Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Summer Programs: Luxury or Not?

Rabbi Burg, International Director of NCSY, wrote a fascinating editorial on summer programs in this edition of "The Jewish Week." You can read it here.

Basically, the situation is that expensive high schools who let students attend on scholarship are upset that the same students are going to expensive summer programs. If their parents or grandparents can't afford to pay for their high school experience, why can they pay for their summer experience? It's not fair to the high schools, is the thought.

The Bergen County Yeshiva Tuition blog put up a post with a letter from Ma'ayanot explaining this concept. The letter states:
    In addition, while we understand and appreciate the value of summer programs (including Israel programs), we believe that for students in grades 10-12 summer programs (including Israel programs) are discretionary, and not basic expenses. When taking these discretionary expenses (such as camp)into account when evaluating requests for scholarships, the scholarship committee does not look at who is ultimately paying for them, as we would expect that any financial assistance provided by grandparents or other family members should first contribute to a family's basic living expenses- such as tuition- before paying any discretionary expenses. Accordingly, if your child in grades 10-12 attends such a summer program, you may be jeopardizing some or all of your scholarship for next year.
I feel torn about this issue. On the one hand, I have benefited from my experience on many summer programs such as Camp Agudah Midwest, Summer at YU, Northwestern University's Center for Talent Development and so forth. On the other hand, my sister chose to stay local in Chicago and work as a counselor at the JCC, where she made money over the summer. Both options are viable and ensure a fun and positive summer experience.

Having spent this past summer as a member of Tzevet at Camp Stone, it's clear to me that many Modern Orthodox teenagers' Judaism comes in the majority, if not exclusively, due to their summer camp experiences. Students who were sleeping through their high school Jewish courses suddenly woke up and came alive at Camp Stone, becoming invested in and really feeling like members of the Jewish people. The same occurs on many NCSY programs- just check out what these participants on TJJ have to say.

On the one hand, why should schools have to fund tuition for students who are able to attend expensive summer programs? On the other hand, clearly the schools are not always successful in doing their job of turning kids on to Judaism, while these summer programs are.

What do you think? Where do you weigh in on this discussion? Are summer programs a luxury or not?


fudge said...

I'm not sure if it's fair to lump summer programs and school in the same category. Many summer programs also grant scholarships to needy students, and additionally some parents will save money for their child to attend because they believe it will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to cement their child's relationship to Judaism.

SBot said...

I think it's important to make a distinction between different types of summer programs here. For many years I attended an Orthodox summer camp devoted almost entirely to sports. It was incredibly fun, but it was also without a doubt a luxury. Yes, there are great benefits to be gained even from a sports camp - leadership, teamwork, character development, etc. - but I don't by any means think these attributes can only be learned in a summer camp setting. Young people can develop these traits in various other more financially viable methods, such as by working at a day camp.

However, having worked at Camp Stone for several years, I can say with absolute certainty that the education that campers receive there is invaluable and irreplaceable. The complete and total immersion in an educational environment is an intense experience that no school could ever hope to duplicate. Yes, in class students can read about the Beit HaMikdash - but nothing can make them care about it more than actually building a model large enough to walk through. Yes, students can learn about the challenges that shmitta poses - but nothing will enable them to understand the agricultural aspects of the problem unless they themselves have a chance to test hydroponic planting methods in a greenhouse. Yes, you can teach students about the era of the Talmud - but until they have the chance to walk through a reconstructed Talmudic village, they will never be able to conceive of the time period as anything more than an ancient past. Campers walk away from their summers at Camp Stone with a grasp of a period of Jewish history, a perception of many issues and challenges facing Israel and the Jewish people, and an overwhelming sense of the importance of their role as a member of the Jewish people.

Yes, camp is only one or two months, compared with the ten that the school year allots. But camps that take advantage of the time given to them provide an immersive and intensive experience that forms the basis of many kids' identities as Jewish people.

Anonymous said...

There does need to be a distinction between programs. Yes, the kids need to be doing something over the summer- but does it have to be Machach or Achva? 10th grade is old enough for a job in a day camp- and you get the same Jewish experience (ok, minus Shabbat). My pet peeve is the grandparent issue- I hate when people say "well if the grandparents want to contribute, they HAVE TO pay basic expenses". Ummm, no they don't. They can do whatever they want. If they want to pay for their kids to visit them in Florida, they should not have yeshivas banging down their door for that. It's their money, they can do what they want.

Anonymous said...

I do not think summer camps that students attend should play a role in a scholarship. I think the scholarship criteria should be based on the financial situation of the parents as indicated on official documents, not on the activities of the student. The school should have the student's best interest in mind--and this includes having a positive summer experience. The school should be happy that students choose to attend Jewish summer programs and see this as a success and a continuation of their Jewish education.

TPW said...

I used to think they were luxury, but research indicates otherwise:

Also Anon said...

