Four years ago, Meira Academy in Palo Alto, Calif., started with six freshmen. This year, on June 14, the only Jewish girls’ school in Northern California hit a milestone: its very first graduation. Eight graduates, Chana Altchek, Kimi Altchek, Hannah Brodskiya, Sarah Malya Rynderman, Shifra Felsen, Shoshana Lebowitz, Tzippora Feldman, Sarah Spiro were in the school’s first senior class.
It’s been a fast-paced few years for the burgeoning school, where there is an emphasis on Orthodox tradition. During the 2014-15 school year, Meira Academy had students enrolled in all four grades, another first, with 21 students in total.
Continuing the list of milestones, last year, Meira Academy received three-year accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges during its first year of eligibility. And over last summer, having outgrown its temporary space, Meira Academy moved into bigger, more permanent quarters on the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center campus.
Though each member of Meira Academy’s 2015 graduating class was accepted to a university, all of the girls have chosen to spend a gap year in Israel to attend seminary before they head 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.
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.
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 ten, 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 concepts and not just memorize.”
Graduate Kimi Altchek said, as a student who came out of the public school system, she particularly appreciated Meira Academy’s Jewish courses. This fall, she wants to “really focus on Jewish studies and solidify my education” by attending Me’ohr Bais Yacov, a seminary for Orthodox Jewish girls in Israel.
Though both found it difficult at first to adjust to such small classes, the two graduates said they ultimately benefited from the one-on-one attention available at Meira Academy.
Looking forward, Meira Academy continues to grow. The school currently has around 20 faculty members, most of them part-time. They are welcoming their largest incoming class of freshman as well as additional students in the other three grades.