Black and White and Hebrew All Over

HLA is a new kind of charter school

One thing he is rigid about: Teachers are not allowed to have desks in their rooms. "We believe teachers need to be on their feet, working with the kids," he says. The teachers have students from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily and then take turns supervising an after-school program several days a week, which makes for a lot of on-your-feet time. (Imagine Me—like HLA and most charters—is non-union.)

Imagine Me also has co-teachers in every room, though it's not a dual-language school. It was founded by the neighboring St. Paul Community Baptist Church, where the political power broker Johnny Ray Youngblood is pastor emeritus. There is a literal wall separating the church and the state-funded school, but they share a roof and connect via an underground passage.

The side of the building that Imagine Me occupies also used to house a private religious school run by St. Paul, which over time began to languish. "Our parents couldn't afford the tuition, even when it came down to only four or five thousand dollars," says Pastor David Brawley, the senior minister of St. Paul and president of Imagine Me's board. (He is the only member of both the church and the school's boards.)

Public shul: Many students at HLA are African-American.
Olga Generalova
Public shul: Many students at HLA are African-American.
Braids at HLA are more common than yarmulkes.
Olga Generalova
Braids at HLA are more common than yarmulkes.

After the previous school closed, Brawley and his board applied for a charter last year and opened Imagine Me's doors in September. St. Paul kicked in $100,000. Brawley says the church saw the school as meeting a need of the community, but didn't mind giving up the religious educational aspect because "it fit into our values." (There is a traditional public school within sight, but apart from getting Imagine Me's lunches from their kitchen, the church seems to have given up on it.)

There are signs that Imagine Me is part of a church campus. One classroom has a large mural of Noah's Ark occupying an entire wall, but it's not especially religious in nature. There's also a group called the Simeon Society, which is named for the New Testament's Simeon the Righteous (who blessed the baby Jesus 40 days after Christ's birth), which pairs 60- to 80-year-old men as mentors with the students.

"Many of our boys come from single-parent homes," Principal Johnson, says, stressing the need for black male role models. Pastor Brawley adds that the adjacent housing project across the street "is a million-dollar block," where enough men are convicted to provide a million dollars per year of income for upstate prison towns.

In a way, there is nothing wrong with this picture: A community in need got together to meet its needs as it best sees fit. It's an education reformer's dream.

And yet, it's bizarre that, like with HLA, taxpayers' dollars are going to fund education in a building that previously offered religious education, so that a few families—despite a school a couple blocks away—can get something special for free.

At a recent music assembly at HLA, a truism of childhood was fully on display: It's incredibly difficult to get kids to be quiet when they're in a classroom, but it's almost impossible to make them project loudly when they're onstage in front of their parents. When they begin, they sing as mutely and off-key as children performing at any school anywhere in the world.

But their ability to sing their school anthem "Good Morning/Boker Tov HLA" in Hebrew is impressive (even if the "singing" is no better than their rendition of "Do-Re-Mi" from The Sound of Music.) Parents—some double-fisting two video cameras—seemed duly impressed.

Lovely Garcon watches her daughter, SydneyLove, a girl with an infectious smile, and recalls a recent visit to the dentist, where two elderly women were speaking Hebrew in the waiting area. When they realized the little black girl was watching them with saucer eyes, they asked her, "Can you understand what we're saying?" She nodded. They proceeded to speak to her in Hebrew and were shocked at how well her comprehension was.

"It's amazing," the Haitian woman says. "She has always had a thing for language," she says, adding that her daughter can speak French as well. Garcon actually wants to move from New York City, but can't bring herself to because of the school.

"Where else can she get this?" she asks. "The Hebrew Language Academy is keeping us here."

But if the future of HLA is bright, the future of the city's only public Arabic-focused school is bleak. Khalil Gibran Academy was doomed before it ever opened its doors. Founding Principal Debbie Almontaser was fired for being misquoted by the New York Post in 2007, in an infamous story about the meaning of the word intifada on a T-shirt. A federal appeals court found that the Post had misrepresented her words and the DOE had violated her free speech, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission cleared the way for her to get her job back. (She did not sue to be reinstated.)

Meanwhile, Gibran would cycle through four principals in three different buildings in just three years. Though also focused on language and not religion, it was the subject of a virulent campaign led by a group called "Stop the Madrassa." (Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, the CUNY trustee behind the recent Tony Kushner honorary degree controversy, was a member of its board.) Staff were routinely called terrorists in the press and on blogs, and turnover was high in the classroom.

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20 comments
Onetrickpony
Onetrickpony

I bet a huge percent of the Kids of color will be working for the Hebrew community in the future.

Dick L.T.
Dick L.T.

Nice story. Too bad the Gibran school is closing or relocating. It can be made to work if enough of the Arab business and education communities, Muslim and Christian, band together to realize it.

Woody
Woody

Also, you may want to take notice that pro-Jewish crowd caught onto this article and pushed it on Twitter as "Diversity at Hebrew Language Charter School". I wonder if the students (or their parents) have had a chance to see these Hebrew-Language videos from South Tel Aviv about "diversity" in the ethnocentric land of Israel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... btw, "Hebrew is more useful than Latin" - Sharon may have started to believe her own shtuyyot!

Woody
Woody

I don't doubt this school is great - I would send my kids there. However, the situation is not in a vacuum and there is either bias or blindness in this article.

