Professional development is an integral component of the education profession. With so much thinking and research about teaching and learning, we strive to offer impactful opportunities to enable our teachers and staff to grow and improve their craft.
I am so pleased to announce that two of our staff were recently selected to participate in competitive professional development opportunities. Nicole Haire is honored to be chosen as a member of the second Reshet cohort. This local program, generously funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation and the SF Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, brings together and supports Jewish Family Engagement Professionals who work with young children. During this year-long program, Nicole will learn through Communities of Practice (CoPs), a retreat, and a Yom Iyun (Day of Learning) to deepen her own Jewish learning and family engagement expertise. Our school will also receive a stipend for family engagement programming. This is a wonderful opportunity for Wornick to make connections with the larger community and for a senior school leader to grow. Please join me in congratulating Nicole on this honor!
Further good news to share is that Corine Brouwer, our Peleh Lab and STEM Coordinator, has just been accepted into the initial cohort of the Certificate in Jewish Leadership for Educators through the Spertus Institute and Northwestern University. Also generously supported by the Jim Joseph Foundation, the program offers a rigorous examination of leadership principles in a Jewish context. Corine will hone her own leadership skills while networking with educational leaders across the country in myriad Jewish educational settings. Corine will participate in two on-site seminars in Chicago taught by leading scholars and receive both professional mentoring and leadership assessments. This is another wonderful opportunity for both our colleague and school to grow and connect. Congratulations, Corine!
And we have more competitive professional development opportunities to kvell over! Our middle school Jewish Studies Coordinator, Chelsea Mandell, and artist Ginger Slonaker were selected to participate in the Teacher Institute for the Arts led by Jerusalem artist David Moss. Chelsea and Ginger spent time over the summer training in-residence at Camp Ramah in Ojai. They looked at art as a holy process and learned about synectics, a creative problem-solving technique. Freshly inspired, they turned their learning into action by more fully integrating art into our JS curriculum and creating a culminating project, the Wornick Siddur. Our students are currently engaged in this project which includes deep thinking about prayer along with creating visual representations to accompany prayers in text.
We are all so proud of our educators and our community’s dedication to growth and excellence.
Interim Head of School
As we return to school with air washed clean and hearts warmed by a Thanksgiving meal shared with family and friends, I think of the vital role that gratitude has in Jewish prayer and tradition. Perhaps most striking is the morning prayer that we say together each morning in school T'fillah, modeh ani which means I thank you. Beginning each day in gratitude is tremendously powerful as we humbly acknowledge the profound impact of others. Whether we are thanking God, our parents, our teachers, or our children, we value the vital connection we have one with another.
With the Thanksgiving holiday behind us, I challenge each of us not only to begin each morning in thanks but to keep the spirit of gratitude in the forefront as we navigate each day.
Interim Head of School
Here, at Wornick, education is active and engaging whether we are learning about the New Year through the many circles and cycles that surround us or flowers through plant anatomical drawings. Our students wonder and discover; the questions and projects that result provide the many paths to innumerable answers which, in turn, inevitably lead to more questions. In their Jewish Identity Projects, our 8th graders are discovering themselves as they form connections with their heritage, their spirituality, and their many experiences. Education is not static; our students are not passive bystanders. We turn on its head the Classical model of learning which emerges from the roots of the word educate. In this approach the teacher leads (duc) the student out of (e) the darkness of ignorance into the light of knowledge. For us, education is more closely aligned with its meaning in Hebrew chinukh which includes the idea of inauguration or dedication. Education is a beginning, a first step to a life-time of discovery. As we dedicate the new year to our own growth and aspirations, we will continue to support our students with a school community wholly dedicated to each child and each child's learning.
Interim Head of School
At Wornick, Jewish values provide the foundation for all that we do. The value of Tzedakah (charity or righteous justice) frames our 7th grade Tzedakah project, our holiday food drives, and countless classroom activities while Derech Eretz (respect) is central to all our interactions inside and beyond the walls of the classroom. In innumerable ways large and small, we strive everyday to repair the world (Tikkun Olam).
We can also see these values as a lens through which to view the world. We teach our children that success is measured by what we give and how we treat others, not by the accumulation of objects. Our Jewish perspective stresses the obligations and responsibilities of speech along with its freedom. Our pursuit of happiness implies the pursuit of goodness; we strive for "the good" as opposed to "the best."
