Dr. Gereboff's Head Notes

Welcome Back

Today was a day filled with excitement and joy. Children posed for first day of school pictures. There were hugs and smiles as parents, children and staff greeted one another this morning. When each teacher was introduced at the whole-school assembly, students broke out in loud cheering and clapping, and when Mr. King began to strum his guitar, all our students began singing with great abandon. It felt a little like opening day at AT&T Park – on a much smaller scale.

As I reflected on these moments, I kept thinking about the growing study of positive emotions in the field of psychology. The research in this area posits that experiencing positive emotions (gratitude, joy, inspiration, etc.) is fundamental to human growth and health. Increasing one’s experience of positive emotions leads to heightened relationship satisfaction and increased resilience when confronting inevitable stressful life events. The Greater Good Center at Berkeley offers insight into these processes.

Psychologists note that we can increase our experience of positive emotions. This all fits in nicely with the work that we do at school about growth mindsets. According to the positive emotions theorists, people are not simply victims of circumstances, but can learn to interpret some ordinary and some negative circumstances in positive ways.

One of the practices encouraged by this emerging field of study is that of writing down at the end of each day three things that happened for which one is grateful. The claim is that by making this a practice, one’s perspective on life can shift in beneficial ways. In that spirit, I am grateful today for the following:

A school full of enthusiastic, joyous children
An engaged, energetic and thoughtful staff
Parents, children and staff who come to together in celebration of education

Welcome Back!
Dr. G.

Posted by dizenson on Tuesday August 23, 2016 at 04:18PM
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Graduation Speech 2016

This is the transcript of the speech from our 8th grade graduation:

Preparing the commencement speech each year is one of my most daunting tasks – how to capture the essence of each of you while saying something inspiring and different from the previous years. The redeeming factor in this stress, is that as I pace around my house trying to think about how to frame this address, I got to rack up more steps on my Fitbit. Thank you for that…

I really wanted to say something about your energy, your earnestness and your humor – that great senior prank…but I settled on saying something about your portfolios – because they so clearly reflect your personalities, while they also serve as a summary of two distinguishing features of a Wornick education.

Last week, you presented your portfolios to an audience of your parents and staff. Each portfolio contained samples of your work in Language Arts from the past three years. You were charged with selecting the pieces that you were most proud of. For each section, you wrote a rationale of the selected item which essentially was a reflection gauging how the selected work displayed your growth as a writer. As I worked my way through each of your portfolios there were a few things that stood out for me: First, you engaged so many profound social issues in your writing. Second, you were incredibly self-aware as you critiqued your own work. These two qualities – serious engagement in social issues and self-reflection – are distinguishing features of a Wornick education that will carry you well into the future.

Daria’s poem “White Girls” focused on questions of gender, race and personal identity as you wrestled with the term ‘white girl’. Talia took on the stereotyping of LGBTQ characters in video games. Nikolas wrote about the “horrors of War”, Anabelle about the tragedy at Tawonga two summers ago, while Leah summed up the experience of writing about dark subjects as a way to express in a creative way these difficult subjects. One of the sentences from Julia’s work: “I want to be somewhere greater than an average day”, references camp as you also spoke about the liberation of using creativity to express such feelings. Leah, you were proud of developing your own vocabulary to consider the topic of justice – your essay spoke of social eco-systems and the selfish vs. selfless pursuit of justice. Lea wrote about “the things that keep us down…” and optimistically, courageously concluded “I am the one who has the power to choose.”

Some of you expressed your passions in different ways – there were those of you who really enjoy comics and took the opportunity to write a comic magazine and then selected it as your favorite piece of writing. Jacob, you used Marvel Comics as a prototype… and even included a photo of yourself in front of a Marvel Comic store in Israel. Gabriel used a comic book format for comparing comic heroes and how comics address social issues. You were both completely engaged in these projects and told me that you were sure that readers would be similarly engaged by this format.

