Wednesday, August 12, 2020

SAR Hebrew immersion session. (Credit: SAR Academy)

On Wednesday, September 4, SAR Academy opened its 2019-2020 academic year. A significant change at SAR this year is the school’s expanded Hebrew immersion program for its youngest students. This program began three years ago with just the kindergarten classes. It has now been extended to include the entire Early Learning Center (ELC). Beginning this year, the 3-year-old nursery students will also be introduced to this program.


Hebrew immersion is an academic plan where students are taught the Hebrew language by a teacher who only speaks to the students in Hebrew. As explained on the SAR website: “From the very beginning, our youngest students are exposed to the Hebrew language and immersed in the culture. Through games and songs, children learn to speak and understand Hebrew. With native Israelis as teachers for part of their day, students make strides toward becoming proficient Hebrew speakers.”

“SAR has always been an ivrit-b’ivrit school,” explained Rabbi Binyamin Krauss, principal. “We know that language acquisition is most effective at younger ages, and we felt that the ELC was a great time to introduce spoken Hebrew in a natural way. The feedback from SAR parents has been wonderful and we see kids entering first grade with a solid language background, which allows them to continue growing as they learn to read and introduce texts in elementary school.”

One difficulty in implementing strong Hebrew immersion programs in American schools is finding the right teachers who can impact and connect well with these young students. Krauss noted, “This year, new teachers from Israel arrived specifically for this program, and more came to work in the lower school. These teachers are integrating beautifully into the SAR community.” 

Krauss added, “We are so proud of our teachers, and under the leadership of Alana Gelnick, associate principal of SAR’s ELC, this program has grown thoughtfully and strategically.”

“One of the things we are looking forward to most as we begin a new year is expanding our Hebrew immersion program,” stated Gelnick. “It has been met with excitement and we are at an all-time high enrollment in our 3-year-old nursery.” Gelnick also indicated that SAR has grown to have four 3-year-old nursery classes for the 2019-2020 academic year. “We had the opportunity to hire six new Hebrew-immersion teachers, all native speakers, many of whom have come from Israel this year.”

Gelnick described that the goal of the program “is for students to understand much of the language, have the ability to speak the language to get needs met and to connect to the culture that is so deeply rooted in our identity,” adding, “Faculty and parents have been the reason for the success of the program. Immediately, we heard from parents that their children understand and speak more Hebrew than the parents. Others commented, ‘I can’t talk in Hebrew so she/he doesn’t understand anymore. I thought I had a few more years.’”

Gelnick revealed that on Thursday, May 30, in conjunction with the World Zionist Organization, SAR hosted its first-ever Yom Iyun, entitled “Hebrew Immersion in Early Childhood in Theory and in Practice.” The event included language inclusion experts Frieda Robbins and Leah Spector. “We welcomed over 35 teachers from different schools, from as far away as Philadelphia, to learn together with us and from our teachers about what they are doing, what makes it unique and what makes it successful.”

Gelnick concluded, “Our teachers are deeply devoted and committed to the model. No English is spoken by the Hebrew teachers and the co-teaching model allows for all the teachers to have deep-rooted relationships with each other and the students in their classes.”

By Judy Berger



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