Friday, February 23, 2018
Education

New Pinellas charter school teaches Hebrew language, culture

CLEARWATER — It's a little campus, home to only 50 boys and girls and four teachers — and one of those doubles as the principal.

But the new Ben Gamla charter school, Pinellas County's 23rd charter school and its first public school offering instruction in the Hebrew language and culture, has reason to forecast a bigger future.

"We are off to a strong start," said principal — and kindergarten teacher — Jayme Joslyn. "The parental support is incredible. The parents make me believe that success is the only option."

That positive attitude is reflected in the faculty, too.

Melissa Creaser, a first-year teacher, has a classroom with third-, fourth- and fifth-graders combined. She loves the teaching method, called "differentiated instruction," which allows students to move forward in a subject regardless of age.

"It's more about teaching the individual than being in a cookie-cutter classroom," Creaser said. "It's a question of encouraging the students' strengths and filling in on the weaknesses."

The K-5 school is housed at Temple B'nai Israel on Belcher Road. As a public school, it welcomes students of all ethnic and religious backgrounds and there is no religious instruction. The students wear uniforms. Parents must put in a certain number of volunteer hours.

Hebrew is taught one hour a day, and students also learn about the history and culture of the state of Israel.

The Hebrew language and culture teacher, Israeli-born and raised Rachel Levi, finds teaching her language in another country exciting.

"It's excellent," she said of the new school. "The children, even those who aren't Jewish, seem to enjoy learning Hebrew."

Joslyn, a longtime Pinellas educator who was a Seminole High assistant principal from 2000 to 2005, has been asked why non-Jewish families would opt for a Hebrew language school. She said parents have priorities other than which language is taught in a school.

"People want their children in a small environment where they know the kids will be given individual attention," she said. "That is true of Jews and non-Jews."

The long-term goals for Ben Gamla are already in place.

"We hope to become a K-12 facility, adding a grade a year," Joslyn said.

There are now six Ben Gamla schools in Florida, named for an ancient Israeli high priest. The Pinellas charter is the newest. Peter Deutsch, a former U.S. representative from South Florida, founded the first of the schools in Fort Lauderdale in 2007. Four others subsequently opened in South Florida.

There is some interaction among the Ben Gamla schools.

"The principals on the east coast support and help me," said Joslyn, 41. Expecting her third child in November, the teacher/principal has a full plate and said she welcomes the support.

Charter schools receive some of their operating money through a federal grant managed by individual states. Clearwater's Ben Gamla received a grant of $100,000 phased over three years.

"All the money goes for students," Joslyn said. "We purchase technology, desks, workbooks, textbooks and other supplies."

A computer lab with 16 computers was outfitted with grant money. Joslyn is planning to purchase 20 new computers and some Nook tablets as well.

As with other local charter schools, the Pinellas County School Board awards the charter and has some broad oversight duties, but operations are more closely managed by a school-based board. The three members of Ben Gamla's board are Pinellas County residents Yael Alpert, a former educator; Dr. David Wein, who practices emergency medicine at Tampa General Hospital; and Eric Lynn, a foreign policy adviser to the Obama administration.

Lynn, the board chairman, is enthusiastic about the new school, even though his child is too young to go. "My interest was piqued by the schools started in South Florida," he said. "I thought they offered an excellent opportunity for children to learn Hebrew and Hebrew culture."

Parents said they are pleased with what they have seen in the first few weeks of school.

"I like the fact that this is a small school so there's lots of attention to the individual," said Beth Herkowitz of Clearwater, whose daughter Bethany is in the second grade. "It's a family-friendly environment."

Nicole Melamed of Seminole, whose son Gilad is in first grade, believes in the school's possibilities.

"I think this school will be a shining star," she said.

   
Comments
Special Olympians shine at county summer games

Special Olympians shine at county summer games

NEW PORT RICHEY — It was one of those perfect days, when sunscreen and shade are in high demand, smiles are aplenty and the camaraderie on the field trumps the thrill of victory.About 600 Special Olympians and unified athletes from west Pasco schools...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Pasco foundation battling childhood hunger one school at a time

Pasco foundation battling childhood hunger one school at a time

ZEPHRYHILLS — On a Thursday morning in a small warehouse off Gall Boulevard, a well-oiled machine of goodwill is cranking. At the Thomas Promise Foundation, volunteers Carlos and Robin Clothier, pack boxes of macaroni and cheese, granola bars, apple ...
Updated: 10 hours ago
After Parkland, another plea for rumor control: ‘This is not a joke’ (w/video)

After Parkland, another plea for rumor control: ‘This is not a joke’ (w/video)

ST. PETERSBURG — The mayor and the police chief came to Northeast High on Thursday to warn students about the dangers of circulating rumors of school safety threats on social media.While they were there, one of those unfounded rumors popped up on Fac...
Published: 02/22/18
Collards, ribs and Kool-Aid: Black History Month menu at NYU stirs controversy

Collards, ribs and Kool-Aid: Black History Month menu at NYU stirs controversy

NEW YORK — On Tuesday, a dining hall at New York University advertised a special meal in honor of Black History Month. On the menu? Barbecue ribs, cornbread, collard greens, and two beverages with racist connotations: Kool-Aid and watermelon-flavored...
Published: 02/22/18
Arming teachers? Some officials like the idea, but many educators don’t (w/video)

Arming teachers? Some officials like the idea, but many educators don’t (w/video)

With high school students from Parkland in the Capitol this week advocating for gun control, the bill that would have allowed superintendents and principals to designate trained employees who can carry concealed weapons at school didn’t get heard as ...
Published: 02/22/18
How will Douglas High students go back to class? There’s now a plan in place.

How will Douglas High students go back to class? There’s now a plan in place.

When students return to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High for the first time next Tuesday, they will be greeted by additional counselors and law enforcement."There will be a plethora of counselors and services at the school," Broward Schools Superintende...
Published: 02/21/18
School shooter may get inheritance — and be ordered to spend it on legal bills

School shooter may get inheritance — and be ordered to spend it on legal bills

Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz appears to have been in line for a sizable inheritance. He’ll never get to spend it — except perhaps on defense attorneys.The amount could be enough to compel a judge to order him to hire a private lawyer, rather ...
Published: 02/21/18
Pasco County schools, dealing with threats, warn students of consequences

Pasco County schools, dealing with threats, warn students of consequences

DADE CITY — A Pasco High School student was taken into custody Tuesday amid accusations of threatening violence against the school. The campus was not at risk, school district officials said. But they made clear they take each threat seriously, and t...
Published: 02/21/18
‘Blind Side’ star delivers message to Newsome High kids

‘Blind Side’ star delivers message to Newsome High kids

LITHIA — Students, faculty and staff recently scurried inside the Newsome High School gym for a morning assembly to hear a message about bullying from a man who kids once taunted.Newsome’s principal Carla Bruning invited actor Quinton Aaron, star of ...
Published: 02/20/18
Updated: 02/23/18
Spoto High helps students un-bottle emotions with Challenge Day

Spoto High helps students un-bottle emotions with Challenge Day

RIVERVIEW — Spoto High School English Department Head Adam Sherman can’t help but wonder if a program he introduced to Spartan students could have changed the trajectory of Nickolas Cruz’s life before he gunned down and killed 17 people on Valentine’...
Published: 02/20/18
Updated: 02/23/18