South Alameda to get first Jewish day school this fall

A new Jewish day school based at Temple Beth Torah in Fremont will open in September, becoming the first school of its kind serving southern Alameda County.

The Atid Jewish Day School will accept kindergartners and first-graders; however, the school may also have a second-grade class if there are enough students, said head of school Jamie Hyams. The goal is to add a class every year until the school serves kindergartners through sixth-graders, she added.

Though based at the Reform temple, the school will be independently run and is designed to serve students from all streams of Judaism, said Hyams, who is now the community programs director at the Center for Jewish Living and Learning of the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay.

The opening of Atid, which is Hebrew for "future," will culminate a multiyear effort by community members to establish a Jewish day school. Southern Alameda County and the nearby Tri-Valley area are home to five congregations — Beth Torah, Congregations Beth Emek in Livermore and Shir Ami in Castro Valley, Temple Beth Sholom in San Leandro and Beth Chaim Congregation in Danville.

Currently, the nearest Jewish day schools are in Oakland and Palo Alto. That means a commute of up to an hour each way for the students and their parent drivers. The alternative, of course, is to forgo the idea of Jewish day school altogether.

"That's hard," Hyams said. "We wanted something that would serve our own community."

The goal of the school, she added, is to give students a strong knowledge of Judaism and the Hebrew language while offering a superior academic program.

School board members havebeen working with an educational consultant, teachers and specialists in Jewish curriculum to achieve that goal.

Mark Cohen, a Fremont resident and member of the school board, believes Atid's impact will be far-reaching.

"Not only will it be filling a void for day schools in southern Alameda County and the Livermore Valley, but it's fulfilling an extremely important need to provide Jewish education for our children that cannot be understated," Cohen said.

Attending Jewish day school can have a huge impact on children — studies consistently show that day-school students are more likely to adhere to Judaism as adults, Cohen said. Along with having meaningful synagogue experiences and practicing religion at home, attending Jewish day school has been proven to lead to the lifelong practice of the Jewish faith, he said.

"It's fundamental," Cohen said. "It's beyond debate."

He attributes such success to the way day schools incorporate Jewish teachings into the general curriculum.

At Atid, for example, all segments of the academic curriculum will incorporate lessons of Judaism or the Hebrew language, Hyams said.

"We're not trying to create a school that is Jewish by name and not by content," she added.

Plans call for giving students individual attention by maintaining small student-to-teacher ration. A full class of 18 students would have one teacher and one teacher's aide, Hyams said.

In addition, the school's schedule is designed to accommodate parents who may be driving some distance to get to the facility. The school day will run from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with before- and afterschool care available.

Tuition will be $7,500 a year, but financial assistance is available.