Then there were the writers whose recurrent themes were athletics. Jordan you noted in your analysis of the essay answering the question “Should your son play multiple sports?” that this as an example of using critical thinking – multiple perspectives in particular. You noted that in the past you would have just listed a few facts to make your point. Simon answered the question “Who is the best player in the NFL?” You were most enthusiastic about a quote from an athlete – that winning rests on “the emotion that you bring to the game.” Basketball was a recurrent theme in Ben’s writing. You wrote that you were proud of your use of metaphors in your slam poetry piece entitled “The last 4 seconds of a game”. Reading the verse, “Like a beggar reaching for the money – he wants food and I want this win”, I would agree with your assessment. Blake, you talked about conveying in writing the fear and the challenge of your first attempt at skiing a double-black diamond trail – tapping that experience was the impetus for writing a convincing essay.

Nathan wrote a magazine with a focus on hockey. The subject matter was not a surprise, to me…but how you analyzed your work was: You noted that you used engaging and reliable data to support your contentions and to tell a story…the honesty in that statement is profound. We have political candidates currently who can’t seem to get that right – engaging and reliable data.

And Jason was the lone writer where animal themes informed most of his work.

All of you offered interesting and thoughtful critiques of your own writing. Some of you focused on techniques and strategies that you became aware of, and that you proudly pointed to in your work. Molly, you commented about enjoying writing the rationales for your curated writing pieces. You noted the progressive clarity of your voice as your writing matured and you also showed how you had learned to “know your audience.” Jonathan referenced the Tzedakah essay because of both the length of the piece and how it improved over time. Noah wrote about “the challenge of writing a speech from someone else’s perspective” in your Marco Polo speech. Louis wrote about the editing and the practicing that took place for the debate about “buses running on Shabbat.” Ethan, you wrote about your growth in your abilities to analyze and to efficiently locate and use research to support a point of view in a timed writing assignment. Sam, you most enjoyed working on essays because they forced you to think critically. Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Outliers” was a pivotal piece for Sam. Adam, you wrote an interesting rationale for your 6th grade/revisited 8th grade piece about the book Wonder. You commented on how you needed to deconstruct and reconstruct the entire piece, and how your sentence fluency improved in the process. Benji’s series of rationales demonstrate a progressive recognition of how the process of finding artifacts and reviewing them opened up new understandings. In particular, your Think Tank piece about Russian Jews in Israel showed your growing ability to use evidence and direct quotations to write persuasively.

I want each of you to think about this portfolio experience and the writing process that you analyzed as the paradigm for your life going forward:

  • Remember to look back – to consider where you came from and what you began with, so you can see how far you have come.
  • Reflect honestly about what you’ve accomplished and ask yourself about what you still need to do.
  • Remember to edit – get to the essence of life, let go of the extraneous.
  • Put your ideas out for public feedback – allow yourself that vulnerability and trust in others to help you become your better self.

Finally, I’d like to connect the words that you will hear from Ms. K to the transformations that were apparent in your portfolios. Ms. K. will reference the B’nei Yisrael, leaving Egypt…leaving slavery. Leaving Egypt was a change; leaving slavery was transformational. Leaving Wornick is a change, becoming independent and responsible for your destiny is transformational. Change without transformation is just re-arranging of the furniture – the foundational problems of our lives stay the same, and we keep experiencing the same problems over and over again. Change with transformation creates a new reality. The hard internal work that helps you see the world and people who surround you in new ways, or that shines a light on the work that you have produced: that’s transformation. Go forward and whenever you face a change, tap that uncomfortable, awesome wilderness moment of reflection that you shared with us in your writing...let it lead you to transformation.

Hatzlachah rabbah. Congratulations to you and your parents, and thank you parents for sharing your children with us.

Dr. Barbara Gereboff

Posted by dizenson on Friday June 10, 2016
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Endings and Beginnings

Have you ever arrived at the last few pages of a great novel and then turned back to the beginning because you just wanted to savor that story again? This week felt like that – there were poignant endings that summarized and tied together the school year like the conclusion of a well-written novel. At the same time, our staff and families dug into next year.

On Tuesday evening we celebrated with our Wornick Rams – our middle school athletes at the annual athletic banquet. We applauded team spirit, the leadership skill of the team captains and cheered for our awesome coaches who know every child. It was also an evening honoring parents who rearranged schedules to get their children to all the athletic meets and events. There was ample evidence of our usual Wornick JDS balance of serious and funny throughout the program. Above all, the leadership quality of poise that we often describe to prospective parents was in full display, as each student who won an award comfortably controlled a microphone and, without any practice, thanked their parents and their coaches and spoke about what their sport and their team meant to them.

