Category Archives: College

Jewish Teen Engagement: Do We Want to Win or Lose the Game

Place your bets on teens!

Place your bets on teens!

The Jewish community is the throes of change that at times seems to be at a dizzying pace, yet there are still so many obstacles that seem to discourage the participation of Jewish teenagers in Jewish life.  (I’ve written about some of them here and here).

By the time we figure this all out, we might have lost our chance.  The adolescent years is a time for making decisions about identity, but that opportunity gets lost in the wave of programs trying to perpetuate themselves, rather than perpetuating a relationship with the Jewish people.

This is best explained through a case study.

Let’s pretend you’re a teenager who is part of a synagogue community. Your bar/bat mitzvah was a few years ago.  It was a great experience, and as you said in your speech “all the work you had to do was worth it in the end”. Your parents were so proud.

You were glad to ‘be done’ but against all odds, you decided to continue in your synagogue’s Confirmation program. You were surprised though that 50% of your friends dropped out. They were too busy they said (but aren’t you?) or their parents said they weren’t going to  ‘make them’ attend (your friends told you their parents said they didn’t want them to resent their parents later).

So, now, from a class of 25, there are about 12 kids in your weekly class. You really enjoy studying with the Rabbi, and talking about the issues that matter to you. You really are beginning to see the relevance of Judaism in your life. Some of your friends in other synagogues have a different set-up, they work in their synagogue schools every week and earn some money. Sometimes you wonder whether that would have been better, since your parents talk about college expenses so much. But, you do like learning…..so much so, that you might want to continue—-even after the Confirmation ceremony, but the only option is Adult Education, and that would just be too…..uh…..nerdy.  You’ve heard that your friend’s synagogue has a class for 11th graders, but you don’t belong to that synagogue.

If you are lucky enough to find out about a community Hebrew high school that offers programming for 11th and 12th graders (some community schools are seen as competition to synagogue offerings), you’d be one of the few to do so, because by about now, there are 75% less of your friends who would have made this same choice (so now you’re down to about 3 of your friends). Your other friends were too busy (but aren’t you?) and they have college to think about (don’t you?) and get their grades up to speed (don’t you?). And chances are, your synagogue might not have shared this information with you.

If you find a program to attend, you might want to learn conversational Hebrew, or take leadership classes, participate in an internship program, or even take a college course. Little do your friends know that this experience will actually help get you into college, prepare you to think more broadly (your Bio-Medical Ethics class is so issue-oriented), and gives you so many chances to develop your skills in public speaking (you plan programs for the school), attend college readiness programs and establish relationships with teachers….not to mention the ‘street cred’ of being able to handle everything you’re already doing plus this academic program.

But you are one of the lucky ones, and you probably will be among the future leaders, simply because the education and involvement you’ve had puts you there.

So, with you, the Jewish community won. Your friends? Well, time will tell.


Dealing with Anti-Semitism on the College Campus: What Jewish Teens Think

An event taking place on many college campuses

An event taking place on many college campuses

The post title refers to Anti-Semitism, while the poster above references anti-Israel propaganda.

There are plenty of debates back and forth about which is which, including examples of Anti-Zionism in the mix.

This purpose of this post is to enlighten us about how Jewish teens react to a scenario they might encounter on the college campus. We know that the college campus, usually a place that is open to the marketplace of ideas, does not always live up to that reputation. An annual review of Anti-Israel activity on college campuses around the United States, produced by the ADL will educate you.

The situation below was given to Jewish high school students by the Anti-Defamation League recently, and they discussed options in small groups and recorded their responses on large poster paper pasted around the room.   

“Josh is a friend of yours from high school and a Jewish student activist on his college campus. He encounters a professor in one of his Middle East courses, who has a very strong opinion regarding what he describes as the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank. Josh has his own opinion of the situation and finds that he is the only person outwardly disagreeing with the professor. Josh’s term paper, worth 30% of his grade, is due next week.  Josh is afraid to represent his opposing ideologies in his paper and possibly risk his grade. He asks for your opinion and advice. What do you tell him? 

How do you think the teens you know will answer?

Assertively? Passively? Defiantly?

Here’s one response that I’d definitely place on the unassertive continuum, as it really skirts the issue entirely:

“If the professor grades Josh harshly because of his opinions, then the professor is being unprofessional.”

How would you evaluate the comment above?      What would your recommendation be to this student?

