Tag Archives: Naaleh program

More about Israel high school option

I’ve had some questions about the program I mentioned considering for my daughter – I’d be engaging in wishful thinking if I said the response of most people to this idea has been positive. There seems to be widespread disbelief that I would consider this option, and I think part of this is because I haven’t addressed some understandable concerns so people think that I haven’t considered them.

First of all, I want to be clear that nothing has been decided.  She hasn’t been accepted yet and we haven’t decided if we’ll definitely let her go if she is accepted.  It’s possible I’ll learn new information that will totally change our current view and shift our decision in the opposite direction, but at this point it’s heavily leaning toward sending her.

>>I don’t understand why you would send your child to high school when she’s already graduating this year.  She doesn’t need it and it seems like a waste of her time.<<

Not only have I been asked this several times, but this is definitely the response dd is getting from all her friends.  This response underscores a major difference in how I look at education and how most people look at it.  Dd will have her high school diploma in 2 months.  She doesn’t NEED to go to more school to earn credits.  However, we see learning more as a positive, as something more than just transcripts, credits, and tests.  Although this is definitely a high school program, dd sees it more like a post-high school option for her, a chance to experience a different culture, learn a new language, meet new people – very much like a foreign exchange or transfer student.  She sees the value of the learning itself and the inherent gain in becoming a better educated person, and loves the idea of getting to travel and have new experiences.  She was planning to attend community college in the fall and this is a nice time to take a break without setting herself back significantly with her college plans.

>>Isn’t she going to be bored ?<<

No, because high schools across the world (and this country!) have different curricula; they’re not all teaching the same information.  I expect that most of what she is taught will be new to her.  History and geography will be of a different country, writing skills can always use improvement, and she’ll be doing intensive language studies for Hebrew.  The science and math classes are supposedly at a higher level than here in the US; if the testing she did last week at her screening is an accurate indication, then she feels it will be very challenging.  Additionally, math is taught using the spiral approach rather than the strictly linear approach that we have.  To my understanding, she’ll also be taking math class in Hebrew, which in and of itself will be challenging since she doesn’t yet have much experience with conversational Hebrew.  There are also three options regarding the difficulty of the classes that she can choose from.  And of course there’s the experience of being in a new country, going on trips, meeting new people – it’s not all about academics by any means!

>>And about your daughter…Bnei Akiva is also different…talk about future values…come on, you protected your kids until now….from all that I have gathered about you and your family, this is not what I would have thought you would choose for your kids…<<

You don’t use the same tool in every situation – a hammer is a great tool, but sometimes you need a screwdriver.  Different goals necessitate different choices; we view this as primarily an academic experience with spiritual possibilities, not a spiritual experience with academic possibilities, and are discussing it and preparing her for this accordingly. As an academic choice in a religious girls setting I feel that this program has the potential to be a very positive experience for her on a number of levels.  While it’s true that there are differences in worldview between us and those running this program, I don’t believe they’re inherently as significant as they they may seem.  (I’m not naive and I lived in Israel for ten years; I think I have a fairly accurate sense of what the differences in perspective are.)

I also feel that you can learn and grow from all people.  The people running this program have solid values; they’re good people.   I’m not afraid of the differences – I think learning to embrace differences and respect others who make different choices, while maintaining your sense of who you are, is a sign of maturity; at least for me it has been.  This is something that has been part of how I’ve raised my kids; that you can and should have strong beliefs but that shouldn’t mean looking down on others.

>>AND, at 15 years old???  Really young and vulnerable to send away.. Please – rethink this!  The(y) have totally different tznius (Avivah’s translation – modesty) standards…can she keep to hers withstanding peer pressure?<<

I went to Israel to study for a  year when I was 16, but because I graduated 12th grade along with my (older) peers, not one person ever commented to my mother with any concern about my age.  I agree that 15 is very young, but I also don’t think that there’s a magic number when a child is ready.  I was a dorm counselor in a girls seminary abroad, and I saw how many 18 and 19 year olds were immature and not ready to appropriately handle the independence from their families.  It’s not about the number, it’s about the readiness of the person to handle the experience.  Dd will be almost 16 when she goes; we wouldn’t consider sending a child of any age who hadn’t already demonstrated the necessary maturity and levelheadedness, but dd has proven she has these qualities time and again.

