Students and parents always eagerly anticipate the start of the school year — but after six long months at home, anticipation is being tempered by new stresses. And the schools themselves need to deal with physical distancing, small groups, and strict safety measures, all of which come with a hefty price tag.

It’s an expensive — but critical — proposition.

To help schools offset the significant startup costs in these extraordinary times, we recently announced a $2.1 million grant for 47 Jewish day schools across the New York region, serving 34,000 students.

These schools include The Leffell School in Westchester, a coeducational Jewish day school serving grades K-12.

“My colleagues and I felt like if it was possible to be together in person safely, we have a responsibility to do everything we could to make that happen,” explains Michael Kay, Leffell’s head of school. Michael oversaw the intensive preparations of Leffell’s two campuses through the entire summer to ensure that more than 800 students could learn and socialize safely. “Our top priority was safety, and that meant a substantial financial investment,” he says.

This investment includes renting modular classrooms and building temporary walls in spaces that would otherwise go unused this year, like the cafeteria and media center; hiring additional teachers to accommodate more classes with fewer students and cleaning staff; and purchasing hand sanitizer, polycarbonate, portable air purifiers, and other protective equipment.

“That UJA saw an opportunity to help with funding these costs, on top of everything else they’ve already done, has made a tremendous difference,” said Michael.

UJA has been on the forefront of meeting new and amplified need since Covid-19 began, and initially granted an additional $2 million for day school scholarships to address increased tuition assistance need.

“A number of families have been economically impacted by the pandemic, and to be able to provide financial support to them has been crucial,” said Michael.

The costs to enable schools to safely reopen are significant, but the chance to give parents and students a sense of normalcy after six challenging months is invaluable.

“I’m so glad to be back, said Alexandra Zelman, a senior. “There’s something special about being in a physical classroom again after being virtual for so long. I’m grateful to Leffell’s faculty and administration, along with UJA and other partners, that worked to get us to this point.”