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Sneak a Peek into JCDSRI Classrooms

Please take a moment to watch these wonderful, short videos that we created to give parents, friends, prospective families and community members a sense of the magic that takes place at JCDSRI each and every day. As you will see, our educators make learning fun, meaningful, appropriately challenging, engaging and joyful. We feel lucky to share these little vignettes with you. Enjoy!

Tzedek/Justice: A JCDSRI Value

Tzedek, tzedek tirdof / צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף  — Justice, justice thou shalt pursue.

As was taught in the name of Rabbi Hiyya, a fourth-century scholar:

“If a person is neither a scholar, nor a teacher, nor known for observing all the ritual commandments, but stands up to protest against evil, such a person is considered a blessing.”

At the Jewish Community Day School of RI, all we do is informed by our 5 core values – chesed (kindness), kavod (respect), achrayut (responsibility), kehillah (community), and tzedek (righteousness & justice). They shape our approach to learning, how we treat ourselves and others, and how we understand what it means to an inclusive and open-minded Jewish community school that is committed to social justice. 

In Hebrew, the word tzedek encompasses the way we treat each other and the planet. It requires that we say or do something when we see another being treated unfairly. In Deuteronomy 16:20, We’re told, “Justice, justice thou shalt pursue.” Or as the venerable John Lewis said: “If you see something that is not right, not fair, you have a moral obligation to do something about it.” Our students have long been learning about being “upstanders” and they are now more explicitly connecting speaking up and speaking out to the pursuit of justice. For instance, our 5th grade students connected the dire need for affordable housing in America to the temporary shelters we construct for Sukkot, and wrote a D’var Torah (teaching based on text) urging listeners to contact government officials about this need. 

Our commitment to integrating tzedek into our school’s life and learning is reflected in our decision to appoint Erika Rusley, an experienced educator, as our Tzedek/Justice Coordinator (You can learn more about Erika here). Erika is working with our teachers to incorporate Social Justice Standards into our curriculum, providing us with a “roadmap for anti-bias education at every stage of K-12 instruction”(Learning for Justice). The four main areas of study are Identity, Diversity, Justice, and Action and more information about the standards is available here.  

Many of the established social-emotional and curricular practices at JCDSRI dovetail with Social Justice Standards; for example, the self-portraits created in our younger grades align beautifully with the Identity Anchor Standards, which focus on positive social identities within a diverse community. Other students in those classes might be practicing restorative conversations with one another to help solve school-based problems, eventually using those skills to address more complex societal problems, such as food and housing insecurity and environmental degradation. Students in our upper grades are meeting with individuals with disabilities, learning about the fight for indigenous sovereignty, and engaged with Black historians about the legacy of the slave trade in Rhode Island. The problems – and the means by which our children learn to solve them are varied – but our goal is always to make the world a better, more just place for all.

Over the past few years, our teachers have engaged in a deep dive into anti-racist work, including how racism has impacted not only our curriculum and pedagogy, but also our personal lives, led by a professor of education and an experienced social worker. Dr. Lesley Bogad, a professor of education at Rhode Island College and a member of our Board of Trustees, and Meghan Cavanaugh, our school social worker, led us in our work. We are proud to announce that we have extended this work to our Board of Trustees. Having received a grant from the Jewish Alliance, this year our Board members – alongside those from Jewish Collaborative Services – will be engaging in anti-racist learning led by the prestigious Jewish social justice organization, Avodah. In addition, educators from the Human Rights Campaign led our faculty and staff in a workshop devoted to creating gender inclusive schools and addressing issues related to LGBTQIA students and families. 

Our commitment to tzedek has also been reflected in the hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars we have spent revamping our school and classroom libraries to reflect our more diverse and just understanding of our world. This has included purchasing books that tell the stories of different communities of color (including in the Jewish community), as well as stories of social justice. Working closely with our School Librarian, our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Parent Group has sponsored an annual DEI Book Fair, encouraging our community to not only purchase books that reflect our values for our school, but also for personal readership! In addition, our Tzedek Coordinator is spearheading an effort to create an affinity group for Jews of Color working in collaboration with the Jews of Color Initiative, as well as with Brown/RISD Hillel. 

At JCDSRI, we understand that the building of a just and equitable society is a process, one that requires not only our dedication and sacrifice, but those also beyond our community. Yet, as our tradition reminds us: You are not required to finish your work, yet neither are you permitted to desist from it” – Pirkei Avot (The Ethics of the Fathers). This serves as a guide to us as we continue to educate the change-makers of the future who we know will take on the work wherever we leave off.

Winter Playdates

Stuck inside with your little ones? Join us!
Warm-up and play in our gym! Get your wiggles
out as you play, tumble, or read in a cozy corner.
We will provide light snacks and coffee.
Welcoming children ages 0-4 years old with a parent or caregiver.

Walk-In Wednesdays

We look forward to welcoming you to JCDSRI!

Drop-in any time from 8:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. for our parent information sessions.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019
Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Wednesday, January 8, 2020

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!