Abrams Hebrew Academy, a 103-year-old community day school in Yardley, Bucks County, combines commitment to community, state-of-the-art classroom technology and love of Israel to create a vibrant academic environment rooted in Jewish tradition.
Currently, 280 students attend Abrams from pre-school through eighth grade. Students are nurtured in small classes; each student has equal access to Jewish texts and is taught skills and knowledge so they can confidently define their place in Jewish life.
The Abrams' curriculum is geared for students of all academic levels. The school offers honors classes as well as tutorial assistance in all subjects. "The staff caters to individual academic needs -- they are responsive to each child," noted Iris Gold, who with her husband, Jonathan, lives in Newtown. The Golds attend a Conservative synagogue and their older children went to public school. The Golds enrolled Aaron in Abrams when he was in first grade, because "Abrams offers strong advantages," explained Iris Gold, "Abrams provides a bilingual program, in-depth Judaic education together with a private-school secular curriculum." Aaron is now a sixth-grader and is thriving."
Abrams' diversity is considered a strength by David and Sheryl Zellis of Langhorne and their children Arielle, eighth grade; Daniel, third grade; and Chaim, preschool. David Zellis noted that "Families have different backgrounds, but, at the core, we all respect one another and share a commitment to quality secular and Jewish education."
A Strong Community Connection
Abrams Director Rabbi Ira Budow describes the school as "a kaleidoscope of Jewish families." Budow is dedicated to educating students while strengthening the Jewish community as a whole. With the goal of making day-school education accessible to all interested families, Budow spearheaded the Incentive Grant Initiative partnership with the Philadelphia-based Kohelet Foundation. Through this program, all incoming kindergarten students will receive dual grants: an Abrams scholarship of $3,000, renewable yearly to fifth grade, and a subsidy of up to $1,500 for annual synagogue dues. Synagogue subsidies increase up to $2,400 for families with multiple children in the program. Scholarships are also being provided for new middle- school students.
Rabbi Elliot Strom, founder and senior rabbi of Reform Congregation Shir Ami in Newtown, Bucks County, commends the Abrams initiative. "What a great idea to encourage families to send their children to Abrams for a first-rate education and, at the same time, to maintain a relationship with a nurturing synagogue community," said the rabbi. "Certainly, there is no Jewish education better than a day-school education -- but we know that education reaches its apex when the lives of student and family are enriched by a living, loving synagogue family. It's a great combination."
Rabbi Jeff Pivo, spiritual leader of the traditional egalitarian Conservative synagogue, Congregation Beth El, in Abrams' neighborhood of Yardley, supports the positive vision of Jewish community expressed in the Incentive Grant Initiative. Pivo noted "by connecting synagogue membership to Jewish day-school education, Abrams is pioneering an integration of school and shul that will strengthen both. Day-school families are creating a community of learned Jews; their children are the very people we expect to become communal leaders."
Abrams has integrated state-of-the art technology, including SMART BoardsTM and videoconferencing into classroom instruction. Teachers use videoconferencing to take young students on virtual trips to zoos; for older students, it's used to interact with students in other schools. "Abrams is ahead of the curve in its use of technology. This is what we'd expect at the high school level," said Jill Chevlin, who with husband, Brian, has three Abrams students -- Ben, eighth grade; Lindsay, fifth grade; and Sabrina, kindergarten. All three transferred to Abrams from public school last year.
Technology: The Perfect Teaching Tool
The SMART BoardTM, a combination giant white board and touch screen computer, is "a perfect teaching tool for kindergartners -- it's active, colorful, and words and numbers seem to come to life at a touch," said Judy Kozlo, kindergarten teacher and nursery and kindergarten coordinator. Fifth-grader Phillip Dolitsky, who lives in Northeast Philadelphia, said, "Videoconferencing is exciting! We had a videoconference with our Judaic Studies teacher, who now lives in Israel." Phillip, a son of Elena and David Dolitsky, attended Abrams since kindergarten; his brother, Marc, graduated last year; Eric attends first grade.
After viewing "Darfur Now," a film documentary by Ted Braun, Arielle Zellis' eighth-grade class held a videoconference with the movie director and two high school classes, including one in Kansas. "It was so cool because we got a chance to ask the director questions -- this really added to our understanding of the film," said Zellis.
Love of Israel
Hebrew language and Israel, centerpieces of Abrams' Judaic curriculum, begins with the youngest students. Nursery school children are immersed in Hebrew through the program Chalav U'Dvash, a preschool curriculum developed by the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Each spring, eighth-grade students celebrate the culmination of their Judaic studies with a two-week educational trip to Israel. Visiting Israel is a hands-on "completion of the Abrams curriculum in Jewish identity," noted Rabbi Budow. Eighth-grader and Student Government President Noam Kornsgold agrees: "Since the beginning of my Abrams career, I have been taught to love Israel ... it will be wonderful to see the land of Israel with my teachers, friends and even my principal!"
Rabbi Adam Feldman and Sara Bucholtz chose Abrams for their daughters, Tali and Dena. Feldman, rabbi of the Conservative, egalitarian Princeton Jewish Center, believes that Abrams' dual curriculum prepares students for success. Feldman said, "Our young people gain an appreciation of our traditional texts with a modern perspective that prepares them to connect to contemporary Jewish living."