Insight into two of the city’s fast growing Supplementary Hebrew Schools

We reached out to two JCC educational leaders, Galya Sarner, Director of Kachol Lavan, and Tova Hovich, J.Roots Educational Director to find out the secret to creating two of the most successful supplementary Hebrew schools in the city.

What is the secret to creating an excellent supplementary Hebrew school?
Sarner: The secret code of the Jewish people is the Hebrew language — parents intuitively understand that and are looking for that for their children. As with any successful community initiative, the primary element in creating an excellent supplementary Hebrew school is working with passionate lay leaders and staff who believe in the school’s vision.

Hovich: There are many components in creating an excellent supplementary Hebrew school. First is to create a unique school culture tailored to the requests and desires of the Jewish clientele that you serve. Second is the implementation of the best educational practices from the field of supplementary education. The pedagogy and the teaching philosophy must be high-level, innovative, attractive and engaging with a multi-level Hebrew and Judaic content approach.

What should parents look for in a supplementary Hebrew school?
Sarner: Parents should try to find a school that matches their educational vision for their children. Do you want a diverse community within the school? What age range does the school cover? On what does the curriculum focus? Since Kachol Lavan began in 2006, we have focused on one main thing: a love for the Hebrew language and connection to Israel. This value proposition is what we feel has made us one of the leading Israeli supplementary schools outside Israel, especially for native Hebrew speakers.

Hovich: Parents should check the mission, the teaching philosophy and the educational contents — whether it’s Judaic, Hebrew, etc. — of the schools. Each supplementary Hebrew school differs in these aspects, and parents should do their research in order to ensure that their school aligns with their expectations. Book a tour of the school, meet school management, tour the classes and pay attention to student-teacher ratio in the classrooms. Parents might also want to ask what other educational opportunities are offered within the school, such as art, workshops, events, trips and music.

What are some of your greatest successes?
Sarner: One of my personal highlights was the expansion and integration of Kachol Lavan into the JCC community. The incredible spirit of Kachol Lavan overwhelms me and is definitely a huge part of our success. Hearing our students speaking and singing in Hebrew, celebrating Jewish holidays, talking part in community-wide events and seeing our alumni take an active role as new leaders in our community are all huge sources of pride for us as a school.

Hovich: I think having the highest possible student and staff retention rate in the supplementary education industry is our biggest marker of success. Over 90 percent of students and staff return year after year to continue their J.Roots journey. We have car pools of families coming from all across the GTA — as far as Bolton, Caledon, Newmarket and Barrie. Our student and faculty grow each year and now encompass 372 students and 27 weekly classes at two JCC locations, all delivered by 60 personnel and JVolunteers. Our alumni are another mark of success. We already have a pool of a few hundred of our own alumni who continue to stay connected to UJA and JCC in many ways, whether through volunteering or participating in events and trips.

How do you come up with innovative and cutting-edge curriculum?
Sarner: We surveyed families in order to help us set direction for the future. From that information, and discussions with staff, we set certain priorities, including enhanced Hebrew-language instruction and development of a new proficiency model; new enrichment opportunities; enhanced learning experience through a new approach to curriculum and evaluation; an increased opportunity for teacher engagement; and an increased opportunity for parent involvement.

Hovich: A few experiences have shaped how I develop our curriculum: my Israeli educational background in Jewish history and educational management, my professional experience teaching Jewish history and Hebrew as a second language, and participation in Diaspora curriculum with the Jewish Agency and the Israeli Ministry of Education. The JRoots curriculum is created in teams made up from our school’s Educational Leadership Board. Each year, we evaluate success criteria for each grade level, see what worked and what didn’t and update our multi-grade curriculum accordingly, adding new components, features and pilot projects. At J.Roots, we have created a lot of generic and consistent material that can be used in different classrooms, creating one big picture of the school’s teaching and philosophy. Having this approach sustains the J.Roots pedagogy and allows us to build on and enhance the curriculum as needed from year to year.

How do you select your teachers?
Sarner: We are always looking for staff with the vision, integrity, knowledge and, most importantly, passion for the mission of Kachol Lavan. Our educational staff is composed of university-graduated certified teachers who are fluent in English and Hebrew. They have community experience and involvement and are creative thinkers. Mostly, they are strong leaders with an ability to provide an authentic love of Israeli culture.

Hovich: Aside from looking at the professional background of our teachers, which includes qualifications and teaching experience, we want each faculty member to be an ambassador of the JCC and JRoots. We look for teachers who are engaging and creative and foster a positive learning experience by being role models for our students. Our teachers must have a passion for making the connection between our students’ Canadian roots and their Jewish roots.

The JCC supplementary Hebrew schools are growing year over year. Why do you think that is?
Sarner: The success of Kachol Lavan is a major priority for the Schwartz/Reisman Centre and the Prosserman JCC, and a significant number of resources have been set aside for its continued growth. I think we also fill a significant void in our community by enhancing the teaching of Hebrew, creating a rich connection to Israel, and building a new community within the broader Jewish community.

Hovich: There are many reasons why I believe JCC supplementary Hebrew schools are growing each year. I believe the supplementary Hebrew school sector offers a high standard of education. It provides both informal and formal education, which is helping students and families build and live their Jewish identity. Students are developing their Judaic knowledge and basic Hebrew literacy skills while being able to take part in other learning opportunities, such as workshops, events and activities. It is an easy, convenient and comfortable way to serve the needs of the families and the students, especially families with multiple children.

What do you think is next for Kachol Lavan and J. Roots?
Sarner: We have to keep up our efforts in promoting a modern supplementary Jewish education model and to unite Jewish community members from different cultural backgrounds. Ensuring the accommodation of diverse educational needs within the Jewish community will remain important, as will be helping students retain their connections to their respective cultural roots and heritage.

Hovich: I think the JCC supplementary Hebrew schools are going to continue to grow and will remain strong. As a community, we need to continue to enhance educational components by adding different models of informal education to the formal education. This will continue to build and foster the Jewish identity for the generations to come.

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