In his research into Jewish schooling in North America, Alex Pomson and his collaborators interviewed over 100 families who chose to move their children into Jewish day schools from educational institutions of other kinds during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic. Here is what they found:
First, many had previously stayed away because of a series of misconceptions: they assumed that such schools lacked diversity and were educationally inferior to public schools, and that they would be religiously oppressive. Second, we discovered how satisfied families were with what their children now experienced: they relished the sense of community that schools provided during a time of dislocation and the degree to which their child’s educational needs were being met even in trying times. These families were not much interested in their children becoming Jewish cultural virtuosos, which was part of why they had previously stayed away. But they were thrilled with what they were now experiencing.
Pomson’s research also took him abroad, and he recounts what he learned from the last two schools he visited before COVID-19 interfered with his travel plans:
The schools were in Milan and Helsinki, and I speak neither Italian nor Finnish. My lack of comprehension meant that instead of being distracted by what people were saying, I had to pay very close attention to how they looked and acted. What I observed was, first, the diverse appearance of those who attended these particular schools. Their dress indicated socioeconomic and religious diversity: for example, some were in kippot and tsitsit; some just in kippot; some had neither; some were sporting the latest fashions, others not. Second, I saw the warmth and informality of relationships among students of different ages, parents, educators, and across all of these groups. This informality and multigenerational interaction—in classrooms, corridors, at lunchtime, at times of prayer—conveyed a sense of people feeling at home.