I was blessed to see these values come alive on the field as one of our 8th graders played soccer with a group of younger students. When an argument broke out over fair play, all rushed to the older student for advice. When one of our lower school players was upset over another saying something that was "untrue," our 8th grader took the younger student aside, calmed him, and gave him strategies to handle the situation himself. In this one moment, we achieved "the good" and brought to life our fundamental values.
Interim Head of School
Excitement is in the air as we ready our classrooms to welcome Wornick students back for another year of discovery and growth. Wornick faculty and staff have spent the past week readying our campus, our classrooms, and our curriculum for another fantastic school year. There have been many moments of amazement as I have witnessed our building transform into a school filled with teachers and the promise of learning and becoming about to be realized. I have been most moved by the dedication and enthusiasm of our faculty. We, too, eagerly await the first day of school. One of our many blessings as educators is never losing those first day of school jitters; I still have butterflies in my stomach the night before school starts.
As we begin another school year anew, I ask that our children experience another year of growth and success, while trying new things and being open to the many lessons of exploration. I ask that our parents partner in guiding our children with love and an appreciation for the possibilities that await on the horizon, and I ask that our teachers’ expertise, passion, and unwavering commitment to honoring and educating our children permeate our lessons, our interactions, and our classroom walls. As we welcome our new students to Grow with Wornick with a Shabbat gift of Challah, candles, grape juice, and kippot, may all of us experience a wonderful year of growing and becoming at Wornick, together.
Interim Head of School
One of the things that I have most enjoyed in my work as a Head of School has been the diversity of activities and interactions that happen on any given day. A carefully made “to do list” can easily be upended. A couple of scenes from this year tell that story:
One day, I was sitting at my desk focused on a letter that I needed to write. All of a sudden a little robot rolled through my open door and landed beside my feet under my desk. A minute later a seemingly embarrassed second grader appeared and retrieved his errant robot. I’ll never know for sure if the student had programmed it to go into my office.
Another time, I was returning from a meeting with my Heads of School colleagues where we had a very deep conversation about the challenge of our young teachers and staff finding housing on the Peninsula. I walked through the gate and a small group of eighth grade girls rushed up to me asking me if I would endorse one of them for President of student council. I struggled with that one – could I endorse any one child?
Those interruptions ground me always reminding me of the real purpose of my work... really of OUR work. We – staff, parents, donors, trustees, community partners – are the community that makes this school possible.
According to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, there are three different words for community in classical Hebrew – Edah, Tzibbur and Kehillah. Each signifies a different kind of association. Edah – refers to a group whose members have a common purpose. Tzibbur – comes from a root that means to “pile up” – it is a community in the minimalist sense – an aggregate – think of a group of people standing together at the same time observing a sunset. Kehillah – is a group whose members are different from one another but who are orchestrated together for a collective purpose – each one making a distinctive contribution.
When I think of the many successes over the past 9 years –
- Our Israel BASIS initiative
- Transforming the Middle School into a center for excellence
- Purchase of the campus land
- Creation of the Pelah lab and of the new playground
- Transforming the Hebrew language program into Shalom Ivrit
Each of these came about because of this Kehillah – united by a common purpose of creating the next generation of Jewish leaders through Jewish day school education . These successes occur through partnerships with the PJCC, the Jewish Federation, the Taube Foundation, the Levine Lent Foundation, the Wornick family, our many donors, teachers, staff, parents and most of all... the children. Each member of the community has brought his/her distinctive gifts to these efforts. This is the Kehillah that I joined 9 years ago, and this is the Kehillah – of common purpose with distinctive personalities that will propel the future of the school.
L’hitraot (See you soon),
What’s the purpose of religious holidays? Social historians say that holidays take us out of our mundane daily existence providing time for reflection, remembering significant events and reinforcing key values. For those who don’t observe a particular religion, there are nonetheless “civic” holidays like Thanksgiving, Independence Day, Memorial Day and Super Bowl Sunday that fulfill a similar function as religious holidays.
This coming Thursday is the Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer. It is a holiday little known by most American Jews that occurs on the thirty-third day of the forty-nine day period between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot. As the holiday is not Biblical in origin, there are no particular rituals associated with the day, and the actual origin of the holiday is somewhat obscure. Most scholars tie it to the time of Rabbi Akiva, a scholar and teacher who lived approximately during the years of 50–135. The understanding is that his students had been dying from a plague, and on the 33rdday (between Passover and Shavuot) the plague ceased. Some scholars interpret “the plague” as reference to Roman occupation of Jewish lands, and they attribute the death of Rabbi Akiva’s students to their resistance of the Roman legions perhaps in the Bar Kochba revolt in 132–135. There are also mystical interpretations of the holiday’s origin.
