MARBLEHEAD – Gann Academy’s spring graduating class contained just one senior from Marblehead.
However, Gann’s incoming freshman class will contain a contingent of five North Shore students who will be making the trek to Waltham to continue their Jewish and regular education.
That’s because five of Epstein Hillel’s six graduates plan to attend Greater Boston’s sole independent Jewish high school.
The five young women who will be attending Gann are Jordyn Burkatovsky of Swampscott, Olivia Schuller of Lynn, Sarina Ariely of Swampscott, Jorja Odorczuk of Swampscott and Orli Gold of Marblehead.
“I made a lot of friends,” said Sarina Ariely, the daughter of Sharon and Mike Ariely of Swampscott, about her time at Epstein Hillel. “It’s been a really fun nine years there.”
Ariely originally thought about going to Swampscott High, but decided to head to Gann to continue with what she had learned at Epstein Hillel. Continuing her Jewish education was only part of the attraction of Gann – there also was “everything it had to offer,” including its academics, electives and clubs, she said.
Another reason she applied was a collective decision among the class to do so. A couple of members had planned to apply, leading others to research the school further. In addition to heading to Gann with her friends, Ariely is also looking forward to meeting people from outside Swampscott and Marblehead.
Her mother, Sharon Ariely, who is from Israel, said Sarina started at Epstein Hillel in kindergarten, transferring into the school around Thanksgiving after the family moved back to the North Shore from Iowa.
“Me and my husband really liked what it had to offer,” Sharon Ariely said.
Sharon Ariely said her daughter, Lia, is going into seventh grade at Epstein Hillel and her son, Eitan, will be attending kindergarten there in the fall.
“Sarina, she’s the one who pushed us,” Sharon Ariely said of her daughter applying to Gann. “It wasn’t on our radar in the beginning, mainly because of the distance,” she said of the approximately 30-mile commute.
But with much of the class applying, Sharon Ariely said, “We saw it would be a continuing of her education at Hillel … We just wanted her to continue with the momentum.”
There is a long history of Hillel students attending Gann as well as other local public and private schools, according to Amy Gold, Epstein Hillel’s head of school.
The percentage of Epstein Hillel graduates attending Gann is “probably one of the biggest in recent years” Gold said.
Gold herself is a Gann parent: Her son, Zachary, 18, graduated from there in the spring and plans to attend Colgate University in New York. Gold said she saw her son grow both Jewishly and academically in preparation for college.
Gold said her daughter Orli’s decision to apply was influenced by attending her brother’s basketball and lacrosse games or attending various arts festivals. Orli heard about the relationships her brother had with teachers, and how much he learned and enjoyed Gann.
“I think for her, it was just something she knew she wanted to do,” Amy Gold said.
The pipeline between the two schools did not open by happenstance.
In the fall of 2019, Gann’s new head of school, Dr. Dalia Hochman, and an admissions official toured Epstein Hillel and met with middle-school students and parents, giving them the opportunity to hear about Hochman’s vision for Gann. Epstein Hillel parents also asked Gold about her son’s experiences.
“Our recruitment efforts [begin] early,” Hochman said, noting it’s a big decision for a family to have their children go to a high school that is farther away, but it’s also a decision based on the desire to attend a school with a sacred and special mission.
“Wherever a student’s Jewish journey begins, we meet them, and then we customize their pathway forward to grow them in terms of their Jewish identity and Jewish journey and Jewish education,” Hochman said.
Hochman, who is originally from Lexington, is Gann’s third head of school, and she began there in July 2019. Hochman is known for her work for Summit Learning, a Silicon Valley charter network funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Education Initiative, according to her bio. Nearly her entire career has been spent in high-school-level education.
“We are the only pluralistic Jewish high school in the area,” Hochman said. “So our goal is to serve the North Shore, South Shore, MetroWest.” This year, Gann even has a student coming all the way from New Hampshire.
“Part of it is our mission of our school to serve the broader community,” said Hochman, who said the work of both Epstein Hillel and Gann are interconnected. “[Amy Gold] has done tremendous work making [Epstein Hillel]a gem,” Hochman said, “so her success impacts our success, right? We’re sort of a rising tide [that] lifts all boats.”
Thanks to donors, more than half of families receive financial aid at Gann. For the upcoming school year, tuition indexed to family income ranges from $10,000 to $49,950, according to the school’s website.
As for the commute, Gold said there will be a van from the North Shore with about seven or eight students.
The Epstein Hillel-Gann pipeline should continue for some time. Epstein Hillel saw admissions increase during the pandemic, with about 94 students this past school year, and 105 incoming students this fall. There will be 11 students in the eighth-grade class, many of whom have friends among the five students attending Gann this year, Gold said.