Source: HaYidion – Summer 2015
What does it take to achieve excellence in Hebrew education? A willingness on behalf of the leaders and community to engage in a critical examination of an already successful program. At the Epstein School in Atlanta, we had developed a reputation as a school with a highly successful Hebrew immersion program. And yet, internally, we knew we could do better; there were gaps in achievement that we struggled to address, and we needed the perspective of an outside expert to help give us a bigger picture on the program’s goals and implementation. Many schools would question why we spent time and resources to fix what isn’t broken when there are so many demands on our plates. This article chronicles how we embarked on the journey to ensure our students receive the best immersion services we can provide. We came away with a profound sense of renewed commitment to our values, identity and mission statement.
As a result of the Hebrew audit, we are now in year three of a schoolwide improvement plan, with clearly articulated and measurable goals for proficiency and for Judaic content enhancement. So does the question of Hebrew as the means or the end have an impact on daily practice? Does the emphasis on skills vs. content make a difference? Indeed, the fact that we are having these discussions at a high level, using research and data to help guide our practice, points to the fact that we are pushing the field forward. When the discussion takes place with stakeholders, leaders, budget decision-makers, curriculum writers, teachers, parents and students around the same table, the community reasserts its commitment to the philosophy and mission statement, profile of a graduate, use of time and professional development.
In addition, the community draws the connections among Hebrew, nationhood, shared Jewish experiences, connection to Israel, heritage, text study, current events and so much more. The language shapes student identity in such profound ways. Underlying any initiative must be a burning sense that excellence isn’t something attained, but rather something for which you continuously strive.
We found the process of opening our school doors to outside evaluators extremely beneficial, and strongly recommend that other schools committed to Hebrew excellence engage in a similar process to pinpoint how to best impact the next generation of learners. Although the prospect can be intimidating and admittedly place the school in a state of vulnerability, the message to the community of transparency, commitment to Hebrew, and engagement in continual improvement far outweighs the fear or what might be revealed in an audit. The battle for Hebrew language is alive and well in Jewish education, whether it be committing to key ingredients, exploring assessment techniques or restating the philosophical underpinnings of Hebrew education.