Original Article Published on The Connecticut Jewish Ledger
New Haven residents received an interesting postcard in the mail recentlya photograph of a girl with wide eyes, a curious look on her faceand a long black beard.
The caption, for Southern Connecticut Hebrew Academy reads, “You don’t need a beard to attend the Academy. Just a need for great education!”
Yet, most New Haven residents have never even heard of the Southern Connecticut Hebrew Academy.
The school, located at 261 Derby Avenue in Orange, is actually the school formerly known as New Haven Hebrew Day School.
At a recent meeting for parents, headmaster Rabbi Sheya Hecht announced the name change and shared the school’s vision for the future.
The school, which has 3,500 alumni and serves 180 students in its day care, preschool, elementary, middle school, and girls’ high school divisions, recently purchased a 3 1/2 acre property with a pond and nature area. The new property adjoins the current campus, which was built in 1970 on a 5-1/2 acre tract of land.
New Haven Hebrew Day School was founded by Rabbi Sheya Hecht’s father, Rabbi Moshe Hecht, in 1946. The four-student school grew to 120 within two years, and a building was purchased on Dwight Street in New Haven.
Hecht’s vision for the future includes increasing the school’s regional area of focus and presenting the school to a new market and clientele.
Inside the Southern Connecticut Hebrew Academy, colorful, framed photographs on the walls and newly color-coded books in the library give a hint of the school’s ambitious goals in the areas of technology, reading, math and language instruction.
“We are trying to become cutting age, and we are building a virtual community,” reports Dr. Jeanne Rice, director of admissions.
“The mission of our technology program is to empower our students with the technological skills they need. And we are involved in a three stage plan.”
The school is newly wired, email accounts and servers have been created for all staff, and Finalsite, a web-based software, has been used to create a new, frequently updated website,www.schacademy.org.
In later stages, extensive technology training will continue and laptops will be purchased for all teachers and for students in grades 5-12.
“We are living in a world where technology is taking over,” observed Hecht, “and we have to meld and merge the two.”
Other uses for technology include teaching historical timelines through Excel, comparing changes in climate through a database, using softwar
to simulate archaeological digs and chemical experiments, and creating student websites as part of the Israel’s Biomes study.
And the school has embarked on an “alphabet soup” of initiatives. The Renaissance Learning Program, using a program called “Accelerated Reader,” seeks to individualize reading and math programs and will soon include downloadable textbooks with text geared to individual reading levels.
Both Spanish and Hebrew are being taught using TPR, Total Physical Response, a very active method of teaching which, according to Hecht, “requires students to perform actions to show they understand what they are being asked to do.”
While the school strives to incorporate the latest developments in technology, reading and math education into its curriculum, Jewish education and character development also continue to be central.
Students in the third grade are studying Chumash with Rashi and nursery students are setting up their Jonah and the Whale exhibit for an upcoming Torah Science Fair. The daily Mshna program and “character counts” program are ongoing, and all students stood to greet Rabbi Hecht, their headmaster of 25 years, as he gave a tour of each classroom.
Why the changes now?
“After about 60 years, it is a good time to look back and make it happen,” said Hecht.