Thursday, 13 Dec 2018

How a charter school in Hebrew language found its way to DC

Denise Lockett, an African-American and Catholic grandmother, was sitting in the lobby of a district charter school waiting to prepare lunch for her 9-year-old grandson. "I am Kobe savta," she says with a smile, using the Hebrew word for "grandmother" to introduce herself. Kobe, his precocious grandson who watches Israeli cartoons on YouTube during his free time, was in Hebrew class, where students learn to write from right to left in the Middle East language. "Mah shlomcha?", He asked a school visitor, using the Hebrew message for, "How are you?" and a language associated with Judaism. But the school is not religious.
Students dance and sing Israeli songs in Hebrew in their Hebrew class at the Sela Public Charter School in northeastern Washington. (Evelyn Hockstein / for the Washington Post) It is a secular and publicly funded school that reflects the demographics of schoolchildren in the district. More than 70% of students are black, a figure comparable to that observed in public schools. About 16% of the 180 preschool and elementary students are white, most of them identifying as Jewish. Nearly 10% of students are Hispanic. A small percentage are Asian. Kobe and his classmates love to surprise people with what they know – and teach their families and neighbors something new. On the occasion of Kobe's recent birthday, his mother learned to sing "Happy Birthday" in Hebrew. And Sydney Harris, a grade five student, said she was at a district gas station when she heard a woman speak Hebrew. Sydney thought the woman was talking to her, so she answered in Hebrew. The woman was in shock.
Brittany Johnson, mother of a Sela Public Charter School student, and Denise Lockett, grandmother of a Sela student, speaking in the school hall. (Evelyn Hockstein / For the Washington Post) "Most of the time, people are really surprised and intrigued because they do not think the people of Washington can speak Hebrew," said Sydney. "I'm proud that, for once, people do not have to learn anything. I can teach them something. But Hebrew can be perceived as an impractical second language for students to master, especially in a country where Spanish and Chinese are the most common.
common languages ​​spoken at home other than English. There are no public Hebrew language schools in the district for middle and high school students; Sela graduates should therefore enroll in a Jewish private day school to continue learning the language, which some Jewish students have practiced. While the school is trying to recruit more students to fill its classrooms, the city requires a lot of extra immersion in Spanish and Chinese languages. This has sometimes raised the question of whether public funds should be used to fund a Hebrew language school in Washington, acknowledged some Sela leaders. However, Jessica Lieberman, one of Sela's founders and board member, said that while students did not use Hebrew in their daily lives, they still had the intellectual benefits that come from learning the language. a second language. As a new mother, Lieberman, who lived in Israel, opened Sela in 2013 with a group that wanted to see more language teaching options in the city. Students are exposed to another part of the world through Sela, said Lieberman. Every week, students take an hour class that teaches them about Israeli culture, cooking and dancing. Although Sela is the only public Hebrew language school in the district, there are similar charter schools in New York, Minnesota and California. Schools are affiliated through Hebrew Public, an organization that promotes charter campuses in Hebrew and provides educational and planning resources to schools. "We really focus on the importance of studying a second language, just because of the cognitive development that you pull out of it," Lieberman said. "And every time you learn a second language, it's much easier to learn a third language." Inside Sela, there are Hebrew panels, shelves filled with colorful books on the tongue, Israeli music and dance. Some families, including Kobe, have been drawn to school because of their small size and the ability to learn another language. Kobe's cousins ​​are also going to school now. Other families languished on waiting lists for places in immersion schools in Spanish and Chinese, but still wanted their child to learn a foreign language. So they signed up for Sela. Allison Blotzer, a mother of two young school students, said she had never expected to have Hebrew speaking children. Her husband is a native speaker of Spain and uses this language at home. She wanted her children to be exposed to another language. But they were locked out of French and Chinese language schools during the school lottery, which places children in schools all over the city. "It was not the first choice when we played the lottery, but we feel very lucky to have been matched with Sela," said Blotzer. "My kids love Hebrew." In kindergarten, students spend all day learning materials in Hebrew. Meanwhile, elementary students have a morning meeting in Hebrew and a one-hour class learning Hebrew every day, said school principal Joshua Bork. In language immersion schools – Sela's upper classes are not technically qualified – pupils learn their main subjects every day in the foreign language. Bork said Sela was trying to switch to this model but had to recruit more students to be able to pay additional instructors able to teach basic materials in Hebrew. He said that Hebrew is a phonetic language, so it also helps students who learn to read English. The school has an average grade level, according to the publicly chartered public school board D.C. Bork said the rankings did not reflect the achievements of his students. Sela has so few students in the upper grades that if a small portion of their test scores do not improve, this greatly affects the school's assessment, according to Bork. Carmit Romano-Hvid, Sela's Hebrew coordinator, is an Israeli born by birth who taught Hebrew at a university in Denmark. But she has never taught this language in a school like Sela. "It shows how one can teach the language and relate it to culture without invoking religion," she said. "These kids are curious, they want to learn a new language and get to know other parts of the world."

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