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Beit Rabban Mom Seeks Advice on Choosing A Middle School

By Eliene Augenbraun · June 18, 2013

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Beit Rabban and our family chose one another when my son was four years old. He started the Gan,Beit Rabban's Early Childhood Center, a few months later. He is ten now, and I am glad to say, we made the right choice. The small classes, personal attention, high expectations, and diverse group of really great families appealed to me.

As fall approaches, and my son prepares to enter 5th grade, I’m grappling with how to choose a middle school. I would appreciate your help.

I ended my last school search with a better set of questions and criteria than when I first began to look. I’m curious: what can I do to help prepare my son to get accepted to a middle school.   If any of you are looking for a pre-school or a primary school and are considering Beit Rabban, I can tell you why I chose it and why it was right for us.

I want my son to be deeply proud and knowledgeable about Judaism.  I want him to understand, respect and enjoy the diverse ways people practice Judaism. I also want him to be empathetic, successful, and happy.  

First, about being Jewish. I want my son to develop a lifelong relationship with our texts, practices, and values.  Some background about our family. . I am divorced from my son's father. We go to a Modern Orthodox shul. We would only consider schools from the Upper West Side, through Riverdale, and Westchester. I am from Wilmington, DE. There is a Hebrew day school that goes to fifth grade. My brother and sister attended that school. I went to public school, but attended after-school Hebrew school and went to a Hebrew night school through high school. I am the only one of my siblings to remain actively engaged with Judaism.

If I send my son to a Jewish school, it better be a positive experience, on a par with Beit Rabban. An alternative is to send him to a secular school that might not be as much fun as Beit Rabban.

I am seeking empathy or kindness.  My son's peers will be the most important influence. Kids tend to be like their parents. If I like the parents, I will probably like the kids. For those of you who have older kids, can you tell me if that is true?

What would middle school success look like for my son? I chose Beit Rabban because it emphasizes learning how to learn. In middle school, he will need to learn a bunch of stuff that will prepare him for a successful high school or college career, social networking, and extra-curricular activities. He is a joyful learner and I would hate to see him lose that joy.

But most important to me is that my son ends up happy over the course of his life. I am very fortunate to make a living doing what I love - science film-making. I have life long friends who said just the right thing at the right time. I want that for my son. 

No, who am I kidding - I am a Jewish mom. I want better for my kid.

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Daniel Labovitz wrote almost 6 years ago

Eliene -  

As the parent of a Jewish middle schooler (a rising 7th grader), I relate to the concerns you're raising; indeed as a former Hebrew School kid myself who hated Hebrew School and wanted better for my children, I relate doubly so.

I invite you to strongly consider Schechter Manhattan, where my son is, for your son's middle school experience. In addition to fitting your geographic parameters, Schechter Manhattan hits all of the things you describe loving about Beit Rabban - we cultivate in our students a lifelong relationship with Jewish texts, practices, and values; the school teaches, and lives, the value of menschlichkeit; and our graduates have a track record of getting into the most rigorous high schools in the city (to name just a few, recent graduates have been accepted to Stuyvesant; Bronx Science; Math, Science & Engineering; Dalton; Trinity; Heschel; and Ramaz) without the school becoming an academic pressure-cooker.  To the contrary, our kids are confident learners because they are taught how to learn rather than just how to score highly on tests.  If you ask any of our graduates (or their high school teachers), almost to a person they will tell you that because of this, they were better prepared for high school than most of their non-Schechter peers.

In terms of day to day life, I think your son would find the environment at Schechter familiar after his experience at Beit Rabban.  Among the great features of Schechter Manhattan's middle school are its deeply engaged faculty who will have the time and space to get to know your son as an individual (just as an example, my son's Humanities teacher created personalized summer reading lists for each student, based on pedagogical goals, but also the student's own interests); classes that are small enough that your son will get individualized attention and encouragement; and a curriculum that focuses on empowering the students as agents of their own learning.  With 50+ kids in the middle school, it's large enough that your son can grow and develop a social network that reflects who he is, but also cultivate a deep bond with the entire middle school.  It also means that there is also critical mass for a thriving soccer team, basketball team, drama program and numerous opportunities for enrichment.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Schechter Manhattan recognizes that choosing day school is not an easy decision financially, and that the cost of living and sending your child to a private school in Manhattan, of all places, can make that decision even more fraught.  The school, and its donors and supporters in the community, are therefore sincerely committed to providing financial aid so that the day school experience will not be out of reach for middle-income and low-income families.  If you're concerned about costs, don't just assume you're priced out of the market and pass on applying (I mean it, please don't do that!); actually, the chances are good that if you ask, the school would be able to find a tuition level that is appropriate to your financial circumstances.

