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Insights from the Intersection of Childhood and Education

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Play Creates a Bond

Turns out a school musical performance is exciting not only for the performers, their families and teachers, but also for the performers’ younger friends. Since Akiba-Schechter has grown so much in recent years, we have, for the first time, organized a play, Really Rosie, to be performed by the first through 4th grades, while the middle schoolers will put on their own play in a few weeks.

Thanks to our Buddy Program, all 1st through 4th graders are paired up with a child in Kindergarten or the Blue Room of 4-year-olds, which means that each preschooler and Kindergartener has a special friend in the “upper” grades. And that meant they were truly invested in that performance of Really Rosie.

“Today is the play,” said one Kindergartener on the morning of the first performance, “and I am going to wear a special outfit for that!” Of course she already knew the A, B, C song by heart and had been giving constant renditions at home. Her younger brother was equally excited and following his buddy’s every step on the stage. Another preschooler was gravely disappointed when she got sick and couldn’t watch her buddy perform, and thus made sure to attend the second performance to cheer on her friend.

Plus, all these Kindergarteners and preschoolers can’t wait to get into first grade and be up on that stage themselves!

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Teacher Newsletter: A Great Resource for Parents, Students and Teacher

Miriam Kass discusses the "hamburger" approach to writing
paragraphs with her class.

Religiously, every Friday afternoon, for the past five years, 3rd/4th grade teacher Miriam Kass has been emailing a newsletter to the parents of her students. In it she recaps the week, hands out kudos to students on jobs well done, and alerts parents to upcoming projects. Following is an interview with her on why she goes to the trouble:

What prompted you to start the newsletter?

Miriam Kass: Children benefit from parents being able to have good conversations with them about school. But often, when a parent asks, “How was school?” the answer will be nothing more than, “Fine.” I have found that school tends to be one big event for kids, so when they are asked a general question like this, they will give a general answer. I feel that I’m not just teaching a subject, I’m teaching someone’s child, and so those parents are part of the team. My newsletter provides parents with details, empowering them to ask specific questions that might open the door to a real conversation.

How has it been received by parents?

Parents are grateful. Some read the newsletter with their child, which I think is a great way for them to engage with what’s been happening at school. Parents tell me that if it weren’t for the newsletter, they wouldn’t know what’s been going on in class.

How do you manage to get it out on time every week?

I’ve developed a routine: Thursday nights I draft the newsletter. It’s become such a routine that my daughters will remind me if they haven’t seen me working on it. When I come home on Fridays, I read it over, update it as necessary, and send it out.

Isn’t it a lot of work to do it every week?

Of course it is work but I keep it simple: a little summary, a few bullet points, and the link to my class website where parents can find pictures and more information. However, the newsletter has also become my personal archive of my classes, going back five years. It helps me verify where we are at, if we have achieved what we wanted to, or how long a unit took. I tap into old newsletters to help me plan lessons and update units. So while the goal of the newsletter is to benefit parents and students, it is also benefits me as a teacher.

Friday, February 1, 2013

A Shabbaton Creates a Bond

Rabbi Baron with a group of 4th grade boys celebrating Havdalah
at his home during last week's Shabbaton

Overnight bags are currently stacked in our hallway as 7th and 8th graders are about to participate in another Shabbaton hosted by a teacher, Alise Gold in this case. While over the years we have had many Shabbatons at Akiba-Schechter to celebrate Bnai Mitzvot, we did not have Shabbatons organized by teachers and hosted in their homes until Chumash and Mishnah teachers Alise Gold and Rabbi Noah Baron joined the school in the fall of 2011, and organized Shabbatons for each of their 4th through 8th grade classes. And so this is the second winter when students get to spend a Shabbat together in Chicago’s neighborhood of West Rogers Park. While students sleep over at host families homes, the teachers host them for Shabbat dinner and lunch, escort them to and from services, and entertain them with fun activities on Shabbat afternoon.

Both Mrs. Gold and Rabbi Baron look puzzled when asked why they host these Shabbatons. For them, it is an “of course” thing to do. Says Mrs. Gold: “If you invite students into your home, you invite them into your life. You’re not just a teacher.” She firmly believes that you teach a student, not a subject. “If a student feels connected and feels that the teacher is invested, then he or she is going to be more open to the subject.”

Mrs. Gold (standing behind the candle) with 7th/8th graders
celebrating Havdalah at her home during the most recent Shabbaton.

Rabbi Baron concurs, “I want to get to know my students. No matter how much you accomplish in the classroom, it’s still a classroom. In my home the kids can talk as much as they want to; it’s less structured, and they can fully express their ideas.” The personalized approach to teaching at Akiba-Schechter was a natural segue for him from working with small groups of high school students at the YU Torah Mitzion Kollel. Mrs. Gold taught in New Jersey before, and says that, “Sadly, travel issues made it impossible to invite students to my home in New York. Akiba-Schechter is exactly what I wanted in a school. It is flexible; I can bring in my ideas, and I have the support to organize fun events like a Shabbaton.”

Last winter, after the first of these Shabbatons, the kids all want to have another one. Perhaps every week, they wondered. Thankfully, they got their wish, although not quite so quickly. While the 7th and 8th graders spend this Shabbat together, the 5th graders did so last weekend, and the 6th graders have their own Shabbaton coming up. Shabbat Shalom!