We had a spirited discussion in shul this past shabbat. Every few months we do something called the "Big Read" where an article or two about a particular subject is distributed ahead of time and then discussed during shabbat services. Our topic this past shabbat was the effectiveness of afternoon religious school.
I prefaced the discussion with some historical perspective. Two generations ago religious school met Sunday to Thursday and it was "the" thing to do after public school. People lived close to the synagogue and it was the center of people's lives. With school every day a more intensive curriculum was able to be developed and graduates received an excellent comprehension of Jewish subjects and a familiarity with Hebrew.
In our discussion the focus was on the current reality; school meets on two days - Sunday and Wednesday, it is difficult to find qualified teachers, and it's difficult to teach Hebrew fluency let alone Hebrew reading. Our enrollment is down yet our investment in the school is even greater. Our challenge with our new building will be to bring in new members and grow the school. We need a strategic plan to market and advertise and we need to provide a wide range of religious and educational programming.
It is clear that afternoon religious school is most effective when student, family, and synagogue work together as a team and all equally see Jewish education as a value. When that happens schools, synagogues, and families succeed. That will be our goal as we build for the future.