YAFFED seeks funding to offer Haredi teens and young adults a high school equivalency program

The proposed program would be “culturally responsive,” such as gender-segregated classes and a schedule that accommodates Jewish holidays

Novominsk yeshiva in Borough Park. Haredi high school level yeshivas typically provide no secular studies instruction. Credit: Shtetl

Feb 20, 2024 2:45 PM


YAFFED, an organization that advocates for improved secular education in Haredi schools, is seeking funding for a new program meant to help educate Haredi teens and young adults who received insufficient instruction in English, math, science, and social studies.

The program would supplement the mostly religious education that students receive in many Haredi schools, especially Hasidic boys’ schools, while meeting Haredi students’ particular learning needs. Beatrice Weber, YAFFED’s executive director, said that since enforcement of New York’s education law began only recently, the state owes it to students to help fund such a “culturally responsive” program. “Just as the yeshivas were negligent all these years in not providing an education, so was the government,” she told Shtetl.

“You have to have people who, when you walk through the door, will understand your culture,” Weber said. Government-run institutions across the state offer high school equivalency courses, but Haredim may not always find the settings suitable for religious and cultural reasons. Weber’s idea, on the other hand, could include gender-segregated classes, teachers proficient in both Yiddish and English, and a schedule that accommodates Jewish holidays.

Another problem with existing classes? They’re too advanced, Weber said. “The expectation for these high school equivalency programs is that you have a certain minimum level of literacy and education,” she said. “But our kids coming out of these schools don’t have that minimum, so there’s more intense resources needed.” 

In recent months, the New York State Education Department and the New York City Department of Education determined 18 Haredi schools to offer inadequate secular education, many of which offered little to no education in English and math and none at all in science or social studies. As for the rest of the state’s private schools, NYSED plans to enforce the education law in the months to come.

In the meantime, many students have sought supplemental learning elsewhere. Weber said she was partially inspired by her son’s friend who grew up in the Satmar community and struggled to keep up with a high school equivalency course at Brooklyn College. After one lesson, “he said, ‘I don’t know what they’re talking about. There’s no way I can do this,’” Weber said.

Mendel Taub, who attended school in the Hasidic village of New Square, had a different experience. In 2016, Taub told Lohud that he experienced culture shock when, at 17, he went to high school equivalency classes hosted by Rockland BOCES, a government-run institution. “I looked around me, and I’d never talked to people of a different culture in my life before, and here I was in the same classroom with… girls,” he said. Still, Taub graduated as valedictorian of the program.

During a recent hearing on the state’s 2024 executive budget, YAFFED asked legislators for $250,000 for a pilot program. But Weber acknowledged that getting the money this year is not very likely. “I know they’re in a deficit this year, so the chance of getting this funding, for this year at least, is probably not very high,” she said. She also hopes to arrange funding from private donors.

Some private organizations already offer programs similar to what YAFFED proposes. Touro University, a school that largely serves Orthodox Jewish students, offers high school equivalency education — but only for those who have already been accepted to attend college there. In Rockland County, The Hub, which promotes itself as an “Education Center for the Heimish Community,” offers classes for Haredi students — but the classes only cover English and computer skills, not math, science, or social studies. Footsteps, an organization that helps people who leave the Haredi fold, offers one-on-one tutoring to people studying for high school equivalency exams. According to Weber, though, “people should not have to leave the community in order to get an education.”

Weber said YAFFED would facilitate the program, but not run it. She has discussed the idea with the State University of New York, New York University, and the Center for Education Innovation, and she intends to discuss it with the City University of New York, too, in the hopes that one of them may host the program, either virtually or in-person. “This is not going to have a ‘sponsored by YAFFED’ sign on the door,” she said.