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First Milestone Achieved for the Free Jewish Education Movement

May 20, 2012 – 8:35 pm52 Comments

Glen Eira College's first Hebrew class with visiting parliamentarians

By Jonny Schauder
The Background and Vision
Back in August last year, I published my first article on Galus Australis about working with Glen Eira College. The article was part of a strategy to improve the services and options that Jewish students can access at the state school located in the heart of the Melbourne Jewish community. There were three pillars in the original vision: Hebrew as a language subject alongside French and Chinese; the VCE Religion and Society elective being offered from Year 10 with a Judaism stream for those interested; and before- and after-school services better coordinated to meet the needs of those teens who want extra religious or spiritual inputs, whether Orthodox or Liberal.

I am very pleased to report that Hebrew has been formally accepted at the College, and commenced as a curriculum elective for year 7 students. The subject started in term two 2012, with seven students enrolled.  It has been very well received by the community, the school, and the students. The students receive three in-school hours of formal Hebrew tuition per week.

The movement has also been very successful in creating awareness and support for the idea that state schools can be more responsive to the needs of their local Jewish communities.

More students were looking to enrol in this first Hebrew offering at Glen Eira College, but unfortunately we were too late to be able to adjust for the limitations of timetabling, subject clashes and classroom allocations. The original plan was to commence in 2013 but the take-up was sufficient to initiate the subject a year early. At Glen Eira College, there are about 95 students enrolled in Year 7, so the uptake was about 8% of the student body.

A few weeks ago, the Victorian Minister for Education, Martin Dixon, and the MP for Caulfield, David Southwick, visited Glen Eira College together with two Senators to tour and endorse all the language programs being delivered. Minister Dixon was reported to be very impressed with the Hebrew offering.

The Glen Eira College campus is excellent. The School really benefited from the government investments of the past few years. I invite everyone to go and have a look around. The facilities being offered by the School for the Hebrew subject are brand new and cutting edge, with multimedia classrooms and resources having very generously been made available by the Principal, Lesley Lamb.

We recruited a wonderful young teacher who is passionate about bringing Hebrew to life for the students in fun and practical ways. My own tour of the subject gave me both pride and hope that the Hebrew elective could begin to fill the gap that exists in Jewish Education. Those of us who either prefer a more diverse educational environment for our children, or simply cannot afford the Jewish day school system, will have great confidence that their children will find a happy balance at Glen Eira College and be able to augment the educational experience with their own choices.

Whilst the funding of this year’s Hebrew class has required private investment, the ambition is that at least 20 students will enrol in 2013. If that level of participation is achieved, the subject can access more government funding, or even become completely free of student fees, charity, or sponsorship. We are committed to this goal.

The Future
It is hoped that the remainder of the vision will be fulfilled. The school has been wonderful, open, and appropriately careful and conscientious in its consideration of how to best implement the ideas we put forward. I hope these achievements put pressure on other state secondary schools such as Mckinnon, Brighton, and Bentleigh Secondary to follow the precedent and offer Hebrew for their very large Jewish student bodies. Of course, the Hebrew subject is not just for Jewish kids. It is hoped that non-Jewish kids might also choose to access the subject as we go forward.

I have repeatedly been asked: “Yes, but what else will you offer the Jewish kids?” For now, the agenda is as simple as the original vision. That being said, UJEB continues to provide a wonderful social base for Jewish students on campus to meet on a weekly basis, and also provides camps and other outside-school social activities. But one thing has inspired me about the journey so far.  Either because of or simultaneous to Hebrew being introduced, the School has embraced other elements of importance to the Jewish community. For example, because many of the kids taking Hebrew are observant, Orthodox, traditional, or just culturally conscious, the School has begun accounting for Jewish Holidays in its planning.

Similarly, this year, Glen Eira College stopped for a two hour Holocaust memorial for the entire student body. The memorial focused on a child survivor and Red Army soldier telling their stories. Quite coincidentally (but on reflection very meaningfully), the Hebrew subject was launch on the eve of the 70th Yom HaShoah. The assembly itself was run by Year 9 students at the school who felt the population of the College should unite on the issues of respect, acceptance, and tolerance for all.

I continue to invite anyone interested to join our movement. All you have to do is tell others about the vision and ideas, discuss the concept with your family and friends, and help those who might benefit directly from the program to access Glen Eira College. And of course, should it suit your needs, please enrol in the program for next year!

I appreciate the opportunity Galus Australis gave our movement nine months ago, and the opportunities to publish updates since. I will keep everyone informed of developments as we hopefully go from strength to strength!

Jonny Schauder is one of Melbourne’s leading consultants in the area of Change Management, High Performing Teams and Leadership. He is a Psychologist and has lectured on Negotiation and Influence in the Monash Business School MBA, and is managing director of The Change Agent Network.

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