Looking back at my Daf Kesher columns from 2016-2017, I think it was a great year at Schechter Manhattan. Here is some of what we did and what was on my mind over the year.
Students engaged rigorous academic tasks and achieved at high levels. Across the grades and disciplines students were engaged in complex, multi-step learning activities. On any given day, when I walked through the school classrooms I saw students busy with rich and challenging work.
The Lieberman Family STEAM Center afforded enhanced opportunities for students to consider real problems and build solutions together. In addition to units and lessons integrated in the curriculum, students throughout the school honed their abilities to think critically, collaborate, connect, communicate, and create at the annual STEAMfest program.
We focused on improving Hebrew teaching and learning this year. When students arrived in September, I encouraged them to speak to me in Hebrew, and offered those who did stickers that read “דברתי עברית עם בן / I spoke Hebrew with Ben”. In the spring we received results of a field wide study on Hebrew in Jewish day schools indicating that our students were more satisfied and had higher perceptions of their Hebrew proficiency as they move through our program, and we celebrated our love of Hebrew with a week of special activities, עברית בכיף.
Students developed literacy skills, working hard on their writing in writer’s workshop, and celebrating our love of reading together at READ 2017. They figured out mathematical concepts and relationships for themselves, so that they understand learned algorithms and formulas, and also understand why they work the way do. They engaged with ancient Biblical and rabbinic texts to derive meaning and enrich their lives, while also practicing 21st century skills of critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.
We celebrated Jewish holidays together throughout the year. In the high holiday season, I reflected on how we teach students the core concepts of teshuva, through self-reflection, tefilah, through our tefilah curriculum, and tzedakah, through the Tzedakah Roundtable process. And later in the year we were all dancing on Purim.
Our fifth grade students had the opportunity to strengthen their Jewish identities while learning about another faith tradition through the Interfaith Living Museum program. Meeting with and getting to know students from Islamic schools afforded powerful practice of the listening and communication skills needed to interact positively with all sorts of people, similar and different to them.
Social and emotional safety
The students’ academic accomplishments were built on a foundation of social and emotional safety. A visitor to the school commented on how happy the students are, and I reflected on how Maslow’s hierarchy of needs informs our efforts to meet our students’ need to belong in a loving community. The Educational Leadership Team and I applied this commitment to fostering social and emotional safety in a review and revision of the school Uniform Policy for 2017-2018. And nothing sends our student the vital message that they belong here better than being welcomed by their peers, especially their friends in older grades, which happens frequently through cross-grade relationships made in Gesher groups.
I expressed our commitment to growth and improvement through reflective practice. Teachers helped students to work on the challenging skill of self reflection through the portfolio process and conferences. And the Educational Leadership Team reflected on core areas of educational decision making with the revitalized Education Committee.
Inspiration from Solomon Schechter
I found inspiration in the teachings of our school’s namesake, Solomon Schechter. His commitment to Hebrew language, conception of a Judaism that is shaped by the people who practice it, and commitment to an integrated American and Jewish identity all resonated for me. I was reminded how appropriate it is that our school is named after a scholar whose values we still espouse.
We expressed our American and Jewish identity by connecting both to the United States and Israel. Students participated in annual Veterans’ Day and Election Day programs, in order to develop pride in their American identities and appreciation of the men and women of the United States armed forces who commit their lives to protecting our freedoms. We also connected to Israel, joining community wide events, such as the UWS Singing in the Streets and the Celebrate Israel Parade. And our 8th grade students had an incredible two weeks of travel, connecting to the land, people, and State of Israel.
At times this year Schechter Manhattan intersected with current events in the world around us. During the contentious presidential election in the fall we helped our students to develop the critical thinking capacities to evaluate ideas and values and make their own good judgments, and to engage in respectful discourse with people who think differently than they do. Throughout the year a group of thoughtful parents worked with each other and me to think about what we aspire for our students to learn about race and racism in a world filled with challenges to race relations. The Parents Association committee planned and implements a series of powerful events for parents in our community to share perspectives and learn about this important issue. And recently we came up against a challenge to religious diversity in the State of Israel, when our 8th grade students on their trip in Israel were denied access to the use of a sefer torah because of our egalitarian prayer practices. I argued in an opinion piece published in the Forward and the Jerusalem Post that this sort of suppression of religious pluralism in Israel makes it more difficult to inculcate a commitment to Israel in young Jews.
We built community within our school and in partnership with others in our neighborhood, participating in the Global Day of Jewish Learning and the Upper West Side Israel Shlichut (emissary) program. It was amazing to have Hai, our shaliach, and Maya and Ido, our shinshinim, join our community. The Parents Association continued to nurture our warm and welcoming school community, exemplified by the shabbat dinners that over 160 people attended in 5 locations in January. Thank you to Andrea Brustein and Julie Sissman and all of the PA leaders and volunteers for such a great year.
Our community also includes many supporters and friends of Schechter Manhattan, who gathered at the Annual Benefit Dinner and Auction, and honored the richly deserving honorees, Lilly and David Icikson and Eileen and Jerry Lieberman. The community continues to sustain the meaningful learning and Jewish experiences that take place day in and day out at Schechter Manhattan through the Annual Campaign Spring Match. (The amazing $70,000 match is taking place right now and is a terrific way to see your gift of $18, $180, $1800 or more go even further! Double the impact of your gift by giving between now and Schechter Manhattan graduation on June 19th. Click here to view our match website and to donate.) Thank you to everyone who supports Schechter Manhattan.
The community support for our student centered and rigorous academic program, vibrant Jewish life, and safe learning environment has led to great outcomes this year. Our Gan students taught their parents what they had learned during their Aliyat Hagan, while the 8th grade students presented about the values and experiences that have influenced them through their years at Schechter Manhattan and the goals that they have as they look ahead to high school and beyond at their graduation exhibitions. The Class of 2017 completed the high school placement process and are heading off to an array of the most selective schools in New York City. And our alumni told us about how their Schechter Manhattan education had such a positive impact on their success in high school and beyond.
These successes are thanks to the skill and tireless commitment of the Schechter Manhattan faculty. Thank you to the teachers for the care you have shown our students and the incredible impact you have had on their lives.
What an amazing year of learning and growing. We have much to proud of. Wishing everyone a wonderful summer.
Each week we feature the written work of our students. We hope you will stop by every week and see what they are writing and thinking about.
During Hebrew, Kitah Aleph worked on writing about things that make them happy.
Kitah Gimmel participated in writing clubs and wrote pieces in three different genres: poetry, nonfiction, and fiction.
Click here to see work by Maya, Adina, Jory, Ariel, Ike, and Zack.
The students of Kitah Heh recently completed a study of memoirs. After reading stories from the lives of several authors, we picked out important moments from our own lives and each wrote a memoir.