By Alina Wickham P’21
I am a writer and my husband is a teacher. We cannot afford $40,000 for private school tuition. One year, we had three kids in private school. We certainly couldn’t afford that. Thankfully, our children’s schools were immensely generous with financial aid, allowing us access to an education we couldn’t have provided otherwise.
While our older two sons attended a boy’s school that we loved, I was determined to send our daughter to a Jewish Day School. Mostly because, with her brothers, I had grossly underestimated how difficult it would be to add Religious School on top of
an already academically rigorous day. And, in the end, it proved both too much and not enough. Too much because it meant four extra hours a week of academics. Not enough, because four hours a week hardly taught them anything.
With Rodeph Sholom School, my daughter gets the Hebrew and the Judaic Studies as part of her regular school day. It’s both the right amount of instruction and still leaves her free to pursue other interests in the afternoon.
Because I (literally) wrote a book on getting into NYC Kindergarten, I talk to a lot of parents who are considering various school options. One refrain I hear constantly is, “I would love to send my child(ren) to Jewish Day School, but we absolutely can’t afford it.” I also work with families who started at the preschool level in private school but don’t think they’ll be able to swing it for elementary and middle school.
When I mention that financial aid is available, parents either assume they wouldn’t qualify or are simply too embarrassed to apply.
I have no intention of telling other families how to prioritize their spending or how they should feel, but one thing I did want to share, far and wide, is that I, personally, am not embarrassed to be on financial aid.
The only emotion I am is grateful.
At our house, it’s not a question of whether we could afford $120,000 a year. We can’t. Period. And if the scholarships had not come through, we would have made other arrangements. I’m just happy we didn’t have to.
The Financial Aid application process isn’t the most fun thing you’ll ever do. RSS is very thorough, and you’ll have to go digging for documents that you’re pretty sure you put in a very obvious place but just can’t seem to get your hands on at the moment. It’s also a fair process. You might be asked to justify your expenses, but the Admissions office is simply trying to get a complete picture of your family’s needs.
Not only am I not embarrassed to be on Financial Aid, I make sure that my children aren’t, either. I know some families don’t share this information. Again, I have no intention of telling anyone else how to parent. All I know is that I want my kids to be as grateful as I am that some people are willing to pay more than their share so we can have access to the same opportunities as they do. It’s a reminder of the goodness in the world. And it is, to my mind, very Jewish.
This isn’t to say that everything is roses all the time. Do I get ridiculously nervous every year after we submit our application and wait for the enrollment contract? Yes, I do. I realize that Financial Aid is a gift and privilege, not a right. I don’t feel entitled to it, so I am never utterly confident I’m going to get it.
Furthermore, as a family on Financial Aid, I worry perhaps more than average when my child is having trouble academically or there is a disciplinary issue. I think, why would a school bother to keep us around when they could fill the slot with a more agreeable child… who can pay their way fully?
Nothing of the sort has ever been indicated to me by my children’s respective schools. But I still worry. That’s very Jewish, too.
I was born in Odessa, (then)-USSR. A popular expression there is, “Does it cost to ask?”
When it comes to Financial Aid at RSS, no, it doesn’t.