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JCC COO examines trends, transitions and opportunities when it comes to Jewish education in Metro Detroit.

By Jeffrey Lasday

Before rushing headlong into the new school year, now is a good time to pause and take stock of the trends, transitions and changes that are facing Jewish education in Metro Detroit. Buffeted by our changing demographics, digital culture and a community in transition, Jewish education in Metro Detroit is both reacting to and innovating toward better meeting the needs of 21st-century learners.Jewish Education by the Numbers:
Trends, Transitions and Opportunities

What we know from the 2018 Detroit Jewish Population Study

There are 12,000 Jewish children being raised Jewish in Metro Detroit.
• 63 percent of Jewish children age 0-5 who attend a preschool or child-care program attend a program that is Jewish.
• 82 percent of Jewish children age 13-17 have received some formal Jewish education, including 43 percent at a Jewish day school.
• 31 percent of Jewish children age 13-17 regularly participated in a Jewish teenage youth group in the past year.
• 33 percent of respondents would very much prefer Jewish-sponsored afterschool care, with an additional 20 percent who would somewhat prefer Jewish-sponsored after school care.

What we know from the Annual Jewish School Census

As part of its role in serving as the community’s central agency for Jewish education, the Jewish Community Center works closely with the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit to maintain an annual census of Jewish school enrollment.

Trends and Transitions

Though early childhood enrollment has remained flat at about 1,100 children for the last 15 years, opportunity exists for the community to see significant growth in this demographic. Most of the 10 Jewish early childhood programs are at or near capacity. Both Hillel Day School and Temple Israel are adding early childhood classrooms. Orthodox day schools are also experiencing a significant growth in their early childhood programs. A challenge that the community faces is that there are insufficient Jewish infant care and early childhood programs in the Woodward corridor. New programs in this area could attract many children who are going elsewhere.

Day school enrollment, which has held steady at 2,000 children for the last 20 years, is now enjoying an increase due to the growth in Orthodox day schools. Schools that once had one or two classes per grade now need three classes to meet demand. The question from a financial perspective will be how to sustain this growth.

Congregational schools have been hardest hit by demographic trends. For the past 10 years, there has averaged an annual decline of congregational school enrollment by 100 students per year. This year, there will be more children enrolled in day schools than in congregational schools. Last year, there were 700 fewer students enrolled in congregational schools than in 2013-14. This decline in enrollment has placed a stress on congregations, causing schools to close and, in some cases, creatively combine with other congregations.

Reasons for the decline in congregational schools have to do both with decline in congregational membership and families enrolling their children for fewer years. Where 10 years ago more families enrolled their children in congregational school from first-10th grade (with a significant drop off after seventh grade), today’s families are waiting longer to enroll their children (fourth or fifth grade) and the drop off after seventh grade has become even more pronounced. Based on data from the Jewish population study and school census, while only 58 percent of eligible second-graders are enrolled in either a congregational or day school, more than 75 percent of sixth-graders are in enrolled in one of these two programs.

Opportunities

Despite (or because of) the above demographic changes, Metro Detroit is now blessed with a cornucopia of opportunities for tweaking how we conceptualize, frame and deliver Jewish learning for 21st-century learners. These opportunities include:
• Rethinking our traditional goal of Jewish education from surviving to thriving.
• Working collectively to provide our students with year-round formal and informal Jewish learning experiences in a manner which no single organization can provide on its own.
• Focusing on the needs of today’s learners (see above afterschool Jewish-sponsored day care data).
• Willingness to let go of the past and rethink the future.

Jeffrey Lasday is the chief operating officer of the Jewish Community Center. Data for this article was researched by the JCC’s summer JOIN intern Ari Nitzkin.

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