Public Charter Schools Put Benefits of Teaching Hebrew to the Test

November 21, 2018

Source: eJewish Philanthropy 


Now in its ninth year, the Hebrew Public network of 13 charter schools utilizes a blend of startup philanthropic funding and state funds to offer high-quality Hebrew language education to Jewish and non-Jewish students alike. Currently, these schools run in New York, New Jersey, California, Minnesota and Washington, D.C. New schools are scheduled to open soon in Philadelphia and Staten Island.

The network schools teach Hebrew to all their students since kindergarten. The school does not teach any subjects on Jewish faith, but does offer information on Israeli culture, history and national holidays.

“We are not a Jewish school. We are the only public-school network in North America that teaches Hebrew to kids of all backgrounds,” says Valerie Khaytina, chief external officer of Hebrew Public.

The network – with more than 3,000 students – was started by the Areivim Philanthropy Group and the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life in 2009 to provide an alternative for parents and students searching for an education that could provide access to Hebrew and Israel. “The Areivim partners sought to find the next big idea to actually make Jewish education affordable for all children,” explains Khaytina. “At around the same time, they got to learn about the concept of charter schools. They quickly learned that a charter school needs to be open to all students, regardless of their religious background and that we can provide all of our students with great education, including learning Hebrew as a second language.”

“We are a public school in the United States, which means we are open to all the students in the neighborhood,” and in the United States, you cannot ask students what their religion is. Anecdotally, we believe that approximately half the students in the whole network are Jewish, but we don’t know that for sure.”

Khaytina says that for many Jewish families, the school’s appeal is “the idea of teaching kids Hebrew, and about the history and culture of Israel – about global citizenship.”

For many families, “sending their kids to our school is simply a better choice,” she says. “Unfortunately, in many neighborhoods in the United States, the school networks are not so great, and families just want a better school.”

“For some, it is the emphasis on a foreign language, and it can be any foreign language. It could be Hebrew, it could be Chinese, it could be Spanish,” adds Khaytina. “For some families, they like that Hebrew is the language of the Bible, so even though we teach modern Hebrew, people want their kids to understand it and be able to read the Bible.” She also says “we hear a lot from our African-American families; they know that Israel is a leader in high-tech and innovation, so they view it as a chance for their kids to come here, learn here.”

Read the article on eJewish Philanthropy

Updated: Dec. 02, 2018