The author claims that "it's a Darwinian education world" and Gibran didn't survive. However, the previous sentence says the schools have to win the hearts and minds of the city officials in order to succeed. Is what is happening here Darwinian? What's clear is Hebrew, a NATIONALIST language which has almost no international use, spoken by AT MAXIMUM 9 million people, is getting huge support. This is probably in part to such vacuous lines as "Israel is #1 on NASDAQ!" (now how helpful is that to your cushim children, really...). Meanwhile Arabic, probably THE most important strategic language to the US behind Chinese and spoken by 300 million, is NOT getting support? I can't imagine this is anything like the community center downtown being run out of town either? There is no real competition here - HLA succeeds because of the outcome of Islamophobia in society. This is only Darwin if we measured success according to "survival of the Zionest!"

Sharon Cohen
Sharon Cohen

My daughter has attended HLA for 2 years. It is a fabulous school! I could not be happier at the impact the school has made on my child! I am so happy to have been lucky enough to win this lottory! I always say that if I had a choice to win millions of dollars in a lottory, or a spot for my child at HLA...I would choose the latter! From the education to the administration, it just doesn't get better!!!

Kenneth
Kenneth

Great! I guess a Catholic charter school can't be far behind.......RIGHT??? Besides, Latin is far more useful in life than Hebrew (unless one wants to join the cult in Rockland County).

Kwende Idrissa Madu
Kwende Idrissa Madu

Great story. The children are learning and are well treated. What more could anyone hope for????

Sydney Parlow
Sydney Parlow

BEAUTIFUL-BEAUTIFUL-BEAUTIFUL. THE WAY THE WORLD SHOULD BE.....THANK YOU.

missx
missx

" he speaks with the Voice about growing up as a black teenager during the 1991 riots in Crown Heights, when blacks and whites squared off against each other, hurling racial and religious slurs"

Is he he referring to how black bigots terrorized Jewish residents for 3 days with assualts, looting, and 2 murders? Ask Yankel Rosenbaums family about this. He was stabbed to death by a black lynch mob and the black "civil rights" lobby took the side of the murderer. Justice was not done. And today, anytime this event is brought up blacks referring to a car accident which killed a black child as the cause. BS. Every lynch mob has it's excuses, and the KKK had better excuses for thier violence towards blacks then a car accident. This was simply blacks acting like the KKK. When whites act like this it's called a hate crime. And no one would dare try and see it from the lynch mobs perspectives. Blacks do this to Jews and Asians and it is called a "dispute between communities" and we have to hear all the grievences and defense of the lynch mob.

Danielle
Danielle

Well, if $7 million DAILY in US taxpayer money goes to Israel--why not? Wait I mean "The U.S. is providing Israel with at least $8.2 million each day* in military aid and is giving the Palestinians $0** in military aid during Fiscal Year 2011."I hope they teach them that Africa is the home of their co-opted religious learnings/language AND along with memorizing "The Diary of Anne Frank" they'll too have to read "The Secret Relationship of Blacks and Jews" (both volumes) or "The Slave Ship"Mazel Tov!!!

Herschel
Herschel

hope they teach them part of the talmud that tells the goyim they are less than human.

and the schvartz? even worse than goyim.

Susan
Susan

I'm sorry to say that your understanding of the school is off since the school is not a jewish school. No religion is taught at the school. Additionally, Hebrew happens to be a beautiful and historically significant language which would explain people's interest in sending to the school!

Sharon Cohen
Sharon Cohen

What does Catholocism have to do with this? Hebrew is a language, not a religion! And it is far more useful than Latin these days! Med-school and Law Schools do not teach Latin as they did in the past! And this is not necessarily about Hebrew, it is about a school run by individuals who are highly motivated to do a better job as educators and make a difference for students!

Sharon Cohen
Sharon Cohen

Oh, please! This is not about Yankel Rosenbaum Z'L. This is about children growing up in a harmonious environment and learning that they have a lot more similarities than differences! Mr. O is a fabulous teacher and I am lucky that my daughter and her peers have such wonderful mentors! There are Black biggots and many Jewsih biggots!!! This is not what the article is about, so please do not generalize and spew your anger about something that has nothing to do with HLA!!!! Many people in those days would have just grown up to HATE; Mr. O decided to turn something he whitnessed in the past into a life lesson that he would share in the most positive way with his students! Your comments, although you are free to make them, stem from racism and biggotry of your own! Get over it! If that is the attitude that you will pass on to your innocent offspring; there could never be peace in this world!

Sydney Parlow
Sydney Parlow

All the more reason to thrill at the above. We so need to combine efforts and not harbour on the past if it had as the above.

missx
missx

Take that white sheet off it looks bad with your complexion Danielle. PS- The Material in "The Secret Relationship..." and "The Slave Ship" was debunked over a decade ago by none other then Henry Louis Gates. Get your mouth off the crack pipe.

Sydney Parlow
Sydney Parlow

Horrible. While I am a poorly educated in Torah, I doubt you are correct and you shame me as a Jew and a person. UGH

missx
missx

Yankel Rosenbaum is to the 1990's what Emit Till was to 1950's. But to African Americans Rosenbaum is less human.

Sydney Parlow
Sydney Parlow

Missx you defeat your apparent purpose by being insulting/abusive. We need--MUST learn to understand each other and focus on our commonalities and common needs and interests. Stop blaming each other for the miserable way people deal with people and learn to respect and enjoy each other.There was a song in my youth, "ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE, ELIMINATE THE NEGATIVE AND DON'T MESS WITH MR. INBETWEEN."

 
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