Re: Anonymous--
Totally agree with you on the grandparents issue. I know our grandparents bought my parents a new car, and it caused scholarship issues. New cars a luxury (vs buying used cars, which are counted as a necessity). My grandparents did not want to buy my parents a used car. And had they bought them a used car, they would not have given them a $10,000 check for tuition. It makes me mad.

(Sorry for hijacking, Chana. I know this is supposed to be about summer programs, but this is a very emotion issue for me. On the camp note, I can tell you that I know someone who went to a Conservative day school in elementary, then public for grades 7-9, and they attribute a huge amount of their religious life to their experience in Camp Stone. (But that might be irrelevant, b/c we're presumably talking about people in Orthodox high schools going to Orthodox summer programs. But still. Agree with SBot on the disproportional impact summers can have on kids. Though it depends on the kid. Some are really fully served by school. But at what point can you say for kid A it's a necessity, for kid B it's discretionary: especially if kids A and B are siblings?)

Ezzie said...

I think it is easy to understand both sides of this issue, and I believe that camps can strongly impact people for life when it comes to Judaism.

That said, I think it is fair for schools to note that this is unfair to them. They should not have to suffer financially for people to attend something which at the end of the day is a luxury: A valuable, great, fantastic, impact-ful, luxury which will in turn help the schools since the students may be that much stronger for it, but a luxury nonetheless.

Here's an important point: At the end of the day, schools are required for students, and they must have certain qualities and must teach certain subjects. Camp is awesome, but it simply is not a requirement.

If parents feel summer camp will have a better impact on their kids than school, then pay for camp and consider other options for school. But I don't think that the parents feel that is the case; they want to have the best of both worlds (understandably). It's hard to fault the schools for arguing that they can't be negatively impacted by that decision.

FWIW, where I grew up (in Cleveland) the school (HAC) itself helped with a great extended daycamp (Camp STEP) that was reasonably priced and was a ton of fun. Perhaps the best solution would be for schools to play a role in the formation of these camps - not only do they have facilities that aren't being used otherwise, but they have staff who can help (and could show a different side than during the year).

Izzy said...

Perhaps we need to consider what is lacking in the schooling/home live's that we provide our children 11 months out of the year, if we see a need to supplement those experiences with expensive 4 week programs in oreder to reinforce their Judaism. I think the bigger question is whatever valuable experiences these summer programs impart, why are they lacking in their schooling/home lives, and how can they be incorporated in their oling/home lives.

G said...

That's four hands-

A school can set whatever terms they want when deciding whether or not to provide assistance, so if THEY feel that it is a luxury then it just became one for the family in question. (i know that this is not the point of the post)

Anonymous said...

I agree with Rabbi Burg's assessment which calls for a collaboration between schools, camps, synagogues, and parents to create a positive educational environment.The life experiences and education that children receive in school and camp settings complement each other. As such, summer camps should not be objectively classified as luxury. School's with tuition concerns, should realize that children's education is the goal, and that the school is not the sole provider of that education. School, camp, and home are all environments in which a child's education is developed and reinforced, and to assume otherwise denies our children the proper education they deserve.

RaggedyMom said...

I have no raw data, but it seems to me that schools often struggle to stay afloat while sleepaway camps are a major moneymaker. In general, many schools are in buildings in the midst of (expensive) Jewish neighborhoods, while camps are on land out in the boondocks and some (Stone? IO?) have overall simple living quarters, and camps pay their staffs far less than school salaries. Camp seems to be a better business venture by far. Maybe there should be more collaboration between schools and camps, and more financial transparency on the parts of both.

It cannot be argued that camp can be a broadening, building, and faith-strengthening experience. But I don't think it's fair for schools to ignore what may be a family asking for assistance with tuition and then going all out in terms of camp. There are cheaper camps, and there are cheaper options than camp. Choices like those are rarely fun to make. I agree that the years when I was able to go to camp had a strong impact on who I am today, but I can also say that parents have to be discerning - not all that goes on in camp (or school) is all positive, and many things can be learned or seen that are very negative as well. Chana, would you see yourself sending your own children to Stone one day?

Anonymous said...

1. Grandparents can do what they want, so can schools; it would be nice to be on the same page of priorities but each can do as they please (and usually do)

2. While all of life is an educational experience, why wouldn't one expect that all share in the burden (e.g. camps give scholarships in proportion, parents send their kids to less expensive options etc.)

3.As long as R' Burg is dreamong, I'd suggest the dream of a kehilla that makes decisions on a macro basis so that the total picture comes into focus.

4.Seeing all sides of the picture is grear but someone has to make decisions,e.g. should Mayanot say to some kids, we'd love to help you come to our school but because suri needs to go to an expensive camp, we need to give her more of a scholarship, so good luck to you; or not.

Joel Rich

Sarah said...

