Jodi is the Director of the Bridges program at Krieger Schechter Day School

Nissa is the director of admissions at Krieger Shechter Day School 

Creating “Bridges” for Lateral Admissions


How can we expand our enrollment? Is there a target audience we have not yet explored?

These are questions our head of school, Rabbi Moshe Schwartz, asked when he began his tenure at Krieger Schechter Day School in 2015. He noticed an important local trend: Many families in our community send their children to public elementary schools and then apply to independent schools for middle school. He quickly began to wonder why they weren’t applying to KSDS. After strategic conversations with members of our community, we learned that parents’ hesitation was twofold: their children did not know Hebrew, making it challenging to enter our school at any point after kindergarten; our K-8 structure meant their middle school age children would have to transition yet again for high school.

Realizing that we could overcome both barriers and significantly expand our target audience, KSDS designed the Bridges Lateral Entry Program, which opened for the 2016-2017 school year. With only three lateral entry students from the previous admissions season, we began to focus on the upcoming recruitment season to market Bridges to prospective families in our community. The following admissions season resulted in the enrollment of 13 lateral entry students.

To date, the program has enrolled 170 new students, averaging 24 new students per school year. With our average yield for kindergarten enrollment at 30 students per year, Bridges students nearly double our admissions numbers.

Overcoming Barriers

We understood when making plans for Bridges that Hebrew language posed the biggest challenge to an older student’s transition to KSDS. Catching new students up with those who had been at KSDS since kindergarten would be an almost impossible task, so we agreed upon another goal: to offer new students the opportunity to learn to read, write, and speak Hebrew in a classroom environment that felt comfortable and not intimidating. Therefore, we decided to create a Hebrew language class in each grade level for lateral entry students only. Although students entering in younger grades might be able to integrate into the regular leveled Hebrew classes within a few months or one year, older students might need to stay in this Hebrew section through graduation, which posed a financial risk. What if Bridges did not draw enough students in a given grade to cover the cost for this class? Deciding this endeavor was part of the mission of our school, and therefore a risk worth taking, we knocked down the first barrier. 

Next, we realized we could utilize tours as an opportunity to promote the benefits of our K-8 experience, with our director of admissions highlighting that our middle schoolers are the leaders at KSDS. At a time when many middle schoolers might feel insecure or vulnerable, ours gain confidence through taking on leadership roles that would often be reserved for high schoolers at a K-12 school. Sharing this information with prospective lateral entry families helps us conquer the second barrier. 

Additionally, our Bridges director meets with each prospective family during admissions tours, explaining the pillars of the Bridges Program and building relationships with new families from the start. One new family recently shared that learning about Bridges during their tour sealed the deal. It was the main reason they chose to enroll their four children at KSDS.

Supporting New Students 

When designing Bridges, we recognized that transitioning to any new school can bring social and academic challenges. Therefore, we put supports in place to help new students acclimate to KSDS. For example, before summer begins, we assign buddy families to each new lateral entry family to plan get-togethers, allowing both new students and their parents to meet KSDS families before school even begins. Forging these friendships early makes our new families feel welcome and eases the social transition for the students. We also offer two summer workshops for new middle school students, where we introduce them to our technology platform and give them a foundation in our grammar and writing programs as well as an introduction to Jewish learning at KSDS. 

Another trademark component of Bridges is our boot camp, which we hold the day before school starts. New students carry copies of their schedules as we navigate the halls and classrooms together, where teachers greet students and answer any questions they may have. After the tour, the summer buddies join the lateral entry students for a scavenger hunt that leads them yet again throughout the whole school. Complete with team-building activities, boot camp leaves our new students feeling comfortable and confident about starting school the next day. 

Equally important, our admissions team monitors lateral entry students’ progress throughout the first hours, days, weeks, and months of the school year. We check in on new students during less structured times of the day such as arrival, lunch, recess, and breaks. We reach out to parents and teachers to see if our new students need extra academic, social, or emotional support as they adjust to life at KSDS.

School Growth

Although many families initially enroll a middle school-age child through Bridges, once parents get a close-up look at our excellent academic experience, outstanding faculty, and strong community, they quickly want to bring their younger children to the school too. This has led to more robust kindergarten and lower school lateral entry applicants.

Bridges has grown significantly over the past seven years through planned efforts as well as unforeseen circumstances. Bridges enrollment saw a two-year leap when COVID shook the education world. Since Bridges was already in place, we were well equipped to welcome the 32 lateral students we accepted for the 2020-2021 school year and the additional 38 in 2021-2022. Now, given the global rise in antisemitism, our Bridges structure is uniquely positioned for the potential increase in lateral entry enrollment.

Creating the Bridges Lateral Entry Program at KSDS took more than a vision, data analysis, and a leap of faith. It required all arms of the school to work collaboratively to ensure that each student who joins our school is successful and that within a short time, lateral entrants are fully immersed in school academics, life, and culture. KSDS is now known as a destination school for entry at all grade levels. We take great pride in the success of the Bridges program, an important part of our comprehensive admissions strategy that continues to highlight the value of a complete K-8 experience at Krieger Schechter Day School.