New approach to census finds more than 2,800 connections

 

MILWAUKEE – A census of Milwaukee-area Jewish youth education has found more than 2,800 Jewish connecting points.

The study is not comprehensive, in that it does not include summer camps and some other activities. But the census of Jewish schools, youth groups and a reading program found a total of 2,851 touches.

In prior years, the annual census of the Coalition for Jewish Learning of Milwaukee Jewish Federation focused only on preschools, day schools and part-time religious schools. This year, the census also collected data on youth groups like BBYO-Wisconsin Region and CTeen Mequon, along with the PJ Library reading effort.

“It’s not new that there are youth groups. It’s just new that we are documenting,” said Tzipi Altman-Shafer, Jewish education community planner with the Federation’s Coalition for Jewish Learning. “There are teens who are getting some Jewish content who aren’t in our schools. It’s good that they’re at least getting those Jewish touches.”

The Coalition for Jewish Learning’s Advisory Board decided to add the additional “Jewish touches” to its annual Census after the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Education Task Force “recognized the importance of additional touches,” Altman-Shafer said.

“We’re looking to find multiple points of entry for Jewish children in our community,” she said.

Because the census examines connecting points, there is bound to be some overlap. For example, it’s typical for a child to participate in both a youth group and a synagogue education program.  That child would be counted twice.

Summer camps are very important, Altman-Shafer said, but would have been difficult to include in the count because there are many in Wisconsin and not all are likely to track the number of campers from the Milwaukee area.

Youth groups and PJ Library aside, what does the census say about schools?  Individualized education was counted along with schools for the first time this year, so that the census includes 24 young people who are getting tutored and may not be attending religious school. The total number of students in Jewish preschools, day schools, part-time religious schools and tutoring for 2017-2018 is 1,611. This is roughly steady or slightly off from recent history, having been tallied at 1,606 last year and 1,651 before that.

Now at 550, part-time religious school enrollment has declined, down from 641 two years ago. The two-year change varied among part-time programs at synagogues and other institutions. There were both individual gains and declines.

Overall preschool and day school enrollment has held roughly steady over the last two years, now at 437 and 600 respectively.

BBYO-Wisconsin Region is the largest youth group, with 255 high school students and 108 younger students. Next largest are Chabad’s CTeen groups, followed by Reform and Conservative groups. The PJ Library reading and youth engagement program, operated by the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center in Whitefish Bay, has 696 youth enrolled.

Recognizing the importance of engagement, the Coalition for Jewish Learning is to offer a $20,000 innovation grant later this year.  “The innovation grant will provide seed money for local educators looking to find new and creative ways to engage Jewish children,” Altman-Shafer said.

“Children learn in many different ways. It’s important that Milwaukee gives many different opportunities to families and children to form their engagement.”

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