SEPTEMBER 6, 2018 – Jewish day school can be expensive. For the upcoming school year, tuition for high school students at Maimonides in Brookline costs $33,830. In Dedham, the Rashi School charges $39,000 for grades 7 and 8.
For parents of students with special needs who often spend a great deal of money on outside services for their children, the additional cost of day school may be out of reach.
In 2015, the Ruderman Family Foundation and Combined Jewish Philanthropies collaborated to create the Morton E. Ruderman Inclusion Scholarship Fund (MER Scholarship), named for the Ruderman Foundation’s founder. The scholarship has provided a total of $1.2 million to 637 families of children with special needs at 11 participating Jewish day schools in Greater Boston.
Schools include the BAIS Yaakov of Boston High School for Girls, Epstein Hillel School, Gann Academy, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School (JCDS), Maimonides School, MetroWest Jewish Day School, New England Hebrew Academy, Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston, Striar Hebrew Academy, the Rashi School, and Torah Academy.
The scholarship honors the late Morton Ruderman’s passion for ensuring that a Jewish education is accessible to everyone. “This was Morton Ruderman’s commitment,” said Alan Oliff, director of CJP’s Initiative for Day School Excellence. “He wanted there not to be any impediments, any barriers for families with kids with special needs in their opportunity to have a Jewish day school education.”
Although the MER Scholarship is only a fraction of the aid that schools give out, many families would not be able to afford day school without the help of the scholarship, which awards $400,000 annually.
The scholarship comes as part of a larger aid package, so families don’t need to apply for it separately.
“We did it that away because it makes it a much more inclusive practice,” said Oliff. “A family feels like they’re being supported, and they know it’s coming from [Ruderman] … but they don’t have to go through extra things.”
The scholarship fulfills two needs. In addition to providing tuition assistance, it also helps fund extra support services such as occupational therapy or speech and language support. The ancillary services also are supplied by Gateways, a Newton-based nonprofit that aims to promote inclusion in Jewish life.
The inclusion scholarship is just one of many ways the Ruderman Family Foundation has supported inclusion in Jewish day schools. The foundation also has partnered with the Jim Joseph Foundation, CJP, and Gateways to create the B’Yadenu Project, which uses professional development training to help day schools and their teachers meet the needs of students with varied learning styles and abilities.
“Some schools had support systems, and some had very little,” said Oliff. “It was difficult for schools to accept kids because they didn’t feel they had the right supports.”
Still, Oliff said, there is work to be done. “I don’t want to paint a perfect picture … because there’s more to do. There are still are some families who can’t afford it,” he said.
But the progress has been significant.
“[Mort’s] legacy lives on,” said Oliff. “It’s a great tribute to him that this is happening.”