screenshot by Jonathan Morris
Starting at a new school is often quite hard. New students are surrounded by new peers, new teachers and a new environment. But starting at a new school amid the coronavirus pandemic is even harder.
The CESJDS admissions office has been changing its practices to help new students as they face the challenges of starting at school without being able to interact with others in person.
Upper School Admissions Associate Aviva Braier guides families through the admissions process and helps new families integrate.
“For any transition, it’s always difficult, so I can’t even imagine going into a Zoom classroom with a bunch of faces that you’ve never met,” Braier said.
For freshman Lilli Libowitz, that is exactly the case. Libowitz is a new student coming to JDS from Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School. Although she already knows a few students from her previous school, jumping into a new environment is hard.
“I think it will be difficult if school starts online because you don’t get to meet people and you won’t know how everything works yet,” Libowitz said in July.
Visiting days, tours and social events have always been key to adjusting to JDS, but with social distancing requirements, those have been challenging this year.
“They had so many programs where I could meet new kids. They had a JDS event at my synagogue, I went to the JCC [Jewish Community Center] with people, I took a tour of the school, I shadowed students,” seventh-grader Penelope Terl, who was new last year, said. “I knew the school and the people so that I wouldn’t be lost on the first day.”
Students like Libowitz will not have those experiences. However, the administration has worked hard to arrange alternate online orientations to ensure that the students are still prepared.
The admissions office has also continued to use their family buddy system. It has been one of the most successful parts of the distant admissions process because buddies reached out to their new families way prior to the start of school.
“People are really craving connection right now,” Braier said. “A lot of families and buddies that we have assigned are really communicating.”
Although the transition may be hard online, it is exactly why several families are coming to JDS this year. The distance learning model that JDS implemented drew the interest of multiple families coming from public school.
“Our distance learning model was very different from MCPS [Montgomery County Public Schools] or FCPS [Fairfax County Public Schools] in Northern Virginia,” Braier said. “A lot of public school families were a bit disappointed with their distance learning programs and saw what we were doing, and that piqued interest.”
Rising freshman Abby Greenberg is one of the new students who came to JDS because of its distance learning model. Greenberg had attended the private Norwood School since kindergarten, but she wanted to attend public school for high school. However, when the pandemic hit, she knew it was the right decision to enroll in JDS.
“We reconsidered my different options and thought, my cousins go to JDS, and they told us that the online stuff was amazing, and they handled it really well,” Greenberg said. “We decided that it would definitely be better for me to be in a different environment where they’re going to make sure you’re getting your work done, you’re having extra help and stuff like that.”
Despite the unusual transition, new students are still enthusiastic about school having started.
“Everyone I’ve done placement tests with or talked to about high school has been really warm and welcoming, and that makes me feel really confident about going to a new school,” Libowitz said.