Rising Star Religious Elementary School
Eleven years ago, a group of Brooklyn parents founded Hannah Senesh Community Day School to provide a progressive education for students from across the spectrum of Jewish beliefs and practices. The school was named for Hannah Senesh, a Jewish resistance fighter, paratrooper and poet who was caught and executed by the Nazis in 1944 at the age of 23. The school opened with 37 students in a converted warehouse space.
Last year, the school moved into its own building on Smith Street in Brooklyn, and this year, total enrollment has reached about 155 boys and girls in kindergarten through 8th grade.
“A building isn’t what makes the school good,” said Nicole Nash, head of school, “but a good facility allows the school to get even better.” Nash, who was the first teacher hired by the school, was appointed head of Hannah Senesh at the end of last year when the school’s former head relocated to California.
In its new home, Hannah Senesh has enough room to eventually accommodate 270 children in 18 classrooms, plus a science lab, computer lab, library, art and music studios, gymnasium, rooftop play area and a “beit midrash,” or study hall.
Hannah Senesh’s academic program covers both general and Judaic students, providing pupils with a broad educational base in literacy, math, science, history, art, music, Jewish texts and connections to people in Israel. Hebrew instruction begins in kindergarten. The overall student to teacher ratio is 10 to 1. Most of its students reside in Brooklyn, but some also come from lower Manhattan and Queens.
Nash said that whenever she shows the school to prospective parents, they always say, “I wish I could go here.” She attributes the school’s supportive atmosphere to its dedicated and compassionate teachers, most of whom are graduates of the Bank Street College of Education.
Last June, Jessica Lissy Trey, a 7th and 8th grade Judaic studies teacher, won a Grinspoon-Steinhardt Award for Excellence in Jewish Studies, based on her ability to make Judaic texts compelling for her students. She is now the school’s Judaic studies coordinator.
Lisa Kleinman’s two older sons both attended Hannah Senesh, and her youngest son is currently a 4th grader there. “It’s a liberal, progressive school,” Kleinman said, “and the kids understand that there’s more than one way to be Jewish.” Her oldest son, who is a sophomore at Wesleyan College, remains in contact with his 8th grade Hannah Senesh humanities teacher, who, Kleinman said, shaped him as a writer and a thinker.
“The school has been one of the anchors for our family,” said Kleinman, a member of Hannah Senesh’s founding board. “Our lives revolve around our synagogue and our school,” she said, “and the rhythm of the Jewish year is an organic part of our lives.”
Every grade at the school participates in “tzedekah,” or charitable acts, including a focus on the theme of hunger. The person who is doing the act is considered the recipient. Students take part in hands-on projects at a local homeless shelter and have raised money for Israel and for a sister school in Uganda. The culminating experience for the school’s 8th graders is a two-week trip to Israel.
Graduates continue their education at school such as Abraham Joshua Heschel High School, Bard High School Early College, Berkeley Carroll School, La Guardia School for the Performing Arts, Phillips Exeter Academy, Saint Ann’s High School and Solomon Schechter High School.
Barbara McGlamery-Perlmutter’s son Max entered Hannah Senesh in kindergarten last year and started 1st grade this fall. She was a little worried about Max’s transition to a Jewish education because she speaks no Hebrew and her husband only speaks a little, but her concern has been allayed.
“My son came out of kindergarten speaking more Hebrew than my husband,” she said.
Hannah Senesh Community Day School
342 Smith St.
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11231
Nicole Nash, Head of School
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