New S.F. school to teach reading, writing and Torah

By the time kids complete kindergarten at San Francisco's new Shalom School, they will have made handcrafted prayerbooks, studied the entire Book of Genesis and participated in costume plays based on the Bible.

Besides having fun and learning to read, kids will learn morals and ethics, according to Hinda Langer, co-founder and director of the school, which opened Monday.

"We feel that children should learn honesty, social skills and character development," she said. "Teaching them to take responsibility for themselves and knowing boundaries with others may be even more important than some academics."

The school, which is affiliated with Chabad of San Francisco, offers both toddler and preschool-kindergarten programs, serving kids ages 18 months to 6 years. The curriculum integrates Jewish heritage, culture and general studies. The toddler program includes a kaleidoscope of art, creative activities and song.

As the year passes, preschool and kindergarten students will learn about the Jewish holidays while grasping math concepts and the ABCs, said Langer. There also will be Friday Shabbat parties and alef-bet learning.

Langer expects learning Hebrew will enhance a child's skills in English.

"Two- and 3-year-olds are capable of learning two languages at a time, but our IQ in learning languages continuously declines as we get older," said Langer.

"Our kindergarten program will utilize phonics combined with whole language so that children will graduate with the ability to read simple stories and write on a beginning level."

Whole-language teaching in-volves learning to recognize word patterns and may include such techniques as flashing logos from cereal boxes, soda cans and advertisements.

Langer's husband, Chabad of San Francisco Rabbi Yosef Langer, said the school's chavurot, or study groups, will unite families into a community. Chavurah events will include guest lecturers speaking on such topics as child development.

"By helping the affiliated become more comfortable with Jewish tradition, we hope to dispel many of the barriers to experiencing Jewish life by involving the families with education, prayer, and socials," Yosef Langer said.

Hinda Langer, who directed the Beth Meir Schoolhouse Jewish preschool in Orinda from 1985 to 1990, has experienced past success in getting families involved.

"All of the parents made sure their kids continued some form of Jewish education after their preschool experience, up through bar mitzvah and beyond," she said.