After extensive research, campus tours, a detailed application and an interview, Aidan Buckner was recently accepted into the school of his choice. While his parents may have done the legwork, it is Aidan who will enter kindergarten at the Ronald and Trana Labowe Family Day School at Adat Ari El in Valley Village this fall. The 5 1/2-year-old seems unfazed by the upcoming transition, but for his parents, the news marks the end of a long journey.
"We put Aidan on the wait list at Adat Ari El and Valley Beth Shalom when we moved [to Sherman Oaks] when he was 1 1Â¼2," remembers Denise Buckner, Aidan's mom. Since that time, Buckner has gone to numerous day school open houses over the years, sat in on classes and spent countless hours making school-related phone calls.
"I [visited the schools] every year because I felt every year I learned more about who my son was and what kind of person he was," Buckner said.
Like many Jewish parents in the Southland, Buckner knew she wanted her child to attend Jewish day school, but the process of selecting a school and getting in proved nerve-wracking at times.
With the shaky reputation of local public schools around Los Angeles, many families look to day schools for a solid education. While Jewish schools are eager to accommodate young students, class size limits can make the process feel cutthroat.
Samara Fabrick, a licensed clinical social worker on the Westside, remembers the competitive vibe she felt last year when looking at schools for her 6-year-old son Zachary.
"I kept having to remind myself that we're not talking about Columbia. We're not talking about Tufts. This is kindergarten," said Fabrick, whose son now attends the Geri and Richard Brawerman Elementary School of Wilshire Boulevard Temple.
While her son was accepted to both schools where the family applied, Fabrick's worries were not completely unfounded, as many schools cannot take every applicant.
"We have only 40 spaces [for kindergarten] and this year we had over 80 applications," said Maxine Keith, the assistant head of school and director of admissions at Whilshire Boulevard's Brawerman Elementary.
In addition, since siblings of current students and children from Wilshire's preschool have priority, it is clear that not everyone is a shoo-in.
Psychologist Lisa Lainer recalls the stress of waiting to see if her daughter, Sophie, now 6, got accepted to Sinai Akiba Academy at Sinai Temple last year. Even through Sophie attended Sinai's preschool, more preschoolers than there were available spots in the day school kindergarten program that year.
"In part, we felt confident that she'd get in, but then there's there anxiety of 'What if I'm wrong?'" Lainer said.
For the Reform and Conservative day schools in Los Angeles, applications are usually due in December and the admissions decision letters usually go out in March. For the Orthodox day schools, admissions are on a rolling basis and most students enter in preschool rather than kindergarten. At Maimonides Academy about 80 percent to 90 percent of the students come through the early childhood program. "We sometimes tell parents to make sure they get in on the preschool level because the classes are jampacked and may be closed by the time pre-one rolls around," principal Rabbi Karmi Gross said.
Even though many day schools continue to fill up quickly, there is actually a decline in the number of Jewish children in the United States. According to the National Jewish Population Survey 2000-2001, only 20 percent of the U.S. Jewish population is 18 and younger, a number that has decreased in the last 10 years. As a result, the number of kindergartners in Los Angeles Jewish day schools has decreased over the last few years, as well.
While getting in can be anxiety-provoking, parents seem to feel the stress is worth it in the end.
"I'm exceedingly happy," Fabrick said. "We made a great choice and Zach is getting a great education."
Buckner is excited for Aidan to start kindergarten in September.
"I'm hoping that going to a values-based school is going to change who my son is for the better," she said.