Students at Far Rockaway’s Yeshiva Darchei Torah introduced U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to some Jewish blessings, what they’ve been learning about poetry, how they study in one-on-one settings and how they pray, and even what they’re building, as the Cabinet member toured the K-through-12 school last Wednesday.
In Rabbi Yehuda Deutsch’s third-grade class, DeVos listened as the rabbi discussed with the boys the importance of the blessings said for foods ranging from wheat to pomegranates.
In the library, DeVos watched as literacy coach Eileen Cohen spoke with fourth-graders about the poem “Sun” by Valerie Worth. “To be a writer of poetry, we must be readers of poetry,” Cohen said.
DeVos sat with a few students and spoke to them about what they are learning. And she spoke with teachers in the school’s special education wing, where a school official noted that a conference room had been transformed into space now being used for learning.
Taking a hike across campus, DeVos saw the Weiss Vocational Center where students learn a range of skills from electrical wiring to plumbing. Junior Yehuda Reisman showed DeVos how copper piping is made malleable using an acetylene torch.
“Thank you, thank you for what you do,” she said to Rabbi Moshe Lubart, one of the vocational instructors.
Martin Hettrich, head of the school’s science department, led a class in the STEM lab through a chemical reaction experiment as DeVos watched and then had the students crowd around her for a photograph.
Taking in the school’s large bais medrash, DeVos spoke with a few students about their devotion to Judaism. She did not speak to the media, but two Darchei parents and board members Michael Fragin and Eli Schwab answered media questions.
Calling the visit “historic,” Fragin said that having DeVos there showed private school parents that their issues were being addressed. “It’s really beautiful,” he said, “and this is the kind of thing that a parent like myself has waited for a long time. For a lot of our issues to be taken into consideration.”
Fragin noted that private schools of all denominations receive “very little” of the money New York state doles out for education. He said that the state spends “in excess of $25,000 per student” — and in some districts, $30,000.
“Parents here are spending a lot on their children’s education; education is the most important thing in the Jewish community,” he said. “We also look to the government for various services and funding where appropriate, and if we could expand that pie of funding that’s really critical overall for the Jewish community.”
Schwab, a lawyer who is a Darchei Torah graduate, said he was flattered that DeVos came to Far Rockaway. “We’re all proud of this school,” he said.