Source: Avi Chai Foundation
I’m with the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy in Overland Park, Kansas, in the greater metro Kansas City area. The school was founded in 1966. It’s a community day school that recently affiliated with RAVSAK. It has 230 kids in grades K-12. I’m also the rabbi of an Orthodox synagogue in town. Five years ago, we started a Judaic studies track in the school called Matmidim, offering more rigorous Judaic studies developed by teachers who are observant. I’m now the director of the program.
Matmidim was an ongoing discussion for a couple years. The feeling was that there was a need to attract and retain Orthodox and/or traditional families who wanted a certain type of Judaic studies education. We had this idea to have a teacher who is a role model of what they’re teaching and to create a social group of kids who can support in the classroom the level of observance they see at home and at synagogue. After several attempts to start different schools, we tried this initiative with a pilot program in kindergarten. It went very well. Now it’s a K-4 program, we’re adding a 5th grade next year, and plan to add more every year.
The kids are in the same school together, and have lunch and recess to develop social bonds. One parent board member whose child is in the other program says her child looks up to peers in the program and asks them questions. Also, it has led to more Reform families joining the school, because they feel the other track now better suits what they would be looking for. Likewise, I feel comfortable teaching Orthodox Halacha. At the same time, any family who wants to can join the track, as long as they are willing to be supportive, even if not practicing, at home. Over time, I hope we can demonstrate that what our track produces is not just the orientation, observance of halacha, or social group, but that value-wise the kids in the program are receiving a text-based education. The kids come out knowing how to read Chumash and how to daven. Perhaps other families might want their children to have that rigorous Jewish education too.
We are also exploring ways to enhance our Judaic studies offerings across the board. One staffing decision we made for next year is to bring in shlichim from Israel, which our school hadn’t done in a long time. They are going to teach in both programs – they have the Hebrew language, and also are observant – and in this way act as a bridge between them. This helps solidify the common value system in terms of the centrality of Israel and creates a general avira (atmosphere), you could say.
Read the entire interview at the AVI CHAI Blog.