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.