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Rabbi Shmuel Gluck - Areivim - Positioning Each Child in School and in Life - Part Three
by Rabbi Shmuel Gluck

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Positioning Each Child in School and Life: Part 3

The third condition for a successful school placement is to find a school that offers a strong support system. This condition is more of an intangible one, something that can't be sensed from reviewing the schools brochures and websites. This must be ascertained by speaking to staff, the students (watch out for testimonies based on individual experiences) and getting a personal feel of the school by visiting it. (Of course you can call Areivim and ask us for assistance)

I'll often offer two schools to a student. The student, his parents and many Rabbeim will wonder how I group two seemingly opposite schools together. My response is that, "I met your son and I know these schools. These two schools will not only tolerate him they will enjoy his company and he theirs. This means that he will have a strong support group, something that he desperately needs." The same approach is integral whenfinding a job, a summer experience, or when making final plans for an Israeli vacation for a young adult.

Many people don't give significant value to the intangible needs of self esteem, cultivating a feeling of belonging and assuring that someone who cares about the student is close by to offer assistance when damage control becomes necessary. Without lessening the Importance of Torah and mitzvahs, these are also very important factors. A common phrase heard within the Areivim offices, and something that I have from several Gedolim, is "normal before Frum".

This doesn't mean that it's better for a student to be irreligious as long as he's normal. It means that a person's emotional and mental health is as much a part of the decision making process of a Frum individual as the Yiddishkeit factors are. Experiencehas shown that if a person is emotionally healthy he will, in most cases; naturally gravitate towards his families religious standards, even if, in the short run, it appears that he won't. Ignoring his mental health and his happiness (Creating resistance and resentment) will not only contribute to his lack of emotional stability he probably won't end up as Frum as the parents hoped.

As with the school placement requirements mentioned in the previous articles, concern for a strong support group is less important when placing the confident, successful and focused student. But with many, a strong support system is integral. Many people today are emotionally fragile. They're too sensitive, they lack confidence, and they feel that they're unappreciated. In addition to this list, many young people feel that their opinions don't matter. Placing them into a system that won't facilitate confidence building and a feeling of being appreciated is a failed placement.

These points are true even if the school choice would help the student succeed on an academic level. A student, if he's focused, can easily make up for the lost academic years. He may choose to enroll in a G.E.D., a high School equivalencyprogram, or take summer school to make up for each missed course. But it's much harder to compensate for years of emotional mistakes. Unaware of this, parents sometimes walk away from my office with the misconception that I am not giving academic achievement enough value, when in fact; they aren't giving emotional achievement enough value.
I recently spoke to a parent who felt that way. His concern was with the academic value of the Torah portion. His hope was to make his son into a true Talmud Chochom. I felt that his son needed a smaller, "B level" option. His son, after only a few weeks left the school chosen by the father. His father admitted to me something that parent's need to hear. "I thought my son just needed a change of scenery. What I realize now is that he needs to be taken care of by a positive role model."

All of us would like to believe we are normal, are facing normal situations and normal solutions will suffice. Our mistake is that most "normal" people are facing difficult situations that often require more than adjusting the existing system. They need real change. In our attempt to be "normal" we try to simplify our situations. When things are complex is makes us uncomfortable. Placing our children into B level schools also makes us uncomfortable. In our mind, placing them in a mediocre school means that we haven't excelled which to many parents means that we've failed. So we do the simplest thing. We conclude that our children are good boys/girls that just need a change of scenery.

Accepting that a strong support group is integral in a successful Yeshiva placement, I would like to define what a support group means. They can be Rabbeim, dorm counselors and even secular teachers who see each student as an individual. I know of a school where, if a student misbehaves the staff will ignore it the first time; criticize them the second time and the Rebbi will invite them for a Shabbos meal after the third time. It's a beautiful approach.

The school with a strong support group reacts individually based, with an emphasis on the person's thoughts, not just his actions. The actions may appear condemnable; the person though may be hurt or confused. People who are part of someone's support group react to the actions root and not to the action itself.

These schools are set up where they're able to look aside from the classroom activities to see the student as a whole, a person who could be their son or daughter. This doesn't mean that the student is allowed to rampage throughout the classroom. It means that the Rebbi, while also considering how to control the class, will assess what's best for the student. Sometimes that means speaking tough to him, other times ignoring him and during other times taking him out for pizza.

Because of the need of a strong support group I often suggest an out of town school despite both the parents and students preferring local options. In general, the staffs of local schools pay less attention to the student's individual needs. Their job ends when the students go home. Dormitory schools understand that their job doesn't end and their Rabbeim are expected, and their personality usually supports such an attitude, to work 24/7.

Parents must be careful though. Not every dormitory school offers warmth and individual attention. Some prefer a disciplined approach. Although discipline is a necessity, requiring money penalties for every misdeed (referred to as a Knos), screaming at students for waking up late, and a general "boot camp" attitude is not something healthy for many young students.

To be continued

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