"There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children," wrote Hodding Carter, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. "One of these is roots and the other is wings."
It could be said that Alexandra List, known as Alex, is a 17-year-old that personifies the quote. She finished her junior year this spring at Akiba Hebrew Academy in Merion Station, having entered it in seventh grade. Thanks to strong roots planted by her family and by the school, she has left the nest early and is spreading her wings as a freshman at Swarthmore College.
"I'm very happy here," says List. "The people take care of you the same way they do at Akiba."
Akiba is one of six local Jewish day schools that receives funding from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Center for Jewish Life and Learning, which provided more than $2 million to the schools for the 2004-05 school year to promote excellence in day schools and increase the number of families who can afford a day-school education.
List came to America at age 5 from Kiev, Ukraine, with her parents, Victoria Sukholutskaya and Alex List. After sending their daughter to public schools in Northeast Philadelphia, they transferred her to the Raymond and Ruth Perelman Jewish Day School, which her sister Yana, 12, now attends because they said they felt the public-school environment was not sufficiently challenging.
"People thought it was amazing that I spoke another language, but I tried hard to Americanize myself," said List, also fluent in Russian and Hebrew. "As I've gotten older, I appreciate my culture more. Akiba is a close-knit community where you get the chance to develop yourself."
Rabbi Philip D. Field, Akiba's head of school, said the supportive environment helps students to ask important questions about ethics and morality, and to share ideas in a nurturing environment.
While Akiba's curriculum is rigorous, Field said it focuses students as much on how to think as on what to learn.
"Some studies claim that 95 percent of everything kids are taught in any school is forgotten," he reported. "The challenge is to teach analytical, critical thinking and writing skills so that students can be independent thinkers."
List, who is studying chemistry, calculus, economics, sociology and education this semester, agreed with that sentiment: "Akiba taught me to reason and investigate. I didn't appreciate how well they prepare you when I was there, but it's given me a huge advantage in college."
While she won't technically "graduate" from Akiba until December, four of her Swarthmore courses count toward her high-school credits. To complete her community-service requirements, she worked this summer at the Jewish Relief Agency, a project of Lubavitch House, also funded in part by Federation, helping to pack and distribute food to needy Jewish households in Greater Philadelphia.
"It's a good feeling to be helping out with something important," said List.
In college, she's involved with the debate club, and will also be tutoring middle-school children.
She also got involved with Ruach, the college's Jewish organization. "I didn't originally look at colleges with a Jewish presence, and then I was concerned what it would be like without one," said List. "Now I'm glad to know there is something here. It's nice to have a Jewish atmosphere on campus."
For information about day schools, call 215-832-0812.