are aligned with traditional, Orthodox Judaism. However, students attending our school are from observant, non-observant or non-affiliated homes. Judaism is presented as vibrant, relevant and meaningful - while also open to any and every Jew whether or not they affiliate themselves with a particular "brand" of Jewish practice. Our philosophy is: labels are for clothes, not Jews!

Aren't day schools just for the Orthodox?

That was true of the day school enterprise in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Since the 1970s and accelerating into the 1980s and 1990s, significant growth has taken place in non-Orthodox communities as well. In the past decade, the greatest growth in day schools has been in non-Orthodox communities. Increasingly, parents recognize that day schools provide an excellent education, and more and more communities and philanthropists recognize that day schools offer the greatest hope for Jewish continuity.

If our family does not observe all Jewish traditions which my child will learn about at Mazel, won't this create a conflict between home and school?

At school, teachers encourage children to understand that "different families observe Judaism differently" and that each family is a wonderful and special Jewish family, for whom parents choose what level of observance is right for them. Our experience has been that as long as parents know to respond to their children's questions in a similar way, there is no conflict. Suppose a child comes home and asks: "How come we do not observe Shabbat like my friend's family?" or "Why does Daddy wear a Kippa only when we go to Synagogue?" The best way for a parent to respond is to explain that "in our family this is how things are done; perhaps when you get older you will be able to choose to do things your way". This would be the same approach a parent would take if the child came home and demanded a later bedtime or a new toy that their friend has. Just as in that case, children can understand that parents make the choices for the "family rules". In general, at Mazel Day School, we encourage parents to seek out the school's support in cases such as these, or where their child is unintentionally placing pressure on the home environment to conform to Jewish observances which the parents may not be ready to undertake.

Won't putting my child in a Jewish Day School create an insular and "shtetl-like" environment that will not prepare them for life in the modern world?

Our students distinguish themselves as refined, compassionate, open-minded, and well-rounded young adults with an expanded view of the world. With character development placed on the forefront of our school program, alongside high academic expectations, our children learn to be both good students, as well as good friends and good people. By participating in numerous community service projects, they develop a sense of responsibility for our world, both Jewish and beyond. Our curriculum exposes children to various cultures and practices, as well as the fundamentals of citizenry and American national pride. They emerge globally conscious, optimistic, and confident of themselves as citizens in the larger community.

How do day schools provide both Jewish and general studies education?

Day schools offer what is known as a “dual curriculum,” offering traditional school subjects like math, English, and social studies as well as Judaic subjects, like Tanakh, Jewish history, and Hebrew. This pedagogic model offers close personal attention, encourages critical thinking, and creates “habits of mind” that prepare students well for future studies. In this way, day school education enables children to make full use of their time, all the while experiencing the “best of both worlds.”

How do students cover the same curriculum as public schools, when general studies are taught for only 60-70% of the day?

Many parents who are new to day schools have this same question. There are a number of factors that enable our students to not only learn the state's curriculum, but to actually surpass it in many areas. Educational success is determined by the way time is used and not by the time available, though our school days are a bit longer than most other schools, running from 8:45 am to 4:15pm. Our class sizes are significantly smaller than the average public school class, with our largest class having 18 students. This allows teachers to customize work for individual students to ensure that they are progressing in their studies. By doing so, our classes are able to move forward in content material in a shorter period of time than larger groups. In addition, our curriculum is at an advanced level to begin with. Each component of our academic program is carefully selected to be challenging and rigorous so that student learning time is maximized. In fact, numerous studies show that a dual curriculum is more beneficial than the conventional curriculum because the children are learning a second (in some cases third) language from kindergarten, exposed to different cultures and learning advanced text analysis. They develop strong and adaptable thinking skills and know how to apply knowledge across content areas. One only has to look at our “product” to see the results.

As a private school, in what way is Mazel Day School held accountable for the quality of its education?

MDS is registered with the NYS Department of Education. Our students participate in nationally recognized testing programs such as the Stanford 10 Assessment. These assessments enable us to evaluate our academic program on a regular basis, and ensure that our students are meeting the National Common Core Standards. Should a student need to transfer to other public or private schools at any point in their educational career at Mazel, whether in NYS or in other states, the results of the Stanford 10 Assessments are recognized across the country. In addition, teachers use various school-based formal and informal testing tools to assess student performance on a regular basis.

How do day schools prepare their students for the larger world?

Jewish day schools—elementary, middle, and high schools—offer a rigorous curriculum that prepares students for college and post-graduate study. Nearly all graduates of liberal or modern Orthodox day schools attend secular colleges and universities, and graduates of day schools attend the most prestigious public and private colleges at disproportionately high rates. Among a recent study of 60 Detroit-area high school valedictorians, a remarkable 23 of these students were graduates of a Jewish elementary or middle school.

More broadly, Jewish day schools provide young people with an extensive peer community that supports a positive and knowledgeable Jewish identity. According to a recent study, 79% of Jewish day school graduates marry Jews, and 72% of day school graduates choose day school education for their own children. Graduates of day schools are equipped with a level of Jewish literacy that enables them to make life decisions inspired by Jewish values, traditions, texts, and culture. It also predisposes them to living actual Jewish lives. At a recent gathering of student leaders at the Northwestern University Hillel foundation, 70% indicated that they had attended a Jewish day school.

What is the difference between a Jewish Day School and a Hebrew Charter School?

Charter schools are public schools in the United States funded by the state that have been freed from some of the rules, regulations and statutes that apply to other public schools in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results, which are set forth in each school's charter. Some charter schools provide a curriculum that specializes in a certain field - ex: arts, mathematics, etc. In the case of Hebrew charter schools, the Hebrew language and culture is the specialty. In contrast, Jewish day schools are privately funded, independent schools that integrate general education with Judaic studies. Because Jewish schools are not public schools, they can teach Jewish observances, students can study Jewish texts and Jewish values are transmitted throughout the school experience.

How are day schools supported financially?

Like other agencies in the Jewish community, day schools depend on a number of sources for financial support. These include:

• Tuition is the largest proportion of most schools’ operating budgets.

• Federations and foundations typically support the day schools in their communities. In addition to annual allocations, federations often provide assistance with capital and endowment campaigns.

In addition, schools are called upon to provide an increasing amount of their own support. Schools conduct fundraising campaigns for their annual budget (including scholarships), capital expenses, and endowments. Parents, grandparents, and alumni are natural supporters of the schools to which they have a connection. An increasing number of donors have no direct connection to the school which they support. They recognize the tremendous capacity of day schools to further Jewish continuity. Day schools are considered essential and valuable institutions to any thriving Jewish community.