14 Oct Happy Students in a Happy Place

A great part of my role as Head of School is welcoming visitors and new friends to Schechter Manhattan and showing them our special school in action. I am always proud and excited by the buzz of learning I find as we walk from classroom to classroom, as students and teachers work together to create communities of learners. Recently, after I had walked through the school with a guest, he commented to me with a tone of surprise, “the kids seem happy here.” He shared that he would not have characterized his elementary school experience as having been particularly happy.

I was so pleased that this outsider picked up on the same thing I observe day in and day out at Schechter Manhattan –  students who have their  social and emotional needs met and who project happiness about their school lives. I believe this  is due in a large part to the efforts we make to build community, so that we fulfill students’ need to belong. Abraham Maslow, a psychologist working in the mid-twentieth century, developed a theory of the hierarchy of human needs that is widely accepted among educators. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is represented as a triangle, with the more basic needs at the bottom.

The lower level needs, physiological and safety, must be met before a person can turn to needs higher up on the hierarchy. Notice that immediately above safety is the need to belong.  Before a student can turn to the needs for self-esteem and self-actualization, he or she needs to feel a sense of belonging in a loving community.

At Schechter Manhattan, we espouse this theory and work to enact a school program that meets students’ needs. Even as we aspire for our students to self-actualize and pursue their highest potentials, we know that they won’t get there unless their more primary need to belong is met first. So we focus on building a warm community, where every member is valued. The many opportunities woven into each school day for students to share with one another, communicate, and collaborate helps them to develop a sense of their place within the social dynamic of their classrooms and larger school community. The care that teachers and students share with one another is what lays the groundwork for the students’ high academic achievement and creates the happy demeanor and warm environment that my guest picked up on.

When my guest commented on the evidently happy students, I responded that “happy is what we are going for.”  It is a part of  our mission for our students to engage, support, and challenge one another as members of a collaborative, caring community. As we look towards the holiday of Sukkot, which is also known in our tradition as זמן שמחתנו, zman simchateinu- the time of our happiness, it seems appropriate to reflect on this aspiration.  May this year be filled with שמחה, in which we and our students experience the joy of being part of warm communities that meet our needs.

חג שמח

Benjamin Mann

Author’s Chair

Each week we will feature the written work of our students. We hope that you will stop by every week and see what they are writing and thinking about.


Kitah Aleph

Kitah Aleph learned about Yom Kippur and reflected on the year that has passed and then they wrote about relationships and choices that they wish to improve upon in this New Year.


Click here to read what Bela wrote.
“This year I will not hit and kick and be a better friend and a better listener”


Click here to read what Liat wrote.
“This year I will be less annoying to Ariel, and there are other things, do not give up in piano, do not beg mom for dessert.”


Click here to read what Charlie wrote.
“This year, I will be nice to you, Ike.”



Kitah Gimmel

In Kitah Gimmel, we are starting to explore the connection that addition has to multiplication. Each group was given a number of chairs. In groups, the students explored how many different ways they might arrange the chairs. This was their first interaction with the concept of arrays and they discovered how arrays can help in solving multiplication equations.

Click here to read work by Renata and Akiva, and Ike, Maya, and Amelie.


Kitah Heh

Kitah Heh is studying the beginning of the book of Shemot (Exodus). They wrote creative responses from the point of view of Pharoah and the Israelites based on what they read.


Pharoah: Yes!!!!! We got them. They’re going to lose. Now Egypt is getting stronger and bigger. We have outsmarted them and they will now suffer. Bnei yisrael will work ruthlessly with mortar and with bricks. Starting now they will have bitter lives and we don’t have to get into war with them because EGYPT has power over them. Hopefully our enemies won’t join bnei yisrael like they were going to join the enemies.

Israelites: It’s not fair. How did this happen? We were the chosen ones. We’re bnei yisrael. I thought are nation was bigger and fruitful. Egypt put taskmasters on us and we have got put into slavery. We must escape or start a war somehow. It’s terrifying. We never said to the pharaoh that we were going to join their enemies and start a war. Work Work Work all day long. This is terrible. We need to find a way out. Maybe we’ll eventually find a way to work it out with egypt. We can find something.

— Shoshana


Hi, my name is עבד.I’m called עבד because I only work! I’m a Jew. I hate being in slavery. I have to push stuff and pull stuff a lift stuff all day and the food is TERRIBLE!!! They only feed us once a day and my belly is always hurting! It’s getting easier to work though, but they (Egyptians) don’t seem to know that when they make us work it makes us stronger! So one day I will be able to knock the king out in one punch!! They’re killing us בעבדה! I feel so bad for everyone, including me.

— Jaden



Kitah Chet

After reading autobiographical essays about the American Dream, students were asked to write about whether the American Dream is accessible and attainable for everyone. What hindrances might people face in achieving their American Dream and what factors can be changed in order for the American Dream to be available for everyone?

Click here to read work by BenjaminRaphy, and Riley.