This article was first published as “At this preschool, 1-2-3 comes in three languages” in JWeekly.
“This is fun!” exclaims a little girl dressed all in pink, from her Hello Kitty hat down to her sneakers, as she traces the letters of the Russian alphabet.
She is doing the exercise as part of her Russian language pre-kindergarten class at Shalom School, which is run by Chabad of San Francisco.
She and her 4- and 5-year-old classmates sing songs and recite traditional Russian nursery rhymes with their teacher, Ella Kasminskaya.
Speaking with the children almost exclusively in Russian, Kasminskaya, a native of Uzbekistan who has been at Shalom School for 15 years, works on counting and basic conversation with them. They are especially engaged when she reads a picture book with them — calling out not only the names of each animal, but also the Russian versions of the sounds they make.
While it’s not uncommon to hear Hebrew and English at Jewish preschools, it is unusual to hear Russian.
At Shalom School, it’s a mix of all three.
Currently, there are 35 children at the Richmond District school — some from Russian-speaking families, some from families where a lot of Hebrew is spoken and some from households where English is spoken.
Seventeen of them are enrolled in one of two pre-K intensive language programs: 10 are in the Hebrew class and seven are taking Russian.
The language program — which will expand in the fall with the addition of a transitional kindergarten class — is the brainchild of Hinda Langer, the director of the 16-year-old school.
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© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.