We’ve discussed some challenges that will probably be part of her experience, and part of that is that we have different expectations for her than what some of her peers may be allowed, particularly regarding level of immersion in secular culture and mores of dressing.  However, she’s also experienced this in camp for the last three summers – she’s been very grounded in her response and handled it gracefully.  I realize that there’s a difference between being away for four weeks and for ten months – but as parents, after we’ve done the best we can to inculcate them with our values, we have to gradually let them try out their wings. Trusting our kids is more than lip service; to trust them means we give them opportunities to make choices.  That can be scary for a parent because there’s no guarantee that they’ll choose what you want, but this is part of the growing up process.

In my opinion, peer dependence is the biggest concern for any parent in an environment in which kids are surrounded by same age peers all day – including your average local schools.  Dd not only hasn’t been immersed in a culture that pressures kids to conform to whatever their peers are doing for the last ten years (thereby making her less susceptible to doing things just because her peers do), but will be one of the oldest in her class and tends to be socially confident.  The combination means that I’m significantly less concerned about peer pressure/dependence than I’d be if she were one of the youngest.   She knows that you can be a fun and well-liked person without compromising your values.  Again, she’s been in this role before and is comfortable with it.

>>I know the free schooling is enticing but at what price???<<

Important decisions can’t be made based primarily on the dollars involved, even for a super frugal person like me.  There are things you do not because it’s cheaper, but because it has a value to you.   For example, I spend much more on alternative doctors, herbs, supplements rather than take my kids to the doctors/give them medications covered by my insurance.   I also spend a lot more on food than I would if health weren’t a priority to me.  We pay for homebirths out of pocket though I could have my entire pregnancy and hospital stay paid for by insurance.  So obviously getting something for free isn’t the most important criteria to me, since I’ve repeatedly demonstrated with other choices that our decisions are made based on if it matches our goals.

Not only that, free tuition in and of itself isn’t necessarily a significant savings over the alternative for dd.  I’ve successfully homeschooled for almost a decade now and spent less than $7000 on all six of the school age kids during that time ($5500 of which was for religious studies tutoring for my oldest ds).   So you can see that the costs of homeschooling aren’t exactly breaking me financially – it’s cost me less than $50 this past year for her academic costs.

In fact, sending dd to this program will be more expensive than keeping her here.  Thanks to financial aid and scholarship money (just got a message a couple of days ago about a $500 scholarship she needs to claim in the next two weeks before it goes to someone else),  community college tuition and books will be entirely covered if she stays home for the coming year.   Just the ticket and passport expenses necessary for travel overseas will run about $1500, and she’ll certainly need some kind of spending money for the year!  I overheard a couple of parents at the screening talking about how they could use the money they’re saving on tuition for a family trip to Israel to visit their child, or to buy the child a laptop with Skype so they can easily keep in touch – but that’s not my reality.  I’m considering this in spite of the costs to me, because technically the more frugal thing to do would be to keep her home.

I have so many, many thoughts on aspects of this decision and there are a number of points that could be discussed in depth (certainly I’ve thought about them in depth!).  One crucial factor in making this decision is that we know our daughter – and we have a lot of confidence in her.


Interesting educational option for dd15

Last week I mentioned that dh and I would be going to New York City on Sunday together with dd15, and now I’ll share with you what we were doing there!

Just over two weeks ago we learned about an intriguing educational possibility and despite it being a very drastic change in the direction dd was planning for next year, we decided to look into it with her.  The program is called Elite Academy, and has several schools associated with it.  One of those schools is a religious girls’ high school in Israel, and each of the schools affiliated with Elite Academy have a program specifically geared towards English speakers.  It’s intended for teens about 15 – 16 years old, and the program includes intensive ulpan/Hebrew language study (about thirteen hours a week), in addition to Torah classes and math/English/etc.  The program is fully subsidized for those who are accepted, and not only are tuition, room and board covered, but students are also provided with a stipend to cover transportation costs while in Israel, and the flight to Israel is paid for as well (not the return flight, though).  (You can get more info here.)

After first hearing about it, we scoured the internet for more information, I spoke to the US representative for 45 minutes, emailed the director of the girls’ school with a list of questions, and then waited another week to listen in on the conference call in which the school principals for the girls’ and boys’ programs answered questions posed by interested parents.  The next day was a Monday, and we sent in the application with the hope that we could be included in the screening to be held in NYC six days later.  On Wednesday morning we received the confirmation about the screening, and 5:30 am Sunday morning we were on our way!

