Weighing all the options
Hoboken Family Alliance provides parents info on schools, community events
by Dean DeChiaro
Reporter staff writer
Oct 13, 2013 | 5511 views | 0 0 comments | 84 84 recommendations | email to a friend | print
FACE TIME – Joe D’Annibale, a fourth and fifth grade Spanish teacher at the Hoboken Dual Language Charter School (HoLa), talks with a prospective parent at the Hoboken Family Alliance’s ninth annual All Schools Open House on Thursday night.
FACE TIME – Joe D’Annibale, a fourth and fifth grade Spanish teacher at the Hoboken Dual Language Charter School (HoLa), talks with a prospective parent at the Hoboken Family Alliance’s ninth annual All Schools Open House on Thursday night.

Hundreds of parents and soon-to-be parents turned out for the Hoboken Family Alliance’s ninth Annual All Schools Open House on Thursday night, meeting with representatives from public, charter, private, and parochial schools from around Hudson and Bergen Counties. With many of their children asleep in strollers, parents said they were thankful for the chance for an education one-stop shop.

“It’s great to have everyone in one place,” said Tim Flood, who was considering kindergarten programs for his son. “There’s a lot of information out there about all the different options, but it’s pretty scattered, so it’s nice to be able to come to something like this and figure it out.”

The open house is an annual staple of the Hoboken Family Alliance’s (HFA) annual schedule. Informally started by about 10 moms on a park bench in the late 1990s, the group’s membership has grown to well over 300 families.

In addition to helping parents find schools, the group also organizes community events for kids and adults, deals extensively in charity for Hoboken students, and has formed partnerships with over 40 local businesses.
“It’s great to have everyone in one place.” – Hoboken parent Tim Flood
Membership to the group costs $40 per year, but Rachel Matthai, the group’s finance director, says the fee more than makes up for itself with the discounts available throughout town, not to mention in the information in the group’s bimonthly newsletter.

“When people pay money to a group, they want to make sure they get something in return,” said Matthai. “The first thing you get is our master spreadsheet of all the area schools. It’s got literally everything you need to in making a choice. And then there’s the discounts. Big Fun Toys is probably the most popular one.”

Diverse choice in schools

Irene Sobolov, who now serves as a member of the Hoboken Board of Education but was a founder of HFA years ago, was the original brainpower behind the open house, and said on Thursday that she remembered the difficulties of looking at schools with a small child.

“I was going around to every school in town, pushing the stroller along, and just taking any of the information they had to give me, brochures or anything like that,” she said. “So we started doing this instead.”

Education professionals from every type of school said they thought the open house was a wonderful opportunity not only for parents, but also themselves.

“I don’t always get to speak with parents in an informal manner like this so that makes it an enjoyable experience,” said the superintendent of Hoboken’s public schools, Dr. Mark Toback. “But it’s great for me in terms of being able to figure out what they’re interested in, what their needs are.”

Sergio Alati, the head of Stevens Cooperative School, said he thought there was more to be gained from facetime with school representatives than from simply reading a brochure.

“Community events like this are extraordinary opportunities to connect with families, to learn about their interests and experiences and to share with them information about what makes our school fantastic,” he said. “I think the connection that you can make with a family, more than a pamphlet, can be the deciding factor in where they decide to enroll their child.”

And Matthew McGrath, the principal at Hoboken Catholic Academy, praised HFA’s decision to include every type of school.

“I think it gives all of us an opportunity not only a chance to speak to parents or prospective parents, but also each other,” he said. “It’s a great chance to share ideas and information about upcoming events.”

The event was attended by 23 schools from Hoboken, Jersey City, and various parts of Bergen County. They were: All Saints Episcopal Day School, Apple Montessori School, Beyond Basic Learning, the Dwight-Englewood School, Elysian Charter School, the French American Academy of Jersey City, Hamilton Park Montessori School, Hoboken Catholic Academy, the Hoboken Public Schools, Hoboken Catholic Academy, Hoboken Charter School, Hoboken Montessori School, Hoboken Dual Language Charter School (HoLa), Hudson Milestones, Hudson Montessori, Kaplan Cooperative Preschool, Mile Square Learning Center, the Mustard Seed School, Park Prep Academy, Stevens Cooperative School, Prime Time Early Learning Center, the Elisabeth Morrow School, the Scandinavian School of Jersey City, and Waterfront Montessori.

HFA’s other activities

Since its inception, HFA has grown to not only include activities for children but for parents as well. Each February, the group hosts its annual Cabin Fever celebration, which serves as half-festival for the kids and half-meetup for the parents. The group does a clothing swap (kids outgrow perfectly good clothing quickly), holds an annual gala, and gives three $2,000 scholarships to college-bound Hoboken students each year.

It also donates to community causes in times of need. After Hoboken Charter School’s fire last year, HFA made a hefty donation, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, HFA contributed almost $5,000 to area schools damaged by the storm.

For more information on the Hoboken Family Alliance, visit hobokenfamily.com.

Dean DeChiaro may be reached at deand@hudsonreporter.com

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