Jewish School Visit
I recently had the opportunity to visit a private Jewish school and observe several math classes in progress. This was a fantastic experience and unlike any observation I have done in the past. Walking into the school was like entering a completely unique culture and community of learning.
The school was for early-childhood through 8th grade and as such exhibited many characteristics of an elementary school with art and student work throughout halls and entryways. Signs and labels were written in beautiful handwriting or text in both Hebrew and English. The walls and floors were colorful and lively.
Classrooms could be described as what you might see in any elementary or middle school except for the added Hebrew phrase here and there. However, the culture and community in the classrooms were quite unique. Class size was considerably small which gave opportunity for a comfortable and familiar atmosphere. Some classes had as little as two students! In this case, the teacher was able to work directly with individual students, customize lessons, and present unique challenges.
Because of the fluid transition from elementary age classes to middle school, several elementary school characteristics were present in 6th and 7th grade classes. For example, one teacher had her students take their math textbooks and notebooks and circle up on the floor facing a floor whiteboard. In this less formal setting, the teacher proceeded to review vocabulary words and previously discussed material.
Another unique aspect of classes at this school is that class periods are much shorter (38 min) than the typical public school time block. This shortens the instructional time considerably, and yet the teachers are still expected to keep up with the state standards and timelines. The reason for less time per period is the additional Jewish cultural classes taught during half of the day. Students at this school spend extensive time learning about and partaking in religious traditions, studying Jewish history, and learning Hebrew. In this way, students’ cultural backgrounds are deeply honored and provide the foundation upon which their education is based.
Because of the school’s strong religious and cultural bonds between curriculum and learning community, parent and familial support is very strong. Faculty and administrators of the school regularly inform, involve, and collaborate with family and community members in each student’s educational process. Social justice projects and multicultural field trips are peppered throughout the students’ academic career.
This school’s commitment to their faith and cultural roots allow faculty to create a beautiful harmony of family and education. Though the set of values may be different per school, I believe other schools may take a lesson from this and strive to create a similar culture of student value and community outreach.