Why are Freshmen and Sophomores Locked Out of Lower Intermediate Classes?

By: Sarah Brill  |  March 22, 2020

By Sarah Brill 

The Judaic courses at Stern College are divided into various levels of study: mechina, lower intermediate, intermediate, upper intermediate, and advanced. When a student begins Stern, they are evaluated  to determine their level for the Jewish studies CORE. Jewish studies encompasses Jewish Law, Bible, and Jewish Philosophy, and Jewish History courses. Students placed into the mechina program start out at an elementary level and are usually from a public high school background. They take this requirement for the first year of their time at Stern; they then matriculate into the lower intermediate group. People coming from yeshivas, Jewish day schools, Orthodox high schools, and some Bais Yaakov schools, are placed into non-mechina classes of the lower intermediate, intermediate, upper intermediate, and advanced levels. 

When registration comes around, a mass chain of messages on Stern in the Know, a student Facebook group, will show a long discussion on which classes are the easiest. Here’s the problem: the first group of registration is allotted to upper seniors, giving them the first pick at Judaics and secular courses. Jewish classes that are “the easiest” or the “easiest A,” are ones that are typically lower intermediate or intermediate. If everyone is seeing posts about an easy class, the seniors, regardless of what Jewish studies level they are on, will most likely get into the lower intermediate and intermediate classes without a wait list. 

What happens then? The newly released students from the mechina program (true sophomores) are forced into upper intermediate classes that require high level Hebrew knowledge. Additionally, other students entering Stern College as lower intermediates, are not given spots that are rightfully theirs. When asked about being locked out of classes that are on their level, Bridget Frenkel, SCW ‘22, responded, “I’m coming from a background [with a very] basic knowledge of Judaism […] I’m forced to take classes that are not even my level and the advisor doesn’t do anything about it. [Students who] are higher than me and know this stuff are in [lower intermediate] classes and I’m stuck taking hard level classes.” Tova Shmulewitz, SCW ‘22, expressed similar sentiment adding: “Classes get filled up with upperclassmen looking for an easy A, while we struggle to find classes at our actual level.” 

Priority is given to the seniors when it comes to registering in general, but for Judaics registration there should be regulations on who is allowed into intermediate and lower intermediate classes. My current lower intermediate class is jam-packed with a variety of students. The majority are from seminary and yeshiva backgrounds. As a student coming in with basic knowledge in Judaics, I should not be in a class with students who know a great deal more than me, especially since the class is on my level. This lack of regulation provides professors with a false sense of reassurance and in turn, he or she moves at a quicker pace while incorporating more Hebrew. This is not the professor’s fault, but the administration’s and their lack of regulation on who can take Judaics courses. 

A year ago, when I came to this school, my transcript stated that I came from a Jewish day school, where I learned at a beginner level. Upon arriving at Stern College, I was placed into the lower intermediate and intermediate level group. When registering, however, I found the only courses left were advanced and upper intermediate courses. Consequently I was in advanced courses composed of difficult Hebrew and textual backgrounds I didn’t understand. My CORE grade point average fell and it was because I, as a true sophomore, was not allowed into intermediate or lower intermediate courses, even though that is where I was placed.

The Judaics administration at this school needs to change in order to properly accommodate the needs of students, not just the seniors looking for easy As.