January 7, 2018

Schechter: Then and Now

Maddie Herman ‘19

Frizzy hair and acid-washed jeans cover the concrete blue and white hallways. Students in scrunched socks and oversized sweatshirts line their lockers awaiting their friends’ arrival. Conversations and laughter can be heard from down the hall and a feeling of familiarity fills the air. Suddenly, a bell sounds and students flood the halls, rushing to their first period class.
This was your reality as a GOA – then still Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union – in the 1980s.
SSDSEU/GOA has evolved in many ways over the last 30 years. While the school size has decreased, it has grown academically through an increased variety in its programming, especially regarding its experiential programming like shabbatons and trips, and its activities and clubs.
Many important and progressive changes were made when current Lower School Principal Carrie Siegel, herself a graduate of the class of 1992, was a student at SSDSEU.
“Extracurriculars are vastly different now in comparison to when I was a student,” she said.
She explained that during her time in high school, there was a particularly large transition in sports within the school. This occurred when SSDSEU left the Yeshiva League allowing Daphna Gold, a friend of Siegel’s, to play on the boy’s basketball team.
“[That was] a pretty big deal,” she noted.  
GOA students have certainly taken advantage of the school’s diverse programming in recent years. They participate in a wide range of activities, along with taking student leadership roles in a variety of clubs. Junior Stefanie Siegel expressed that a large reason she loves GOA is because of these opportunities.
“All of the clubs and opportunities offered have helped me find what I'm passionate about,” she said.
Although changes have occurred throughout the evolution of the school, many milestones remain as students’ favorite memories of high school, one monumental high school experience being the senior trip to Israel. Until 1992, SSDEU students participated in a joint five-month trip with the Charles. E Smith School. Students had many opportunities, from touring Israel’s landmarks to experiencing life on a kibbutz. This allowed them to go beyond their daily lives and truly immerse themselves in Israeli culture.
For many alumni, one of the most memorable parts of this experience was being given the opportunity to travel with their friends and teenagers their own age.  Mrs. Siegel remarked that traveling with another school was one of the best and most memorable parts of the trip.
“I think that was a real highlight for us,” she said, “meeting a whole new group of students who were just like us and living together in Israel.”
For Wendy Herman, class of ‘89, the Israel trip was also one of the most memorable experiences of high school.   
“The trip was an experience of a lifetime,” Herman said. “Besides the opportunity to become friends with students from Charles E Smith, I was able to form stronger bonds with the students in my own class.”
Siegel also noted how, even though the building, individual students and school name may have changed, the sense of family has remained intact.
“The best way to describe the atmosphere of SSDSEU/GOA when I was in high school is to call it family,” she said. “Everyone felt like family. My grade, the grades above and below me, the teachers. We were just one big family.”
Herman echoed this sentiment during her description of her high school experience.
“I made friendships for a lifetime and some of my dearest friends still today,” she added.
Many teachers who taught during the days of Schechter Cranford hold a sentimental feeling for GOA in their hearts. Sandy Pyonin, basketball coach and P.E. teacher has always had a love for the Schechter community.
“Everybody is family,”  he said. “We all care about the kids and all the kids care about the faculty.”
Even current students can’t help but acknowledge the familial quality.

“This school is special,” junior Alana Wernick said. “It offers a community beyond the hours of 8:30 to 4:00. These are the people who are there for you and will continue to be for your entire life.”

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