Philadelphia’s Hebrew Charter School: Take Two

In the fall of 2019, pending approval of the charter from the School Reform Commission, a Hebrew charter school will open in the East Falls neighborhood in Philadelphia. This will be the second attempt to establish a Hebrew charter school in the area. The Solomon Charter School, Philadelphia’s first Hebrew charter cyber school, closed in 2013 after only five months of operation. The reason for the closure was a failure to operate within the charter and cyber school laws. But Hebrew Public, the umbrella organization that is leading the establishment of the Philadelphia Hebrew Public Charter School, is confident that this new school will succeed and grow.

Hebrew Public, funded by the Steinhardt Foundation, spent more than two years researching potential locations to house the new Philadelphia Hebrew Public Charter School before they settled on the former site of the Women’s Medical College Hospital in East Falls.

Charters schools are public schools, so the Philadelphia Hebrew Public Charter School will not be a Jewish school. The focus of the school will be on the study of Modern Hebrew, Israel and it’s culture, and history. When the students reach the eighth grade, they will be eligible to participate in a fully-funded trip to Israel. Initially, the school will offer classes for kindergarten and first grade. The plan is to add an additional grade each year until it reaches the eighth grade.

Diverse by design, the administrators intend to enroll students from all over the city. Thus far, they  have visited a number of  nursery schools to invite families to consider applying.

Hebrew will be taught using the proficiency approach developed by Dr. Vardit Ringvald. Instead of spending years drilling conjugations, the focus will be on the students’ listening, speaking, reading, and writing abilities. The teachers will be able to use their creativity to select songs, stories, advertisements, and any other media they like to help their students be immersed in Modern Hebrew.

The Hebrew Public umbrella organization encourages its teachers to experience Israel by applying for a summer fellowship to teach English in the country at Talma, an organization for low-income students to learn Hebrew and English. Talma is a public summer school program in Israel that is organized by a partnership between the Israeli Ministry of Education and the Schusterman and Steinhardt Foundations. Fellows are placed in schools that serve Arab, Jewish, Bedouin, and mixed Arab-Jewish schools. This is an opportunity for the teachers to explore Israel and grow professionally as part of an international group of teachers.

Currently, Hebrew Public directly manages and supports Hebrew charter schools in New York, Minnesota, New Jersey, Washington DC, and California. The demographic data for the whole network of schools from the fall of 2016-2017 shows that 50% of the students are caucasian, 27% African American, 11% hispanic, and Multiracial and Asian make up the rest. Of the languages spoken at home, 66% of the students speak English, 11% speak Hebrew, 8% speak Russian, and 8% speak Spanish. These pupils are called “heritage speakers,” as they grow up immersed in a language other than English at home, which adds to the global orientation of the schools.

The School Reform Commission will hold hearings on the charter application in December and January, and vote in February. There is already a lot of interest in the new school in Philadelphia from families who are pre-registering before the charter has even been approved. If it is approved, with Hebrew Charter’s experience and track record of successful schools, Philadelphia’s Hebrew Charter School will be off to a very promising beginning.

Hazon Receives Grant

Will Oversee First Formal Research on Integration of Jewish Learning with Food

— by the Hazon Staff

Recognizing the growing interest among individuals and families in experiences that integrate Jewish learning with learning about food, the environment, and the outdoors, a group of national and local funders have awarded a grant to Hazon to oversee new research in this area. Funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation, Leichtag Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, UJA-Federation of New York, and Rose Community Foundation, the research will explore how participation in immersive Jewish food, environmental, and outdoor education programs influences individuals’ Jewish growth and leads to increased Jewish involvement.

More after the jump.
Nigel Savage of Hazon, America’s largest Jewish environmental organization says

More and more people, particularly young adults, express their Jewish identity through passion for building sustainable and environmentally conscious Jewish communities. We need to learn more about this phenomenon, better understand effective strategies, and determine long-term outcomes on participants. This is an exciting first step in deeply examining this relatively new and emerging space of Jewish learning and engagement.

While organizations have invested time and resources to develop and sustain these immersive educational programs, to date there has been no formal evaluation or research conducted in this field. Nor has there been a review of existing research from outside the Jewish world to inform practitioners and funders.

Among other areas of interest, the research will examine such topics as the kinds of learning that occurs in these experiences that deepens Jewish identity; to what degree these experiences influence participants to become involved in their Jewish communities; and the relationship between local and national programs.

