The past two years have been difficult for all of us in the COVID-19 pandemic. We are grateful to the Almighty and Pujya Gurudev for seeing us through this difficult time. Although we have not emerged from this yet, and COVID-19 cases continue to increase, we are getting more used to living with this, as we collectively use all the tools available to us, including vaccines, testing, and masking, while trying to return to more normal living.
At CMSJ, we have gradually started to increase our in-person activities, taking appropriate precautions to keep our community safe. We have been increasing our in-person pujas, yajnas and camps. Invoking Pujya Gurudev’s grace and blessings, we have decided to move Bala Vihar and related classes back to an in-person format from the 2022-23 year, i.e. beginning this fall. We will continue to keep a close eye on COVID-19 developments, but at this time, we believe we are able to create the same in-person learning experience that we enjoyed for many years before the pandemic, while continuing to keep our children, our teachers and our broader community safe.
Returning to an in-person format has a few important considerations. One such consideration is scheduling. Over the past two years in a remote learning environment, families were able to register for different classes in different “locations” based on their scheduling preferences. As we return to in-person learning, we will have a fixed schedule for each location, so it will not be possible to “mix-and-match” classes across locations. At this time, we expect that classes will be offered on Saturdays in Berkeley, Fremont and San Ramon, and limited classes in San Jose Sandeepany Ashram. There will be classes on Sundays in San Mateo and San Jose. This is subject to change, as we finalize location and volunteers and teachers availability. We will also have our Brahmachari Soham Ji come to Bala Vihar sessions to address adults with various topics. Of course, all adult programs are free to all adults.
We will consider appropriate steps to keep our children safe, including a strict cleaning schedule for classrooms, and requirements for vaccinations, testing and masking. More details on this will be provided in the coming weeks.
Finally, you may recall that prior to the pandemic, our fee structure was set at $600 for membership fees (per family) and $35 per class fee. During the pandemic, in part because our costs were lower (in the absence of facility rentals) and in part to assist our members, we reduced our fee to $450 for membership fees (a 25% reduction) and $35 per class fee.
Now that we return to an in-person program, we will start re-incurring facility rental costs. Hence we must unfortunately increase our fees almost similar to pre-pandemic levels. The richness of interaction with the teacher and other students has been hard to maintain in a virtual format. We are keen to return to an in-person program and restore the advantages of in person teaching despite the higher costs.
We have listened carefully to feedback from our members. It became quite apparent to us that our membership and class fee structure was inequitable to families with fewer children or in fewer classes. A family with one child in Bala Vihar only was paying $485 in total for just one class, while a family with three children in two classes each was paying a total of only $660 for 6 classes averaging to only $110 per class v/s $485 for a small family. Many of you requested us to lower the membership fee and increase the class fee to make our overall fee structure more equitable.
Considering all the feedback, a decision was made to reduce the membership fee (per family) to $300 (from $450 last year), and increase the per class fee to $150.
With this change in the fee structure, our average fees will increase 27%, similar to where we were pre-pandemic, allowing us to generate funds for the additional costs we incur with an in-person program.
Families will experience different changes. Some families will see a reduction in the fees, while some families will see a moderate increase. We expect these changes to average out to about 27% net increase, just enough to pay for our higher rental costs in our many locations, and nearly exactly reversing the fee reduction we had temporarily put in place as we entered the pandemic. Our change fee will remain $35 after an initial grace period during which add/drop will remain free.
We realize these are significant changes. We always value your feedback. Please do understand that these increases are necessary to help us offset our own costs. We welcome all children to Bala Vihar, and do not want to let economic hardships get in the way of spiritual learning. That was Gurudev’s vision and remains a guiding principle for us. If you need assistance of any sort, please do not hesitate to let the Bala Vihar coordinator for your location know.
Registration for the upcoming year will open on August 3rd. We look forward to seeing your children and you again in person in a few short months!