If you’re curious as to how others responded, read on: 

“Agree with the professor, but keep your own beliefs to yourself because you need to pass the class.”

“Do not be afraid of your own beliefs. Speak to your department head if it’s that big of an issue.”

“Notify the dean of students. See what they (would) grade you and what the professor (would) grades (sic) you. If it is worse due to the opposing side/idea, tell the head of the department.”

“Write your own beliefs and see what the professor does and take it up with someone higher.”

“Don’t do the paper if you don’t believe in it.”

The good news, is that some students were very comfortable asserting their rights–outside of class.

Inside class, is another story entirely…and according to what I’ve read about college campus behavior, these student responses mimics what actually does happen when students encounter professors with differences of opinion. The stakes are high for these students beginning in high school and continuing on to college. Openly disagreeing with a professor’s opinions is really tough to do.

I clearly remember one student who felt such a sense of accomplishment after being able to argue successfully with his history teacher, that he called it a ‘life-changing’ experience. Yet another student told us how she wished she paid better attention in her Israel class so that she could debate more effectively with students at her campus who were members of Students for Justice in Palestine.

We can use our time with our students to prepare them a bit more to talk through these situations and help them decide the right course for them, depending upon their priorities. 

Denying that they will encounter either Anti-Semitism or Anti-Zionism does not serve them well.


Who are you on the web? If you’re applying to college, you should know

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr...

Should colleges check you out on Facebook?

For Teens, Their Parents, and Jewish Educators:

An article in Education Week noted what most of us already know: college admissions officers are not clueless when it comes to checking up on potential applicants.

There is an increase in the number of admissions officers who are digging deeper into social media as a way to gain a more rounded profile of student applicants.  Kaplan Test Prep noted that this activity has more than quadrupled.

“Most kids have no idea how important it is that their profile[s] online — Twitter, Facebook, other social media spaces — need to be appropriate for the admissions process,” said Dean Skarlis, president of The College Advisor of New York. “Most kids don’t even realize what’s appropriate and what’s not because they’re 16, 17 and their idea of what might be appropriate is very different than that of a college admissions person.”

Unfortunately, social media users are experiencing less control of what content gets posted.

Appear in a picture, and your ability to remove it may be very limited.

How can you go about cleaning up your act?

Here are three really quick things to do now:

1. Conduct a search on yourself.  Enter your name  into various search engines and social media platforms to see what comes up.

2. Make sure your account is ‘clean': free of postings that are inappropriate (get advice as to what inappropriate).

3. Do a search of your friend’s accounts, there may be content there that you would want removed.

4. Go into settings, and redo your privacy preferences so only your friends can see your posts..

Why is this post written for Parents, teens, and Jewish educators? As Jewish educators, we can use our setting to our advantage. Most of us meet with students in a trusting and casual environment. In those settings we have a unique opportunity to open discussions with our students that may rarely take place elsewhere. Moreover, helping students be more aware of the consequences of their actions is exactly within our mission.

Photo credit: Wikipedia


Jewish Teens: Do you want to be the same or different?

Figuring out where you stand is the challenge

I believe every Jewish teen has to make a fundamental decision, especially when getting ready to think about college.

Behind that decision are responses to feelings about Jewish identity.

The question begins with: How do I feel about being Jewish?

Is there anything in the way I feel about my heritage that makes me different?

Is there anything I do that makes me feel different?

How do those differences contribute to who I am? Are these differences that I should celebrate or run away from?

Would I rather be the same or different from other students who aren’t Jewish?

Are our Jewish teens getting any guidance about this?

These prompts are either-or in nature, though we know that life is not generally like that.

But in order to really prioritize values, the black-white choices are what helps clear the dust from the corners.

Underlying any choice is the light shining on the things that matter for our teens’ future Jewish involvements in college and beyond.

There are no easy answers to this one.  It depends on what the family has decided to value.

Research and studies have shown that the more multiple connections to Jewish life, the more Jewish identity is secured.

But that only matters if Jewish parents want their teens to maintain their differences.

Right now, the pull seems to be toward sameness.

Are you facing these challenges? Please share your thoughts.

Related articles

Photo source: wikimedia.org


Jewish Parents: Choose your teen’s activities wisely

English: A teen singing.

Make sure the activity gives back!

Soccer teams. Dance classes. School activities. SAT prep classes. After-school jobs. Volunteer work. AP classes.

