When Cara Kupferman’s parents moved to New City, in Rockland County, 20 years ago, one of the major draws was the well-regarded Clarkstown Central School District.
But next month, Cara, who thrived at her public elementary and middle schools, will forego Clarkstown South High School, instead crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge each day to attend Solomon Schechter School of Westchester.
Fortunately for her family, her tuition at Schechter, which is in Hartsdale, will be the same as at public school: zero.
As the inaugural recipient of a brand-new merit scholarship, Cara is entitled to four years free of charge — no small coup, considering that high school tuition and fees at Schechter are $32,900 this year. (Fifty percent of students receive some form of need-based financial aid.)
Funded by an anonymous donor, the merit scholarship is designed for academically talented students who are new to Jewish day school.
Merit scholarships, particularly full-freight ones, are relatively rare in the Jewish day school world. The Jewish High School of Connecticut has two, and the American Hebrew Academy, a Jewish boarding school in North Carolina, has some partial-tuition ones, but most day schools offer only need-based aid.
Elliot Spiegel, Schechter Westchester’s head of school, said the scholarship was established to promote general excellence and to encourage applicants to the school’s Akiva program — a track for high school students with no previous day school background. Approximately 10 percent of Schechter’s 90 ninth graders (the school has almost 900 students in total in grades K-12) participate in Akiva, named for the sage whose Jewish education was said not to begin until age 40.
Asked the selection criteria for the scholarship, Spiegel said that in addition to academic factors, Schechter Westchester seeks teens who “have just got something you know is going to contribute so much to the school community, and you know the school is going to make an enormous impact on that child.”
This year only five students applied for the merit scholarship, but Spiegel noted that it was announced relatively late and that he anticipates more applicants this year.
In any event, Cara, 14, seems perfectly suited for the scholarship. In middle school, in addition to earning high grades, she participated in student council, theater and a team called “Knowledge Masters” in which students compete to answer questions about various topics.
“We affectionately called it the ‘nerd club,’” she told The Jewish Week.
Outside of school, she has been active in her Conservative synagogue’s youth group and in Hazamir, the international Jewish teen choir. And this summer she had a lead role in a community production of “Rent.”
While always involved in Jewish life, Kupferman said that the sixth-grade Hebrew school curriculum at the Orangetown Jewish Center intensified her passion for Jewish learning.
“We started a new program where we were not just learning the words or learning about the holidays, but about what it means to be a Jew,” she said. “That appealed to me, and I started getting more interested and started to enjoy synagogue more.”
While apprehensive about the commute — “Without traffic it’s 20 minutes, but with traffic it could be forever!” — Kupferman said she is excited about the Jewish studies classes and Jewish community at Schechter, and is also looking forward to the school’s art program, which includes an artist-in-residence.
“When the idea of going to Schechter first came up, the most interesting part for us was how excited she was,” said April Kupferman, Cara’s mother. “We were anxious at first about trading the known for the unknown, but clearly this is where she’s drawn, and as a parent you can’t ignore that.”
“The scholarship, of course, made it an easy choice,” April Kupferman added.
To learn more about the Schechter Merit Scholars Program, go to www.solomon-schechter.com/meritscholar?rc=0.