According to latest statistics, Hebrew schools are the venue of choice for 60 percent of American children who receive a Jewish education – and more than 80 percent of non-Orthodox children. Hebrew schools can play a very important role in the shaping of our children’s Jewish identity, and therefore as parents of Bar Mitzvah children it is a good idea to choose a school wisely to guarantee your child’s success. At YJS, we have done some research and have provided some invaluable tools to help you.
Hebrew school/Sunday school/religious school?
The first Hebrew school was founded in 1818 in Philadelphia as a means of providing Jewish Education to students who otherwise lacked religious grounding in Jewish traditions and history or lacked the financial means necessary to attend such a school, it was based on the Christian education program and was therefore called Sunday School. Today, Hebrew School is typically taught on Sunday and on one day of the week. Education starts in kindergarten and culminates in the tenth grade. The term “religious school” is often used as it encompasses a broader approach to Jewish learning and living.
What will my kids learn?
Generally in kindergarten and first grade students, students are taught the basics of the Jewish holidays and Hebrew language. Learning is often based on hands-on activities such as crafts, music, cooking, storytelling, puzzles and other fun activities. These skills are developed in 2-5th grade, and pupils are taught Jewish prayer, blessings, mitzvot like tzedakah (charity), rituals, customs, Jewish History and the land of Israel.
Bar/Bat Mitzvah programs
In the 6th and 7th grade, students begin their Bar and Bat Mitzvah preparations. Instructors help them learn their Torah portion, and in many schools have developed excellent programs and projects to help the Bnei Mitzvah to integrate the responsibilities of Jewish adulthood into their lives, and to inspire them at the beginning of their Jewish journey to adulthood.
Some advice in choosing your kids Hebrew School, from Sara Shapiro-Plevan, Coordinator of Congregational Education for the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York:
- Make sure that the Hebrew School Program suits your family – both in terms of logistics and content. What if Shabbat attendance is a requirement but you are often out of town on weekends? What if your son has an after school activity that is very important to him on the day of instruction? Is the school located far away from your home, or close by in your neighborhood? If your child has particular learning needs or particular interests, find out if the school can accommodate these needs. Hebrew schools need to choose what their focus of education will be – does their choice align with yours? Look at the curriculum and make sure it addresses your family’s needs.
- Get a feel for the Sunday school – Schedule a tour of the school and visit some classes. Ask yourself if things are running smoothly? Are the classrooms cheerful? Is the space appropriate for learning? Are the students happy and engaged? A good program will “feel” good when you’re in the building. One Hebrew School website we saw said “Imagine a Hebrew School where kids don’t want to miss a day – They come in with a smile and leave humming a Hebrew song. Walking though the halls you can hear the sounds of lively discussion, of singing, laughter, a prayer. Image a child who feels the warmth and spirit of Judaism.”
- Who’s in Charge? Meet with the director or principal, and find out what their educational vision is. Feel free to ask your questions and share any anxieties.
- Become involved parents – the famous Shema prayer stipulates that parents are responsible for teaching Torah to our kids. Now while we may not want all want to teach in Hebrew school, it is a good idea to find out how parents are involved in the school. Is there an active School or Education Committee? Are parents invited and encouraged to volunteer? How can we support our child’s education?
- Getting more than you gambled for – Often schools are part of synagogue communities that offer a wide variety of programming. There may be post Hebrew School youth programs, children’s prayers services, further education opportunities for parents, social activities – see if you can enrich your entire family through your school of choice!
Making the Decision – as Sara says “at the end of the day, choosing a Hebrew school is a commitment spiritually as well as financially. For the relationship to be successful, both parents and school leaders must be partners in the child’s education and commit to that partnership from the moment the child enters the school until he or she graduates. The entire undertaking is, however, a very personal one, and should be reflective of who you are, and who your child is, and the dreams and aspirations you have for your family.”
Sections of this article were taken from http://www.myjewishlearning.com/life/Life_Stages/Jewish_Education/Trends/Religious_Schools/Choosing_a_School.shtml