You CAN Handle the Truth

You CAN Handle the Truth
  • Lower Division
  • Outside the Classroom
  • Upper Division
Shayna Friedman

By Shayna Friedman, Director of Admission


As director of admission at Denver Jewish Day School, I hear a lot of feedback, both solicited and unsolicited, about our school. I don’t have a marketing degree, but I’ve learned enough to know that perceptions matter. I’ve discovered some common perceptions about our school that, as an insider of 10 years (and a school parent for 13) I want to address honestly and openly. Slick marketing material to follow in the near future...but for now, here’s my truth about Denver JDS.

Myth #1: JDS (Jewish Day School) is unaffordable.

Our values are built on including as many Jewish families as we can and making it affordable. While we can’t subsidize lifestyle choices like luxury cars with financial aid, we can get the tuition to fit into your budget, and we want to. Jewish children are an investment in the future, and we exist to strengthen the Jewish future.

Myth #2: There’s not enough diversity at JDS. 

It’s true that if you look at our yearbook, you see a lot of kids who look alike. It’s not true that our community is a monolith in any way. We know this because our program is specifically designed to celebrate the diversity of thought, experience, and Jewish expression that exists in the larger world. On any given day you could listen to a high school debate about the second amendment, a first-grade discussion about which prayers in our morning service are most meaningful, or a group of 5th graders sharing the different ways their families celebrated a holiday from time in a synagogue to time in the mountains. Our parent body is made up of men who wear their kippot every day to women who wear them on the bima in the congregations they lead. Households in our school have two moms, two dads, single parents, grandparents. We believe representation matters, so our library is full of books about different types of Jews, people, and families. You’ll find our ambassadors all over the city this Purim at traditional Megillah readings, tot Purim carnivals, and drag queen Purim bingo parties. And here’s what makes all of this most meaningful: we talk about it at school. A lot. Sometimes we even argue about it. Sometimes we agree to disagree. It’s not easy. But everybody knows that Denver Jewish Day School is a safe environment for people with a wide array of opinions and life experiences to come together in a sacred community. 

Myth #3: JDS is too small for meaningful social opportunities.

My kids have all been at Denver JDS since Kindergarten. And they have better social skills than many adults I know (and before you think I’m bragging, they didn’t learn it from my husband and me. Ask anyone who knows us. We’re definitely not what you’d call social butterflies). Here’s the thing about small classes: you can’t just disappear when conflict arises and reinvent yourself with a new group of people. You have to figure out how to confront others, self-advocate when you’ve been hurt, and change when your behaviors are hurtful to others. You have to listen and put yourself in the shoes of others...adults and peers. We enrolled three new 11th graders to our school this year all from larger local public and private schools. All of them look like they’ve been with us since kindergarten and have become completely woven into the community tapestry. One student shadowed in our 6th grade in January of this year and told her mom “it’s the first time I felt like I could be myself at school.” All of these grades have less than 30 students in them.

Myth #4: JDS is too much of a bubble and kids need to experience the “real world.”

Denver JDS Parent and consultant Ailala Kay who works in the areas of Public Health, Juvenile Justice, and Human Development, recently introduced me to the concept of protective factors. These are factors present in the lives of kids and adolescents that mitigate risk and predict success in the future. They include relationships with at least three trusted adults that aren’t parents and communities of peers who are making positive choices. Ailala does not describe herself as religious, but the values and ideals that inform our school are right in line with the research about the future success she reads and teaches other educational institutions about every day. That’s quite an endorsement. Our graduates go on to thrive in colleges and universities that include the University of Colorado at Boulder, Syracuse, Michigan, Texas, and the University of Southern California (to name a few). These are not small schools! But our alumni sit in the front row of their lecture halls, raise their hands when questions are asked, go to office hours, join clubs, become presidents of those clubs, and so on...our little school consistently prepares them to be real-world matter what real world they choose. 

Myth #5: The educational quality at JDS compromised.

Many people think parochial schools are dogmatic. Some are. We’re not. In fact, we are proud that we do not interpret Judaism for our students. We expose them to Jewish text, and philosophy and expect them to unpack it using tools like Hebrew language acquisition, literary criticism, and historical context to find practical application. Being literate Jews paves the way to cognitive growth, advanced reasoning skills, and engagement in repairing our world. That’s our goal. Oh, and they do it right alongside Honors Science, AP English, History, and Math, and sports practices. Our average lower-division student reads and performs math at a percentile range 25-30 points higher than his/her peers nationally. Our students consistently gain acceptance to colleges of their choice and graduating classes have earned between 600,000 and 1.4 million dollars of merit-based scholarships to colleges and universities every year that I’ve worked here. Our educational leadership stays on the cutting edge of developments and discoveries in learning. Since I’ve worked here I’ve seen us adopt new math and reading curricula, implement the approach of Project-Based Learning, embrace a research-based approach to Hebrew proficiency, deepen our understanding of what Israel education should look like across the grades, build two maker spaces and a sound studio to let kids hone their design and production skills, transform our physical education program, build an on-campus farm to enhance outdoor education, and overhaul our social-emotional learning curricula k-12. We do all of this not because we get bored but because my colleagues are constantly learning and know that educational leadership compels them to tweak and sometimes implement wholesale change for the sake of our students’ future.

My work is not easy. The world hasn’t always been friendly to Jews. Religion and intellect aren’t readily seen as going hand in hand. Paying for school in a milieu where public schools and schools of choice thrive isn’t a top priority for many. But what I can say unequivocally is that my son and his classmates, who graduate in May, are going into the world proud, thoughtful, and ready with a skill set and a mindset they could not have gained without Denver Jewish Day School.

I invite you to come to visit us to see for yourself if it’s a path you can imagine for your own child. We would love to help you!

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