It Turns Out, You Really Can Learn Hebrew at Camp

November 11, 2016

Source: eJewish Philanthropy


Our two organizations – Rosov Consulting and Middlebury College – have been involved in studying an initiative that is at a point of inflection, on the brink of transitioning from start-up to scale. We have had the opportunity to document and evaluate, from the time of its birth – really, since its conception – the Areivim Hebrew at Camp Initiative. With the initiative moving to a second stage of development, developing a co-brand with the Foundation for Jewish Camp, this a timely moment to share some of what we have learned.

The goal of the Hebrew at Camp Initiative is to create a movement of Hebrew immersive and partially-immersive Jewish day camp programs where pre- and elementary-school-age children can experience, learn and enjoy modern spoken Hebrew utilizing the Proficiency Approach, a gold standard in language education. The concept is this: young children spend their summer at Jewish day camp; their ability to communicate in Hebrew develops dramatically, they develop a positive connection to Israel, and they have as much fun as their fellow-campers.

Launched by a group of philanthropists with a passion for Hebrew and a belief in the language as a key to both Jewish and Israel engagement, the Initiative confronted some tough questions at its start. Having identified special promise in the Jewish day camp sector, with more than 100,000 campers estimated to enroll every year, what would the Proficiency Approach look like in a day-camp setting when until now it had only been employed in all-day schools? Could the Approach really deliver sustainable progress in Hebrew over eight weeks of camp? Who would staff the programs so that the experience would be qualitatively different from previous efforts to bring Hebrew to camp? Would enough parents sign up to cover the additional costs of running the program?

The Initiative started with 19 participants in one camp, in 2012. This past summer, 220 campers took part at seven camps: Camp Ramah at Nyack, and six JCCs day camps. Next summer several additional JCCs are expected to come on board.

Over these past four years we have learned that day camps are peculiarly fertile places in which young people can develop both proficiency in Hebrew and a love of the Hebrew language. Just as the funders had dreamed, at camp it is possible to learn Hebrew in a fun-filled way while employing the language as part of everyday life. And, exceeding all expectations, once the program has run for a couple of years in a setting, it enables camp-providers to grow their markets.

As researchers, it is rare that we get to witness and explore the emergence of genuinely new models for Jewish education. The Hebrew at Camp initiative is one such genuinely new educational proposition.

Read the entire post at eJewish Philanthropy.

Updated: Dec. 08, 2016