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Thursday, December 25, 2014

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Enrolment up at Winnipeg’s Jewish day school

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WINNIPEG After a couple of years of treading water, enrolment is moving upward again at the Winnipeg Board of Jewish Education’s (BJE) Gray Academy of Jewish Education, which serves kids in kindergarten through Grade 12.

Registration stands at 604 this year, compared to 572 last fall.

Head of school and CEO Rory Paul said that one-third of the new students are from families who have recently immigrated to Winnipeg. More significantly, the other two-thirds are locally born children who have switched over from both the public school system and prestigious private schools such as St. John’s-Ravenscourt School or the University of Winnipeg Collegiate program.

“We have had to add a third Grade 3 and a third Grade 4 class this year,” Paul said.  The school already has four junior kindergarten classes.

Paul attributes the school’s success to two factors: the excellence of its teaching staff – which he describes as “second to none” – and its overall quality of education.

“We have done a lot of work in the last couple of years to raise our level of Judaic studies to the top ranks in Canada, and we have worked hard to make certain that our general studies program is also top-notch.”

Full tuition at the school is in the range of $7,000 per student. However, the BJE has a sliding scale based on family income and the number of students per family enrolled in the school.

Paul added that the BJE is broadening its mandate this year to include adult education.

“As a result of a two-year strategic planning process, the board has created a new position – co-ordinator of lifelong learning – whose mandate will be to work with the synagogues and the Rady Jewish Community Centre to expand Jewish education in the community with an emphasis on teens and younger adults,” he said.

Jewish families also have the option of enrolling their younger children in North America’s only elementary public school – and 100 per cent publicly funded – Hebrew bilingual programs, but it seems that each year the number of parents choosing that route continues to decline.

Enrolment in kindergarten to Grade 5 this year in the Hebrew bilingual program at Margaret Park Elementary School in Winnipeg’s north end is just 37 students (although there may still be some late enrolments), down from about 50 last year. Class sizes range from four in Grade 2 to nine in Grade 5, with just six students registered in kindergarten (some classes are combined). At its peak 20 years ago, the program had about 180 students.

While the shrinking attendance in the Hebrew bilingual program at Margaret Park reflects the declining Jewish population in the north end, which used to be the heart of Winnipeg’s Jewish community, the decline in enrolment in the Hebrew bilingual program (kindergarten to Grade 6) at Brock Corydon Elementary School in south Winnipeg – where most Jews now live – has been rather unexpected.

For years, the program was filled to capacity with about 180 students. Last year, for the first time, that figure dropped – by about 20 students. This year, enrolment has declined further – to 136 – including a kindergarten class of 12.

Principal Ira Udow said the decline may be because younger Jewish families and newer immigrant families are increasingly moving to newer suburbs outside the Winnipeg One School Division catchment area.

(Brock Corydon School is in the Winnipeg One School Division. While Winnipeg One is the city’s largest school board, there are another five or six school boards in the suburbs.)

Ohr HaTorah Day School, which operates out of Herzlia-Adas Yeshurun Synagogue in south Winnipeg, had offered another alternative for observant families. Last year, however, the 11-year-old school ran into financial difficulties and was forced to scale back its program. This year, the school is only operating a daycare and kindergarten with a capacity of 40. All the spaces are full and there’s a waiting list.

Chabad also operates a small school in Winnipeg. Currently, Oholei Torah School has an enrolment of 12 in preschool and another 14 in a kindergarten-to-Grade 8 program. For the time being, the preschool program is being run out of the home of Rabbi Shmuely and Adina Altein, while K-8 students are housed in the North End Lubavitch Centre.

The plan is to move all the students to the new south Winnipeg Lubavitch Centre at the beginning of November. The building is scheduled to be completed by late October.

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