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STEAM Splash 2019!

Our fourth annual STEAM Splash event took place this spring. STEAM Splash is a yearly design-fest that brings together the skills and interests of community members with the unbridled enthusiasm of our students. Parents and friends from our community, along with partners from Brown and RISD, ran 30 different STEAM-themed workshops over a three-day period. Students in Pre-K through fifth grade enjoyed a “splash” of fun, educational play, encouraging their love of science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

Forty years strong!

Last month, over 200 guests, including current families, alumni, teachers, friends and donors, celebrated our school‘s four decades of impactful education during our Gala. It is not a coincidence that the celebration occurred right before Passover. After all, Passover is a holiday that, perhaps more than any other, reminds us of the importance of education, of peoplehood, and of courage.

I am reminded of a midrash, the People of Israel are standing on the shore of a sea. Water – deep and wide – stretches out before us. Behind us, an army of Egyptian horsemen is advancing quickly. Moses receives the message from God that we are to cross the sea. He urges us forward – but the water is too deep, too rough, too dangerous. Suddenly, we hear a cry and see a man – Nachshon – jump into the water. He stands, starts moving forward . . . and just as the water reaches his neck, the sea parts. For a moment we are stunned – and then in a great rush, we cross over the dry sea bed, leaving the Egyptians to be swallowed by water.

What was it that drove Nachshon into the sea? I think it was his understanding that faith alone – while a profound and powerful force – was not enough to save us. Faith without action can leave us shackled and helpless. That may be why the Hebrew word for courage – ometz – is best translated as a “willingness to take action.”

Nachshon demonstrated ometz even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. I am grateful that in every generation, there have been courageous leaders following in Nachshon’s footsteps – including the founding families of our school. Like Nachshon, they worried about their children and their ability to live free, meaningful lives as Jews. Who would become the community’s future leaders, educators and caretakers? How would they teach their children that they were also part of a covenantal community – one that honors our sacred obligations to one another?

Using the model of Nachshon and so many others in our tradition, our founders courageously heeded the call v’sheenantam l’vanecha – teach them to your children. They founded a school: one that would be passionate about Jewish learning, value relationships, engage meaningfully in Jewish life, nurture a connection to Israel, embrace an egalitarian spirit, and commit to tikkun olam – the healing of the world.

JCDSRI still reflects these core values articulated by our founding families 40 years ago. And at the same time that we remember our origins, we also celebrate the ways in which we continue to renew ourselves for every generation. Throughout the years, we have been blessed with hundreds of individuals and families who have supported our school with courage – with ometz – a willingness to take action. This legacy – and our hope for the future – continues to be reflected in the lives of our children. We continue to understand that our future depends on the decisions and commitments we make today. May this exceptional school – founded by courageous families and sustained by all of us – continue ad meah v’esrim – until 120!

Inventing new colors

Young children love the immediate satisfaction of painting. Mixing colors is a magic and instant alchemy that has enthralled our Pre-K students for the past few weeks in art. Mr. Mirsky challenged the children to “invent” as many new colors as they could. With this prompting, children learned the basics of color theory and improved fine motor control, but they were also given the opportunity to create something the world has never seen before. That’s the sense of discovery we love to encourage in our art room!

 

Moments of transcendence

Last month, more than 130 people gathered at the Alliance for JCDSRI’s first annual Havdalah celebration in memory of Claudia Yellin. It was a wonderful event – and afterward I thought a lot about what it meant for our community to come together and pray. At JCDSRI, our students engage in prayer regularly. Why? Well, prayer is good for us, according to the scientific research. It helps us stay mindful and practice meditation – and this, in turn, helps us to live happier, healthier and more productive lives. Scientists have discovered that prayer can provide immunity against disease, reduce feelings of resentment, frustration and regret, and can even help us sleep better. Prayer is good for our physical and cognitive health.

 
Ultimately, however, we don’t just pray at JCDSRI so we can stay healthy. Instead, we create sacred prayer time – z’man kadosh – so that we can explore our spirituality and connection to God. We express gratitude, wonder, forgiveness and love. When we pray at JCDSRI, we remember we are the recipients of many gifts: of life; of love; of a helping hand; of hope. During prayer, we are called to reach out to others and work toward tikkun – toward repair.

As a pluralistic school, however, we also understand that our students and their families have differing ideas about spiritual expression and religious practice. We work hard to expose our students to a diversity of Jewish beliefs and observances and in response, they are encouraged to remain curious, flexible, and respectful. In our role as educators, it is our responsibility to honor familial decisions while introducing our students to the richness and complexity of understanding the Divine presence and the breadth of our liturgy. Even the siddur (prayer book) that our students use reflects our philosophy. It engages both emerging and fluent readers of Hebrew and includes illustrations reflecting the conceptual meanings of prayers. It uses gender neutral language for God and contains empty spaces on many of its pages, thus encouraging questions, contemplation, and personal reflection.

One of the added and unique benefits of a JCDSRI education is that our students learn to celebrate the beauty and resilience of the human spirit and experience moments of transcendence.  May we all be blessed with the opportunity to celebrate life with similar joy, gratitude and awe.

Snapshot from recess

Recess and unstructured play are critically important for elementary school children.  These non-academic learning experiences promote fine and gross motor development, social emotional growth, and interpersonal bonding.  Recently, children have been constructing and deconstructing a stick fort in the parking lot — one of the designated areas where some students choose to have recess.  Using ingenuity, creativity, collaboration and design thinking, kids forge temporary structures and lasting friendships. This imaginative play is only possible when you trust children to explore their world on their own terms, a hallmark of the philosophy of a progressive school like ours.  

Collaboration, an important skill

Grades 3-5 have been practicing collaboration in TikkunXDesign while designing and building their own schools. In small groups, students brainstormed important elements of a school, created a floor plan, and built up walls and furniture to create a demonstrative model. At each point along the way, students were asked to build upon each other’s ideas, come to agreements about how to proceed, and delegate tasks to each other.