On Wednesday and Thursday, we heard the K-5 music presentations. Children demonstrated their facility with musical notation, tone, rhythm, choral arrangements and ensemble work. The students’ facial expressions summed up the whole experience – passion, team work, individual accomplishment and pure expressions of joy.

Thursday morning was the first grade siddur ceremony where students demonstrated their competency in understanding tefilah (prayer) – asking for thanks and acknowledging beauty in their world. They sang and spoke with enthusiasm. Then there was the ever poignant moment when parents read their siddur dedications to their children and the children read theirs to their parents.

Thursday night, we introduced a new 8th grade performance – portfolio presentations. Each eighth grader created a portfolio showcasing their reading, writing and critical thinking skills. The portfolio exhibits student selected writing samples, as well as reflection papers describing their personal reflections demonstrating their self-awareness as writers and thinkers. It is a sophisticated project for fourteen year olds to summarize their learning.

Each of these experiences belongs to the summary chapter of the 2015-16 school year. They tell a story of an education where leadership skills are honed every year as students present their skill and knowledge in public performances. Performance assessments are both an important way of determining individual student success, as well as a vehicle for the careful cultivation of leadership skills that is a hallmark of our school.

As all of these end of the year performances occurred, there were meetings for incoming seventh grade parents to preview the 7th grade tzedakah project. There were staff meetings and board committee meetings to plan for next year. There were meetings to plan for the 30th year celebrations that will take place next year.

As we experienced endings, we opened a new chapter, and began our story again. I’m looking forward to the new story that we have begun to write for 2016-17.

Shabbat Shalom,
Dr. G.

Posted by dizenson on Friday June 3, 2016
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To Censor or Not?

A topic that comes up frequently in a school is about censoring toys and books. At the beginning of the year it was about the Kendama fad. Some teachers wanted them banned from school. Midyear, it was a parent concerned about a particular book that she felt was too “adult” for her sixth grader. Another time, there was concern about references to a death in a book that the upper elementary class was reading.

I empathize with parents wanting to shelter their children from the misery that engulfs our world, and I respect a parent’s right to decide such things. I also believe that there are some subjects that some children may not be ready to discuss. However, as both a parent and an educator, I believe that censorship should rarely be invoked.

I would rather talk about these controversial subjects with my children before the need arises. This does not mean that I played the role of lecturer teaching all about life on some timetable. Neither did I introduce topics that they were not yet ready to consider. Instead, I let the topics arise organically as my children read particular books that they chose or as they listened to songs that were filled with “adult” topics. I let their questions guide our conversations. Sometimes those conversations took place in unlikely places – in the car, walking through a mall, or when reading books together.

I recall driving my youngest son to high school his freshman year and hearing some awful and misogynist lyrics in a song that he was listening to. Rather than shut off the radio, I engaged in a conversation with him about why these lyrics were so terrible. A short time after that morning, he put on a selection of music saying, “Eema, I know these are songs that you will really like.” And I did – he was becoming a more discerning consumer of music and we continued to have deep conversations about the values embedded in popular lyrics.

Rather than censor, I prefer to read questionable books with my children so that I can shape the subsequent conversations. I choose to engage in conversations about terrible things that they may have heard on the news. KJ Dell'Antonia, in her New York Times parenting blog (Motherlode), captured my sentiments so well in her February 4th (2014) entry:

Every time there is a national tragedy or a big anniversary, how we talk to our children about it (or how we shouldn’t) becomes a topic, and the question of how and when to talk with your children about lynchings, racism, the Holocaust, internment camps and the rest of the worst moments of our recent past is a perennial parent dilemma. The “choice of how and when to tell” is a luxury we should appreciate and seize. Why ruin a beautiful day with talk of horrors? Because we’re lucky enough to have the beautiful day to put some distance between our conversation and ourselves.

If you take opportunities to talk to your children about difficult topics when they arise, then when circumstances push those conversations on you, they flow more easily. I would argue that they are also placed in perspective because they are not given inordinate “special” attention. They are part of everyday discourse.

Shabbat Shalom,
Dr. G.

