The context for this study is the increased focus on school-community partnerships in the United States. With limited research having been conducted on high-achieving schools, this is a case study of one of America’s top 100 high schools, a Jewish day school; this article reports on its school-synagogue partnership. Like most research on school-community partnerships, this study is based on the theories of capital reproduction. Yet, it is aligned with those claiming religious institutions as producers of capital, finding that these partnerships are effective at harnessing capital when explicitly designed for school members to experience the partnering institution’s religious life.
Introduction to the Case Study Schools
The schools chosen for this study are two of the top 100 high schools of America and are located in the same neighborhood of a major U.S. city. While many of the students who attend these schools are not from this neighborhood, the schools’ location in this elite section of the city provides the schools and the school members with access to local resources that are not available elsewhere. The neighborhood represents a remarkably wealthy and homogeneous district. It even claims one of the wealthiest zip codes in the United States and is one of the least diverse neighborhoods in this city. According to a 2000 census, Blacks make up 28% of the city’s population, yet in 2005 this section of the city was composed of only 2.7% Blacks and 85% Whites.
Shalom Day School is a nursery through 12th grade school affiliated with modern Orthodox Judaism. The course of study, prayer, social action, active Zionism, and modest school dress code reflect this affiliation. Today the school enrolls over 1,000 students. To teach these students and to challenge them to achieve academic excellence, Shalom employs an academically accomplished faculty that includes Ph.D. recipients, ordained rabbis, and lawyers.
Jesuit Academy was founded in the 20th century as a tuition-free school by an anonymous benefactor who was a parishioner at the neighboring church. It was she and her family who alone covered the school’s budget for over 50 years, when her family agreed that alumni be permitted to contribute to the school. More recently, families of current students have been encouraged to donate to the school according to their means.
Unlike most private schools in the neighborhood, Jesuit Academy was founded to educate “young men from the … metropolitan area who demonstrate superior intellectual and leadership potential,” with “special consideration given to those who could not otherwise afford a Catholic education.”
Qualitative case study methodology was employed for collecting data from a number of sources using a variety of methods. Data for this dissertation were collected over 9 months from September 2004 through May 2005. In autumn 2005 the research resumed for an additional 6 months.
Conclusions: Theoretical Contributions and the Takeaway for Jewish Education
This comparative case study is the first to apply the lens of religious cultural, social, and human capital to the study of school-community partnerships. In doing so it makes the case that religious institutions are indeed producers of religious capital and are well-positioned to partner with schools, but the unique argument advanced in this study is that only if the ensuing partnership works to enrich religious capital, will the school members benefit from the true expertise of the religious institution. In each case of the school-religious institution partnerships of Shalom Day School and Jesuit Academy, the school members were treated as members of the religious community and not as beneficiaries of the congregations’ largesse—as was the case in the studies cited above. The religious capital enrichment that the school members received through the partnerships was comparable to the capital enrichment that congregants and faith group community members receive through their formal membership. In comparing Shalom and Jesuit’s partnerships, it becomes clear that there need not be one particular partnering model that a school follow to generate religious capital. In the case of Shalom a mixture of synagogue and religious agency partnerships were engaged in by the school. At Jesuit Academy, the school treasures its hard won independence from its parish and therefore shies away from engagement with it. Yet, its school members are no less the beneficiaries of religious partnerships than those at Shalom.
As many (if not most) Jewish day schools maintain within their school mission statements a commitment to educating and training students knowledgeable in Jewish ritual and practice who feel a connection to the Jewish community and have the tools to maintain and even strengthen their engagement over time as they become adults, it seems that, in other words, Jewish day schools attempt to raise students’ religious cultural, social, and/or human capital. If schools must look outside of their own independent systems to generate capital for school members, as the theory of capital reproduction in education states, synagogues, religious institutions, and Jewish communal agencies should become Jewish day schools’ natural partners. Should day schools seek out these partnerships, the potential for religious capital enrichment among school members may be immeasurable.