Breakfast with our graduates

“At JCDSRI, I learned how to make friends,” one student says in-between sips of hot chocolate and bites of a donut (I notice my half-hearted entreaties to eat some fruit are subtly ignored by her and her friends.) “I now know what it means to be in a community.” Heads nod in agreement as her friend explains, “You feel safe at JCDSRI because everyone is aware of you and is making sure to protect you. It’s really special.” Even more donuts are consumed while others continue to talk.

I am sitting at breakfast with our graduating 5th graders as they share their reflections with me during their last days at JCDSRI. I am grateful to discover that their assessments of school align with our mission and our purpose. Listening to our graduates, it strikes me that they are prepared to enter the larger world of middle school beyond our cozy building with confidence and a clear sense of their own strengths. They are reflective,  skilled at critical thinking and they approach challenging learning opportunities with tenacity, curiosity and confidence. “I learned to ask questions in this school, even if I was uncomfortable,” explains one student. “I learned that I need to ask questions in order to truly understand.” Says another, “I feel prepared for future interactions in life. And learning Torah helped because it is very meaningful and teaches us how to be good people.” “I learned that even if I don’t know something, I can always work hard and improve,” adds his friend.

Our 5th graders talk about how the school reflects the values and ethics of our engaged and diverse Jewish community. “We’ve been taught to take responsibility and show respect and kindness to all the students in the school. At the same time, we are given lots of opportunities for decision making and room to express ourselves.” Students say they feel nurtured and encouraged by teachers who “are nice and supportive and flexible. They pay attention to every student and really know all of us. And they’ve also taught us to push ourselves.”

As I listen closely to their feedback, I suddenly notice that I have a lump in my throat. I’ve known these thoughtful and wise graduates since they were (very) small. They have been an enormous presence in our school and it is hard to imagine not seeing them every day. I will miss them so much: the assemblies that they led with quiet strength and purpose; the ways in which they gently reassured younger students during times of uncertainty or sadness; their thoughtful and complex intellectual conversations; their heartfelt “compliment circles;” their capacity to stay in relationships even when it would have been easier to leave, reflecting their genuine understanding of what it means to be part of a covenantal community – and so much more. I am soothed, however, with the knowledge that their gifts will contribute to healing the wider world and that their extraordinary families will continue to visit and will always be a part of our special community.

Finally, I will carry with me one 5th grader’s midrash that she shared when explaining why JCDSRI is such a special place: “This school is like a plant. The roots always stay in the ground; they keep growing stronger and go deeper. The branches of the plant might break and the leaves will fall and new blossoms will open – but the roots remain. They are our values and they always stay the same. And the plant will continue to grow.”

May our JCDSRI graduates – and all of us in our community – be blessed with healthy and deep roots and new growth.

Wishing everyone a restful and wonderful summer!
Andrea Katzman

Garden Beautification Day

Fifth graders have been working collaboratively in TikkunXDesign to improve JCDSRI’s outdoor learning space, the community garden. After research and interviews with many students in the school, the fifth grade class was able to determine several changes that could make the garden more usable and enjoyable for all.

On Sunday, April 29th, we were finally able to implement some of these plans. About 15 volunteers (including several students!) came to the school in drizzle and under grey skies to help complete our garden task list. We beautified the front of our school by planting many different kinds of perennials that we hope will make the front of the school more welcoming to guests, visitors and regulars alike.

A couple of big changes in the back include planting a pollinator bed to attract beneficial insects to our garden, as well as removing two raised beds to make space for a dynamic seating area in the garden. With this new configuration, teachers will be able to spend time talking to and teaching their group while students are focused in a circle, rather than dispersed throughout the garden and distracted by their surroundings.

A huge thank you to our volunteers for their enthusiasm and hard work!

There’s still more work to do, both for adults and for kids, but we’re confident that given a few more weeks our garden will be a dynamic, beautiful space for learning and teaching alike. If you’re interested in getting involved with school gardening, please contact our gardening teacher, Tiferet Rose at trose@jcdsri.com.

Celebrating Israel!

Our school-wide celebration of Israel’s Independence Day was very active and kef (fun)! In honor of Israel’s 70th birthday, students played Israeli games and participated in Israeli folk dancing during recess. Students “visited” a variety of places in Israel as they traveled around school participating in different stations. We had an all-school trivia competition, Jewperdy, in Jerusalem. They also visited Jaffa, where children were challenged to an orange-picking/sorting relay, and Tel Aviv, where our artists created graffiti on the city’s “walls.” Finally, students created their own mosaics similar to those found in the Israeli city of Tzipori.

