So many choices: families ready for a new school year

For Jewish families of children in elementary and middle school, that often means deciding on both an academic program and a religious school program. Jewish students who do not attend one of the three Jewish day schools in Portland often enroll in a Sunday school, Shabbat school and/or afterschool Hebrew program to supplement their regular school program. Most of the congregations in Oregon and Southwest Washington offer religious school and/or Hebrew school options.

While the majority of Oregon students attend public school, the website estimates that about 14% of Portland students attend private schools. There are more than 200 private schools in the metro area and more than 360 private schools registered with the state of Oregon.

That can make choosing the right educational setting for your child seem overwhelming. GreatSchools ( is the country’s leading source of information on school performance. With listings of 200,000 public and private schools serving students from preschool through high school and more than 800,000 parent ratings and reviews, GreatSchools has become the go-to guide for parents. In addition to school listings and reviews, the website includes articles on how to choose the best school setting for each child.

GreatSchools suggests parents consider: “What qualities are you looking for in a school? Do you want one that’s big or small? Strong in academics or the arts – or both? When you list what’s most important at the outset, you’re more likely to find the right school for your child.”

Many families choose a private school associated with religions for the values-based learning offered there. Portland features three Jewish day schools, numerous Catholic schools, Oregon Episcopal School and many others.

Other families are drawn to the many schools that offer language immersion programs, which are appealing given the world’s increasingly global community.

The French American International School is a preschool through grade eight independent school with an internationally focused curriculum. The lower school accepts students from 2½ years old and is a French immersion program, complemented with the study of English. Students then move to The Gilkey International Middle School, which offers an inspiring, international curriculum designed for students with no foreign language experience, as well as students continuing in immersion programs in French, German, Spanish and Mandarin.

The German American School of Portland also partners with the Gilkey School to offer a middle-school curriculum that allows its students to continue taking advanced level language arts and social studies immersed in German.

The International School in Portland provides a multicultural environment where children are fully immersed in Spanish, Japanese or Chinese language and culture. Children become fluent in another language, at home in other cultures, and engaged in math, science, social studies and arts. The International School was founded in 1990 and today educates more than 460 students from age 3 through fifth grade.

Portland Public Schools also offer language immersion programs. Ainsworth, Atkinson and Beach offer Spanish immersion; Woodstock offers Mandarin immersion; Richmond offers Japanese.

Beaverton Public Schools also has many language options, including the International School of Beaverton for grades 6-12. ISB opened in September 2006 with a focus on the International Baccalaureate program and classes in Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish.

    How it all Began

Shortly after the first Jewish child was born in Oregon – in 1856 – members of Oregon’s pioneer Jewish community put education at the top of their list.

Congregation Beth Israel, the first Jewish congregation west of the Rockies and north of San Francisco, was established in 1858, and soon hired a teacher for its children. Although the teacher had many other duties.

One advertisement in The Occident, the first Jewish paper published in the United States, sought “a gentleman who is capable to act as Minister, Chazan and Shochet, and is also required to teach from 10 to 15 children in the Hebrew.” The salary was $1,000 per year, which even by frontier standards was somewhat skimpy.

The Rev. H. P. Bories, whom Rabbi Julius Nodel described as probably a learned layman in his centennial history of Beth Israel, The Ties Between, became the congregation’s third spiritual leader in 1861. He became superintendent of Beth Israel’s day school after the congregation hired an officially recognized rabbi in 1863, the pioneer Rabbi Julius Eckman.

The day school, established because Beth Israel members were skeptical of the quality of the new “free” public schools, quickly won community endorsement.

“This school is an ornament to our city and a very useful institution,” The Oregonian noted in 1864, Nodel reports.

The school reached its greatest enrollment in 1867, with 75 students, both Jews and non-Jews. But Nodel reported that enrollment declined about 1870.

“Dwindling enrollments and rising financial costs prompted motions to abolish the school and sell its buildings,” he wrote.

– Sura Rubenstein

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