A Kindergarten student, a fourth grader, and an eighth grader, huddled together around a table. They were working together to create an art project reflecting their hopes and dreams for the coming school year. The older students talked with the younger students, asking for their input and offering help when needed. They all appeared to be having a great time together.
Cross-grade groups like the one described could be found throughout the school a couple of weeks ago when we met for our first Gesher program of the year. Gesher is a very special program at Schechter Manhattan, in which the entire student body is divided into cross-grade tribes or shvatim. The shvatim gather during the Gesher programs every few weeks to connect, build community, learn and share holidays. Students get to know each other through shared activities, such as experiencing kabalat shabbat, completing a STEAM challenge, celebrating Purim, and competing as a team in relay races on Lag Ba’omer field day. (Parents can click here to see which Gesher shevet their children are in.)
Gesher has a wonderful impact on the culture of our school. As students engage with each other in meaningful ways, they develop relationships beyond their own grade. These friendships are seen throughout the school with high-fives in the hallways, shared experiences during exhibitions as well as in a moment when a younger student might need an older student’s guidance or support. The connections that students make in Gesher shvatim extend to school wide events. For example, when the Gan students sing the four questions at our yearly model seder, the rest of the school is thrilled for them, not only because they are very cute, but also because the older students really know them, care about them and in some ways see the passage of time and the growth of the community through a new class of Gan students. And in the reverse, when the 8th grade students come back from their Israel trip and share about their meaningful experiences, the younger students look up to them not only because they are older, but also because they know them well and the 8th graders give them a taste of what is to come. Gesher helps us to nurture a school culture that is welcoming, where “everybody knows your name.”
This culture of cross-grade relationships played out one recent morning. A Kindergarten student was having some trouble separating from her parent at morning drop-off. The K teacher was trying to help the student, but then an 8th grade student walked into the building on the way into her school day. The 8th grader surveyed the scene, walked over to the K student, who she knew already by name, and offered to take her by the hand and walk with her up to the Gan classroom. The K student took the 8th grader’s hand and headed up to her school day. In that moment, the Schechter Manhattan middle school student enacted our mission to support one another as members of a caring community. And the K student got the powerful message that she is cared for and valued here. The Gesher program fosters these cross-grade relationships that are the foundation of the menschlich community we work to maintain every day at Schechter Manhattan.