Milwaukee is doing a lot right, but things can improve. That was one of the key findings of research conducted by the Education Task Force of Milwaukee Jewish Federation.
The task force is examining formal education, such as day schools and synagogue-based religious schools, as well as informal education including youth groups, Israel experiences and summer camps. Ultimately the task force will develop broad-based funding recommendations for the Federation. It was formed last summer of Jewish community volunteers.
Jewish identity is most influenced by family followed by synagogue, Israel experience, camp and school. We also learned that families’ Jewish practices at home are heavily influenced by children’s Jewish educational experiences outside of the home. Ensuring rich family-oriented experiences in educational programs is important.
Children are at high risk of discontinuing their Jewish education during periods of transition. Examples include children who attend a Jewish preschool and then transition to a public school, and post-b’nei mitzvah students who transition from middle school to high school. These transitions are most influenced by clergy and teachers. These influential individuals can help ensure continued Jewish education by focusing on the child’s next step after the transition.
Leadership skills when learned in a Jewish setting can be helpful for continuing Jewish education. We learned that leadership skills are most influenced in Milwaukee by youth groups, clergy and day schools. Ideally these programs will continue or enhance their leadership development programs.
Competition among providers is one of the top obstacles to improving our children’s Jewish education. Participants in the research indicated that education could be improved by mutual cooperation among institutions, more funding and greater mutual respect among providers of Jewish education.
Funding priorities include professional development for educators. Other top areas for investment in Jewish education include Israel experiences, camp and day school tuition reduction.
The Federation’s Coalition for Jewish Learning, which is overseeing the task force, gathered input through an online questionnaire completed by 137 individuals and face-to-face interviews with 76 Jewish educators and administrators. The information gathered from educators and from community members were evaluated separately and generated similar results. All results closely mirror national research on successful Jewish education for children.
The Federation is primarily a fundraising organization that explores Jewish community needs to help inform the distribution of funds. The organization periodically forms task forces to explore community needs.
Tziporah Altman-Shafer is the Jewish education community planner and the director of the Federation’s Coalition for Jewish Learning.