Al Levitt, President of the Jim Joseph Foundation, says

We are excited to partner with other funders to determine how to invest the community’s attention and resources in this area. There appears to be growing interest in Jewish food, environmental, and outdoor education programs, and this research will help us better understand the learning that is taking place and identify what is working most effectively. The findings from this study will help inform future grantmaking decisions and could ultimately lead to more Jews being engaged in meaningful Jewish experiences.

Charlene Seidle, Vice President and Executive Director of the Leichtag Foundation, says

Immersive experiences in the areas of Jewish food justice, farming and environmental advocacy help align individual values and interests with substantive Jewish principles and traditions. We look forward to learning together about the impact of these experiences in order to inform our funding and program model development.

The grant announcement comes a week after Hazon and the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center announced a merger of their organizations, both national leaders in the Jewish Food Movement and Jewish environmental movement in particular. The merged organization also will include the Teva Learning Alliance, which began in association with Isabella Freedman in the 1990s. The merger builds on the success of the existing Isabella Freedman campus – a spiritual home for many — and Hazon’s track record of re-connecting American Jews with the natural world. The new entity will have a wide range of programs, staff and volunteers in California, Colorado and elsewhere, and will be positioned to have a greater impact across the country.

“Merging the organizations certainly capitalizes on the strengths of each one and combines various separate areas of expertise into a streamlined operation,” Savage adds. “This in turn will foster a broader and more in depth study that ultimately will lead to more significant learnings for the field.”

Along with reaching out to alumni and former participants of programs run by Hazon, Isabella Freedman, and Teva Learning Alliance, the study will reach out to alumni from a range of other related programs including Eden Village Camp, Urban Adamah, Wilderness Torah, Kayam Farm, and the Jewish Farm School. Their program offerings include Jewish farming programs, environmental bike rides, conferences about food and sustainability, group camping trips structured around Jewish holiday celebrations, backpacking and outdoor adventure trips, and environmental educator training fellowships.

While the exact number of participants in these programs is unknown, field leaders estimate that in 2011, as many as 2,500 individuals participated in an immersive Jewish food, environmental or outdoor education program lasting four days or more.

“Programs that integrate socially conscious living with Jewish learning are proving to be a high-potential ingredient in the mix of experiences that enable young Jews to live as global citizens in accordance with Jewish values,” said Sandy Cardin, President of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network, which includes the Schusterman Family Foundation. “We believe this research will provide a framework for understanding how such experiences can help inspire a deeper connection to Jewish life.”

The research will build upon early planning efforts being led by the Green Hevra, a network of key Jewish environmental organizations of which Hazon is a participant. The Green Hevra received a $65,000 startup grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation and Morningstar Foundation earlier this year.

Sarene Shanus, Chair of the Jewish Community Development Task Force of the Commission on Jewish Identity and Renewal at UJA-Federation of New York notes, “We are pleased to embark on this research partnership, as it builds on the foundation we’ve helped to lay with the Jewish Greening Fellowship, the Jewish Farm School, and Eden Village camp as touchpoints for Jewish community and environmentalism.”

Lisa Farber Miller, Senior Program Officer of Rose Community Foundation, says

The Colorado Jewish community is seeing a sudden burgeoning of individuals and new organizations interested in being part of the Jewish Food Movement. Established Jewish institutions are realizing the importance of embracing the values of the sustainable food and environmental movements. Hazon provides pertinent educational resources, links and assists grassroots groups like the Jewish chicken coops in Denver and Boulder, and helps organizations adopt new ways of engaging their users to learn about food and the environment. The national research study, which includes a case study highlighting Denver/Boulder Hazon work, will help us better understand how we can continue to advance this movement.

For Hazon, the grant is an opportunity to further the organization’s goals of offering compelling experiences, providing thought leadership, and supporting the work of the individuals and organizations that share its vision for healthier and more sustainable independent communities in the Jewish world and beyond. The research will be conducted by an outside firm and managed by Hazon with oversight from an advisory team that includes both funders and practitioners.

“There is now a strong and expanding group of individuals and organizations that seek to create these learning opportunities,” says Savage. “The support from funders to conduct this research will ultimately help all organizations that offer Jewish food, environmental and outdoor education programs.”