How to Choose a Hebrew School

Making the right decision for your family and your life

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Take a Tour

Schedule a tour of the school and visit some classes. You can tell the most about a program by visiting it during school hours. Do things seem to be running smoothly? Are the classrooms cheerful? Is the space appropriate for learning? Are the students happy and engaged? A good program will "feel" good when you're in the building. Remember that not all religious school programs are in spaces built to be schools--some may meet in nursery school classrooms, libraries, sanctuaries or even offices. Students studying in these unusual settings should still be actively engaged in exciting, meaningful and stimulating learning.

Do Your Homework

Ask other parents or the education director about the school's curriculum. Many parents discover in retrospect that the curriculum of a Hebrew school doesn't particularly suit their needs. For instance, parents may be eager to have a child become proficient in Modern Hebrew, but the school emphasizes liturgical Hebrew. Other schools emphasize tefillah, prayer and participation in Shabbat services over other areas of study. Hebrew schools are limited by time, and often must "leave out" some areas of study in order to help students become literate in other subjects. This is not a bad thing--on the contrary, it allows teachers and students to focus their attention on areas in which students can develop deeper knowledge. Look at the curriculum and make sure it addresses your particular family's needs.

Who's in Charge?

The educational leadership and teaching faculty make a school what it is. A good school will have a clearly articulated educational vision and a director or principal who guides the program and sets the agenda for change and growth. Meet with the education director and ask her to share her vision for the school. Don't hesitate to come prepared with questions; discuss any anxieties you may have about the process and what it will take to make the experience a positive one for your child and your family. Learn a bit about the faculty and even ask to take a look at textbooks and other materials. Taking some time to meet with the head of the school will help you to get to know the school more intimately, and let you know if you're making the right choice.

Involved Parents

The Shema teaches us v'shinantam l'vaneha, you shall teach the words of Torah to your children. The obligation of providing a child with a Jewish education rests on the shoulders of the parents. While you may not want teach in your child's Hebrew school, you should find out how parents are involved in the school. Is there an active School or Education Committee? Are parents invited and encouraged to volunteer? Does the synagogue community rely on lay leadership? Parents should be actively involved in the governance of the school, in planning and executing programs, and in the life of the community. This doesn't mean that you need to get involved right away, but it opens the door for you to participate in your child's education at some later date.

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Sara Shapiro-Plevan

Sara Shapiro-Plevan serves as the Coordinator of Congregational Education for New York City for the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York.