Sof sof, I sincerely believe, from my own experience and observations, that Schechter Manhattan's middle school is really the pot of gold at the end of the elementary school rainbow.  If you call the school (212-427-9500), they can put you in touch with other Beit Rabban families who have moved to Schechter, and/or with other middle school families; I am confident that they will all tell you similarly good things about the school.  Also, come the Fall, you and your son should definitely come for a visit!

I hope this helps you in your thinking.

Best regards,

Dan Labovitz

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Eliene Augenbraun wrote almost 6 years ago

Dear Dan,

Thanks so much!

What a wonderful thing to hear from the President of the Board from such a wonderful school! Thanks so much for your thoughts and encouragement. Yes, Schechter is one of the places we are considering. We live in RIverdale. I know there had been a whole busload of kids that made the trip daily. Are there still RIverdale families in the school? I would be remiss on this public forum not to ask that in a more general way - NY has so many day school options, and so many pockets filled with actively engaged Jewsih families. I know in elementary school, it has been a struggle to juggle playdates, sports teams, and other activities, but my son never complained about a mom-powered life. Is there an age where their desire for independence from mom-power will get in the way when they go to a school far out of their own home neighborhood? Or is that distance an advantage as they get older? I know it is different for every kid, but sooner or later we all need to deal with that. Any advice?

All the best,

Eliene

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Elisheva Urbas wrote almost 6 years ago

Dear Eliene,

I'm a Schechter Manhattan parent too -- my youngest is in middle school there now -- and I second everything Dan says.  There are indeed Riverdale families.  Our experience with middle-school independence has been that at 6th grade they start moving around alone on routes they've gone over with their parents, and depending on the individual kid, somewhere around the end of 7th or the beginning of 8th they are pretty much free-sailing little urban persons.  (Both of my older daughters have gone from the UWS to high school in Riverdale after they graduated from Schechter, and there's at least one middle schooler going home from Schechter to Riverdale by subway now.)

I think the most striking quality the school supports in its students, across the ages, is the ability to form their own thoughts and speak them out.  Kids are really supported to learn how to share their work and present in public -- if you apply, ask to be invited to middle school exhibitions, where they present their big projects and take questions from the floor, pretty great -- and I think that quality really distinguishes them when they go out into the grownup world.

As to their Jewish life, every school comes down in a little bit of a different place, and we're lucky in the New York area to have so many choices.  The things that distinguish Schechter Manhattan, I think, are, that it's 

  • welcoming to families from a spectrum of observance.  Kids who are shomrei shabbat never feel weird or get left out of events -- and kids who aren't get no fingerpointing either
  • egalitarian w/r/t gender - all student get to experience learning and prayer leadership seriously
  • constructivist - elementary students are asked what Torah and tefillah texts mean to them before, say, they are introduced to what Rashi has to say about them
  • text-oriented: they introduce Mishnah in elementary school and gemara at the beginning of middle school

That might be a helpful set of spectra to ask other schools about as you look, too -- where do they fall on those measures, and which feels like a match with the way you want your child to learn?

We've seen a number of families that really loved their kids' Beit Rabban early years and are now finding Schechter Manhattan a great next step, who'd probably be glad to talk about that transition. 

Hope these help -- looking forward to seeing you as you go through the process --

Elisheva

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Eliene Augenbraun wrote almost 6 years ago

Dear Elisheva,

Thanks - that is helpful. Wow - sounds like Schechter has a great community! I love the community we have at Beit Rabban and you are giving me hope that we will find that kind of home at the next school. How exciting!

All the best,

Eliene

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subhan kareem wrote 3 months ago

There is someone named Beit Rabban and their neighbor’s family selected one another when their son was four years old. The kid started the Gan,Beit Rabban's Early Childhood Center, a few months. Now he is ten years old, and we are happy that we made the right choice. The small classes, private attention, high outlooks, and varied group of really great families attracted to everyone. Go and browse t2conline.com/its-never-too-late-to-learn-going-back-to-college-as-an-adult/ now. As the season of fall comes, and their son was about to enter 5th grade, we are contending with how to pick a middle school. We would encourage your support. We also finished our last school search with a better set of questions and standards than when we first began to look. In case any of you are looking for a pre-school or a primary school and are in about Beit Rabban, we can tell you why people chose it and why it was right for those who have experienced it.

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