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SFSU helps save Hebrew program at S.F. high school

May 11, 2004

Photo of Hebrew teacher Michal Dramen responding to one of her Lowell High School studentsOne year after the Hebrew program was nearly eliminated because of budget cuts, students at Lowell High School in San Francisco continue to learn Hebrew thanks to San Francisco State University and donations from two grants totaling $25,000.

As a result, the two classes taken by about 30 students resumed as scheduled this year. The students now receive college credit from SFSU, in addition to high-school foreign-language credit.

Lowell students, parents and administrators are thrilled with the outcome.

"I had only had two years of a foreign language, and many universities require (applicants to have) three years of one foreign language," says senior Josh Miller, who began taking Hebrew at Lowell as a sophomore. "If Hebrew would have been canceled, I would have been completely out of luck."

In December 2002, San Francisco Unified School District officials warned that the well-liked Hebrew teacher, Michal Dramen, would not be able to keep her job because she did not have a California teaching credential. In addition, a school budget committee decided that the Hebrew classes -- believed to be the only offered in Bay Area public high schools -- could not be funded from the school district.

Photo of College of Education Dean Jacob PereaJacob Perea, dean of the SFSU College of Education, volunteered to help save the program after learning of the issue from President Robert A. Corrigan. Perea reviewed Dramen's qualifications and the state credential guidelines.

After determining that a 1994 credential waiver given to Dramen by the school district was invalid, he successfully implemented a plan for SFSU to employ her and offer the Hebrew classes to Lowell students through the University’s Step to College program -- an outreach endeavor that offers college-level classes to high school students in San Francisco and on the Peninsula. Dramen is qualified to teach high school.

Alan Wendroff, a Lowell Alumni Association board member and retired professional fund-raiser, secured grants of $20,000 and $5,000 from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund and Koret Foundation, respectively, to pay for Dramen's salary.

Dramen, a 65-year-old native Hebrew speaker who taught physical education and arts in her native country of Israel, says she is relieved the program was saved.

"I was not concerned about me; I'm old enough to retire," said Dramen, who has taught Hebrew at Lowell for 15 years. "It was the program itself I was concerned about. I love the kids."

Dramen's students enjoy her style of teaching. She is more informal than most teachers, encouraging students to call her by her first name. Her small classes create a great learning environment, students said.

"I had gone to Hebrew school since the first grade, but never learned as much as I have already learned in this class," sophomore Melissa Dean said.

Perea, working with the school district and the SFSU Jewish Studies Program, hopes to eventually make the classes available to any San Francisco high school student and offered after school or on Sundays. He applauds the strong community support that Dramen and the classes have received and vows to offer his help to any kind of program or class in need.

"What we do in education is to work to benefit children," he said. "When people ask us for help, we do our best."

-- Matt Itelson


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Last modified July 27, 2004 by University Communications