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The price is right

Gerrard Berman offers free sixth-grade tuition to newcomers

Middle school students work on a project at Gerrard Berman day school.
Middle school students work on a project at Gerrard Berman day school.

Hey kids. How would you like to try a new school?

A Jewish day school in Oakland is hoping to recruit new members of its sixth-grade class by waiving tuition for new students.

“We want to provide the opportunity at the middle school level for a broader range of enrollees,” Robert Smolen said. Mr. Smolen is head of school of the Academies at Gerrard Berman Day School Solomon Schechter of North Jersey, affiliated with Conservative Judaism.

Sixth grade is the beginning of middle school, and a natural point to transition in or out of a school. Gerrard Berman has had sixth-graders transfer from the Rockland Jewish Academy in West Nyack, N.Y., which only goes through the fifth grade. Other new sixth-grade students have “made shifts in their own personal Jewish study,” Mr. Smolen said.

With the new free tuition initiative, the school hopes to raise its profile, and to help rising sixth-graders and their families consider becoming part of this year’s class.

“We have the staff, the resources, the ability, so there’s no reason we shouldn’t extend ourselves,” Mr. Smolen said.

Sixth-grade tuition runs $17,730, although not all families pay that rate. On its website, the school promises that it “is committed to making its education accessible to all families” with financial aid.

Prospective new students shouldn’t worry about having missed out on years of Hebrew language instruction. “We’re taking them at their level of Hebrew,” Mr. Smolen said. “We’ll have a special mechina program for them.” Mechina is Hebrew for preparation. “We’ll provide for them a beginner’s level. We know they’ll be quick studies.”

Last year, the Gerrard Berman middle school had 28 students. “We’re looking to bring on a dozen more,” Mr. Smolen said. Overall, the school has “a little over a hundred kids,” he said.

The money for the tuition break is coming from “a special enrollment grant that our board found funding for,” Mr. Smolen said. “The board said, ‘We have funding.’ I said, ‘If you have funding, then I’m going to promote it.’”

So far, Mr. Smolen hasn’t heard any reaction from the school’s present parent body. But he expects them to be positive. “Every parent welcomes the expansion of the community and the opportunity for the classes to grow,” he said.

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