Emery/Weiner School broadens its appeal to non-Jewish students

From Kirksey Architecture

From Kirksey Architecture

The doors on each of The Emery/Weiner School’s instructional areas say “classroom” in both English and Hebrew. Students who go through the school’s entire middle and high school curriculum will study the language for at least two years and take required coursework in Judaic studies every year. Each senior class closes out its year with a month-long trip to Israel and Poland to experience Jewish culture and history up close.

But nearly a third of the students in the entering class do not come from the elementary Jewish day schools that traditionally have formed the core of Emery/Weiner’s enrollment – and that percentage has been creeping up the last several years says Admissions Director Caroline Sarnoff.

Though she emphasizes that  the school retains a strong commitment to serving its traditional student base, Sarnoff and other members of the school community are pleased to welcome a variety of students with different backgrounds into Emery/Weiner’s program.

“Diversity is important,” Sarnoff said during an interview in her office last Wednesday. “It only enhances the student population.”

Emery/Weiner does not ask for a prospective student’s religious belief on is application form, so it’s impossible to tell what percentage of students identify as Jewish. However, Sarnoff said that the school has made a conscious effort over the last several years to break out of its more traditional recruiting patterns to attract a wider variety of students.

The school continues to recruit from Jewish day schools and rely on word-of-mouth of its current student and parent community; however it has supplemented those efforts with other efforts to attract new students. Sarnoff said that some of those initiatives are as simple as stepping up the quantity of printed informational materials available about the school and developing a larger presence on social media. Other efforts involve a conscious move to have a presence at a greater variety of school symposia, school choice fairs and private school preview fairs to meet a broader pool of potential applicants.

“We have a communications and marketing person; that helps – a lot” she added with a chuckle.

The result has been a record number of applications – the school had more than 200 applicants for the first time ever during the 2014-15 admissions cycle.

“And we’re still getting phone calls” Sarnoff said.

According to the school’s standard promotional packet, Emery/Weiner currently has about 450 students at both its middle and upper schools, which attend class in different buildings on the same campus on Stella Link Road just south of the Loop. Sarnoff says that each class has a capacity of 70 to 75 students, with the primary entry points being sixth and ninth grade.

She added that the value of diversity at Emery/Weiner extends beyond religious pluralism.

“We don’t just take the top 5 percent of kids” she said. “Diversity isn’t just religious. It’s also socioeconomic, learning style,” and other dimensions. She continued that if the school found that an applicant was the right fit, it would admit that student regardless of learning differences or financial need.

The school’s admissions process is need blind with about one-third of students receiving financial aid. Sarnoff said the school distributed roughly $1.3 million in financial aid this year.

The diversity coming into the school leads to a diversity coming out as well. According to school promotional materials, students from the last four graduating classes have gone on to attend more than 40 different colleges across the United States and Europe, ranging from state schools, to small colleges, to elite private research universities to technical schools.

At the end of the day, however, Sarnoff emphasized that Emery/Weiner retains a commitment to serve the Jewish community of Houston even as it encourages individuals of all religious and cultural backgrounds to apply.

“We never want to turn away any qualified students from the Jewish Community,” she said.

3 Comments

  1. I have to respectfully disagree with the above comment. Jews come from numerous countries and backgrounds, speaking multitudes of languages. Yiddish is spoken only by European Jews, while Sephardic Jews speak Ladino, and neither language is popular with the young people today. Hebrew is spoken in Israel and not many of us outside Israel speak it at all. The language of the prayers children learn for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah services bears little resemblance to the Hebrew spoken in Israel and I have been told by Israelies that they cannot understand it at all.
    And I have to agree that if Emery/Weiner seeks to gain wider appeal, dropping the Hebrew requirement would go a long way.

  2. I think it might help widen the appeal even more if students weren’t required to take Hebrew. I can understand taking Judaic studies…it’s similar to the requirements at a Catholic school…but Hebrew strikes me as a bit much. Maybe it’s not required in high school?

    • patrick o'mahen says:

      Thanks for commenting.

      Emery/Weiner requires one year of Hebrew at the middle school level and one at the high school level. One thing to remember is that the language of Hebrew (and to an extent Yiddish) is central to Jewish identity in a way that even Latin isn’t central to the Roman Catholic (especially since Vatican II de-emphasized the Latin Mass in the 1960s). I suspect that if you want to get at the core of Jewish faith (and cultural identity) you really have to have some exposure to the language.

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