Whatever the origin, it is appropriate to reflect and to set aside a day between the time when Jews were freed from slavery (marked by Passover) and the time when those former slaves accepted the mantle of peoplehood with the receipt of the Torah (marked by Shavuot). These holidays – Passover, Shavuot and Lag B’Omer - remind us of the importance of freedom and of the transformative work required by each of us when moving actually and figuratively from slavery to freedom.
In Israel Lag B’Omer is a national holiday and it is celebrated with bonfires, barbecues and picnics. Our campus will once again hold a large Lag B’Omer festival this Thursday evening – complete with picnic food, campfires, and music. I hope to see you all there. To register, go to pjcc.org/lagbomer.
These are the claims that we make about Judaic Studies in our setting: Judaic Studies further supports our student’s critical thinking and literacy development as students are challenged to find supporting evidence for textual claims. Jewish social studies applies the same skills that are developed in general studies social studies – understanding of timelines, and the ability to look at contested theories of historical events. Similarly, we make claims about art and music classes. These are said to enhance student mathematical ability, and to show improvement in all academic areas.
Most of the research supporting these claims is noteworthy and well-documented. Though I make these claims too, I feel that an underlying assumption in them undersells their more significant value. That assumption is that Judaic Studies and the arts are important only because it maps to other General Studies goals and that music and visual arts are only significant, and encouraged because they make people “smarter” in a conventional way of thinking about intelligence.
Judaic Studies plays an important role, whether for a Jewish child or one who isn’t, in clarifying individual identity, in engaging in deep “I wonder” questions, and in learning and living enduring values. Additionally, the child learns to locate him/herself on a timeline connecting to an epic narrative about humanity. Judaic Studies along with the arts puts students in touch with experiences that give meaning to life and helps them find a language to express their emotions in those experiences.
Music, art and spiritual endeavors tap into the human spirit. We can see this in action as each child pours his/her soul into artwork, and that artwork - gracing our bulletin boards - lets us see the result of that effort as it further inspires us, the viewers. We see that same spirit as students continue to sing songs begun during morning tefillah as they walk to their first class of the day. All of these subjects help us see relationships and the world in unexpected ways. Students benefit from this rich education, and all the adults in the building are further inspired and moved emotionally by this work.
Wornick ArtFest takes place on Sunday, March 25th from 3-6 pm. Come ready to be inspired by our students’ artwork.
There was a lot of talk this past week about what costume everyone will be wearing on Thursday. That talk took place among staff as much as it did among children. Seasoned Wornick students know that Thursday will be so totally different from any other day of the year. We will all be playing – adults and children – in costume, singing silly songs, shouting during the reading of the Scroll of Esther. And there will be the Purim spiels – plays that evoke deep belly laughs from everyone.
While scholars debate the literal truth of the story in the Book of Esther, this book has set the central tone of the holiday of Purim. It is a farcical, whimsical tale. The Talmud referencing two central characters from the story, calls for celebration, such that participants cannot distinguish between Mordechai and Haman. There are some serious expectations to the holiday – like giving gifts to the poor, exchanging gifts with friends (mishloach manot), and a celebratory feast. But the overall tenor of the holiday is one of playfulness.
In the spirit of the holiday, I've been thinking a lot lately about the role of humor in the education of children. Most scholars agree that humor involves the comprehension or production of “incongruities.” This means that the recognition of two items that do not typically go together engenders humor.
Children go through various stages of humor development beginning with awareness of word meanings. This is why first and second graders really like riddles where they can apply their growing vocabulary knowledge. Eventually, riddles become too predictable and children move into humor that represents their growing awareness of different personalities and different types of people. When this awareness emerges, the adults in their lives need to help them distinguish between humor and disrespect.
There are so many educational benefits to teaching and nurturing humor in young people. Humor requires creativity, high emotional intelligence, and the ability to perceive multiple meanings and perspectives in a situation. Retelling jokes calls upon memory, and memory provides the structure to retrieve information to make connections to new concepts. Much as an artist or a writer notices his/her surroundings in a way that most of us fail to see, the humorist too pays attention to what others miss. There is also the benefit of humility, for the child or adult who can laugh at his/her own foibles becomes more accessible and humble. Finally, the child with a healthy sense of humor can develop the ability to manage his/her emotional state as well as that of others.
