Jewish Journal

Class Notes

Expanding Education

by Julie G Fax

Posted on Oct. 28, 2004 at 8:00 pm

I'm always surprised at how many of my dreams are set on the rooftop yard of my elementary school. You'd think that after 20-

something years I'd have worked out the lingering issues, but the peeling green floor and the colossally high fence that crowned my school still remain the backdrop to whatever niggling ideas enter my subconscious at night.

My own need for psychoanalysis aside, I think this points to a truth every adult will acknowledge: Our childhood years, particularly the hours spent behind a school desk, in the lunchroom or on the yard, stay with us forever.

The formative impact of both negative and positive childhood experiences can't be overstated, in terms of the values we hold true, the way we relate to ourselves and to other people and where Judaism fits into our lives.

That puts a tremendous amount of pressure on parents, educators and community leaders who hold not only individual minds and souls in their hands, but the future of the Jewish community, as well.

At its best, that pressure is parlayed into passion. At its worst, it ratchets up competition and angst to unprecedented levels for kids.

Parents and educators need help in their monumental tasks, and we at The Jewish Journal see it as our community role to be here as a resource. For that reason, we have rededicated ourselves to giving more space on our pages to stories on education and parenting. As The Journal's new education editor, I will make it my business to understand and address what parents are thinking about.

I've spent the last few weeks talking to people whose lives are focused on this issue.

At Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) headquarters and in talking to other journalists who cover education in Los Angeles, I've learned what our public school students and parents are thinking about: How will No Child Left Behind affect our children's schools? Will our neighborhoods benefit from the LAUSD building boom? Are magnet and charter schools fulfilling their potential? Are our kids safe in school?

For our children in public schools or in secular private schools, what is the best way to provide meaningful Jewish content and inspiration? I've talked to rabbis and educators about innovative and effective new approaches to reversing the post-bar/bat mitzvah Hebrew school dropout rate, and talked to others who see informal Jewish education -- camps, youth groups, social action -- as the key to keeping this generation Jewish.

I spoke with child psychologists about the anxiety over resume-building and getting into college, and how instant messaging is affecting teenage social and academic lives. We talked about how parents pick through issues such as gender identity, social skills and kids who don't fit the mold. How do parents decide when to let kids go out unsupervised? When to seek professional help? When to push religion?

And I attended a Bureau of Jewish Education conference for day school lay leaders, where volunteers and professionals spent a day exploring how to make the city's 36 day schools operate more efficiently so that they can provide an always-improving Jewish and secular education for the 10,000 students in L.A. day schools.

With great knowledge and passion, presenters and volunteers discussed everything from board structure to financial aid best practices, from tapping in to government resources for private schools to funding endowments to make Jewish education more affordable to more people.

I am a parent myself, and these and issues like it are at the center of my life. They are what drive me, and I want to know more about the concerns that drive you and the programs and experiences that inspire you.

We'd love your input into the education section, for listings in our monthly Family Calendar, helpful how-to corners and activity ideas that you can engage in as a family and our "Kvell of the Week," where parents, teachers, aunts and uncles share the amazing things kids have said or done during the week. Look for book reviews and children's writing, and watch next week for more Class Notes, a column dedicated to news in parenting and education.

I've come a long way from rollerskating on the school's roof to sitting behind a computer and worrying about what to make for dinner (or both at the same time). But it's not such a long way. The kid in all of us lives forever as the foundation of the adult we become. And that itself is reason enough to use every resource we can to be the best parents, educators and community we can be.

You can reach Julie Gruenbaum Fax at julief@jewishjournal.com or (213) 368-1661, ext. 206.

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