Posted by dizenson on Friday May 27, 2016
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Memories

This is the time of year at Wornick that we look back and remember. Remembering is often a joyful experience, especially when we sit together to pore over pictures and recall fun or inspiring times. But, remembering also plays a very significant role in shaping our identity beyond the fleeting experience of recalling a time, place, or experience. This year, there are several standout memories that represent how memory can both empower and chart a course for the future.

The first is this spring when three different Wornick moms helped teach our kindergartners about the human body: A computational biochemist introduced the children to the idea of DNA patterns. A neurologist explored human anatomy. A neuropathologist who specializes in brain aging, brought in animal brains for the students to study. A lot of learning took place over the weeks that these moms shared the classroom with our teachers. I suspect that some of the children will one day draw on these memories when making career choices or thinking about gender roles.

The eighth grade trip to Israel is a powerful memory-creator. We structure this trip to provide experiences that reveal multiple perspectives about life in Israel. This year, the bus driver for our group was an Israeli Arab. Our students spent time with him every day and visited his home as well. They met Jews from various streams of belief and practice, as well as Druze and Bedouins. They got to ask difficult questions of everyone. As our eighth graders eventually become the young leaders of our community, we know that they will be able draw on these memories to understand the complexities of life in the Middle East.

Thinking about the memories that we create in any given year at school reminds me of the centrality of “remembering” in Jewish tradition. This tradition asks us to remember events that we have not personally experienced and to promise to remember those events or people in the future (i.e. the exodus, patriarchs and matriarchs). Why? The facile answer is often “to link one generation to another.” That might be true, but why might this be important?

Memory is an impetus for shaping a better future. We can look back and look forward addressing or redressing past grievances and failings. Remembering also invokes an important dose of humility as we realize how small we are in the face of a long history. That humility is tempered by empowerment to hold up the chain of history and to carry it into a better future.

Wornick memories have been molded – some intentionally and others serendipitously. Whether a particular field trip, Kabbalat Shabbat, the seventh grade civil rights trip to the South, or a particular class - each of these memories holds lessons for the future. I expect that each of our students will use these memories to uphold the links in the chain and bring goodness and joy to the people they encounter.

B’shalom,
Dr. G.

Posted by dizenson on Friday May 20, 2016 at 08:46AM
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Mitzvot Gone Viral 2016

Every year there is a strain of a virus that spreads organically through our school. It always seems to grow exponentially in these last few weeks of school. This virus happens to be a good one. It’s the Mitzvah (acts of caring) Virus!

My week began with a fifth grade girl who had launched a mitzvah project two weeks ago to raise awareness about kindness. Her project introduced the school to Orly Whaba a TED Talk speaker, who has created a nonprofit organization to spread kindness. The fifth grader had set a goal of raising $100 for this organization. She reported on Monday that she has already exceeded that goal, so she has reset her goal to $500.

The Mitzvah Virus spread like crazy on Tuesday! First, one of our teachers suggested that we place a plaque next to the mulberry tree that a group of our current fifth graders planted when they were in first grade. The story of the mulberry tree that was planted to provide food for the second grade silkworms has become the paradigmatic story of our students’ initiative and involvement in these sorts of projects.

That afternoon, I had two sets of visitors during lunch. The first was a group of second grade girls who want to work on a project for Ronald McDonald House. They had started with the idea that they would sell rainbow bracelets to raise funds for this organization. After they did some research and some mathematics calculations with me, they realized that they would need to make a lot of bracelets to raise what they wanted. Together we looked at the Ronald McDonald website and noticed that they are asking for new infant toys. They decided that their project (which they will announce in two weeks) is to bring infant toys for Ronald McDonald House. Everyone who donates a toy will get one of their rainbow bracelets.

The second set of visitors on Tuesday afternoon were two third grade boys who wanted to sell some of their baseball cards to raise funds for the “PCA”. After we talked for a few minutes, I realized they meant the “SPCA”. We had a conversation about trying to do things without asking kids to bring in money. They are now checking out what the SPCA might want – leashes, dog food, etc. They left my office with the parting comment, “Maybe we’ll give our baseball cards to the people who bring in the things for the SPCA”.

Twice in an hour, two different sets of students had spontaneously figured out this idea of thanking donors. These children have learned so much more in this process – research, discovery, passion, marketing, care for community, public speaking, just to name a few.

