Since Chanukah is the Festival of Lights, we wanted to shine a light on some bright spots we are seeing in the Jewish day school field. It is our hope that each day of Chanukah will grow even brighter as you learn about these bright spots and consider your work in a new light.
Shine a Light on: Jewish Day Schools as Communal Hubs
Speaking of bright spots… Jewish day schools ensure a shining Jewish future by nurturing and teaching the next generation Jewish traditions, texts, and a sense of peoplehood. But day schools also act as communal resources for parent and family engagement, and as a purveyor of innovative approaches to Jewish learning. Let’s look at some creative ways Jewish day schools are becoming beacons of light in their communities.
Day School Programming Bringing in Parents
This Chanukah was made brighter by the Associated Hebrew Schools of Toronto’s STEAM Night, which brought parents and students into the school to celebrate STEAM learning and Chanukah. Rather than tell about the evening, here is a video showing this mode of engaging the community:
The idea was spearheaded by Lee-Ron Kaye, Vice Principal at the Associated Hebrew Schools of Toronto. Lee-Ron says STEAM Night was sparked by her participation in the AVI CHAI Harvard program, where her year-long change initiative was creating a faith-based makerspace – a creative, DIY space where students can gather to create, invent, and learn – and her involvement in the JDS Collaborative group STEAM in the Chagim. “I truly feel inspired by my Harvard learning and being able to continue to connect with my cohort and be a part of the JDS Collaborative,” she explained.
At Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School in Chicago, a program for every grade level invites parents to take part in Jewish learning with their children. For instance, the upcoming second grade “chagigat ha’nilmad’ has a theme of Tu B’Shevat. Using a station-rotation model, parents and kids will rotate through a station on water use in Israel, one on recycling, one on making nature friendly to people with disabilities (through Project LOTEM), and one on technology involving a green screen creating the illusion that families are planting trees together in Israel.
“Parents seem to enjoy brief encounters that give them a taste of what and how their kids learn, while learning new things themselves,” said Tzivia Garfinkel, Director of Jewish Life and Learning at the school. Way to grow the light!
PJ Library Day School Engagement and Enrollment Initiative (DSEE)
A partnership with PJ Library provides another bright way day schools can offer communal engagement opportunities.
At the Golda Och Academy in West Orange, NJ one Sunday last month, the school was transformed into a STEM Extravaganza. Partnering with PJ Library Greater MetroWest NJ and with Genius Gems, a STEM-based play space for children and adults featuring thousands of magnetic tiles, Golda Och provided parents and children alike with the opportunity to enjoy STEM-building activities and rotate through four stations in their Dr. Lynne B. Harrison STEM Center. Participants made electric birthday candles, learned coding through a fun app, used LEDs to make light-up pins, and saw the laser cutter in action! The event wrapped up with a snack and story time featuring a PJ Library book about Albert Einstein. Participants went home with a great handout with Jewish/STEM-related activities that can be done at home, produced in coordination with the school science teacher.
The DSEE initiative provides matching grants and professional development to day schools and their local PJ Library chapter to run Jewish engagement programs for young families. The goals are to bring new families into the orbit of the school to ultimately increase enrollment and create engagement hubs for the broader Jewish community at day schools. DSEE is a partnership between Prizmah, PJ Library (The Harold Grinspoon Foundation) and AVI CHAI.
Learn more about the PJ Library Day School Engagement initiative here.