At Tucson Hebrew Academy parents sometimes say “you keep them in a cocoon,” says Ronnie Sebold, director of admissions. But this cocoon also nurtures THA students as they embark on their
high school years. “They get a lot of comfort here, learn skills and are academically so prepared and emotionally secure,” says Sebold, “allowing them to fly away like a beautiful butterfly.”
THA graduates attend a variety of Tucson high schools.
Several members of THA’s class of 2010 agree that they were well prepared academically for high school, “especially in writing,” says Ben
Louchheim, now a 10th grader at St. Gregory’s College Preparatory School. His one suggestion would be for THA to “enforce annotating books while you’re reading, in addition to review,” which, he says, “would give students a deeper understanding of what’s going on. That would really help at St. Gregory’s.”
“I felt totally ready for high school,” says Adina Artzi, a 10th grader at Catalina Foothills High School. “THA prepared me 100 percent academically, especially in English and writing. That’s for sure.”
As for the social side of high school, if THA students are intimidated about going to a much larger school, Artzi says that they needn’t be. “THA helps you learn about yourself. It brings out the best in you and helps you develop self-confidence,” she says, “although going from a class of 13 to more than 500 was a little challenging.”
THA grad Devon Hulsey, now a 10th grader at Marana High School, didn’t know anyone there at first. “Now I have friends. There’s a lot more diversity at Marana, both religiously and economically,” he says. Another difference at Marana is the number of classes, six instead of eight daily classes at THA. “I learned to manage my time” at THA, he says, adding, “I felt I came from an environment where learning was important. Some kids at public school don’t care about learning.”
Itai Kreisler, now a 10th grader at University High School, had the opposite experience with time management. “At UHS there’s a lot of work. The most important skill is time management, which I didn’t have,” says Kreisler. “Self-sufficiency is important at UHS. We weren’t given enough responsibility at THA. I’d say to kids, try to get stuff done on your own more. Stay focused on what you have to do.”
Kreisler agrees with Louchheim and Artzi that he was well prepared in writing at THA, “better than I think other kids were,” he says. “Everyone at UHS is basically equal. They’re all focused on doing work, which boosts you up,” explains Kreisler. “It gives you more of an incentive to work hard.”
At Marana High School, says Hulsey, “I try to keep my priorities straight. There are drugs and other bad things in high school. It’s been pretty easy for me because I know what I want to get out of my high school experience. I want to learn and go to a good college, go into the medical field, perhaps pharmacology.”
“I definitely miss THA’s close-knit community,” Artzi told the AJP. “You know everyone there and have a closer relationship with teachers.” But she’s been able to transfer some of her interests from THA to high school, such as being a member of student council.
Attending THA “shaped my Jewish identity,” says Artzi, adding that she enjoyed doing a lot of community service, like working in a soup kitchen and on fundraisers such as the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s Project Isaiah High Holidays food drive.
For most THA grads, the school is a grounding experience. “There are so many different clubs [at St. Gregory’s] that people make,” says Louchheim. “There are language clubs, a fishing club, so many more opportunities for socializing.” Still, he says, “with 13 kids in our class at THA, we got so close. We became friends for life.”
This article is part of an occasional series on local Jewish education. AJP Assistant Editor Sheila Wilensky may be reached at 319-1112, ext. 110 or [email protected].