As opening day began at Sela Public Charter School, Washington Mayor Vincent Gray accompanied students to their classrooms.
First graders, who spent last week at school for orientation, greeted the mayor with shalom, which they explained means “hi,” and boker tov, “good morning.”
The 90 students in pre-kindergarten through first grade are the first to test whether Washington has an appetite for a Hebrew-language immersion school. Sela, in Northeast Washington, is a charter school. It receives public funds to serve the community at large. To conform to its charter, the school disconnects Hebrew from its Jewish religious associations, and instead focuses on the secular Hebrew culture of Israel.
“My expectations are that the kids will learn the basics, they’ll learn friendship,” Gray said. “And at the same time the kids will learn other cultures that they otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to.”
Board chair Bryce Jacobs said she has been working toward this day since 2009. “To want a diverse school is one thing. But to see it is another,” she said. “Our efforts have paid off.”
Parents, like Diamond Piper, said they were attracted by the idea of language immersion, where learning and school life will be conducted largely in Hebrew.
“I grew up in Riverdale, New York,” where there is a large Jewish community, said Piper, who is sending her two daughters to Sela. “I’m open to [the daughters] learning Hebrew, and language immersion is very important. They’re learning something they’re not going to learn from home.”
Sela Executive Director Jason Lody said the reality of the first day “washes away” any concern that the school would be a public funded Jewish school or that there would be insufficient demand for a Hebrew-language school.
“You see our population, you see our families. You see all the interest in a quality public school,” he said.
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