Parents and teachers also need to be mindful of the usefulness of humor. A well-timed joke or a silly comment can diffuse a particularly tense moment or reframe a difficult situation. Let's keep laughing well beyond Purim.
Our school is an exciting example of how pluralism works in a faith-based institution. Pluralism in this context means a setting where people with different beliefs and backgrounds can find common ground for a particular purpose. Our purpose is engaging children in an education that is compelling, challenging, enduring and foundational. What are the values that address this context?
A few years ago, one of our thoughtful parents asked me to name four Jewish values that shape our school. Since that conversation, my staff and I have had some time to think and rethink which values best support our community. It has been an iterative process of thinking about what we do and linking that to a value, and then looking at the value and seeing how could we strengthen that in the education program. From my perspective, the how-to of balancing the differences that bear on our common purpose rests on four core Jewish values that shape both the curriculum and how we all interact on a daily basis.
The first and most easily seen value is that of kehillah (community). We have built an intentional community with opportunities for everyone in the community – children, parents, staff, alumni and donors – to know each other in multiple ways and in different roles inside and outside of school. Within the school, chavurot are a vehicle for every child and teacher in the school to know students who are in different grades, and for older children to assume leadership roles. The volunteer chai-hours that we expect our parents to complete actually serve the purpose of building community as parents get to know parents of children from different grades. Our ambassador programs for children and for parents connect the people within the community to those visiting or considering becoming a part of the community.
The Jewish value that best represents our academic efforts in a pluralistic school is t’vunah (wisdom/discernment). In all cases, this value supports our focus on critical thinking where children learn to find assumptions in different arguments and develop their own thinking knowing that it too is shaped by values and assumptions. In Judaic Studies, students are pushed to think about and to respect different perspectives, to understand “Jewish” in a global context and to see Jewish texts as inspiration for our moral commitments. Best examples of how this value occurs would be the fall harvest unit in kindergarten that begins with the Jewish holiday of Sukkot and continues looking at other harvest festivals from around the world and the comparative religions units in the middle school. Similarly, our 8th grade Israel trip is designed to answer the question of “what are the different identities that make up Israeli society and how does that effect societal issues?” General and Jewish Studies are taught as a vehicle for discernment (t’vunah) not as doctrine.
Emphasis on Tzedek (social justice) has always been a commitment of our school that goes far beyond food drives and visits to senior centers. Our school is known (not only among Jewish institutions but also within the larger San Francisco Bay area) for the 7th grade Tzedakah program. This program is an interdisciplinary unit taught by several teachers – English, Social Studies and Judaic Studies. Students identify values that are salient for them and their families – for example, values about the environment, health care, hunger, homelessness, race, prison injustices and third world humanitarian issues. Students then locate a local non-profit organization that works in the area of their interest. They interview a representative of the organization, volunteer for the organization throughout the year and ultimately develop a public advocacy piece for their organization. Their research for their advocacy piece includes a dive into Jewish texts that address their particular value.
The value of Kedusha (holiness) permeates the school in the way we talk about and experience daily prayer, as well as in the way we interact as a community. The concept of kedusha implies that we elevate our interactions and our actions throughout the day to represent the best of humanity. Our prayer services emphasize gratitude, celebration and interpersonal values. They are spirited, introspective and joyous – and they set our intentions for the day. All communication among the different constituencies within the school is premised on the concept of b’tzelem elokim (the idea that godliness resides in every individual). The language we teach and use to help children and adults critique and edit their work – “I appreciate, I wonder, I notice” – fits into this value of kedusha.
Recently I’ve been reading about societal trends in the United States with respect to engagement with faith-based institutions. Rabbi Sid Schwartz of Kenissa, an organization that connects people and institutions that are leading efforts to re-define Jewish life, has written a book called Jewish Megatrends: Charting the Course of the American Jewish Future. Coincidentally, he wrote about the same four values that I’ve identified above. Rabbi Schwartz is leading an effort to bring together forward thinking Jewish organizations to analyze and test his thesis about the impact of these four values on our organizations. He has reached out to me to join this national think tank, and I will be joining a group of other forward-thinking heads of institutions to analyze this thesis. I look forward to learning from the other participants and bringing back and sharing new insights from this experience with you.
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