A Jewish day school on Long Island, New York recently launched a unique scholarship for students that makes tuition more affordable for families while encouraging them to give back to their community.
The new Community Service Grant is funded by “a donor who wanted to honor the memory of his father in a meaningful way,” Joshua Trump, board president of the Westchester Day School, told Jewish Week. “The priorities were: do something that would help the school by growing enrollment, do something that was mission-oriented and do something that would impact the community,” he said.
WDS officials devised the grant program to offer families $15,000 in tuition assistance over two years in exchange for a pledge to complete at least 75 hours of community service each year. WDS will give out two to three Community Service Grants in the first year, officials said.
“It provides an attractive incentive to prospective young families looking to move into the community or considering Westchester Day School, but it also highlights the priorities of WDS. We place a premium on families who are doers in the community,” said Trump (no relation to the president).
“The mission statement says, we’re here to ‘prepare students to live as mensches; first and foremost a WDS student is a mensch,’” Trump said. “It’s as blunt as it could be. And we’re really trying to demonstrate that and articulate that message in everything we do.” Mensch is a Jewish term that refers to a person of integrity and honor.
So far, two families have applied for the Community Service Grant, which requires applicants to detail exactly how they plan to volunteer. The volunteer work could involve only one family member, or several, and those who organize larger events would get credit for hours worked by everyone who participates, according to the news site.
“Part of the message here is, not only are we hoping families will show up and spend time working in the community, but they’ll also take leadership roles by creating programs and encouraging others to do more,” Trump said.
Paul Bernstein, CEO of the Jewish day school organization Prizmah, told Jewish Week the Community Service Grant is likely the first of its kind in the nation. “We don’t know of anyone else who’s done a similar community service (program) and tied it to tuition assistance,” he said. “We think this is a first, and we’re just delighted that people are trying different ways to really serve families and make it more affordable.”
Head of School Rabbi Joshua Lookstein said he hopes other schools adopt similar programs, which benefit both students and local communities. “One of the exciting things about it is that we think it could be a model for day schools across the country,” he said. “We feel it’s a win-win situation for everyone—more students in Jewish day schools and more of those in need being cared for.”
As Trump’s appeal to the mission of living as mensches suggests, scholarship programs like the Community Service Grant are not incidental to the culture of schools, or to character formation in students.
The commitments and beliefs inculcated by the school may or may not be articulated, but they are nonetheless promoted and reinforced in school settings . . . How a school is organized, the course structure and classroom practices, the relationship between the school and outside civic institutions—all of these matter in the moral and civic formation of the child.