Some days, as she walks down the hall of Krieger Schechter Day School, Dafna Tasch hears the lilting voices of students singing – in Hebrew.
Tasch runs the Hebrew program at KSDS, which uses a dual language, immersion approach to teach students the language. Both in the classroom and out, students speak and read the language.
“What I see is that Hebrew is not actually a foreign language for us. It’s the language of the Jewish people, and this is how we approach it,” she explains. At KSDS, that means that in addition to Hebrew classes, students sing, write and even perform plays using the language.
This dual language approach encourages and allows students to establish a deeper connection with the Jewish culture and traditions, and also encourages a strong academic foundation overall.
“There’s ample evidence from scholarly research that learning two languages helps with brain function and has a direct impact on future learning,” says KSDS Head of School Rabbi Moshe Schwartz, noting that, having learned two languages from a young age, KSDS students are well-prepared to pick up additional languages in middle school, high school and beyond. “They already have the language acquisition skills,” he says.
Rabbi Schwartz’s observations have been proven by research. Over the past several decades, scholars from several major universities have found that students participating in dual language programs perform better academically, overall.
When she got to high school, KSDS alumna Talia Schwartz discovered that the skills she learned in elementary and middle school prepared her well for the highest levels of high school Hebrew and for a post-high school year in Israel. “In high school, I was in the top Hebrew class,” she recalls. “It was made up of kids who went to KSDS and kids who were Israeli.”
In addition to supporting general educational skills, the dual language program is an invaluable way to help students explore the traditions of the Jewish faith. “It’s the language of prayer, and our traditions,” says Rabbi Schwartz. “And the language of our people.”
Jeff Cooper, the father of KSDS student Daniella Cooper, observed, firsthand, the impact of the program at his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah earlier this year. “Listening to her read from the Torah so beautifully was something I knew she could do, but still managed to surprise me,” he says. “Her speech and composure in presenting it just blew me away. I feel I witnessed something very special. She far surpassed anything I could have imagined at her Bat Mitzvah and so much of the credit for that goes to the faculty of KSDS.”
Rabbi Schwartz recounts stories from KSDS alumni who have traveled to Israel and, thanks to the dual language program, are able to immediately converse with the locals in Hebrew. “I hear so many stories of alumni who start conversations in Hebrew, which brings an instant bond with the people and culture in Israel,” he says. “And you could go to any synagogue in the world and pray. That is extremely powerful.”
Ultimately, the dual language program is a good example of the overall strength of the KSDS educational program, says Rabbi Schwartz. “Everything we do is top of the line, promoting excellence in general studies and Jewish studies,” he says. “There is something tremendous to gain from immersing yourself in the richness of language – first Hebrew, then others.”
For more information about KSDS, please visit www.ksds.edu.
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