SAR High School’s longtime motto, “It’s not just what you learn. It’s who you become,” shapes the thinking about students both inside and outside the classroom. Since the high school’s inception in 2003, SAR’s administration and faculty have collaborated with the parent body in hopes of raising its students to be future leaders of the Modern Orthodox community. In 2014, Founding Principal Rabbi Tully Harcsztark created PACT, or Parents Ask Call Talk, an umbrella body whose aim includes fostering a community partnership to encourage productive communication among students, parents and school leadership. These conversations have manifested in numerous ways, notably with endeavors intended to keep students safe.
For example, Machon Siach, the research arm of SAR High School honoring the memory of Belda Kaufman Lindenbaum z”l, oversaw surveys of over 5,000 sophomores and seniors in 20 Jewish day schools in 2019 and 2020 to gather data about teen choices. Under the auspices of the Communities That Care (CTC) organization at the University of Washington (funded by the National Institutes of Health), the survey studied substance use in yeshiva high schools. The results were concerning, indicating rates higher than the national average of alcohol consumption, binge drinking and sports betting among yeshiva high school students. A cohort of schools is working to tackle these issues affecting our children.
The first step: this past Monday, March 28, SAR hosted the first of a five-part parenting workshop endorsed by CTC, entitled “Guiding Good Choices,” for two dozen parents of ninth and 10th graders. The Monday night series, housed at SAR High School, is facilitated by Associate Principal Rivka Press Schwartz and School Nurse Russi Bohm, two trained facilitators. The series aims to provide families with essential tools to protect their children from potential risks as they develop into independent young adults. In addition, the five evenings will help parents strengthen their relationships with their children, communicate their values around substance use and manage family conflict. We feel especially passionate about this work because CTC research has demonstrated that teenagers who are closely connected to their parents have stronger health and educational outcomes.
Of course, caring for our children and positively shaping their choices are national challenges for the Jewish community. To that end, Machon Siach shared the outcomes of the survey and overall strategies with the Orthodox Union, which incorporated Guiding Good Choices into their larger national parenting enterprise (called The Empowered Parenting Initiative), currently operating in Cincinnati and Houston. You can find much of the data from the survey and more information about the CTC project at www.machonsiach.org.
Following the launch this spring, SAR High School will facilitate this program at least five more times during the 2022-2023 school year, with six additional SAR faculty members being trained in June to lead these workshops alongside faculty from other yeshiva high schools. SAR’s CTC Coordinators, Bohm and Michael Courtney, are eager to partner with other day schools in this important initiative so, together, they can work to address teen substance use. Please connect with them at [email protected] and [email protected] because who students become shapes what the Jewish community becomes.