Meira Academy celebrates first class of graduates

Four years ago, Meira Academy in Palo Alto started with a mere six freshmen. This year on June 14, the only Jewish girls’ school in Northern California hit a milestone: its very first graduation.

Eight graduates, including Meira Academy’s original six students, were in the school’s first senior class. During the 2014-15 school year, Meira Academy had students enrolled in all four grades, another first, with 21 students in total.

It’s been a fast-paced few years for the burgeoning school, where there is an emphasis on Orthodox tradition.

 

Class of 2015 (from left): Sarah Malya Rynderman, Kimi Altchek, Shoshana Lebowitz, Chana Altchek, Tzippora Feldman, Shifra Felsen, Sarah Spiro, Hannah Brodskaya

Last August, Meira Academy received three-year accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges during its first year of eligibility. And in November, having outgrown its temporary space, Meira moved into bigger, permanent quarters on the Oshman Family JCC campus.

 

Though each member of the 2015 graduating class was accepted to a university — including New York University and Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women in New York — all of the girls have chosen to spend a gap year in Israel to attend seminary before going to college.

At the graduation ceremony, each student spoke about her high school experience.

“They’re all incredibly articulate,” Rabbi Joey Felsen, the school’s founding board president, said several days before the big day. “We’re going to have a lot of tissue boxes available at graduation.”

Felsen expressed great pride in the graduates’ accomplishments, both in Jewish and secular studies. He described how the girls’ packed school schedule, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., includes several hours of Jewish studies daily. There are classes in Jewish law, Jewish history and the Tanach, but despite all that, the seniors also excelled in their general studies courses and SATs, Felsen noted.

Meira Academy accommodates students from a range of backgrounds, though most come to the school for its traditional, Orthodox-style Jewish education. School officials couldn’t provide an exact breakdown, but they did say there are students from both Orthodox and nonobservant homes.

Felsen said Meira is debunking a myth that Orthodox schools with high-level Jewish studies cannot properly attend to secular studies. “A lot of people think you just can’t do both things well,” Felsen said. “I think we’re breaking the mold.”

Students agree. Graduate Sara Malya Rynderman, who has wanted to become a doctor since age 10, praised her science classes at Meira. “I got to study biology and anatomy in a really in-depth way,” she said. “Teachers helped me understand and not just memorize.”

Graduate Kimi Altchek said, as a student who came out of the public school system, she particularly appreciated Meira’s Jewish courses. This fall, she wants to “really focus on Jewish studies and solidify my education at Meira” by attending Me’ohr Bais Yacov, a seminary for Orthodox Jewish girls in Israel.

Though both found it difficult to adjust to such small classes, the two graduates said they ultimately benefitted from the one-on-one attention available at Meira.

Now Meira continues to grow. The school currently has around 20 faculty members, most of them part-time, and it will welcome 26 students in the fall.

Sara Weissman
Sara Weissman

Sara Weissman is the editor in chief of New Voices, the national Jewish student magazine, and a former J. intern who graduated from U.C. Berkeley. She can be reached at editor@newvoices.org.