This virus is spreading organically – above and beyond the seventh grade tzedakah program. All are examples of a what a Wornick education is all about – an innovative (can-do) attitude, a heart that cares and understands obligations to improve the world, the power of project-based learning that integrates different disciplines and a strong community spirit. The passion and caring that our students and staff demonstrated this week is positively infectious!

Shabbat Shalom,
Dr. G.

Posted by dizenson on Friday May 13, 2016
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Meaning of Life

I wonder how many of us ever have conversations with friends, family or spouses about the meaning of life? Do you wonder why we’re here and what our purpose is? Questions about meaning and purpose preoccupy philosophers and clergy. Yet ordinary people engage in meaning-making even though they might not label it as such as they try to understand why things work as they do, or attempt to gain clarity about experiences. But I fear that we often stop short of thinking deeply about the meaning of life in a way that creates a path of action and a sense of purpose.

In December, I wrote about the work of Denise Pope and Madeline Levine with respect to defining success, and I remembered that the discussions about success are directly tied to “meaning of life” questions. Pope and Levine point to the large spike in stress related issues (including depression, anxiety, suicides and addictions) among middle class adolescents as symptomatic of our simplistic definitions of success. They note that the definition of success for these students and families are admittance to “the right” school or the attainment of “the” athletic scholarship. If they fail to attain that goal, they are crushed, and if they attain the goal, they lack clarity about “what’s next?” They don’t have multiple paths of action nor a sense of purpose.

In considering Pope and Levine’s work, I discussed how school needs to be structured to encourage meaning-of-life questions so children can develop their purpose. Children need time to ask “why” questions and to hear different answers about the purpose in life to help them how they might create their own path.

Faith-based schools like Wornick have the means to engage in this sort of thinking. They offer a paradigm and a context from which such questions can naturally and organically arise. Yet many such schools historically have taught in a dogmatic way – trying to answer these complex “why” questions in simplistic “single-answer” ways. Their goal was to close the conversation with a pat answer. In the most rigid cases, they teach that there is only one “right” answer, rather than encouraging a dialogue and a personal journey of exploration.

Our program is structured so that students have the content knowledge they need to find their vocation, as well as a language to express wonder and gratitude. Above all, we champion the exploration of the “whys”. Our answers are tentative since that is all that we can honestly offer. Our goal is to provide multiple paths through this journey called ‘life’ that enable our children to confidently stride forward, regardless of whichever path they choose to take. The sense of purpose and meaning that they develop at Wornick will serve as their unwavering North Star as they navigate life.

Shabbat Shalom,
Dr. G.

Posted by dizenson on Friday May 6, 2016 at 09:11AM
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Three People Walk into an Office...

What do a Russian Jewish immigrant, a Jew by choice, and an American-born Jewish educator have in common? Sounds like a beginning of a joke, but it’s not. This cast of characters was engaged in a very serious and animated conversation in my office a few years ago. The discussion was about making Passover meaningful for us and for our children. This has stuck with me because of our vastly different experiences and connections to the Seder. In that group, as I tried to distill my experiences, I was moved by the immigrant’s story, and I was both touched and saddened by the Jew by choice’s experience.

The Passover Seder, like lighting Chanukah candles, is among the most widely practiced Jewish rituals among American Jews. Yet, for a growing number of Jews, it holds little meaning. The stories that made up the conversation in my office open a window into our diverse community. They should compel us to challenge our personal assumptions and to reach out to “the other” to both support them and to enrich our own experiences.

For me, the Seder is a model of differentiated education – different parts of the Seder are meant to teach to different levels of understanding using different modalities to teach. The latter can be seen in the symbols that represent and connect to the five senses. Differentiated instruction can be seen in the repetitious songs for children and more serious theological questions for adults. That’s my “educator” appreciation of the Seder.

For me, the very personal connection to Passover is about “remembering you were once a stranger”. One of the central commandments is “telling the story as if you yourself went out from Egypt.” All the symbols on the table are meant to evoke that feeling of leaving the familiar. I have lived away from my hometown and my close-knit family for most of my life. Having lived in a few different places means that I can feel a community’s values by how they have treated strangers – in this case, my immediate family and me. Perhaps because of this awareness, my children grew up knowing that our house was open at any time to “outsiders”. As adults, my children live this value as well. The Seder is a call to action for our family to find ways to address “the stranger”.

