Black and White and Hebrew All Over

HLA is a new kind of charter school

Gibran currently occupies a building in the most remote corner of Fort Greene, a mile from the closest subway. There are virtually no Arabic speakers in the neighborhood. Its enrollment plummeted last year, and it got an "F" on its last progress report. It will reopen as a high school in its fourth home in the fall, but no one believes it will thrive.

HLA, by comparison, is located on a stretch of King's Highway that is full of Hebrew signs and speakers. It has occupied its own building since it opened, where it actually has empty classrooms and room to expand. By not co-locating with a traditional public school, it has avoided the "cannibalism" charges waged against more experienced education players, like Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone and Eva Moskowtiz's Success Network.

It's an interesting case study in two schools: one charter and one traditionally public, one with its own home and one perpetually on the move, one with a celebrated language and one that creates guilt by association.

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.

But they both fit into a narrative of market-driven education reforms, which have thrived under Mayor Bloomberg. The fittest will survive, and the weakest will perish (as even his own chancellors have discovered).

Parents' reasons vary greatly for wanting their kids to go to HLA. Although some kids did pass the city's gifted test, their parents were displeased with how homogenous the schools were.

Ilona Fridson, a white mother of a student, says, "One of the values we have in my family—we like to be with everyone in the community. We want to be friends with people of other experiences. Here, our child has met people from Haiti, from Jamaica, kids born in the U.S. and the U.K. It's beautiful."

She admits that there is a disadvantage to her kid speaking Hebrew better than she does. "To tell the truth, I think they're talking about us," she jokes.

But for many of the parents, their decision to come to HLA shows how, from Waiting for Superman to The Lottery, charter schools are winning the war of ideas that they are better schools, even when they have little so far to show for it.

With testing starting in third grade, HLA's kindergarten to second grades have no scores to point to. Nor do they have a history of preparing kids for entrance into the city's elite middle schools. And yet 436 applications for about 75 seats were filed this year.

On the other hand, they're often competing against schools with scores so bad that having no scores at all may be an advantage.

But some parents clearly have no idea what they're getting into when they apply. At a recent assembly, one mother explained that she'd just heard that charter schools were better: "And when I punched 'charter schools,' into the computer, a school in Florida came up. And when I called them, they said I'd have to move to Florida to enroll my child there, and I knew that wouldn't work."

Then she heard about HLA and put her daughter in the lottery. Language wasn't a factor for her—it was just a charter school that was closer than Florida.

It's a rainy Friday afternoon and an MTA bus driver comes into HLA's front office. The deadline to be placed in the school's lottery is just a day away.

"I'm interested in an application," he says.

Principal Campbell turns on her charm. "You're in the right place!" He is about to take the form with him when she tells him, "You can fill it out right now—unless you have the bus double-parked outside." She laughs with a toss of her head.

He fills out the form. Like many people, he has heard about HLA through a sign at a bus stop, and is excited about his child getting to be bilingual. Campbell and her staff spend many weekends at street fairs, barber shops, beauty salons, and, yes, even Baptist churches recruiting for the school.

Just down the hall, the kindergarten class has earned a singing break. They sing a modified learning version of "We Will Rock You," jumping up and down. They yell at the top of their lungs, singing much louder off stage than they ever did in front of their parents. Braids are flying. A yarmulke momentarily flies off one kid's head.

Then, shortly after, they all line up and march down the hall to the gym, hand in hand.

sthrasher@villagevoice.com

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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).

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!

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.

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.

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!!!

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

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."

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.

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.

 
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