Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Shalom Academy to Open in Bergen County

I've recently been reading in the local papers about Shalom Academy, the new Hebrew language immersion charter school opening in the Englewood-Teaneck area soon. (The exact location of the Bergen County facility has not yet been announced.) Tamar Snyder, from the Jewish Week just published an article about the school's first information session, and I think a lot of the things she highlights are important to review.

First she quotes the school's mission from the founder, Raphael Bachrach: "to graduate students that are proficient in the Hebrew language.” Sounds good to me! Then, she expands:
Students in kindergarten and first grade in the kindergarten to fifth grade school will spend only a quarter of the day learning in English; subjects such as math, science, and history will be taught exclusively in Hebrew. ... Research has shown that “dual-language immersion is proven to enhance cognitive development and increase self-esteem,” he said. ... Students in grades two through five will spend half of their day learning subjects such as math and science in Hebrew. Language arts, health, and history will be taught in English.
Aside from my confusion about the math here, this reminds me of the Montreal system that a lot of my friends went through. It's definitely impressive and slightly daunting. (Just imagine how some of these parents are going to feel when their kids come home speaking Hebrew!) However, when I compare this to my friends' experience in Montreal- six to seven years after high school, their French though obviously better than mine, is not as impressive I would have expected.
It is unclear how much effort the charter school has put into outreach within the black and Latino communities, as the roughly 500 people who filled the packed auditorium did not reflect the true diversity of the district. Most were white and many men wore yarmulkes.
Pretty interesting demographic. I wonder, though, how many of the yarmulke-wearing crowd will actually apply for spots in the school for their children.
The Englewood and Teaneck school districts are about half black, a quarter Hispanic, and 10 percent Asian, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Wow! That means a maximum of 15% of the Englewood and Teaneck school districts are white? That's actually pretty shocking. In fact, slightly unbelievable. Especially when the 2000 census seems to have completely different statistics.[1] Maybe she means to say that the vast majority of the white kids in the area go to private schools, and don't use the public school system? If so, that's not very clear; also, it's still probably not enough to drive the student body to only 10% white.
When children are ages 3 to 10, “that is the time in which activity of the brain is twice as quick,” [Willaum, acting head of school] told the crowd. “That is the time in which we should be immersing our children in a second language.”
I don't disagree, but Willaum seems to go back and forth on this in the article- is the goal congitive development and a boost in self-esteem, or complete language fluency? We can say it's all three, sure, but I still have my doubts about real mastery of a language when it's only used in a school setting.

And, my favorite...
Bachrach was asked whether the school would administer the placement exam for yeshiva high schools that is administered by The Jewish Education Project. The test is known as the BJE, for the organization’s former name, the Board of Jewish Education. Bachrach said he was unfamiliar with the exam. After being informed by an audience member, he responded “absolutely not.”
Love it.

[1] The zip codes of Englewood and Teaneck are 07631 and 07666, respectively.

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