The list can go on and on.

The school year starts with an overwhelming rush of activities.

How do you help your teen choose what to do? What takes priority? Should your teenager do volunteer work? Take a leadership role in a school club? Begin working so he/she learns responsibility and the value of a dollar? Continue with a sport that he/she excels in?

The challenge is great to select those activities that will continue to have meaning later in life. When high school is a faded memory and your teen is already immersed in college–what activities will have made an impact?

The goal needs to be more than just ‘getting into’ a good college.

Unfortunately, college counselors and admissions officers will tell you that, after reading thousands and thousands of applications, they can see through the haze of shallow but well-intentioned lists of extracurricular activities.

So, you need to maximize your teen’s time, short as it is.

The ideal goal and purpose of these activities is to give your teen something that will add to his/her character, something that will have longterm meaning.

I’m not advocating that you abdicate activities.

I do believe that you have to think carefully about what that involvement gives back.

Yes, I’m biased, I’ve written many posts about how important I think Jewish education is to your teen’s development.

I believe that in the right setting, continued Jewish education past the typical drop-off age can build character, leadership skills, critical thinking, and provide teens with a way to determine their own belief systems.

Plus, college counselors and admissions officers see it as a continued area of interest that your teen has pursued for years.

Think about it.

Putting continued Jewish education on a college application?

Totally an asset.

Photo credit: wikipedia

Please share your comments and thoughts, I’d like to hear from you.


One minute, three reasons why Jewish education helps teens focus on what’s important

One minute. Three reasons.

Why just three reasons?

Simple.

Your time is valuable.

Plus everyone’s way too busy getting ready for the school year to spend so much time reading blogs.

And, most importantly, if I keep the reasons limited to three, it will take you less than 1 minute to read.
We’ve all got at least 1 minute.

Here goes—

Jewish Education:

    1. Helps your teen get away from the mundane interactions with peers to focus on meatier things: ethical choices, responsible decision-making, moral values. All of which help your child succeed in a challenging college environment.
    2. Provides your teenager with an instant core group of teachers and mentors, happy to partner with you in getting your child to travel in the right direction.
    3. Offers your child the opportunity, on a regular basis, to focus on the big, big questions like the universe, the meaning of life, relationships with friends, spirituality, and God (that will come in up in conversation elsewhere….when?).

OR…….you can just hope that things will turn out all right.

Have you been on a college campus lately?


How Would You Market to Jewish Teens?

Needed: Marketing pizzazz for Jewish Teens

This post is more about marketing than it is about Jewish education.

It’s a subject I have learned to get close to, being a member of a very small niche group (Jews in America) with a specialized skill set (Jewish Educator) for an even smaller, underserved and often forgotten very specific age group: Jewish Teens.

(The lyrics from “New York, New York” come to mind: “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere”)

So, it’s understandable that I’d be focusing on ways to get the word out about teens and how we can best meet their needs before they go off to college and saunter into the sunset.

A quote, from the Harvard Business Review Blog  prompted me to write this post:

“For your prospects, this means they need to see a clear distinction between what they’re already doing and what you’re proposing.”

Makes perfect sense.

The hard part is translating this concept to a service, that for many reasons, is a ‘hard sell’.

The article recommended using pictures to convey these ideas. Wow, that’s a tough one in our business.

Pictures of happy teens only goes so far.

In a previous  post I asked if were are communicating with the tools we do have (words) to our potential students about what we offer.

Now I’m asking how we might headline the news of our great programs that would encourage students to sign up? What message could grab a parent’s attention?

Here are some possibilities based on meeting an underlying need. We might actually use a few.

Fear:

Going to college? Then You Must Be Ready to Respond to Israel bias. If not, sign up now to be prepared!

Ethics:

Going to college without a strong ethical foundation is like going sky diving without a parachute. Don’t risk it. Sign up now.

Academics:

Everyone in your class is already taking AP classes, advanced calc, and is on some type of team. How many are taking an extra academic course load and college credit classes? Sign up now and get a college advantage!

Social Stuff:

Build a great social network of Jewish Teen Leaders like yourself. Sign up now!

Change:

Tired of being frustrated in Hebrew school? Change things up and sign up now!

Which one would get the attention of Jewish Teens? Their parents?

Please share yours here, and maybe we can all benefit from our collective creativity.

Photo credit: flickr