A few years ago, while on a visit to Elon University in North Carolina with other college counselors, I had breakfast with a former student from Gann Academy, the pluralistic Jewish day school where I work. I did not know the student well. I was relatively new to Gann when she was a senior, and she had worked with the other counselor in my office. So I asked the student why she decided to enroll at Elon. “I wanted to get out of my Northeast Jewish bubble,” she said.
HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
The articles in this issue begin with a recognition of the difference and legitimacy of summer experiences, their necessity for the personal, social and spiritual development of children. At the same time, day schools conceive of themselves as model worlds that students are meant to take with them throughout the year and throughout their lives. Authors explore creative ideas for layering the educational and spiritual goals of school with the activities and environments of summer camp and downtime. Other pieces describe ways for various day school stakeholders to use the quiet summer months to prepare for their work during the school year.
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How many times has this happened in your school:
Imagine you are welcoming your students on the first day of school after many of them have been at Jewish summer camp. What is going through your mind?
A) I hope they didn’t forget everything they learned last year! Maybe they learned even more in the 24/7 Jewish educational environment of Jewish camp.
B) I can’t wait to see how they’ve matured socially and emotionally after living in community with friends, negotiating intense feelings and close relationships.
Summer homework has increased in recent years. Frequently, these assignments include highly prescribed activities, even though evidence of their utility is scant. Educators should pause to analyze their goals and approach in assigning summer homework. In order to truly support students’ growth, teachers must value students’ interests, their summer experiences and all factors that contribute to students’ academic prosperity.
I am guilty as charged. Spring is in full swing, and there is still an untouched pile of summer assignments sitting on my desk. Luckily (or perhaps not) my students have never once asked about them, what grade they earned, or whether they would be returned. Evidently, something is wrong with the model; no value, significance or meaning has been dispensed to the summer work.
If you want to increase your fundraising, improve your relationships, align your staff and get creative, summer is your golden time. As June 30 approaches, we urge you to plan to use this valuable time wisely, even though it can be hard to be a 12-month employee at a school when the majority of your colleagues are off-campus for the summer. Reframe the summer time as a tremendous opportunity, not a burden.
In the Jewish high school I attended, each year there was one book assigned for our summer homework. Some of us would read it, some relied on Cliffs Notes, and others would try to wing it. Now that I have become a principal of a Jewish high school, I find that while summer homework has expanded significantly, the challenges of engaging the students and keeping them accountable are still present.
Today, words like “differentiation” and “multiple learning styles” are inextricable from the lesson planning processes. Accommodations, modifications and alternative modes of assessment are embraced by teachers who are thinking about their instructional choices and taking into account the neurodiversity in their classrooms. With summer homework, teachers should extend this same level of pedagogical flexibility or creativity to their assignments. If they do not, summer homework can end up being too broad and unscaffolded, or too time-intensive.
“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” John Dewey
How does one thoughtfully build a collaborative school culture between faculty and parents? This is a question that we at Solomon Schechter Day School of Metropolitan Chicago (SSDS) have been grappling with for a long time. There are many peripheral ways that we currently collaborate at SSDS, but we wanted to look beyond that. We wanted something more meaningful, that would bridge multiple constituencies and have an effect on all aspects of our children. The answer: a schoolwide summer read involving both faculty and parents.
“Knowledge is fostered by curiosity; wisdom is fostered by awe.”
Abraham Joshua Heschel, Who is Man?
Seven countries, five weeks, 40 teenagers, one program. JOLT, a summer program of NCSY (National Council of Synagogue Youth, the Orthodox student movement) and words cannot do it justice. Maya Angelou comes close: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I went to three countries, Poland, Austria and Israel. Each place was chosen to mark a particular focus: past, present and future.
Last year at summer camp I met two amazing people, Samson and Isaac. They were my counselors at Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI). They came all the way from Uganda, Africa. Throughout my four weeks at camp, I spent a lot of time talking with Samson and Isaac. They told me about their daily struggles and tried to paint a picture for me of the details of their life in Uganda.
Last summer I went to Israel for the second time, for my mom’s cousin’s wedding. We stayed in Israel for two weeks in Herzliya at the Marina. My family and I stayed in the same neighborhood when I first went to Israel.
One of the most important parts of education, in my opinion, is experience. I’ve been blessed to have truly transformative experiences during my summers. Throughout my tenth and eleventh grade, I took part in a program called the Diller Teen Fellows. It is a Jewish leadership program, affiliated in Toronto with the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, focused on building leaders as well as Jewish identity.
Some kids find their Jewishness in summer camp, by traveling to Israel or by going to shul. For me, this happened right in my hometown, one summer at Shabbat dinner for my savta’s (grandma’s) birthday.