Attending the Leo Bernstein Jewish Academy of Fine Arts means being immersed in Judaic and secular studies, as well the arts. Students have individual lessons on piano or violin and create their own masterpieces daily while learning about famous artists.
“We like to call us the diamond in the rough. We are the best kept secret in Kemp Mill,” Director Helen Goldberg said of the school, now in its fifth year.
This year, 31 students attend the kindergarten through fourth grade school located in the Silver Spring Jewish Center. Next school year, the school will include a fifth grade, and plans are in the works to add a sixth grade.
To accommodate the additional students as well as the synagogue in which it is located, plans are underway to expand. Construction is expected to begin later this year.
The academy’s student body is small, with only four students in first grade and two in fourth grade. But so much of the school day is spent together that students get to know everyone.
“We all daven together in the morning. We all eat lunch together,” Goldberg said. They also have recess as a group and spend Friday afternoons together making challah and having a Shabbat party.
Students aren’t allowed to eat with the same friends day after day. Instead the seating is varied so that on some days, students must pick someone from a different grade to sit with.
“We don’t let them get into cliques,” Goldberg said.
Like in high school, the children move from room to room all day for their regular classes as well as art, music, physical education, health, computers and values, where last week, students learned not to speak badly of others. Hebrew is a total immersion class.
Tim Meushaw has a kindergarten and a second grader at the school. As a member of an orchestra, he appreciates the art emphasis.
“There is an equal focus on Hebrew studies, the secular studies and the arts,” he said.
Aliza Chodoff is a parent of a second grade boy. Moving here from Israel about a year-and-a-half ago, she looked at other area Jewish day schools before choosing LJBA.
She is proud that her son comes home telling her about different artists and healthy eating.
“My son talked my ear off about the good fats and the bad fats,” she said. “He understood it and could relate to it.”
When her son entered the school, he didn’t know his ABCs. He could have fallen through the cracks, she said. Instead, he received one-on-one help, and a teacher donated extra time as a tutor.
“I don’t know of any other school that would have done that,” she said, adding that within six weeks, he was reading.
Students are offered different afterschool activities each day, including chess, Crazy 8s math, science, cooking, computers, yoga, ballet and tumbling.
The school fills every empty space at SSJC, administrators said. The long lunch tables double as art space.
“Suddenly at 12:15, art ends and one minute later, it’s the lunch room,” said art teacher Emily Gould.
Last week, she helped her students paint their own pictures after looking at the book Owl Moon and oversaw other students create a hamsa, a hand-shaped amulet designed for protection.
Gym teacher Will Duddleson also runs a Sunday soccer program so the players know what it’s like to compete, he said.
Like other schools in the area, it offers financial assistance to needy families, a point Goldberg made by referring to Rabbi Herzel Kranz, the school’s dean who also is the rabbi of the Silver Spring Jewish Center.
“If there is a Jewish child in the area that wants to attend,” said Goldberg, “Rabbi [Herzel] Kranz will make sure that the child comes.”