Why I halfheartedly sent my child to Jewish Day School for Kindergarten, and enthusiastically stayed for first grade

by | Dec 5, 2014 | Other News

Elijah Muhlendorf grade 1 Nyla Muhlendorf 4 year

Elijah Muhlendorf grade 1 Nyla Muhlendorf 4 year

Confession : My son did not go to Jewish preschool. In fact, when he turned 2½ we moved. Although our new home was close enough to the local Jewish preschool, my daughter was to be born during the High Holy Days, and I could not conceive having a newborn and wrangling my temperamental toddler by my lonesome while my husband worked long hours and the preschool was closed. Thus we found a secular preschool where he blossomed until kindergarten.

Our search for the “right” kindergarten began by touring the premier private schools to find the fit that would lay the building blocks for a lifetime of academic success. Our top choice began at first grade, so we needed a stop-gap measure. Sending him to the Jewish day school, Hebrew Academy, was an easy enough option—he already knew many of the kids from JCC summer camp, so it would be the smoothest transition for all of us. But there was no doubt that, after kindergarten, he would be heading to the prestigious private school down the road.

And then the kindergarten school year started. One day, my son’s Judaic teacher stopped me unexpectedly in the school hallway. She told me how my son is fascinated with Hebrew and the Torah, and that he is her first student ever to ask to bring the classroom Torah home. She beamed with pride, and the way she saw into my son’s Jewish soul and found the best in him brought tears to my eyes. Later that year during a long break, my son made paper books for each letter of the alphabet and presented them proudly to the librarian he adored. She was so touched by his creation, she gave the gift to me as a treasure to save. His science teacher and I began our own rapport over email, kvelling over cool creatures my son and I found on local beaches. She encouraged my son’s excitement in science, and indulged his need to bring something new to share each time he had class. These teachers all really knew my son, saw his strengths, challenged and nurtured him.

When it was time to apply to the fancy secular private school for first grade, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I saw the special relationships my son had built with his educators, many of whom would continue to teach him if he stayed. I felt in my spirit that his attendance at Jewish day school built his Jewish identity, and that each year at a Jewish day school gave him the opportunity to be in a cultural and religious majority. My family was living more Jewishly because he was there. All signs indicated he was getting a great education. And the children and adults we met because of the school, comprising the full spectrum of Judaism, are people who will be part of our lifelong Jewish community.

So if you’re looking for a kindergarten, maybe a Jewish day school is right for you…and who knows, maybe you will surprise yourself with what a great fit it truly is.

For information about admissions at Hebrew Academy, contact Carin Simon, admissions director, at 424-4327, or email csimon@hebrewacademy.net.

—Alyssa Muhlendorf is a parent of two, wife of one, and a volunteer at many local Jewish organizations.