The immigrant who participated in the conversation in my office recounted that her family received their visas to leave Russia on the first day of Passover several decades ago. Therefore, Passover and its theme of freedom is a reality that she personally experienced. As a result, Passover is a centerpiece holiday in her home, and she is profoundly committed to helping her children and others understand the nuances of freedom. She wants everyone to understand that freedom comes with responsibility – the responsibility to care about others, to appreciate the riches that we enjoy in our society. One of this family’s traditions is to begin their Seder sitting on the floor to represent oppression. The shift to the dining room table represents freedom.

The third person in this conversation is a Jew by choice. She discussed how traumatic Passover was for her. As a convert, she always felt burdened by the amount of work Passover preparation entailed. Adding to her discomfort was the fact that her in-laws always wanted to conduct a traditional Seder – reading every passage with no discussion. It was an alienating and difficult experience for her. I have recently read several different blogs about Passover, and I find this story to be representative of many contemporary Jews.

Our conversation provided this Jew by choice the permission and tools to own her Seder and create one that worked for her and her family. They filled it with questions and let her young boys lead using their school’s model Seder template. Their Seder has assumed a meaningful place in her family’s practices.

Each year, our Passover Seder evolves depending upon the ages and stages of the participants. As last year, we will be celebrating with our children, grandchildren and extended family – sixty of us in a camp that we are renting for two days. Children under the age of five will be the majority of participants so we intend to create an experiential Seder complete with sippy cups for our wine. Once the children are asleep, the adults will continue to have long conversations about strangers and freedom. I suspect we will engage in conversations about our personal Egypts and hopes for liberation.

Whatever you do during Passover, I hope that you have the joy of connecting in some way to the grand themes of the holiday... strangers, freedom, redemption and questioning.

Chag Sameach (Happy Holiday),
Dr. G.

Posted by dizenson on Wednesday April 20, 2016
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Imagine

Last week, I had the privilege of supervising the morning (7:30 a.m.) gesher program. I didn’t see it as a privilege at 6:00 a.m. when I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to read my emails before I got to school. But by 7:40, I discovered what a gift it was. In the hazy, grey morning I was able to observe closely a small group of young children at play. There were so many interesting lessons to observe up close in these interactions.

The handful of children who first arrived ran around the play structure. Some followed, others led. Then they reversed the pattern. At times they seemed to crawl around pretending to be animals. At other times they climbed the structure and hid from one another. They didn’t exchange many words, their cues to change a pattern was conveyed through body language – a nod, wide-eyed grins, a hand gesture. They were living in an imaginary world, and somehow they were able to weave together a narrative that held the group together.

The experience drew me back in time to a memory of my oldest son, Avi, at age seven. He was playing in our back yard by himself. He was in full baseball regalia – a Red Sox helmet, gloves, Red Sox t-shirt. He was swinging his bat, running bases all by himself. At one point I looked out the window and noticed that he was sitting on the ground – bat on his side, head resting in his hands and looking a bit dejected. I walked over to him and asked him if everything was okay. His response, “The other team is up at bat.”

Imaginative play is a critical feature of a child’s cognitive and social development. Among the documented benefits are increases in language usage, perspective-taking, empathy, reduced aggression, problem solving and creativity. Creativity is at the core of imaginative play as children develop scenes and characters “de novo”.

One of the side benefits of imaginative play is the development of personal resources to cope with adversity. When confronted with failure, a child who has a developed imagination can entertain possibilities. S/he can understand that a particular failure is not a dead end. It is important when a child is growing beyond the early years of imaginative play, that adults encourage the older child to continue to imagine solutions and possibilities to all sorts of scenarios so that s/he can develop this coping mechanism. You can read more about the many advantages to encouraging imagination in this interview with Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman, professor of positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and the scientific director of its Imagination Institute.

At Wornick, we give children opportunity to imagine, to play and to dream. We draw from a tradition that encourages imagination. On Sukkot, children imagine heroes from the past as their guests in the sukkah, on Purim everyone plays dress up and, in older classrooms, we encourage students to engage with, and to create, midrash which are imagined textual interpretations. Ultimately our utopian image of “tikun olam” (a repaired world) is an exercise in imagining a perfect world. Shabbat is also understood in Jewish tradition as representative of a peaceful world.

