School Supplement: Jewish day schools win Koret assistance

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For Silicon Valley parents, science is one subject they say their kids can't afford to miss.

Unfortunately, Jewish day schools have traditionally lacked the budget to maintain cutting-edge science education programs.

"In our area, a huge number of parents are scientists, physicians, engineers. They are very interested in their children learning science, and to be competitive later on, they have to," says Jackie Bocian, a parent and volunteer for Mid-Peninsula Hebrew Day School in Palo Alto.

That's why Bocian devised an idea for a collaborative science project.

Her plan was for Mid-Peninsula Hebrew Day School, along with Yavneh Day School in Los Gatos and South Peninsula Hebrew Day School in Sunnyvale, to jointly purchase the Full Option Science System (FOSS), a pioneering science education program developed by the Lawrence Hall of Science.

The project was recently awarded a $25,000 grant by San Francisco's Koret Foundation for the 1995 school year.

The schools will buy their own equipment, but 26 teachers from the three institutions will be trained together and will share training videos.

The FOSS system is designed to be hands-on. Lesson units employ tools like rocks, sand and animal skeletons to help students learn lessons about physics, astronomy, biology and other subjects.

Bocian is even planning joint science fairs for the schools, because "the more little brains you put together, the more exciting the result."

Combining brain power, as well as money, is the goal of the Koret foundation's new push to encourage grantees to pool their efforts. Instead of being the sole funder of a program — and potentially having to pull out and leave that program adrift — Koret wants organizations and individuals to combine their resources. The science project marks the first such collaboration funded by Koret, which three years ago increased its grants to day schools about thirteen-fold.

In 1991, the foundation granted only two day schools a total of $15,100. The following year, Koret awarded six schools a total of $203,182.

This year, 10 day schools — from as far away as Sacramento and Sonoma — will be receiving $195,000.

"We think it's important to get kids going in the right direction at a young age," Koret foundation president Tad Taube said. From now on, he added, day schools will be a central part of the foundation's efforts to foster Jewish continuity.

While Koret is leaning toward joint projects like the collaborative science program, the bulk of the grants to date have gone toward scholarship assistance.

However, Koret's shift towards funding collaborative projects may cause some schools to feel a pinch because of reductions in scholarships. Hebrew Academy in San Francisco, for example, is receiving $40,000 this year, $15,500 less than last year.

"We're forced to give less scholarships," said Rabbi Pinchas Lipner, dean of San Francisco's Hebrew Academy. Financial aid is particularly important at the school, where 200 out of 300 students are emigres from the former Soviet Union.

But Taube said that while there might be some shuffling in scholarship funding from year to year, it's an "aberration that doesn't mean anything" and Koret is expecting to award more grant money next year.

"If anything," said Taube, "there ought to be a gradual increase in our total funding for day schools."