On Tuesday the kindergartners and first-graders at Madison Jewish Community Day School will celebrate the traditional holiday of Purim, and the public is invited - not just because Purim is a festive, joyous event, but because the school wants people to know it's here.
"We're very tiny but we're very strong," said Meisha Leibson, the school's Jewish studies teacher, who seamlessly interweaves Hebrew and English during lessons for the school's nine students. "We have very supportive parents."
Across the Madison area, families who send their children to religion affiliated schools are proving faithful in more ways than one: Enrollments are mostly on track for the 2009-10 school year. Still, the current economic crisis is likely prompting parents to make some extra calculations before putting down a deposit on next year's private-school tuition, said Dave Retzlaff, the principal and seventh-eighth-grade teacher at Our Redeemer Lutheran School.
"For us (the economy) hasn't had a huge impact," Retzlaff said. "You'd probably see it more in families who are having to think it through a little bit more than they would have in the past. It might have been a little more automatic before."
Current students already have re-enrolled, and applications for any remaining spots at Our Redeemer usually peak in the summer, said Retzlaff, "so that's probably when we'll see if there's a bigger impact or not." Still, in a less jittery economic climate, "for us our goal would be to grow."
Madison Community Jewish Day School, which opened in September, hopes to double its enrollment next fall with a new crop of kindergartners and perhaps a class of third-graders, said head of school Merle Sweet.
"I personally hoped we'd have more this year, maybe 12 or 14 students," Sweet said. "But I think what we found out is that a lot of parents aren't being excited about pioneers," and prefer to wait and see how the school does. And "I'm sure the economy is having some effect," he said.
"Our board has a policy that no child will be left out if their family cannot afford full tuition," Sweet said. "But I'm convinced there are some families who are too modest to ask for that kind of help."
Sacred Hearts Catholic School in Sun Prairie hasn't seen an increase in financial aid requests - yet - "but we're expecting it," said Jill Conaway, the school's associate principal and development coordinator.
"The last three years have been huge growth for us, and we're now the biggest school in the diocese" with 465 students pre-K through eighth grade, she said. But "this is the first year in at least five years that we're going to have to actively recruit for kindergarten."
It could be just a "blip," but "we're kind of blaming the economy," Conaway said. With a kindergarten capacity of 50, "Fifteen openings is a lot for us, considering we usually start the year off with a wait list. This is the first sign for us that the economy is going to affect us."
Abundant Life Christian School is still looking at tuition costs and will send out re-enrollment packets in mid-March, said administrator Bill Zehner. With a current enrollment of 281 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, "We're actually looking forward to pretty strong enrollments next year," Zehner said. "We're actually hoping it's going to go up for us."
At High Point Christian School, director of school relations Alicia Lundal said, enrollment for the 2009-10 school year is "just 10 shy of our current enrollment" of 193 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
"Our kindergarten is full, pre-K is full and sixth grade is full," Lundal said. "Those are families who have committed to next year. There is a financial registration fee tied to that, so it's more than a nod from them that they're intending to come."
Retzlaff also expects the size of Our Redeemer's K-eighth program - 104 students - to stay about the same next year, even though the school had to raise tuition to offset higher costs for utilities, health insurance for teachers and staff, textbooks and shipping fees.
Re-enrollment took place last month at Edgewood Campus School, "and we were pensive about opening the envelopes" that came back from parents, said admissions director Sally Drea.
"My heart's still in my mouth. I'm amazed," Drea said. "98.6 percent of our families have committed to return next year. We were thrilled to have that many indicate that they're coming back."