Shabbat shalom – Imagine, play and have a peaceful Shabbat,
Dr. G.

Posted by dizenson on Friday April 15, 2016
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Teacherpreneurs

Last week, kindergartners learned about brains with a Wornick parent and her team of neuropathologists from UCSF. This was part of the students’ exploration of structures in the human body. They learned about how the UCSF team investigates different problems connected to the brain. Their teachers continue to challenge these five and six year olds to raise “I wonder” questions and to set out on quests to discover answers. About a month ago, our fifth graders completed their extensive artist projects, and then had the chance to study with a working artist. After learning how he approaches a project, they worked on an assignment of their own under his direction. Recently, Grades K-3 had a private concert with the Israel Chamber Project musicians. These exceptional musicians came to us through a partnership with Music at Kohl Mansion and the PJCC. Our students had the chance to figure out how each player plays the correct music without a conductor. They explored how stringed instruments produce sounds as an extension of studying vibration in science class. This time they heard how different combinations of vibrations create unique musical compositions.

These sorts of encounters aren’t stand-alone events. They are opportunities that our teachers embrace because of the way we think about learning in general and project-based learning more specifically. Encounters with experts are a “best-practice” in project-based learning. The rationale is that when students are able to see the applications of what they are learning to the world outside school; they grow to value and seek out experts. This practice also provides a window into future career possibilities.

These encounters require a particular type of teacher to make it happen. Teachers need to be flexible with regard to scheduling such opportunities, and always be on the lookout for good fits with their curricula. They need to prepare students before each new activity, as well as connect the learning to the required standards for that subject.

There is a new term gaining traction in the teaching world – teacherpreneur. This describes a teacher who actively makes these real-life connections happen. Teacherpreneurs are innovative, willing to go off-script to bring new ideas into the classroom, and possess a drive that pushes them beyond traditional teaching practices. They are constantly looking for, or creating, solutions to different classroom challenges. These teacherpreneurs are highly networked and they both seek and provide guidance among their colleagues.

We have a school full of amazing teacherpreneurs, and every student reaps the benefits. Our teachers are frequently dreaming up new ways to approach a particular unit of study. They are energized by the excitement of discovery. On any given day, one can walk into our staff lounge and overhear an animated conversation among teachers from different grades brainstorming new ways to approach a subject.

Every year in every class, there are multiple opportunities to observe our teacherpreneurs in action. One of our most inspiring examples occurs in the seventh grade tzedakah project. Due to the initiative of our teachers, Wornick offers our 7th graders an interdisciplinary project unique from any other school - one which has a lasting impact on our students, and the community that they serve.

Different components of the project are done in Social Studies, English, Technology, Judaic Studies and Advisory classes. The students begin the year learning about the history and textual tradition of Jewish values; eventually selecting the value they most want to enact in the world. In Social Studies, they learn about social issues (i.e. poverty, environmental destruction, at-risk youth) and select the social issue that they feel is the both most important to solve and resonates most with their chosen Jewish value. They research the social issue in-depth; while selecting a non-profit organization that enacts the value and works to solve the issue. The students interview representatives of the organization and volunteer there as well. They create a persuasive essay and a 6-8 minute presentation to lobby their classmates about the worthiness of their cause. While all this is going on, the seventh graders also learn different fundraising techniques for their projects. Last year’s class raised over $30,000, which was distributed to over twenty organizations. We welcome you to see the culmination of this project in our yearly tzedakah celebration that takes place in late May.

The spirit of our teaching staff, our teacherpreneurs, was one of the strongest commendations from the visiting accreditation team two weeks ago. They observed up close their collaboration, excitement about their own learning, flexibility, and desire to reach every student. Thank you to our dedicated and talented teacherpreneurs for showing us “best practice” teaching throughout the year. We couldn’t ask for better role models for our community of learners.

Shabbat Shalom,
Dr. G.

Posted by dizenson on Friday April 8, 2016
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Mission Statement
Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School develops students who are socially and academically prepared to meet their full potential as engaged leaders committed to a life steeped in Jewish ethics and values.

About Wornick

Enrollment: 185
Grades: TK-8
Average Class Size: 12
Accreditation:
California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS)
Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
Membership:
National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS)

800 Foster City Boulevard, Foster City, CA 94404
(650) 378-2600
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