April 22, 2024
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April 22, 2024
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Yeshiva Open Houses Get Creative in COVID Era

It’s the big show, the main event, the black hole that can swallow an unbelievable amount of staff time and effort at a yeshiva in the fall: It’s the open house event for prospective students and its success can lead to a record number of applicants and new students, while a subpar performance may be an unwelcome deterrent to some prospects.

This year’s crop of open houses were burdened with the added challenge of adapting to the constraints of COVID-19, which discouraged many of the traditional in-person, big crowd, direct contact activities. It was no easy challenge and yet, thankfully, many yeshivot found creative ways to shine despite the limits.

Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy, Stamford

Miriam Sperber, director of admissions at the Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy, reported: “Prior to the open house, we hand-delivered to parents ‘goodie bags’… then, we turned the open house into an interactive learning experience by engaging them in an online Kahoot game that was both informational and also served as a fun ice-breaker…. At our Upper School open house, we featured a panel discussion that included current students, a current parent and an alumnus. The panel answered questions on academics, college preparedness and placement, electives, co-curricular activities and the social environment—all of which were submitted prior to the event.

Bruriah, Elizabeth

Esther Eisenman, principal of Bruriah, said: “The Bruriah admissions team adapted the conventional elements of past open house programming to the screen, featuring pre-recorded and live model lessons, an interactive live Q&A for parents and students separately, pre-recorded speeches from various school representatives and leadership as well as engaging video content that showcases the magic of Bruriah. The success of this new model will hopefully inspire the class of 2025 to consider Bruriah for all that it offers young women academically, socially, spiritually and beyond.”

Heichal HaTorah, Teaneck

Avi Epstein, director of student life at Heichal HaTorah, shared: “In order to maintain a socially distant and COVID-friendly environment, prospective parents and students made their way around the Heichal open house in golf carts. Much like a ride at an amusement park, each family was driven in a cart to various outdoor presentations made by the Heichal staff and listened via silent DJ technology. The personal vehicles ensured that everyone remained socially distant. The open house ran five times throughout the day, with cohorts of 60 people, totaling 300 attendants.”

Ma’ayanot, Teaneck

Dena Block, director of admissions at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls, commented: “Despite being virtual, the warmth, caring, encouragement, spirituality and individuality that defines Ma’ayanot was evident at Ma’ayanot’s open house. We had to think creatively about how to convey our values, mission and energy in a virtual space, but every aspect of the open house was done with intentionality, allowing us to really accomplish just that. Having live breakout sessions for parents and for students allowed our prospective families to learn from Ma’ayanot teachers firsthand and to get a taste of the Ma’ayanot experience in real time.”

MTA, New York City

Rabbi Yoni Stone, director of admissions at MTA, shared: “Prior to the open house, eighth grade families were surprised with visits from MTA rebbeim, faculty members, administrators and parents, who personally delivered a special gift bag to each registered family and took the opportunity to get to know them…. Throughout the open house, attendees were able to submit questions through our digital platform, which were answered during a live Q & A session with our administration at the close of the event. This interactive component allowed us to take real-time feedback from the audience and address their questions.”

Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, Livingston

Allison Lyons, director of admissions at the Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, said: “Live streaming our open house and combining live speakers and videos allowed us to highlight the values of an RKYHS educational experience. We also emphasized our school’s academic excellence with a series of videos of our department chairs and faculty speaking about their respective disciplines.”

RYNJ, River Edge

Tamar Kahn, director of admissions at the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey (RYNJ), reported: “We hosted a car parade to help new families ‘get in gear for next year.’… music was playing, windows were open and the teachers were engaging with the children from a distance as our administrators spoke with parents and conveyed their enthusiasm and passion for inspiring children to love learning. The virtual program in the evening also had a silver lining because we loved being able to show videos of our students in action with our rebbeim, morot and teachers. RYNJ’s message of excelling by coupling serious Torah learning with academic excellence was evident.”

TABC, Teaneck

P’nina Seplowitz, director of admissions and marketing at the Torah Academy of Bergen County, reported: “You can’t experience the warmth of TABC, the legendary school spirit, and the overall vibe through a computer screen. We invited prospective families to drive through our music-filled parking lot, pick up a hot breakfast-to-go, and meet our students and faculty before they went home to watch our virtual program, [which] focused on TABC in a “normal” year. We presented our video, sessions on our curriculum and programming, and a livestream parent panel. We did not focus on the pandemic … we are hopeful that when our new crop of freshmen attend TABC in the fall, the world will be a safer place.”

The Idea School, Tenafly

Tamara Levin, school administrator and director of admissions at the Idea School at the Kaplan JCC, shared: “Since our program was student led, the virtual nature of our open house allowed our students to be seen and heard by all our participants…. We had a record level of attendance as families could attend more conveniently from home…. The families were able to get a real sense of how The Idea School students engage with their learning and create products of learning that utilize technology and digital media.”

Yavneh Academy, Paramus

Jennifer Hooper, director of admissions at Yavneh Academy, said: “The virtual open house afforded our prospective parents the opportunity to participate in an interactive live panel discussion with Rabbi Jonathan Knapp, head of school, our administrators, and a current Yavneh Academy parent, Leyna Goro. We hand delivered Yavneh materials and art kits for our upcoming virtual Yom Rishon with Yavneh program, an interactive Ivrit and art event, to prospective parents and students.”

Yeshivat Noam, Paramus

Amy Vogel, director of development at Yeshivat Noam, stated: “The highlight was that over 80 of our parent volunteers participated in the live synchronized visiting of each of the prospective families! We did a coordinated live swag bag delivery at 8:04 p.m. It was this sense of community that the parent greeters, representing the staff of Yeshivat Noam, sought to bring to the prospective families. Whether by observing the sheer number of greeters who volunteered or reading the supportive comments on its Facebook page about this initiative, one could see the warmth for which Yeshivat Noam is known.”

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