Imagine the surprised look on the face of the local farmer when a little American child approaches and asks:
אפשר לקבל שלושה מלפפונים?
Another student asks:
יש לימון היום?
A third chimes in:
אני רוצה חסה בבקשה.
The farmer sells his produce at Helen Albert Certified Farmer’s Market in Hollywood, California, and the children are second graders at Briskin Elementary School, the Jewish day school of Temple Israel of Hollywood, a Reform Temple in Southern California.
Shopping at the farmer’s market – in Hebrew – is one of the many ways that Briskin Elementary School students experience Hebrew outside the walls of the school while living up to the school’s mission. Briskin Elementary provides its students in kindergarten through 6th grade with a meaningful educational experience and a passion for life-long learning, the arts, Jewish values and traditions, participation in social action, and a connection to Israel. The leaders and teachers at Briskin accomplish their goals through a dynamic curriculum of General Studies, Hebrew and Judaic studies, and the arts.
With a strong emphasis on creating independent problem-solvers who care deeply about sustainability, the Hebrew faculty, under the leadership of Noa Vitaly, seek ways to integrate Hebrew language learning, as authentically as possible, into the overall activities of the school. So, before the 2nd graders take a field trip to the farmer’s market, they spend several weeks learning the Hebrew vocabulary and sentence structure to successfully shop for seasonal, healthy, nutritious produce. They do so by using the methodology of learning Hebrew through dramatic play, relying on the JIGZI online platform for watching short video stories in Hebrew, reading the transcripts of the story, writing scripts for little plays, practicing, and performing their plays, and then taking what they’ve learned out to the real world.
Authenticity has its limits, though, since the farmers and vendors at the Hollywood farmer’s market don’t actually know Hebrew! This is why Noa Vitaly is already dreaming of bringing the Briskin fourth graders who will learn about animals this year to חוות כפר סבא, a local animal farm owned by Israelis, where the students will be able to interact more fluidly and fluently at a developmental stage of second language acquisition where they will have developed stronger Hebrew language skills.
After several years as a classroom teacher at Briskin Elementary School, Noa Vitaly is excited to be in her second year as Hebrew Coordinator. Noa shared, “our approach is to integrate Hebrew with other subjects, expanding it visually in the school environment, and connecting it to the outside world. I truly believe that teaching in general and teaching a second language, in particular, is most effective when you succeed in building core memories. Through the farmer’s market experience, we witnessed a high level of engagement and joy in learning (חדוות למידה). We plan more opportunities to expand learning outside of the classroom walls and build more lasting memories for our students.”