This year marks the second year of Chester County Hebrew High School at Kesher Israel Congregation.
About two years ago, Gratz Jewish Community High School announced the closure of all its satellite campuses.
While that might have left some feeling frazzled, it was an opportunity for some of those campuses to create their own programs, such as Chester County Hebrew High School.
This year marks the second year of the program at Kesher Israel Congregation, and Executive Director Lannie Hulnick is palpably excited to get started Sept. 11.
The school is open to all teens in Chester County, she said, regardless of if they belong to Kesher Israel or are unaffiliated. The goal is to reach every teen in the county.
The first year after the announcement of the satellite campus closures, Hulnick wasn’t ready to give up on the program.
“There was a need we saw that needed to be filled,” said Hulnick, executive director of the high school program as well as of Kesher Israel.
Hulnick worked for the Chester County branch of JCHS for a number of years, in addition to previously serving as the director of the Chester County and Delaware County office of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
While she was sad that the branch closed, she saw it as an opportunity to “take ownership of the program and we could make it our own.”
The program was possible in its first year thanks to a grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. This year, Hulnick said they could continue because of a grant from the Lasko Foundation, which will help them with their programming as well as keeping the tuition for the year at just $500.
Last year, about 30 students were enrolled, which Hulnick hopes is the same this year, if not more.
One change this year that Hulnick is looking forward to is providing outside partnerships with other organizations to enhance “experiential learning” for the students.
“We’ve gone to a three, six-week semester,” she said, “so students can pick whatever class they want to take, and in between the semesters we have out-of-school functions and field trips.”
This year, students will have the chance to do activities and educational programs with organizations as they have in the past, such as the Jewish Relief Agency to pack and deliver food for those in need, participating in the Mother’s Day walk for breast cancer with the whole Kesher Israel congregation — as well as adding some new partnerships to the lineup.
“Challah for Hunger is looking to branch out to do teen programming so we’re partnering with them,” Hulnick said. “The kids will do a challah bake and learn about food insecurity and social justice and then selling the challah for charity.”
Kesher Israel’s Rabbi Lawrence Troster participated in putting together curriculum for the Global Day of Jewish Learning on Nov. 20, which Hulnick said the students will also be participating in.
All of these opportunities to engage with outside organizations are part of what Hulnick hopes adds to their education — especially because attending Hebrew school post-Bar or -Bat Mitzvah can be difficult.
“I really hope it helps strengthens their Jewish identity and their commitment to tradition and teaches them about Israel and their history and it will prepare these kids for their journey to college,” she said. “Teen programming — in general and post-B’nai Mitzvah — is hard, and the kids get busier and busier in high school with extracurriculars and studies. I hope this provides a basis for Jewish knowledge and understanding and commitment to Judaism.
Another new program they added this year — to go along with the three six-week semester structure — is partnering with the West Chester University Department of Holocaust and Genocide Studies for a new three-course Holocaust track.
Students may take a course taught by a West Chester student on the historical perspective of the Holocaust in the first semester, a class with the rabbi on the Jewish response to the Holocaust in the second and a course on religious pluralism and tolerance in the third.
“Students can take any classes, but if they take all three semesters, they get a certificate,” Hulnick explained.
These courses are in addition to the usual suspects: art, cooking, theater, conversational Hebrew, a Jewish leadership class and a Jewish environmental class, among others.
This variety is what Hulnick hopes gets the students interested and why they wanted to change the course structure to the three semesters.
“Rather than having one class for the entire year, we broke it down that they would have more to pick from and more variety and more opportunity to learn more,” she said.
For Hulnick, creating this program was a way to continue serving the students who need it.
“When they were closing the branch, I knew there was a population to serve,” she said. “It’s to continue that Jewish journey and engage these kids at a time when it’s really important, especially as they’re on the road to going off to college. You want them to have this base of Jewish knowledge, and that’s what I hope we provide in a way that keeps them connected and wanting to know and do more.”
The school year will kick off on Sept. 11 with a fun day at iCore Fitness “where they’ll get to do a whole ninja warrior experience. It’s our kickoff day so the kids can get to know each other.”
Classes officially start Sept. 18, and Hulnick hopes they see the program as a bridge to the greater Jewish community.
“My goal is to get them [to see] that being Jewish, they’re part of something bigger.”
For more information about the Chester County Hebrew High School, contact Director Lannie Hulnick at 610-696-7210 or [email protected]
Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0740