There are few dual-language elementary schools in New York—and even fewer with Hebrew as the foreign language. But beginning in fall 2022, Staten Island Hebrew Public will welcome students to its free public charter school that not only promotes proficiency in Modern Hebrew but teaches students of all backgrounds to be global citizens.
What is Staten Island Hebrew Public?
Staten Island Hebrew Public (SIHP) is the newest school in the Hebrew Public school network —a national movement of Hebrew language charter schools, with ten active campuses, including several in New York. The network—with more than 3,000 students—was started by philanthropic groups in 2009 to offer Modern Hebrew to diverse students in a public school setting.
According to Lissette Roman, the founding Head of School, “We strive to create a culture of belonging through dedicated community-building opportunities daily, high expectations, and social-emotional support. Our commitment to creating an intentionally diverse by design community will allow students to learn about cultures outside of their own and build relationships across lines of difference.”
Staten Island Hebrew Public will open in Midland Beach with kindergarten and first grade, and then add one grade per year. The school’s aim, according to Hebrew Public’s Chief External Officer, Valerie Khaytina, “is to provide a great education. Our academic program is rigorous and aims to meet every child’s educational needs.” She adds that Staten Island Hebrew Public “will provide differentiated instruction to connect with each student and teach a foreign language, which not too many schools do in general, and definitely not from kindergarten.”
Do you have to be Jewish to attend Staten Island Hebrew Public?
Students do not have to be Jewish or speak Hebrew to apply. “We are a public school, which means we are open to students from all backgrounds,” Khaytina says.
Most of the students in Hebrew Public’s schools come from diverse backgrounds. During the 2019-20 school year, the enrollment of Harlem Hebrew Language Academy (another school in the Hebrew Public network) was 45% Black and 41% Hispanic or Latino, according to New York State data. At the Sela Public Charter School in Washington, DC, more than 70 percent of the students are Black, and about 16 percent are White, with most identifying as Jewish.
“Research points to the fact that the more kids can interact with somebody who is not just like themselves, the more they benefit in life later on—being able to emphasize, accept and respect people who are different from them,” Roman says.
Staten Island Hebrew Public’s random lottery on April 6 will decide enrollment for the fall. Acceptance at other Hebrew Public schools has been competitive, but Khaytina—who says applications for Staten Island Hebrew Public opened October 1—is confident that there will be a good chance of getting in, or at least on the waitlist.
What is Staten Island Hebrew Public’s educational approach?
Students at Staten Island Hebrew Public learn writing, reading, math, Modern Hebrew, science, social studies, physical education, music, and art. The average class size is 25 students. “We support our teachers so they can truly get to know each child and their individual academic needs,” Khaytina says, explaining that kids at different levels may receive different assignments based on an assessment to differentiate their learning.
For example, In English Language Arts, students read grade-level texts, but are also introduced to books at their own reading level. (A third-grader reading at a fifth-grade level will be placed with other students at the same level.) The math program offers advanced studies for students who are ready for more challenging concepts. Hebrew instruction is conducted in small groups based on students’ needs, with advanced groups at each grade level.
In eighth grade, all students are eligible to participate in a trip to Israel. After graduation, former students can take advantage of a robust alumni program with volunteer and internship opportunities in Israel, career events, and Hebrew lessons. In other words, Hebrew Public makes sure their kids continue learning and growing–even after they have left the school.
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