22 Aug 2014
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New Day School Opens For The Start Of School

The Rockland Jewish Academy opens with 65 students


Seven months of feverish work pay off today with the start of classes at the (RJA) in West Nyack.  The brand new school opens its doors within the Jewish Community Center campus in West Nyack.

“It’s not just the start of school but the opening of a school,” is how Head Teacher Rhonda Klein characterized the occasion. 

Two words that continually popped up during Friday’s tour of the new school were “exciting” and “amazement.” Families flowed in and out of the newly constructed and painted classrooms in a second floor wing of the JCC meeting teachers and dropping off school supplies. Finishing touches were being taken care of with work going on in the hallway and some of the bathrooms.

Leah Bernabei, who teaches a combined second and third grade class, said, “It’s very exciting. After all this work I’m most excited to be with the kids. We’ve been here on and off (through the summer) and consecutively the last two, three weeks. 

Bernabei specifically noted the parental participation.

The amount of volunteering is amazing,” she said. “It wouldn’t have happened if the community wasn’t so invested in it.”     

In early January, the board of director of the in New City announced its closure as a result of a decline in enrollment over several years. At that same meeting, parents spoke about their plans to launch a new Jewish day school in Rockland County with the oversight of the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester. Although Gittelman enrolled students from Pre K through eighth grade, the new school would only go up through fifth grade and then students could transition to the Schechter campus in Hartsdale for sixth through 12th grade.

Susan Leibergall of Suffern brought her son, Ben, to see his fourth grade classroom.

She described their feelings as being, “very excited, hopeful, enthusiastic, impressed.”

Liebergall’s husband is a member of the approximately eight-person steering committee that set up the RJA.

“They’ve accomplished a huge amount in a short period of time,” she said. 

Liebergall said the option of giving their children a Jewish education was important to her. 

“I always valued it, thought it was important (for) shaping how they are,” she said.

Steering Committee member Brenda Lender said the RJA staff of 22 is a mix of full time and part time including some teachers, formerly at Gittelman. She said the private school offers extended day programs for working parents who can drop their children off early at 7:30 a.m. or pick them up as late as 6 p.m.  For kindergarten through fifth grade students, the regular school day runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

RJA received loans from various sources including the Jewish federations of Rockland and New York City.  Scholarship money is coming from the proceeds of the sale of the Gittelman property, which Lender expects will be finalized this week.

“We’re committed to $350,000 in loans, that money went to the build out of our space,” said Lender. 

Tuition for one-hour Pre-K classes five days a week is $1,500 annually.  Pre-K for five hours a day, five days a week costs $6,000.  Kindergarten tuition is $10,500; first grade costs $13,500 and second through fifth grade costs $14,500. 

Holly Dwek of Piermont was looking forward to the opening. She said her family moved from Bergen County, NJ to Rockland County because they wanted to be part of a smaller community.  She and her husband intended to enroll their children, Sally and Mason, in Gittelman and so when they found out it was closing, they got involved in helping with the formation of RJA because they wanted to make sure it opened.

“What drew us was the warmer and more intimate community here,” Dwek said.  “There’s going to be so much individualized attention.” 

In addition to having brand new space, the school can use the JCC’s gym and outdoor playground. Rabbis from throughout Rockland will alternate performing the daily prayers with the students. 

Admissions Director Judy Klein said the school’s students come from Nanuet, Orangeburg, New City, Piermont, Suffern, Spring Valley, Stony Point, Chestnut Ridge and Haverstraw, and “virtually every town in Rockland County.” Additionally, eight students who live in Putnam and Orange counties have enrolled along with several from Bergen County.

Lender said RJA fills an important role for helping to maintain the mainstream Jewish community in Rockland by connecting people.

“They are drawn to what we are offering here, innovative, top quality academics in a community school,” explained Klein.

“I am very excited about the opening of the school,” said Lara Epstein of New City, whose daughter Noa starts first grade and daughter Jordan begins Pre K 3 today. 

“We’re super excited about this school,” said Epstein. “ I am very excited about the opening of the school. I think academically this is going to be an amazing experience for my children.”

She was thrilled that Noa will be immersed in learning a second language, Hebrew, as a first grader.

Epstein plays another role having volunteered as co-chair for Friday morning’s official opening of RJA.  The “Chanukat Habayit” or dedication of the house ceremony is the “housewarming for the school.”    

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