Shaare Torah launches groundbreaking initiative for exceptional students
Shaare Torah Boys High School is ready to take the next step in its growth as a school, with an initiative that promises to provide a specialized learning experience for exceptional students.
Administrators and educators at the Brooklyn-based school have created a program, set to formally launch in the fall of 2016, for students with high academic performance and outstanding scholarly aptitude.
The program will select a limited number of students who will need to pass a rigorous entrance exam and a thorough interview process. Students who meet the requirements for admission will be offered a four-year scholarship valued at $50,000.
To qualify for this program, students will need to excel in both Judaic and secular studies, have excellent attendance and behavior records, and pass the entrance exam scheduled for September 2015. Applications for this new program are now available for all interested current seventh graders.
Community Magazinewas granted permission to conduct exclusive interviews with several key individuals who have played an integral role in the development of this groundbreaking initiative. Below are excerpts from the one-on-one interviews with Mr. Richard. Altabe, Rabbi Hillel Haber, Rabbi Joey Mizrahi, Dr. Albert Matalon, and Dr. Barry Holzer.
Mr. Richard Altabe, headmaster at Yeshiva Shaare Torah
Mr. Richard Altabe has lent a hand in the educational direction of all Shaare Torah institutions, setting the agenda on the secular side. At the high school, he coordinates all of the general studies of the school and sets educational policy.
For the new program, he has been working to create a curriculum that combines Advanced Placement courses as early as tenth grade, accelerated programs of study, as well as intense SAT preparation to ensure students will have the opportunity to attend the best colleges.
CM: What is Shaare Torah’s educational mission? What is unique about this school?
Altabe: We instill in our students the importance of, and the value of, learning Torah in depth. We want to provide a strong anchor through Torah learning that will remain a part of their identity throughout life. We also want students to have a solid grounding in secular studies so that they can pursue any field or line of work they desire.
Shaare Torah prepares boys for the world – whether itis as a professional, businessman or full-time Torah learner. Those that go on the rabbinical track will have a strong secular background, and those who pursue professional careers will have a strongfoundation in Torah learning – they’re expected to be well-rounded community people, with stellar character, Torah values and an ability to learn Torah independently.
CM: So how does this new initiative dovetail with the school’s mission?
Altabe: By providing the community with a program for gifted high school students. We want to encourage our students to become serious Torah learners, who also have the capability to pursue long-term professional careers if they so desire.
The new program builds upon what we’ve always done, but takes it to a new level. It’s not a change, rather we are identifying children with talent and ability and then creating a rigorous curriculum that will challenge them to soar educationally.
We were never a “one size fits all” school. We educate the child according to his needs. Gifted children have learning needs that are very different from that of your typical bright student, and we will now be able to provide for them, as well.
CM: How did the ball first start to get rolling?
Altabe: Parents, alumni and community leaders joined in an effort to develop this unique program. They were involved since day 1, helping us develop a plan that will achieve our goals. This is important to point out. The idea came from the parents themselves.
When I first heard about the idea for this program, I was thrilledand excited to make it happen. I had previous experience in setting up these kinds of programs. For example, in the 1980’s, I developed Yeshiva of Flatbush’s Biomed Program. Several years later, I created an enrichment program at Yeshiva Darchei Torah in consultation with Dr. Abe Tanenbaum, a”h, an expert in education for high-achievers from Columbia University Teacher’s College. And at Magen David, I helped develop the acclaimed accelerated program that they have with Brooklyn College. I look forward to building on these experiences to design a program specifically tailored for these high-achieving students at Shaare Torah.
CM: How will you know what the students require, before the first year doing it?
Altabe: We will constantly develop and tweak the program. We’ll talk to the kids and parents, and find ways to ensure they’re being challenged.
But we’re not going to compromise on the quality of the student we accept. In the admissions process, we will be searching for students with stellar achievement test scores, GPAs and teacher recommendations.
We’re looking for a truly talented student population and we offer a program that is hands-on, interdisciplinary, and aligned to research-based methodology.
CM: What part of this gets you most excited?
Altabe: I’m excited to put together something that doesn’t exist in any yeshiva day school anywhere. It will challenge children to the high standards of Jewish and secular education. It will enable our most gifted students to reach new heights, inspiring their peers, parents, and community.
Rabbi Hillel Haber, Rosh Yeshiva
Rabbi Hillel has been the Rosh Yeshiva for the past 30 years.
CM: Why did you sense that this was the right place and right time for the program?
R Haber: I believe that the community is now ready for the creation of a serious and accelerated program of learning, one that will challenge the most talented students in an environment of serious study. No matter your background or socioeconomic status, this program is open to anyone who qualifies.
