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!