Does a struggling student belong in seminary? A principal and student speak
Dear Parents of 12th Graders,
It’s that time of year again: Seminary applications. There’s much to talk about. I’d love to dispel the myth that seminaries are getting rich from tuition, but that’s for another letter.
Today, I would like to share with you my thoughts about the compatibility between the student and the seminary she goes to. Many people think that seminary is a nice year of seeing Eretz Yisrael, friendships, trips, and some hashkafah learning. But six weeks in Eretz Yisrael would suffice to have this type experience.
Seminary is primarily SCHOOL — intense learning, homework, tests, reports. Seminary in Eretz Yisrael isn’t compulsory education, and each seminary designs the school that they feel they can run.
Most seminaries in Eretz Yisrael range from academic to very academic. Why? First of all, we have to train the next generation of teachers, and therefore focus on text-learning and meforshim.
Second, in order for a girl to internalize the messages and advance in her studies, there has to be a serious amount of self-study done in the evening. (I don’t mean busy work!) In the absence of self-study, girls will be running around all the time — something nobody wants.
Weaker students disrupt the serious atmosphere that we want in class. Having modified programs won’t help. Most weaker students have short attention spans and therefore cannot sit through a full day of intense classes.
Many seminaries have one or two teachers teaching in Hebrew. These teachers are outstanding personalities who many students want to learn from. The non-academic students, however, usually can’t follow them, and therefore put their heads down at best, or are disruptive.
All seminaries are accredited and weaker students usually fail and don’t get credits.
It’s not a chesed to accept non-academic students if they can’t sit through 35+ hours of weekly classes.
I know that these girls made it through high school. They’re usually burnt-out by the end of 12th grade. Not to mention that at home they had their parents making sure they did their work and went to school.
I’m fully aware that among the weaker students there are many exceptional bnos Yisrael. They are great daveners, baalos chesed, talented, and popular. But — I’m speaking from over 25 years of experience — this won’t get them through seminary.
What should these young ladies do? First of all, there are seminaries that are a good fit for weaker students. You’ll claim that this will affect her shidduchim. Realize that if she doesn’t do well in an academic seminary, it will affect her name also. It might be better for this girl to attend a half-day or half-year seminary. Weaker students can be excellent counselors, great chesed heads or production heads, and certainly wonderful wives.
I’m explaining why most seminaries can’t accept them. It’s not a question of getting the “right” pull. It’s about doing what’s best for your child.
Parents: If you have a daughter who isn’t academic but applies to three academic seminaries and then gets rejected by all three, you have yourself to blame.
I daven that each bas Yisrael finds a school that’s right for them and that all parents have much nachas from their daughters.
A Seminary Principal
Dear Seminary Administrators,
When I was little, I thought my dyslexia made me bad. I wanted to fit in; even more than that, I dreaded standing out. In my attempts not to draw attention to my learning disability, I became painfully quiet and shy. I was basically invisible.
Being constantly pulled out to go to the resource room, something my classmates avoided like the plague, branded me as different. People often misunderstood my poor grades as a sign of laziness or lack of willpower.
That couldn’t be further from the truth. I was a hardworking girl whose tests and quizzes never reflected the effort that went into them. Memorizing the multiplication table or a list of important dates in a history class was nearly impossible for me.
But I could understand just fine. In fact, many teachers were shocked that a girl on such a weak academic level could ask such insightful and deep questions. Some tried to see me as a girl with strengths, but many were rigid in their way of teaching and never gave me a chance.
I’ll never forget when a teacher gave me an F on an important term-paper I’d worked on for hours due to spelling errors. She ignored the content of my thought-out and well-written piece as well as the pleas of my parents, who asked her to look away from the spelling, considering my dyslexia. She ignored the humiliation and suffering of an innocent child because “rules are rules.” To describe my experience in elementary school as frustrating would be an understatement. It was torturous.
In the summer of eighth grade, everything changed. I volunteered once a week to watch a boy with special needs. I always tried so hard to fit in, but with his limitations, there was no way he could. Yet he resided in a no judgment zone — he never judged me or others based on superficial details or ideas. He taught me that our differences don’t define us — neither do our strengths, talents, or abilities. It’s only when you combine them all together that they create the very best image of you.
Ever since then, I’ve been able to emerge from my shell and embrace my once-perceived flaw: dyslexia. I now realize that the fact I can’t get straight As doesn’t define me; how I channel the challenge does. My dyslexia has made me a more resilient, understanding, sensitive person. It pushed me to limits I never thought I could reach. I truly feel that my struggle with dyslexia has gotten me to where I am today.
It led me to volunteer for numerous organizations, giving people the chance to be understood and helped. I also listened to many shiurim and strived to take what I learned to heart. My high school has also been amazing; they view every student in the same manner. They don’t look at you in terms of grades, money, or yichus. They look at every individual as a tzelem Elokim.
I’m now applying to seminary, along with the rest of my classmates. I live out of town, where the norm is to go to Eretz Yisrael for the year. I know my chances of getting into a decent seminary is significantly lower because of my grades.
I’m a perceptive person; I notice each year how weaker students emerge from the principal’s office after their meeting about seminary dejected, at times in tears. These students were told in a kind and diplomatic way that their chances of getting into a well-known seminary with high caliber girls striving to grow was close to zero. There’s an elitist attitude of accepting only the “best girls,” a.k.a. girls with top marks, or girls coming from very well-connected, affluent homes.
Dear seminary administrators, I turn to you with my plea. We’re taught that Hashem cares about a person’s sincerity and effort. How can you allow your acceptance criteria to contradict this?
With some slight modifications (like those given in many high schools), girls who are weaker academically could continue on with their classmates to seminary instead of being left behind, humiliated and dejected.
My wish is that you look at me and so many others with an open eye. Learn from a special-needs boy what it means to judge someone based on their insides, not on externals.
Bad grades don’t always reflect a lazy, shallow person with no interest in learning. In fact, it can be quite the opposite, if you choose to look beyond the surface. Give me a chance to prove to you that I’m a whole lot more than some numbers on a report card.
A Straight-A Bas Yisrael
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 773)
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