A School, A Home, A Family: Shalva High School
February 17, 2022
It’s the definition of its name and the way people describe Shalva, a unique girls’ high school.
Shalva opened six years ago with the guidance of Lakewood rabbanim and the support of generous askanim with the goal of providing a positive high school experience for Lakewood girls who have struggled in mainstream settings. The sensitive staff and supportive environment help students make good choices and move forward into healthy adulthood.
Shalva is equipped to manage students’ unique emotional, social, spiritual, and academic needs. As a parent describes, “They have twenty-five different programs for twenty-five different girls on twenty-five different journeys.”
The students appreciate the warmth coupled with consistency, protocols, and rewards for following rules of attendance, wearing the uniform, and meeting other expectations. They feel like they belong and return after vacation exclaiming, “We needed school so badly!”
The comfortable, beautifully appointed building includes classrooms that the students helped design; a cozy loft with couches and beanbag chairs; a basketball court, a backyard, a gazebo to enjoy fitness and nature; and a fully stocked kitchen where the girls can prepare and enjoy fresh, healthy, and delicious meals and snacks.
A family-like atmosphere
Shalva provides a warm, family-like atmosphere where students in all grades can find camaraderie and acceptance. Students come from a wide range of homes, and all learn, grow, and gain from each other and their experiences.
Teacher Mrs. Chanie Stavsky describes the feeling at Shalva: “There’s a warmth; there’s a certain family atmosphere. We’re here for our girls; we love our girls.”
A student shares, “The teachers are really a part of our lives. It’s not just their job.”
Assistant principal Mrs. Sari Schnell describes how the teachers “embrace and celebrate” each student for who she is. “Every teacher cares about our girls, loves our girls, and wants school to be the most positive experience. I wish every child could get the level of love and care as our Shalva students.”
New students are welcomed with a party upon arrival, and birthdays are always celebrated. The girls love bonding during downtime between classes and on various fun and exciting trips to celebrate school opening, midwinter, and graduation, complete with meals and giveaways. They have enjoyed one-, two-, and even three-day trips to locales such as Orlando, Los Angeles, and Arizona.
A student reflects, “Shalva is my life. Shalva is the only place in the world where I can be myself.”
Shalva offers a complete high school education in core subjects of Jewish and general studies. Students benefit from small class sizes and individualized attention. There is no homework, but students do well on tests because, as one girl shares, “I remembered it because I wanted to pay attention and learn.”
They also learn life skills such as personal finance, public speaking, emotion regulation, and self-defense. Guest speakers give presentations about vocational options that the students may choose to pursue, and the girls occasionally visit workplaces to observe in real time the professions they discussed.
Students enjoy relevant and exciting classes such as creative arts, cooking, music, fitness, Spanish, and CPR training. In addition, Mrs. Eta Kaufman expertly arranges extracurricular activities with style and panache.
Shalva’s educated and professional staff includes experienced educators, social workers, a professional chef, a singer/songwriter, and others. They participate in trainings in order to best interact with students and manage their needs. Mrs. Shifra Kahan, the principal, describes the faculty as “diverse, passionate, good role models, and dedicated beyond the classroom. They balance being very professional and also available and maintaining healthy boundaries. They give all their effort to teach,” even just a few students at a time.
Students enjoy and benefit from limudei kodesh classes that get to the roots and fundamentals of Yiddishkeit. Classes in Jewish philosophy and tefillah focus on developing a relationship with Hashem. Discussions on Pirkei Avos help students to develop their middos, and learning about women in Tanachinspires them to understand our history and their role as the next generation of bnos Yisrael.
Teachers open their hearts and homes, hosting students throughout the year for Shabbos and Yom Tov, creating real-life learning experiences beyond the classroom. A yearly highlight is the Shabbaton in the Poconos in which the staff and students relax and spend meaningful time together singing and enjoying the ruchniyus atmosphere.
In addition, a chessed incentive program helps promote positive social interactions in school, at home, and in the community.
Emotional wellness and clinical care
Shalva is proud to take a social-emotional approach toward the whole child. Assistant principal Mrs. Schnell, Ms Ed, who has over 18 years’ experience in special education, explains that “behavior has meaning.” Shalva manages individualized behavior, learning, and incentive plans to help each student maximize her potential.
Rivky Gerson, LCSW, clinical director at Shalva, has been trained in treating addictions and has years of experience with struggling teens. “We highlight their strengths and empower them to use those strengths to overcome struggles,” she shares. She collaborates with students, therapists, and parents to ensure the best experience and outcome for each student. Additionally, she oversees programs that educate the students about physical health, social skills, and healthy relationships. “Knowledge is power; we want them to make informed decisions.”
No one is judged for her choices; instead, the girls are given the opportunity to explore alternative ways to cope with challenges. Students develop self-awareness and become empowered, and they are rewarded for making healthy choices both short-term and long-term. “We prioritize their emotional needs, doing whatever is in our power to help each girl thrive.”
A graduate shares, “We were in dark, broken places, but we didn’t want to stay there. Shalva helps support you to get out of there.”
Parents are partners
Shalva empowers parents to be involved in their daughters’ growth. There is frequent communication and collaboration as well as bimonthly support group meetings. Parents are so grateful that their daughters are taken care of and thriving.
One father expresses, “A girl needs to feel warmth and acceptance to succeed through challenges. There’s no place better suited for that than Shalva.”
By the end of their senior year, students don’t want to leave.Shalva works with students to determine which seminary is the best fit for them and follows up with the graduates and their seminaries to track their progress and offer support.
In response to graduates’ requests, Shalva has developed an alumni program with night shiurim, one-on-one learning, and monthly events in teachers’ homes.The school also arranges for ashadchan to meet with graduates. “She understands that they are growth oriented and full of depth and have a mature connection to Hashem,” explains Mrs. Kahan.
Shalva is proud of its graduates who have gone on to learn in seminaries in Eretz Yisrael and in the Tristate area. Many are pursuing college education and starting professional jobs.
“Once a girl is a Shalva girl, she is always part of the Shalva family,” one staff member says.
Shalva has thus far educated 45 young women who have grown into healthy, productive members of society and Klal Yisrael. Shalva provides a transformative experience for girls in need of a unique and wholesome school, benefiting and uplifting each student, her family, and our whole community.
As one student says, “Come to Shalva because it’s the best thing you can do for yourself.”
For more information, visit www.shalvahighschool.org or call 732-994-4462.
“Shalva staff is always around with words of comfort or just a listening ear. They go above and beyond to support every student’s needs. There is no place like Shalva.”
“Shalva is like a family and a home. They care about your success in all areas, not just grades. It’s made for our success. They work with each individual student and what you need.”
“I’m always impressed by how they do things. They care so much about the students. They are open to students’ suggestions of new classes.”
A graduate’s story
I was one of the original students, the first to finish all four years at Shalva. It became my second home, my second family, my structure in life, my safe place. It is a warm, loving, growth-oriented environment where I made long-lasting friendships. There is no pressure to be a certain way—just to be your own best.
I got close with teachers who taught Judaism in such a beautiful light. We would sing with a guitar during class; I was filled with inner peace. It made me want to keep Shabbos. Shalva’s goal is not just to keep us off the streets for seven hours, it’s to give us skills to create a beautiful, healthy future for ourselves.
My friends and I are all in solid places because of Shalva. They believed in me and pushed me. They’ll work with you, but you have to want to work on yourself. I wanted to grow and do better for myself. I got to my healthiest place emotionally, mentally, and religiously. I finished two years in seminary and am working and have plans for school.
Shalva saved my life—mentally, emotionally, religiously. I’m so happy that Shalva exists—for me and for the next generation.