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New committee seeks to keep Hebrew at Nicolet
August 1st, 2011
For many years, Nicolet High School in Glendale has been one of about a dozen public high schools in the country that teaches Hebrew, and the only one in Wisconsin. A new group has been formed to make sure the school continues to do so.
The Hebrew program has been supported by the Milwaukee Jewish Federation and private donations. Most recently, the program has been funded by the Helen Bader Foundation, in combination with the Nicolet School District’s primary funds, according to Steven Baruch, Ph.D., the executive director of the Coalition for Jewish Learning, the education program of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.
But the Bader funds will run out at the end of the coming school year, 2011-2012. Therefore, a Committee to Support Hebrew at Nicolet High School was formed last summer to ensure that this program can continue.
“This is a proactive movement, it is not a crisis,” said Baruch. “Nicolet does not want to end the program. Rather, the community wants to ensure its continuation, and maximize the learning experience of the students.”
“It’s such an unusual, wonderful, fabulous program and should be supported by the community,” said Suzanne Weinstein, former teacher of Hebrew at Nicolet.
The committee of parents and educators includes: Outreach Co-chairs Suzanne Weinstein and Libby Gutterman; Baruch of CJL; Moshe Katz, educator; Rabbis Marc Berkson of Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun and Ronald Shapiro of Congregation Shalom; Felicia Miller; and Yael Gal, the current Nicolet Hebrew teacher.
“An important factor in keeping the Hebrew program going is enrollment,” said Baruch. Nicolet’s budget is under pressure and it is difficult to support small classes, he said. Last year’s Hebrew enrollment numbered 48 students.
Weinstein said that a common misperception exists that all of the Nicolet Hebrew students come from area Jewish day schools. In fact, 50 percent come from Milwaukee Jewish Day School and Hillel Academy.
“But students can start [learning Hebrew] from scratch,” said Weinstein. Moreover, under the district’s open enrollment policy, students who don’t live in the district can still join the class, “although transportation is up to the parents,” Weinstein said.
There have been several students from Whitefish Bay High School, one from University School, and next year a couple of students will attend from Milwaukee Public Schools, Weinstein added.
In former years, the program had offered five levels of Hebrew education. During this last school year, these levels were combined: first and second year students, and fourth with fifth, learned together.
Weinstein, reported that “it is very difficult for the instructor to teach both beginning and second year students together. Fourth and fifth year students are not as much of a problem, she said, as that curriculum is alternated each year.
“Ideally, we would like to have enough funding for the district to have separate sections for levels one, two and three, and only continue to combine levels four and five,” said Weinstein.
The community can support the program through donations, but also by encouraging their children to take Hebrew as a foreign language.
“When you learn a language you also learn a culture and a country. Many kids that go to the program become involved in the Jewish community, go to Israel, and become politically active” said Weinstein.
These studies “give young people a firmer sense of identity. They are more prepared when they go out into the community,” she said.
The committee is looking for support from a foundation to establish a matching grants program. In addition, an endowment fund has been established through the Jewish Community Foundation, the endowment development program of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.
Individuals interested in learning more about this effort should contact CJL, 414-963-2710 or www.cjlmilwaukee.org.