Four months ago, all of our schools were forced to close. That unexpected development required area educators to adapt their efforts to teach our children in ways they may have thought about, but never expected to invoke in the middle of the school year. Distance learning became part of our new reality, and schools struggled to keep students engaged, motivated, and learning. The results were mixed.
We have been impressed by the efforts of many of our area day schools. They pivoted quickly, and appeared to keep their focus on advancing the educational goals of their dual curriculum programs, while promoting a sense of community and Jewish values that are at the heart of their mission. At the same time, it appeared that our public schools were slower to react, having to cope first with a series of practical, social, and operational issues that confronted their student populations. Thus, many of our public schools spent time figuring out how to provide lunches, laptops, and other resources to their students, giving them less time to develop and deliver creative learning approaches.
Our day schools had other challenges. Jewish educators strive to achieve academic excellence while promoting fundamental Jewish values and a sense of community. Pandemic restrictions made that difficult. But our day schools delivered. They held Zoom seders and Shabbat services, and consistently sought to adapt school programs and traditions for online involvement. In D.C., for example, Milton Jewish Day School had Zoom b’nai mitzvahs with candy-filled background screens. In Pikesville, Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School organized a drive-through graduation ceremony for its high school seniors. And similar creative programs and activities were organized and delivered by each of the schools throughout our community — ranging from social action food drives to celebratory Yom Yerushalayim programs, all designed to bring their school communities closer together. We are impressed by those successes.
Now, during the summer, our schools are struggling to figure out what the coming year will look like, and whether and how students will return. Contingency plans are in the works, and the creative talents of our educators are being tested.
At the same time, many families are faced with difficult decisions. Some are weighing the financial challenge of day school tuition in an uneven and unpredictable economy. Others are concerned about the quality of the education their children will get in an unpredictable structure. Still others are considering public school or home schooling for the coming year.
We urge those who can to continue to support our day schools, and we encourage parents to re-enroll for the coming year. Our schools have proved their commitment, creativity, and value. And our children will unquestionably gain from creative school offerings. While it may not be the full program anticipated pre-pandemic, our schools are adjusting well. Nothing is perfect. But if we want our schools to be there when our children need them post-pandemic, we need to support them now.