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.  

Constraints drive creativity

Certain mantras that infuse our curriculum come from the Design Thinking mindsets that we practice in TikkunXDesign. The mindset constraints drive creativity is especially prevalent in art. By imposing constraints, Joe Mirsky, art teacher extraordinaire, challenges his students to think outside the box. A great example of this principle is the attachment test. The idea is simple: encourage children to design creative ways to attach objects together without using glue or tape. Once students demonstrate mastery in an attachment test, glue and tape become available for use in art class.


Local coverage of 5th grade environmental program

It has long been a JCDSRI tradition that our 5th grade class travels to Camp Isabella Freedman in CT to participate in a 4 day environmental retreat with a Jewish lens. This year’s trip was picked up by our local paper, Jewish Rhode Island. Read more about what our students got out of the trip and what lessons they brought home with them.

Teva program inspires JCDSRI students to help heal the earth


First grade interprets the Hanukkah story

As a Jewish school, we teach our students the story of Hanukkah. As a progressive school, we encourage our students to interpret and relate to the story of the holiday in their own way. First graders represented themes of the holiday in Lego creations. (A class favorite!) Students also practiced literacy skills by sequencing the Hanukkah story and telling it in their own words. Here they are reading their version of the Hanukkah story:




An attitude of gratitude

“I have an attitude of gratitude,” a beaming student exclaims. As I watch her dance her way toward her classroom, I turn to a colleague and remark that every day feels like “Thanksgiving Day” at JCDSRI.
Gratitude is a core Jewish value and it permeates our school. During all-school morning assemblies, we often sing Birchot ha-Shachar, ‘the Dawn Blessings,’ that reflect the abundance of gratitude we feel when greeting a new day. The joyful sound of children singing the Birkat ha-Mazon, the blessings after meals, echoes daily throughout our building at the end of lunchtime. Our halls and classroom walls are often papered with post-it notes expressing thankfulness, written by students, teachers and staff. Students eagerly decorate the sidewalks in front of school with expressions of gratitude, which can also be found in one of our student’s haikus, written during a poetry unit:
It’s great to have life
fresh air, water,  crunchy leaves
fit peace in your life
The name “Jew” – Yehudi – comes from the same Hebrew root as the word “to thank.” This reminds me that gratitude is woven into the very fabric of our identity. Recent scientific research reinforces the wisdom of our tradition: that an attitude of gratitude helps us to live happier, healthier and more productive lives. It can help to provide immunity against disease, reduce feelings of resentment, frustration and regret, and can even help us sleep better. We are more likely to react toward others with patience, kindness, and compassion. It even can help us fly! (Just kidding. But it does help our hearts soar.)
I am grateful to spend every day in a place that so thoughtfully and intentionally cultivates this essential value. Ultimately, however, I see gratitude’s power manifest far beyond our own personal health or feelings of happiness. Instead, I believe its strength lies in reminding us that who we are, what we have, and what we do is not a result of our efforts alone. No – we are the recipients of many gifts: of life; of another’s love and affection; of acceptance; of a helping hand; of hope. In expressing our gratitude, we are humbled and called toward action: we are to multiply our blessings by reaching out to others and working toward tikkun – toward repair. I wish all those in our community – both near and far, known and unknown – the strength to cultivate gratitude and to participate in healing our world.
Wishing all of you a wonderful Thanksgiving,
Andrea Katzman
Head of School

2018-19 TikkunXDesign Fellows

We are pleased to announce this year’s TikkunX Design Fellows, Anzia Anderson and Katya Scocimara!

Every year JCDSRI awards 2 fellowships to current students from the Brown/RISD community. The fellows support our TikkunXDesign Director and contribute to our design thinking curriculum while deepening our relationship with the RISD/Brown STEAM community.

Anzia is a senior at Brown University double concentrating in Urban Studies and Visual Art. Originally from New York, she is particularly interested in the ways art and design can give rise to more equitable urban spaces. She has worked at DownCity Design, a Providence nonprofit that works with young people to improve their neighborhoods through student-led design projects. Recently she spent a summer working at SpiralQ, a West Philadelphia nonprofit and puppet theater that works at the intersection of art, culture and social justice. She enjoys painting, learning how to use new tools, and hanging out with her pet snake, Violet.


Katya Scocimara is a rising Junior studying engineering and design at Brown University. Originally from Menlo Park, California she grew up fascinated by the innovative design in Silicon Valley and is passionate about spreading that love of design to others. Last year she worked with the JCDS leading a STEAM Splash workshop in Biomimicry and built the new loft in the 3rd grade classroom. When she’s not in the workshop or studying, she likes to play volleyball and bake delicious treats for her friends.

Walk-in Wednesdays!

Admissions season is underway! Stop by one of our “Walk-in Wednesday” parent information sessions. At each session, parents will spend time with our Head of School, Andrea Katzman, as well as other faculty members and will visit classes in action. This is a wonderful way to get to know our school and have all your questions answered.

Next Walk-in Wednesday is November 14 from 8:30 – 10:00am