A new Jewish middle school opened at Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr, the culmination of an intense merger process and a symbol of continuity from its illustrious past.
Shira Perloff may have started at a brand new middle school this year, but it’s hardly unfamiliar territory.
The seventh-grade student at the Robert Saligman Middle School of the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy is following in the footsteps of not only her older sister and brother, who are current high school students at Barrack, but also of her mother, Michele Katz Perloff, class of ’82, and her grandmother, Avi Watman Katz, class of ’59, both of whom graduated when the school was known as Akiba Hebrew Academy.
When Barrack opened its school year last week, Perloff was one of 44 legacy students — meaning they are either the children or grandchildren of alumni — enrolled at the school, which now has 351 students in grades six through 12.
She is also one of 37 — out of a total of 145 middle school students — to move from her old Saligman school in Melrose Park that was part of the Perelman Jewish Day School before it merged with Barrack’s middle school.
Though she had to separate from a few friends who didn’t transfer to the Bryn Mawr location, Perloff said she likes her new school, and she has already made some new friends.
After a year in which significant turmoil surrounded negotiations over the fate of the two middle schools and, ultimately, the decision to merge, the legacy students represent a connection between the Akiba of decades ago and the newly expanded Barrack.
“For us, what this school is all about is Jewish continuity,” said Sharon Levin, head of school at Barrack. “What speaks better to and for Jewish continuity than dor l’dor, from generation to generation.”
Avi Watman Katz, president of the Akiba-Barrack Alumni Association and a member of the school’s board of trustees, said she came from a secular family and didn’t know a word of Hebrew when she started at Akiba. Essentially, she said, she had little idea of what she was getting into.
But now, looking back almost a half-century later, she said her time there, from ninth grade on, “changed my life.”
“If I had never made another friend after going to Akiba, that would be dayenu (enough) — and I mean it. That’s how special the people were,” said Katz, 71.
Katz added that she’s ”proud as can be” of her granddaughter, Shira, who is a star athlete, and of her other two grandchildren, Joshua and Hannah, who attend the high school.
The 145 students in total at the new middle school represents a small drop from the 148 individuals enrolled at the two separate schools last year, according to statistics provided by the school.
Of the 56 students in the sixth-grade class, 24 students came from Perelman’s Forman Center, a Melrose Park elementary school, and 21 came from Perelman’s Stern Center, an elementary school in Wynnewood.
Twelve students who were enrolled at Saligman did not transfer to the school in Bryn Mawr, according to numbers provided by Barrack.
A few days into the new year, Levin said the transition was going smoothly.
On the soccer fields, players had stopped standing apart from one another and had coalesced into teams, she said. The auditorium is no longer large enough for entire school assemblies, so the first one this year was held in the gym. But that was the only hurdle administrators mentioned.
And it’s “a good problem to have,” said Jennifer Groen, director of admissions and strategic engagement, who graduated from Akiba in 1991 and now sends her son to the middle school.
“My son was worried about how it would be with the new students but he’s said they’re all friends now. Kids are so quick to adjust,” said Groen.
Shira Perloff, who lives in Elkins Park, and other middle school students said they now have a much longer bus ride to school.
About the new hour-long drive, Perloff said, “I just sleep” — which, to most middle school students, is also a good problem to have.