We got there at 9:30, and had time to get a little bit to eat (they provided a very nice breakfast spread) and say ‘hello’ to a long term online friend who I’d never yet met in person before the program started.  Dd15 managed to talk to two girls she knew casually and introduce herself to three other girls she didn’t know at all within fifteen minutes.  The program then began with an explanation of the program to the parents and teens as well as what to expect of the day with regards to the extensive testing they would be doing.  Then they split us up so that the kids could do a group social activity together while the parents went over the contracts in detail.

Then the teens had 2.5 hours of testing, academic as well as psychological, then a break for lunch (which they also provided), then another 1.5 hours of testing for the kids.  Meanwhile, we parents were being interviewed by a psychologist.  There were three psychologists, so three interviews were being done simultaneously.  The interview took a little over 45 minutes, and was not a bit homeschool friendly.  My position regarding answering questions about homeschooling is that I won’t allow myself to be put on the defense, and this was seriously tested by my interviewer.

Not that he wasn’t a nice person – he was.  But besides asking lots of detailed questions about family history, he asked questions in a way that left me feeling he expected something to be wrong.  And then he got into questions about homeschooling.  But right after asking the first question (about why I chose to homeschool dd), before I had a chance to even open my mouth, he said that homeschooling was antithetical to Judaism.   He added: “I’m not saying this just for myself.  I’m saying this as a parent, a psychologist, as a professional – this is the opposite of what Judaism is about.  Judaism is about community, not just staying to yourself and doing what you want.”

So I had to politely let him know he was making judgments about an issue he didn’t know anything about – I’m serious about doing that politely but I’m also serious that I told him he didn’t know what he was talking about. Then I had to clarify what the question really should be, so I could then answer the real question.  Then he wanted to know how dd could possibly cope with the structure of a program like this since she’s been allowed to do whatever she wants and have no structure in her life.   Comments like this are chock full of idiocy false assumptions about homeschooling.  It was almost like he wasn’t really listening to my response before moving on to the next question.  Good thing questions like this don’t faze me.

Then there were questions about how we raised our kids.  And we kept answering, ‘yes, she’s healthy; no, she’s never been seen/treated by a psychologist; no, she doesn’t take any medication; no, she doesn’t suffer from depression’.  He asked me about punishment and I looked at him blankly.  I asked him what he meant, and he asked how I punish her.  I told him I don’t have any need to punish her, and in any case, I don’t really think in terms of punishment.

Then he asked us to assess the quality of our relationship with dd, and wanted us to describe our conflict with her.  I really didn’t want to answer this last question honestly, since I was thinking that by now we sounded a little too perfect, and he’d think we were hiding something if I told him the truth.  But what can you do?  After a brief pause, I told him I was reluctant to say we don’t have conflicts with her because he won’t believe me.  After all, she’s a teenager and everyone knows that teenagers are difficult and obnoxious and trying.  But it’s really true – we enjoy her; she’s really a pleasure to have around.   Despite the uncomfortableness with the negative slant towards homeschooling, all in all the interview went well.  I was glad that we had this interviewer so that dd didn’t have to (their policy is that different psychologists interview the applicant and her parents).

Her interviewer and she got along great, and when dd was asked about conflict with us, she later described to me her thoughts.  She felt if she responded that she didn’t have any conflict with us, they’d think she was hiding something.  So she told them she didn’t like when I used to remind her to do the dishes when it was her turn, and she asked me not to do that.  “So what happened then?” the interviewer wanted to know.  “She stopped asking me and I did them without being asked.”   “Oh.”  Not exactly the example of conflict they were searching for, but it was all she could think of.

I was glad dh had been able to take off of work to come with us, since most applicants had both parents with them.  It was nice to get to see the other girls and parents, and since we spent hours together that day (I left at 7:15 pm), there was plenty of time to chat with them and get a sense of what kind of people they were.  Generally my feeling about the families was positive.

It will be another two weeks until we find out if dd’s been accepted.  To determine if someone is accepted, they gather the result of all the testing, the notes on the parents’ interview, notes on the applicant’s interview, and then the team of three psychologists goes over it together to do a complete assessment of each person (for 1.5 hours per applicant) to be sure that she’s suitable and meets all their criteria.

Dd enjoyed meeting the other applicants, and feels even more comfortable about the idea of attending this program now that she’s seen a sample of the girls applying.  I’m really glad we got this done now, since the next screening isn’t until June, and we’d all like to know if she’s accepted as soon as possible!