May 21, 2024
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Trauma for Eighth Graders In Our Schools

How wonderful it is that Bergen County has so many options for Jewish high schools. Our expectations are that these schools will promote Jewish observance, strong Jewish identity and continuity to our children in Bergen County. We look to the school administration and leadership, both professional and lay, to foster this promotion with midot, empathy and concern for each Jewish child. These children are our Jewish future and that of Am Yisrael. Each and every one of them is needed for the greater Jewish good.

Yet, a substantial number of our 8th grade students will now, as have students in the past, question this commitment. For the past few weeks and onto the next few months, our 14-year-old children will suffer bouts of anxiety and doubt. They worry, “Will I be accepted to the school I would like to attend? And if I’m rejected, then what?”

There has been sadly a history of local Bergen County children being rejected from Bergen County high schools that they literally prayed to attend. How does this happen? What havoc does this play with our precious neshamot who are still developing and changing?

The reasons quoted for these exclusions are many. A sample of these are: The child will not fit in, our school reputation will suffer if we accept a student who has been rejected by another school—especially from “that” school, prominent parents have threatened to withdraw their child if we accept this student, and still another, the lay leadership does not allow the acceptance.

There are children who may need support in academic or non-academic areas, but if parents are committing to provide support the child needs, why not give the child an opportunity to succeed with these supports in place? There have been so many successes in high school with children who just needed the chance

The question then arises: Where is the concern for each child? Where are the midot that should be inherent in each mechanech and institution of chinuch? Why do we emphasize academics, extracurricular activities and fun and not how does a school model midot? I know of parents in another community who chose a school for their children because the school teaches their students to care about each other by example and focuses on this caring. Our high schools should be concerned that every Bergen County child should find a place in a yeshiva they will be happy attending. Schools should be working together in a formal association, not in competition, to place every Bergen County 8th grader with honor and dignity. Parents, rabbis and friends should not have to cry and plead for a Jewish child to receive a Jewish education in our local schools.

This letter may seem to be angry and critical, but please see it as a plea for the mental well-being of our children. Every child is a potential mother or father of a Jewish home; every child’s neshama is precious. Let’s not turn them off to their Jewish future.

Kudos to those schools who continue to be responsive to the needs of these children.

S. Dworken Koss
Teaneck
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