Study Seeks Happiness Quotient of Jewish Day Schools

Original Article Published On The Connecticut Jewish Ledger

Are Jewish day school graduates happy?

Audrey Lichter, director of Yachad, the Greater Hartford Jewish Community High School, Hartford venture capitalist Alan Mendelson and two university researchers are trying to find out just that.

Prof. Michael Ben-Avie, a research scientist and associate professor at the Yale Child Study Center and the Center for Community and School Action Research in the Connecticut state university system, and Dr. Jeffrey Kress, assistant professor of Jewish education at the Jewish Theological Seminary, have assembled an extensive project team to attempt to answer the question, “Are Jewish day school graduates happy?”

They had to recast the question into something that could be studied scientifically. Thus, the study “Jewish Day School Education and Quality of Life: An Empirical Investigation of Current Students, Recent Alumni, Parents, and Schools” will attempt to answer the research question, “Do Jewish day schools provide their students with an advantage over their same-age peers not attending Jewish day school?” The researchers address this question by focusing on five indicators “that have been scientifically proven to provide youth with tools to make positive developmental transitions.”

These indicators include connectedness, successful intelligence, satisfaction with work, social and emotional competence, and sense of purpose and meaning.

Kress and Ben-Avie are excited at the possibility that the study will yield “several definitive, immediately useful outcomes.

“If there is another dimension to the benefits of day school education that could be clearly and scientifically demonstrated, then a), Jewish parents would be more likely to enroll their children in day school and the prospects for greater and more rapid growth in enrollment will significantly improve and b), the percent of the Jewish population that would be willing to financially support day school education would increase,” Ben-Avie comments.

“This study will take a very different look at Jewish day school education,” notes Lichter. “We invest hundreds of millions of dollars in Jewish day school education–it is time we learned more about the efficacy of this kind of education, in addition to Jewish continuity. This study can potentially change the entire landscape of the way we speak about and market Jewish day school education.”

Kinder and gentler?

The idea for the study came about one day when Lichter, who is also co-president of the Hebrew High School of New England and founding member and board president of the Jewish Day School Consortium of Southern New England, was talking to Alan Mendelson, a venture capitalist and active member of the Hartford Jewish community.

“I wanted him to consider funding Jewish day schools, and he asked, ‘I know Jewish day schools do a good job for the most part of creating educated and active Jews, but do they create happier people?’” Lichter recalled. “So I said, ‘That’s a great question, I don’t know the answer, but I think I know who we can ask!”

Lichter went to her brother-in-law, Dr. Richard Davidson, who studies Tibetan monks as they meditate. Davidson has traveled extensively with the Dalai Lama and is interested in the Dalai Lama’s quest for creating a kinder, gentler, more in control person through the practice of meditation.

Soon, Ben-Avie and Kress came on board to study the subject. Lichter and Mendelson learned of Ben-Avie and his work in exploring the relationship between learning and development from a member of the leadership team of the Collaborative to Advance Social and Emotional Learning and soon after, the research project team was assembled.

During the spring of 2005, the research team will conduct a pilot study at two Jewish day schools. Once they complete the pilot study, they will refine their research instruments, provide preliminary data, and make plans for the next phase of the study. That will inform the writing of a full proposal, which will include studying the students and alumni over the course of several years.

The team has raised some funds for completing the pilot study but is in need of some additional funding. After the pilot is completed, they will apply to major foundations and individuals to fund a study that will cost at least three quarters of a million dollars.

A recent team meeting was held at the JCC of Greater New Haven.

Dr. Kress noted that there has been “interest in funding both the process and the outcome,” and he thanked the Targum Shlishi Foundation in Florida, The Alan and Peggy Mendelson Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford, and The Lichter family for their financial support.

Kress and Ben-Avie stressed the potential for a major study with major results if other funders join the process.

“If we can show that engaging in value-laden community education increases the probability of people having these traits,” Lichter said, “then more parents may want Jewish day schools for their children, and we can increase our enrollment and our funding base for Jewish day schools.”

For more information, contact Dr. Ben-Avie at

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