Each class collaboratively wrote a thoughtful poem reflecting their Hopes and Dreams for Israel. The poems were shared at an all-school Yon Ha’atzmaut assembly. Here is third grade’s class poem:

FOR YOU ISRAEL  כיתה ג HOPES . . .


FOR YOU ISRAEL  כיתה ג HOPES . . .


FOR YOU ISRAEL  כיתה ג HOPES . . .


FOR YOU ISRAEL כיתה ג  HOPES . . .



Purim at JCDSRI is a festive and busy day!

Our school-wide Purim celebration was filled with costume parades, games, hamantaschen baking and more! Leading up to Purim, students studied the holiday story from Megillat Esther (the Scroll of Esther) and each class decorated its door with a scene from the story. Students filmed themselves acting out the scene from their classroom door. On Purim, children visited each other’s classes and upon entering were treated to the student-made videos that brought the Purim story to life.

Older students chanted from the Book of Esther for the whole community. In the afternoon, we assembled bags with toiletries for people in need and everyone exchanged Mishloach Manot, goody-filled bags, to complete the celebration!





Partners in Peace

Our fifth grade class is once again participating in Partners in Peace, an innovative learning program co-created 3 years ago by JCDSRI and the Islamic School of Rhode Island. Throughout the spring our students and the ISRI fifth graders will join together for weekly learning grounded in the shared value of Tzedakah / Sadaqah and Zakah — charity and service.

This year, our program has expanded (and deepened) with a new partnership with BRIJ — Building Relationships: Islam and Judaism — a new initiative at Brown University committed to Muslim-Jewish collaboration on campus and across Providence. BRIJ facilitators have created an interactive curriculum that lays the foundation for direct action as we work together — college students, fifth graders and their families — to support local organizations in Providence. For more information, please visit the BRIJ website.

Teva: inspiring our students to heal the world with ecology and food sustainability

Fifth grade students recently returned from their three-day Teva overnight. Teva is an annual fifth grade milestone experience that younger students eagerly anticipate. Teva is a Jewish experiential learning program that focuses on personal growth, community building and inspiring students to be Shomrei Adamah – guardians of the earth.

Participants learned new skills, such as whittling, glass carving, felting and wood engraving. They also enjoyed adventures such as hiking scavenger hunts and games such as “predator-prey,” which combines food web relationships and tag. During meals, Teva counselors taught about composting and how to reduce food waste. At the end of every meal, uneaten food was weighed, helping students think about how to reduce food waste. Over the course of the three-day camp experience, participants worked toward a meal with zero food waste.

Teva staff raved about our fifth grade class, commenting to our teachers that our children were “amazing,” “engaged,” and “excellent participants!” JCDSRI students led prayers one morning using the percussive style that we practice here at school. Our own faculty boasted that our students led the community with “poise, confidence and a mastery of the prayers.”

The last night at camp Teva included the famous night hike that helps students appreciate how their abilities and instincts react in the dark. Of course, the week wouldn’t have been complete without a campfire that included lots of singing and s’mores!

Our Sukkah is a call for empathy

In 5th grade, we studied rabbinic interpretations of Sukkot. We focused on Rashbam’s interpretation. The Rashbam suggests that Sukkot is a warning against security and affluence. We discussed how most people do not get to choose to sleep outside. We also thought about what it means that it’s a choice for us to sleep outside in temporary housing.

Our conversation about Sukkot in light of homelessness and refugees led to a call for empathy. We discussed how the freedom to choose to sleep outside made us responsible for acting on the empathy that we gain from the experience. As a class, we researched organizations that respond to this responsibility — organizations that serve homeless and refugee populations. After the research, students selected which organization to invite as their guest.

How can we calm our brains?

Participating in fourth grade, or any grade for that matter, can be pretty exciting here at JCDSRI. We take great pride in creating activities involving play, creativity, and real world problems and solutions. But what do you when it is time to calm your brain? How do you even calm your brain? Fourth grade has found an answer! We have decided to incorporate mindfulness meditation into our weekly activities. Once or twice a week, we take ten minutes to listen to a guided meditation in our own comfortable meditation spots. Some of us sit on chairs, some of us lay on rugs, and some of us use a pencil to doodle silently while we listen. At the end of ten minutes we shake our limbs, take a deep breath, and transition back into our academic work.

Taking these few precious minutes away from traditional learning allows little brains grow. Students are allowed the time to process the day’s activities while building mental flexibility and changing their classroom perspectives. We can’t wait to share how much we have mentally grown in the next few weeks!