Hebrew program reborn at Niles Township District 219 High Schools
The Hebrew program at Niles Township High Schools is growing again under the guidance of Anna Raiber. Here, one school's 2012-2013 advanced program poses for a group shot. | Contributed photo
Updated: March 1, 2013 6:11AM
For years, enrollment declined in the Hebrew program at Niles Township High Schools.
Some parents called the branch of the language department department insipid, and District 219 discussed killing it off completely.
But the program was instead rejuvenated this school year, when the Board of Education brought in a new teacher to give the classes a much-needed makeover — a large part of which was an injection of enthusiasm among students.
Teacher Anna Raiber left Stevenson High School to teach the five Hebrew classes offered to Niles North and Niles West students for the 2012-13 school year.
Because the new curriculum rolled out only a few months ago, no measurable results can be seen yet, but district officials have said they are optimistic about the changes.
“We hope that the changes we are making in the Hebrew program will lead to increased enrollment, but we expect it could be several years before we see direct results,” District 219 spokesman Jim Szczepaniak said.
The revamped curriculum goes beyond standard Hebrew language teachings by fusing reading, vocabulary and speaking skills with culture and history lessons, all of which are taught with a college-oriented focus.
Raiber, who has taught Hebrew for 15 years, said the new curriculum is crafted to prepare students for advanced college-level Hebrew courses.
“The curriculum is very unique because it’s been completely revised to focus on a lot of culture and the modern-day Hebrew language,” Raiber said. “I also use a lot of technology in the classroom that lets us see things happening online in real time like views from Israel and modern-day commercials.”
The District 219 Board of Education held discussions about eliminating Hebrew classes several years ago in an effort to cut costs in a program with declining enrollment. But when a host of parents and families came out to support the program, trustees decided to give it another chance.
At a November 2011 board meeting, parent Helen Kirksman raised the question of why District 219’s Hebrew program were faltering while courses were doing well at six other public high schools in the area.
“We need to find numbers to sustain a Hebrew I and Hebrew II class, and the plan should be to go out and get an outstanding teacher so the numbers will grow,” Kirkman said to the board. “Hebrew has a bright economic future and looks good on a college transcripts, so why aren’t we putting as much of an emphasis on it as we are with other foreign language programs?”
Raiber is a native of Israel who spent 10 years teaching there. He spent another five years combined teaching Hebrew at Solomon Schechter Day School in Northbrook and at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire.
She also holds three master’s degrees — one in education, another in foreign lands juxtapositions and a third in education in technology.
Since starting with District 219 five months ago, one way Raiber has been working to make the Hebrew program more enriching for students is by giving them technology-centered projects that attempt to foster a deeper understanding of the Hebrew culture and language.
She also got rid of the old textbooks in favor of materials used in university-level classes. The new textbooks, “Hebrew from Scratch, Parts 1 and 2,” are now used in all District 219 Hebrew classes.
“Hebrew from Scratch” teaches all eras of Hebrew writing, from biblical to modern, including Midrashic texts, poetry, modern Hebrew songs and up-to-date modern slang.
“The textbooks are great because they compare the historical side of Hebrew to modern times,” Raiber said. “By using books that are used in universities around the nation, kids are better prepared to continue Hebrew studies after high school.”
Textbooks aside, Raiber’s teaching methods center heavily around online teaching tools, and she plans to expand the presence of technology in her classrooms next year by equipping the students with iPads they’ll use both in the classroom and for homework lessons.
Raiber is preparing for next year by writing a new curriculum based on teachings from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which will be used in the advanced-level course.