Mandel JDS Hebrew Immersion Program

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Mandel Students Immersed in Success through Innovative Hebrew Immersion Program

Rotem Izraely (Hebrew Immersion Teacher) with Kindergarten students:  Mia Brecher (Beachwood) and Maya Nebel (Solon)

Rotem Izraely (Hebrew Immersion Teacher) with Kindergarten students Mia Brecher and Maya Nebel.

BEACHWOOD, OHIO – (March 15) – Walking through Mandel Jewish Day School, one might notice a slight influx of Israeli accents and fluent Hebrew reverberating throughout the classrooms. This new change is a result of the increased role of Hebrew immersion specialists, funded entirely by the recent 17 million dollar gift from the Joseph and Florence Mandel Family Foundation.

One of those specialists, Rotem Izraely, a former kindergarten and first grade teacher in Israel, spends her days with the kindergarten, and speaks entirely in Hebrew. This is a part of the overall strategy to immerse students in the world of Hebrew, and give them a multitude of opportunities to engage with the language. Izraely integrates her use of Hebrew across all subjects, including math, art, and language arts. In addition, Izraely coached two of the Mandel JDS basketball teams.

Rotem with Kindergarten student:  Jay Miller (Solon)

Rotem with Kindergarten student, Jay Miller.

The immersion program began as a pilot program in the kindergarten, but with such palpable success, it has now expanded into Pre-K and Pre-School. The teachers have found that the earlier they introduce the language, the more comfortable they are learning it as they grow. Students have showed great success in decoding and understanding a variety of Hebrew materials.

“We’re thrilled about the success already achieved through our Hebrew immersion program – Hebrew is the gateway par excellence through which we enter into Jewish history, Jewish liturgy and Jewish culture,” said Jerry Isaak-Shapiro, Head of School at Mandel JDS. “While the cultural and practical benefits of learning a second language have been known and appreciated for some time, brain science has given us a new reason to appreciate second language acquisition.”

Jerry is specifically referring to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in which researchers at Northwestern University documented how the bilingual brain is more resilient and may even have “enhanced defenses” against the onset of dementia. Jerry also referenced another study that showed the ability to speak more than one language may help protect memory. He continued, “all in all, The Wall Street Journal’s recent headline put it more succinctly: The Bilingual Brain is Sharper and More Focused.”

Mandel JDS plans to expand the program next school year, adding an additional immersion specialist to work with Pre-K students all the way through the first grade. Similar to Izraely, the new employee will be an Israeli citizen with prior teaching experience.

In addition to the Hebrew Immersion Specialist, Mandel has taken other initiatives to integrate authentic Hebrew learning into the curriculum. Various classes now have periodically scheduled Skype sessions with Hebrew speaking Israelis such as grandparents and community members. Students are able to converse with these people both in Hebrew and English, while the guest for the week may choose to tell them a story, sing a song, or simply have a conversation.

“At this point we don’t know the long term impact - it’s simply too early to tell,” said Leah Spector, Principal of Mandel JDS. “However, what we can tell you is that all of the research shows that our students are getting a truly unique and powerful educational experience. As a result, we have a student body who is able to connect with Judaism and Israel - not just through religion and music and literature - but through language, as well. Our students have a lot of pride for Israel.”

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