Entering its fourth year of offering in-school educational experiences for Jewish teens, a new study demonstrates that Jewish Student Connection (JSC) helps Jewish teens take ownership of their Jewish future.
The study, conducted by BTW Informing Change, looked specifically at the programmatic and organizational growth of JSC in Denver, Chicago, South Florida and Westchester, Conn., 2010-2012.
“JSC has changed my life in so many ways,” says JSC member Cali Willis of Denver’s George Washington High School.
“From helping me map out my future decisions, to helping me grow as a Jew, JSC has proven to be my main support.
“It was not long ago that I walked through the halls at my public school feeling slightly different from the rest of my peers.
“Whether this feeling came from the Jewish star I wear around my neck, I always felt different. I never walked through the halls of my school feeling confident in my Jewish identity.
“But JSC has been the most positive and motivating experience of my life.”
In each region, JSC’s network of Jewish culture clubs in public and private high schools is guided by full-time Jewish educator-advisors who focus their attention on building one-on-one relationships with participants.
Unlike other Jewish education offerings for teens, JSC’s network of 65 school-based clubs meets conveniently on the high school campuses and require no membership or up front commitment.
“In one school where we meet every other week, I was approached by a number of the teens to get together every week,” says Rabbi Michael Sunshine, Denver JSC educator-advisor.
“Of course they like the fun and social activities, but they wanted something more consistently educational — it is a group of quite intelligent kids who excel in their academics but don’t have a very strong Jewish education background.
‘So we decided to learn different works of Jewish philosophy. They were quite surprised at the depth of Jewish thought, that it’s more than just traditions and culture.
“I think for many of them, JSC is the only place where they can explore Jewish philosophy and integrate that into their own lives.”
According to survey results, 60% of participants report a positive change in their understanding of Judaism and Jewish life; 67% have increased their interest in learning more about Israel; and 71% report an increase in wanting to learn more about Judaism or what it means to be Jewish.
“The results from this evaluation are very promising for a young organization,” says Ellen Irie, principal of BTW Informing Change.
“JSC’s ability to touch so many Jewish and non-Jewish teens speaks to how well aligned the program is with today’s youth.
“The findings show that regular participation in JSC provides Jewish teens with an ongoing Jewish learning experience and a Jewish community.
“The excellent program staff members are a key to this, as they relate exceptionally well to students, develop students’ trust, and cultivate student leadership.”
“The study not only shows that Jewish teens enjoy creating their own Jewish experiences, but it also provides key lessons upon which JSC can build,” says Susan Holzman Wachsstock, executive director of JSC.
“The power of teens’ social networks is clearly evident. A majority of teens start coming to JSC meetings because their friends are attending and because they also want to be involved in an extracurricular activity.
“These events are fun, create a Jewish community in the schools, and encourage teens to participate in other Jewish organizations and events.”