Grant helps Lowells Hebrew class survive budget cuts

Hebrew classes at San Francisco's Lowell High School have been saved for at least another year, thanks to $25,000 in private grants.

Backers of the language program, which needed to secure outside funding to survive, were elated to hear that Hebrew instruction would resume when students return to school Aug. 25.

"We're just thrilled," said Alan Wendroff, a board member for the Lowell Alumni Association and a professional fund-raiser who was among a group of supporters and parents who secured $20,000 from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund and $5,000 from the Koret Foundation.

This spring, he said he will apply for an additional $60,000 — enough to carry the program for another three years — from the Goldman Fund.

"It's good to have students from at least one school learn Hebrew," he said, pointing to the close trade relations between high-tech industries in Israel and the United States.

Lowell, a school with competitive admissions for its 2,500 students, is believed to be the only public high school in the Bay Area to offer instruction in Hebrew.

"The Hebrew program will continue," said Lowell principal Paul Cheng, whose school offers classes in a total of nine languages.

Because of shrinking enrollment and declining state funding, the Hebrew program needed to obtain private money to continue.

Longtime teacher Michal Dramen expects to start the school year with some 35 students in two classes. Each class will have students at two different levels, she said.

Dramen, too, was delighted with the news. "It will be a full year, a full program," she said.

She thinks even more students may sign up when they learn about the funding support. "The kids who took it as a second choice, they may change their mind," she said.

Judy Kivowitz, whose 16-year-old daughter took Hebrew at Lowell last year, said she was "very relieved" to hear about the funding. Her daughter, Lauren, needs to take three years of a language for college entrance requirements and "she would have been in a mess" if Hebrew was discontinued.

"We're delighted," she said. Kivowitz said along with the language instruction, the Hebrew classes serve as "a little oasis" for students. "It's more than a language. It's the only class where they don't have to explain to the teacher why they want to take off for Yom Kippur," she said.

Money wasn't the only issue that threatened to cancel Hebrew instruction at Lowell.

Citing state accreditation requirements, San Francisco school officials said Dramen needed to get a California teaching credential to stay on the job. Dramen earned a teaching diploma in her native Israel in 1965 and has taught at Lowell since 1989 as an independent contractor.

To resolve the matter, school officials are working on plans to let Dramen offer Hebrew instruction through San Francisco State University. The classes still would be taught on Lowell's nearby campus.

Under that arrangement, Cheng said it might be possible for outside students to enroll in Hebrew as well.

Word of the funding came as Lowell is grappling to cut $1.1 million from its $10.5 million annual budget.

"This is a very difficult time for us, not only in our district, but throughout the state," Cheng said.

The outside money for Hebrew "is fantastic," he said.