CM: Explain some of the specialties of the program from your perspective.
R Haber: The overall goal is to have a gemara-centered yeshiva that aspires to excellence in secular studies, as well, and this doesn’t truly exist now.
Rabbi Joey Mizrahi and I have been working tirelessly on a unique Torah Studies curriculum that will focus on Gemara study b’iyun [in depth], working through the tractates that best give students a thorough knowledge of key sugyot [topics] in Shas, and will also feature a serious study of yediot kelaliyot [general knowledge] often absent from the curriculum of yeshivot.
What I envision is an accelerated program where, having completed standard high school requirements, seniors are able to pursue full-day, intensive learning of Gemara, and college courses at night.
Rabbi Joey Mizrahi
Rabbi Joey Mizrahi has been selected as the ninth grade rabbi to lead this initiative.
CM: Is there anything similar to this new program anywhere else?
R Mizrahi: This is a program that has been tested and proven in Ashkenazi circles, where a yeshiva can offer yeshiva studies with a top-flight English education, as seen in Baltimore, and its partnership with Johns Hopkins University.
We strive to tailor-make such a program for our Sephardic boys. They will be challenged on their level with an arduous dual curriculum. They will leave high school with ample college credits to allow them the luxury of spending a year or more after high school in the bet midrash.
CM: What do you see as the school’s biggest challenges?
R Mizrahi: As the ninth grade rabbi of this program, it’s imperative to have them hit the ground running, to enhance the students, to raise the current curriculum in both depth and breadth of learning.
We need to prepare them to become independent learners sooner than the end of high school.
CM: What are you most thrilled about?
Mizrahi: For me, this is an exciting initiative because these students will be the future role models, rabbis and lay leaders of our community and the larger Jewish People.
The scholarship shows our commitment to this project, and our commitment to nurturing their talents, work ethic and drive to fulfill their potential.
Dr. Albert Matalon
Dr. Albert Matalon works at NYU Medical Center, graduated from the second graduating class of Shaare Torah, and has been involved in the school ever since. He also belongs to the committee to develop a new honors program.
CM: What role have you played in the development of the new program?
Matalon: I offered feedback and guidance, and suggested features of what I thought should be included in this new program.
CM: What do you see as the crown jewel of the program?
Matalon:I think the new program will be an unbelievable opportunity for students in our community, to have the most advanced education in Jewish studies, and at the same time have the world of finance, science and technology at their fingertips.
Given their existing background, and the newest, latest educational innovations that the program is going to offer, there’s no question students will be equipped with knowledge and skills that will take them even higher. I wish there was a program like this when I was in school!
CM: What did you enjoy most about Shaare Torah?
Matalon:What did the most for me was developing a tight relationship with some of the greatest role models in the community. To witness the relationship the students have with the staff to this day, both the rabbis and the secular studies teachers, is impressive. Having graduated 25 years ago, I still feel close with the rabbis and the teachers, and I still speak with them quite often. They made a big impact on my life. I wouldn’t be who I am today without it.
It gave me a chance to prepare for life, through the dedication of the teachers and their motivation. No one does what they do.
Dr. Barry Holzer
Dr. Barry Holzer, an expert in the field of child psychology, has helped thousands of New York families. He is a member of New York City Board of Education District 22, is on the Committee of Special Education, and is a renowned School Psychiatrist.
CM: You have a long-time connection to the Shaare Torah headmaster, correct?
Holzer: Almost 20 years ago I called Richard Altabe because I was looking for an accelerated program for a child.
As a child psychiatrist I knew him as an educator, and he was the only one at that time who agreed to try to create a program.
CM: How did that go?
Holzer: Not only did he create a program without any special resources, just by sheer will, but the program was consistent throughout third to eighth grade.
He created such a structure for it that has continued to today. Like programs before it for advanced students, the initiative at Shaare Torah has all the right elements: not only through Hebrew studies, but also through secular studies, in the way most appropriate for exceptional kids. It challenges students to learn on a higher level in a way that makes learning more exciting.
CM: What do you mean by “more exciting”?
Holzer: They’ll enjoy school more if they feel the classes are tailored for them.
One of the problems for kids with higher abilities is that school is boring. They’ve figured out what the teacher has been saying before the teacher has had to repeat it for the rest of the class. Another problem these high-achieving students consistently encounter is that too much of class time is dedicated to disciplinary issues. This program has the potential to virtually eliminate such issues, and I’m very excited to see how the program develops.
For more information about this new and exciting initiative, please contact any of the following committee members:
Rabbi Joey Mizrahi
347 203 9830