I think schools should be free to withhold scholarships for families that spend a lot of money on summer camps. If a family decides that camp is more beneficial to their child than a certain school, the school shouldn't have to subsidize that choice.

NB said...

I completely agree with SBot. In my experience working in Camp Stone, kids who don't gain much from their school education, learn and develop their values and connection to Am Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael and Torat Yisrael in camp, and I think that it is absolutely not a luxury.

TPW said...

Ezzie, I think that maybe the reverse is true--people who run camps should advise the schools...

L! said...

Are these yeshivos catering to the MO children who get their most meaningful experiences in camp? Just wondering about the connect. As a bais yaakov maidel, I can't say summer camp was the spiritual high of my year. (It wasn't the low either. It was sort of indifferent.)

While I agree that summer camp can be exceedingly meaningful for many kids, those are generally not the kids in the most religious of schools. I'm not saying modern schools can't be cash-strapped, but somehow one never gets the idea that Yeshiva of Flatbush is going begging.

However, the argument that if a kid isn't in camp (s)he will be bored and messing around is disingenuous. I went to overnight camp only one half of the summer, and then, as soon as anyone would hire me (but before I was old enough for working papers) I was working for the second half. (Before that, day camp.) Although I often promised to keep myself entertained, I was never permitted to spend any part of the summer idle.

In fact, the question "is a summer program a luxury" to be a symptom of the fact that we don't have a normal perspective on what counts as luxury.

Ezzie said...

TPW - Heh.

Also, with L! to an extent. I only once went to an overnight camp, and while I had fun, it wasn't particularly meaningful. I worked another summer at another camp, and it was an OK experience. Day camp was cheaper and had a fine impact and was basically just as fun; other summers I did whatever I felt like, until HS when I mostly got jobs - and I got a lot more important life experience from those than any camp.

Anonymous said...

As someone who went to summer camp my whole life, while it is definitely transformative, it is also a luxury. Yeshiva day schools have so many different financial obligations they cant be expected to bend over backward for everything a MO family has come to feel is expected in their lives, be that pesach vacations, fancy cars, new homes and expensive sleep away camps. The scholarship committees are in the right to take into account how a family may be spending the money they need to send their kids to yeshiva day schools. whether it is the fault of the schools or the amazingness of the camps, where a kid gains the most jewishly is irrelevant. School is far more important than summer camp, yes even Stone. Parents need to take that into account when deciding whether to send their kids to summer camp, far too often parents feel entitled to whatever scholarship assistance they want because schools keep raising their tuitions. Chana, just as with your previous post about YU, yeshiva day schools are schools, not charities, and as such they need to maintain a certain financial stability and they cant do that if they cater to every parents desires for their children's happiness. School should come first before any other expense, no matter how important or transformative it may seem.

jackie said...

I'm with Ma'ayanot on this one, that if parents want financial assistance from the school, they must demonstrate financial need. And if they're sending the kids to MO summer camps that can easily cost $5,000 per kid or more, they're not demonstrating financial need--so the school should not be responsible to help them.

Part of the reason why camps are financially successful and spiritually effective is that their counselor staff is comprised of cool, young, dynamic, fun role models who work for little or no pay. High schools should try to retool their structure to include more role models of that type, who are effective and cheap. If they did, parents wouldn't have as much of a need to give their kids expensive summer camp experiences.

yitznewton said...

"Part of the reason why camps are financially successful and spiritually effective is that their counselor staff is comprised of cool, young, dynamic, fun role models who work for little or no pay. High schools should try to retool their structure to include more role models of that type, who are effective and cheap."

I think fun and cheap will fall short of effective, once we get onto a full school year and have to deal with curriculum. I strongly suspect those young dynamic types are either in school themselves, or looking for an actual living during the year, and also that many of them lack the grounding for (at least) high school curriculum. But then again, I went to an almost-first-rate upper-middle-class public school, so I may be spoiled in that regard.

Anonymous said...

I do not think that participation in summer programs should be directly linked with scholarships towards Yeshiva Day School tuition... at all. If on the right one for the student, they can change you forever. Summer programs are completely different than school and can effect people in unbelievable ways. The NCSY Summer program I went on changed my life forever and is a major reason why I wanted to take the religious path. Although I went to public school my whole life and didn't suffer with the yeshiva tuition, I still couldn't afford a summer program and had to raise the money to participate. Summer programs should not at all be considered a luxury because it's much easier to raise money and scholarships for them and the lasting impact they can have on someone can't even be compared to school, by any means. Scholarships for school tuition should be based on both merit and financial aid but should by no means be decided by a students participation in a summer program. Summer programs are completely different, much easier to raise money for and can effect people in unimaginable ways. I was only able to go with substantial scholarship and it completely changed my life. If this ends up continuing that would preposterous and really taking away from kids and their potential.