By Ben Tinsley
PLANO — Officials at a new Collin County charter school opening in 2016 have a plan to teach Hebrew to their kindergarten through sixth-grade students: an immersion process along with a popular cognitive skill-enhancing program.
Registration for the Lone Star Hebrew Academy, tentatively located in the 900 block of West Parker in Plano, starts Jan. 15. School officials there will be admitting only 250 K-6 students — roughly 24 a classroom — using a lottery system to determine who is selected. School formally begins Aug. 24.
Rabbi David Samson of Israel, the central organizer of the academy, said this will be the only such public school in this area of North Texas that offers classes in Hebrew. He said the Lone Star Hebrew Academy is the first of several such schools to come that specialize in immersive language instruction.
“This is our flagship campus,” Rabbi Samson explained. “Our charter has already been awarded for the first three schools. We plan to have many more than three in due time.”
Roger Jones, superintendent, agreed. He said the school is part of what will become the “Lone Star Language Academy” network of schools — founded on the concept that students and parents should have an opportunity, if they so choose, to learn an additional language in addition to their study of English.
“However, in the majority of schools, the second language is taught without consideration of the cultural elements that accompany language development,” Jones explained in an email. “We are focused on providing an immersive language and cultural experience for students from kindergarten to sixth grade beginning in the fall of 2016. We are focused on providing our students with an immersive language and cultural experience at each of our campuses.”
Jones said students at this campus will take a class daily that exposes them to the Hebrew language and culture, and that learning will, as appropriate, be utilized in other classes during the school day, in order to provide opportunities for transference of learning.
“As students in grades 3-6 will be required to take subject area state tests (STAAR) primarily in English, core content instruction will be English-based,” he said.
Jones said a well-rounded child is one that understands the value of the arts in their daily lives, and one who has the ability to express their creativity in multiple ways.
“Under the state learning objectives, known as the TEKS, elementary schools are required to provide children access to arts education, and ours focuses on providing students access to multiple avenues of fine arts, through music, art, and theater,” Jones said. “We focus on a growth mindset and meeting our students at the point of their need. As such, we utilize multiple teaching techniques that identify areas of both strength and concern, and focus on providing students with tools to facilitate their ownership and advocacy of their own learning.”
A central strategy for the academy and any future counterpart schools is to become a pillar of the local educational community in the Plano and Carrollton areas of North Dallas, officials said.
The curriculum will be based on the adoption of TEKS, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, combined with immersion techniques from Middlebury language schools of Middlebury College in Vermont, Samson said.
“It won’t be total — en masse — immersion,” the rabbi explained. “These courses (in Plano) will be taught in English and Hebrew will be taught in Hebrew. But the entire environment of the school will be immersive — all bulletin boards will be in Hebrew, every student will have a Hebrew name. There will be Hebrew names on lockers, and keywords like ‘yes’ and ‘no’ will be Hebrew words. There will even be a little bit of Hebrew used in math classes.”
School officials also intend to use the Feuerstein Method, otherwise known as Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichment (FIE) which is a system that aims at enhancing the cognitive skills of pupils. The entire teaching system is planned to enhance cognitive abilities and personalize the curriculum and the challenges of each student independently.
Finding a site
Meanwhile, the staff has been working with Middlebury language schools for instruction in immersive education, Rabbi Samson said.
The first campus has been tentatively identified as 970 W. Parker, Suite 102 in Plano, although Rabbi Samson said the lease has not yet been finalized. He said school officials also are examining alternative facilities in that area.
The school’s Texas Education Agency application is filed under “Zion Schools Corporation dba The Lone Star Language Academy.”
The chair of the school’s board is Dr. Joyanna Silberg, senior consultant for Child and Adolescent Trauma at the Sheppard Pratt Health System in Baltimore, Maryland. She is described as an expert on child behavior and the unique complexities young adolescents have in the 21st century.
Dr. Silberg could not be reached before press time, but she addressed the issue of the new school on the TEA application.
“I believe that bilingual education assists preparing children for success, and am aware of the need in that area to preserve the cultural heritage of diverse communities,” she wrote.
Rabbi Samson will be chairman of the school’s advisory board. The school will maintain close ties with Rabbi Dr. Rafi Feuerstein, the head of the World Feuerstein Institute with schools in over 80 countries. He will be a member of the advisory board.
Hebrew was selected as the language of the first school because it also the language of the Tanach (Bible) and is important to those seeking to understand ancient texts, according to the TEA application.
There are many people in communities in the area who would like their children to learn Hebrew — not the least of which are Israeli immigrants with children in the Collin County area, Rabbi Samson said.
Lone Star Hebrew Academy FAQs
- Q: What will the Math and Language Arts curriculum be (everyday Math, Common Core, etc.)?
- A: We want your child to have access to the curriculum that meets his/her needs. As such, we utilize multiple avenues of curricular support for your children as they work to master the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills). As opposed to Common Core in other states, in Texas the TEKS are the state standards for what is to be taught at each grade level and in each subject area. Our focus is on providing hands-on experiences for your child, and, therefore, we use curriculum vendors that provide us with those resources at a developmentally appropriate level of rigor.
- Q: Will there be leveling out — in other words, having groups based on their advancement in that particular subject?
- A: Yes, the educational philosophy of the Lone Star Language Academy is to have every child properly challenged at all times in all classes. Tracking would be one of the methods employed to achieve this goal.
- Q: How is technology used to support teaching and learning at this school? What should we expect for technology/smart boards?
- A: Our goal is for all of our classrooms to be computerized smart classrooms. The appropriate use of technology is key to being responsible global citizens who are able to use the most effective tool for every task they face. We will provide them frequent opportunities to use technology meaningfully, in a well-supervised environment that provides them with learning opportunities, and allows them to grow in their digital capabilities. Our vision is to have equitable technology access for all students based on their academic needs in the classroom. The use of technology will be supported by teacher training to ensure that the staff is knowledgeable of the best practices for educational use of technology with our students.
- Q: What time will school start and end?
- A: Our proposed starting time is 8:15 a.m., with daily dismissal at 3:30 p.m.. A before-and-after-school program will extend these hours from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m..
- Q: Will we be celebrating holidays on both the secular and Jewish calendar? If so, will there be childcare on those Jewish holidays that parents are working?
- A: As a charter academy whose aim it is to immerse students in the culture of the languages under study, each campus will have the flexibility to celebrate the important holidays of each. As such, there will be both traditional and Jewish holidays that are honored. We want to have parental input in the academic calendar process, to ensure an educational experience for your children that is not disruptive to your family. For those days on which the district is closed, there will be no student care provided at all. Aside from the regular holidays, the district will be closed for 13 Jewish holidays.
- Q: Can we get an idea if state test scores at other Charter schools, similar to this one, in other cities, are average and above average?
- A: The achievements of Charter schools in Texas are available online through the TEA website. Each charter is unique; its academic level and scores are based on the human structure of the school — its leadership and staff — among other factors.
SOURCE: The Lone Star Hebrew Academy