Teacher Lisa Altow’s Grade 5 students at Vancouver Hebrew Academy build a machine, using a variety of household treasures. (photo by Shula Klinger)
Vancouver Hebrew Academy has a new principal of general studies this year. As well, the school site is being upgraded, with new classrooms and a brand new playground on their way.
Rabbi Don Pacht, head of school, works with two under-principals, one for secular and one for Jewish learning. Rabbi Tzvi Goldman is principal of Judaic studies and the new principal of general studies, Adam Zalba, rounds out the team.
Zalba’s role is to ensure that the students’ work meets the requirements of British Columbia’s provincial curriculum. Pacht describes Zalba as “incredibly personable. He’s one of those people that are just meant to work with children – you can tell right away.”
Zalba told the Independent he has had a “busy and eventful couple of months” at VHA. This is the first Jewish school he has worked at, and he said he has been impressed by “the professionalism, dedication and work ethic” of the teachers, as well as the support of the parents. He finds the children to be a “bright, inquisitive and joyful student body, with a thirst for knowledge.” In taking an active interest in the students’ social and emotional development, he looks forward to helping them on their way to becoming “caring, respectful and thoughtful citizens.”
“Our vision for VHA is excellence in both Judaic and general studies,” said Pacht. “We want students to be ready for whatever they choose next. For some, it’s intensive Judaic studies; for others, it’s King David or Pacific Torah Institute.” For example, Grade 7 students Chaya Yeshayahu and Devorah Leah Yeshayahu are considering Vancouver’s Shalhevet Girls High School, but are also looking at some out-of-town options, as well.
Of the two strands to the curriculum, Pacht said, “We’ve taught them to read and decode the Chumash, but we’ve also taught them to be analytical learners, for Talmud, for social studies. We strive to give them the tools they need to grow and connect with the outside world, through independent study. At 12, they leave VHA with a really solid set of foundation skills.”
VHA has been at its current site for 15 years, during which time the only upgrade has been the addition of portable classrooms. The property is owned by the Vancouver School Board, said Pacht. “For the last four years, we’ve been on a year-to-year lease,” he said. Recent lobbying at the VSB and the ministry has resulted in a new, eight-year lease. “That’s a generation in the life of an elementary school, where kids coming into preschool now can graduate from this building.”
The portables will be replaced with new modular buildings that are set up with a fast, efficient internet network. Construction for the buildings will start off-site within the next few weeks and the structures will be brought onto the property after school ends in June.
The old wooden playground structure will be dismantled at the end of this month, to be replaced shortly afterward by new, wheelchair-accessible equipment.
To fund these improvements, the school has fundraising plans, including its annual garden party, held in the summer. Pacht describes the party – which is hosted at a private home – as “a very relaxing and enjoyable event.”
Speaking of the funds needed to complete the necessary upgrades, the rabbi said, “We want to use them for the best purpose, to create the best learning environment possible.”
Shula Klinger is an author and journalist living in North Vancouver. Find out more at shulaklinger.com.