“I’m not sure I’m the right person for you to speak to. You see, I don’t speak Hebrew.” Thus began a delightful conversation with Sabrina Bhojani, Head of School of the Richmond Jewish Day School, who was immediately assured that she is in excellent company, as more and more Heads of Jewish schools are brought onboard to the top leadership positions following strong and successful careers in public or independent schools.
Three years ago, Bhojani made the move from leadership at a public school in British Columbia to a whole new world of Jewish day school education, bringing her wealth of experience with the BC curriculum, enthusiasm for child-centered teaching and learning, love of children, respect and appreciation for teachers, and commitment to fostering a warm and welcoming Jewish community.
Richmond JDS offers a robust half-day immersion program in the primary grades, kindergarten through fourth grade, where in addition to learning Hebrew and Judaic studies in Hebrew, specials such as design skills and technology, physical education, music, and art are also taught in Hebrew by Israeli teachers. The Judaic and Hebrew faculty members have been with the school for quite a few years and while recruitment of new teachers in the greater Vancouver area can been difficult, RJDS benefits from strong teacher retention and professional satisfaction.
How does a Head of School observe and assess classes being conducted in a language she does not understand? After many years of supervising teachers in English language classrooms, Bhojani is fascinated by the opportunity to focus on body language of both teachers and students, gauging the engagement, enthusiasm, and joy of learners. She described that since Hebrew isn’t just any language but also such a rich source of identity, a source of a sense of belonging, and a sense of safety, observing the students while blocking out the meaning of the words gives a visceral analysis of a teacher’s efficacy.
Working with Hebrew at the Center through the Pacific Northwest “Cascadia Project” has been tremendous for the Richmond JDS’s Hebrew teachers, who now have a professional community of like-minded professional Hebrew educators from whom to gain new and fresh ideas. The exchange of tips and techniques from fellow Hebrew teachers from other schools in Greater Vancouver, Portland, and Seattle is as valuable as the learning from Hebrew language coaches and experts. This combination enables the teachers to upgrade and sharpen the Hebrew curriculum across all grades. Sabrina Bhojani is also happy to have met a cohort of colleagues in Jewish day school leadership, from whom she, too, can learn, while also sharing from her deep well of experience in general education. While RJDS is a small school, almost 100% of its graduates matriculate to the King David High School in Vancouver, which makes the relationships among the teachers and educational leaders across schools all the more valuable in their corner of the continent.