While many public and private schools are experiencing declining enrollment, The Hebrew Academy, celebrating over 50 years of excellence, has increased its enrollment this year. The community school brings students from Long Beach to San Clemente providing students in Preschool through 12th grade a comprehensive and balanced approach to rigorous academics in a nurturing Jewish environment.
Of the many things that makes this school unique, the academic program stands out. The Academy embraces the most current educational practices and offers an accelerated curriculum that includes college preparatory courses augmented by a rigorous dual curriculum that includes modern spoken Hebrew. Passionate teachers skillfully guide students through a largely hands-on and project-based curriculum, creating classroom environments that nurture creativity and inspire curiosity. Students are excited about learning because they are engaged in meaningful, student-centered activities that stimulate critical and creative thinking. Elementary students learn science, geography and history by reading a variety of fiction and non-fiction, drawing, acting, and creating physical models. Projects are integrated with Judaic studies and presented to parents and students in other classes. In contrast to traditional classrooms, students at the Hebrew Academy engage in collaborative and real world problem solving, applying and demonstrating learning in a variety of interesting ways that simulate their future careers in a global and increasingly technology driven economy.
Students in Kindergarten through 8th grade are participating in this year’s Innovation Fair, a 3-month research project incorporating all of the core academic subjects. Curiosity is embraced, creativity is cultivated, and students are trained in the art and science of inquiry. Middle school students are researching the prosthetic industry, incorporating intensive STEM education while they develop greater awareness and empathy for those affected. A field trip to Caltech to see the work of renowned engineers firsthand and videoconferencing with state-of-the-art industry experts in Israel bring learning to life.
Approaches to education at The HA are driven by the most current research. Brain-based learning has superseded previous traditions where rows of seats and a teacher lecturing from the front of the classroom met the learning needs of some, but not all students. Students at The HA often learn in small groups, and move from one center to another throughout the day. Flexible seating enables students to stand at their desks while others use traditional desks. Some students work in groups, while others work independently.
Specialized curriculum enables teachers to accommodate students who learn at different paces, creating environments where a variety of inviting learning activities appeal to different learning styles. Students who need extra support have the benefit of small group or one-on-one assistance, while students who are prepared to delve deeper into the curriculum receive specialized instruction in the Accelerated and Enriched Learning Opportunities (AELO) program. Teachers continually expand their skills, participating regularly in professional development and collaboration.
The benefits of a dual language program have been well documented. The early years of a child’s life are the most ideal time for dual language learning. Students at The HA begin learning modern spoken Hebrew in Kindergarten. Teaching Hebrew language builds their connection to their heritage and to modern-day Israel, and supports brain development and the capacity for learning other languages in the future.
Current research indicates the integral role of Social Emotional Learning in a child’s education. Building on the school’s core values, students are supported and guided in developing the skills for effective communication, including perspective-taking, conflict resolution, and empathy. Drawing on a program of Positive Discipline, social-skills classes with a school counselor, and thoughtfully designed playground initiatives ensure that social and emotional needs are met so that students are fully available to apply themselves academically.
Bryn Harari, Ph.D. is the principal of Hebrew Academy and a contributing writer to Jlife magazine.