Meet our new school social worker, Meghan Cavanaugh

Meghan Cavanaugh joined JCDSRI’s faculty in September as our school social worker. Meghan has over a decade of experience working with children and families in schools as well as in home-based and office settings.

When asked about her impressions of JCDSRI, Meghan said that our school community is “positive and supportive — teachers reflect to students their strengths and talents, and model how to solve problems effectively and resolve conflicts fairly. Students are encouraged to think independently, create solutions to problems, and grow as learners.” She goes on to say that she is “most excited about helping students and teachers further integrate social-emotional learning into classrooms.”

Meghan is already making an impact focusing on four main areas:

  • Teaching students ways to manage their feelings at school so that they are ready to learn
  • Teaching teachers skills to help students pay attention, cope with their feelings in class and calm their bodies
  • Supporting JCDS families when their children meet challenges at school
  • Creating a team with teachers and staff to ensure the success of all students

Meghan is thrilled to be a part of the JCDSRI community and her presence is already felt. She is helping teachers further develop their developmentally appropriate, social and emotional curriculum and helping students learn mindfulness techniques to help them regulate their wiggly, squiggly selves in the classroom.

Genius Hour… when passions come alive

Fifth grader Ella Sinel won the SEEDlings student design challenge at StyleWeek Northeast this fall! In fact, the idea to open up the event to youngsters came from Ella. According to founder and CEO, Rosanna Ortiz, Ella “was very persistent in getting a hold of me because she wanted me to look at her sketches because she wanted to be a StyleWeek designer,” Ortiz said. “It was funny because this little girl was emailing every email address for me she could find. At first, I thought it was a joke.”

Ella’s passion for fashion designing was encouraged last year by fourth grade teacher, Melynda Silva, during Genius Hour — a year-long project that allows students to identify and pursue a personal passion.

Read more in the Voice and Herald below:



New after school programs for middle school students

TikkunXDesign is now available to 5th grade and middle school students in the community as an after school program. 

Our TikkunXDesign after school program kicks off on October 9th. Tiferet Rose, TikkunXDesign Director, and JCDSRI TikkunXDesign Fellows from Brown University will facilitate the weekly lessons in our Design Lab that explore Jewish values through Design Thinking. See flyer for details.


Teva PVD

Alumni often tell us that their 5th grade Teva overnight was a highlight of their JCDSRI experience. We are now bringing the magic of Teva to Providence!

Teva PVD is a 3-part series of outdoor explorations culminating in an overnight Shabbaton. Teva PVD outdoor adventures will be facilitated by Teva and JCDSRI educators. For dates and details, see flyer.

The Founding of JCDSRI

It all started forty years ago at the Providence home of Sheila and Paul Alexander.  While their kids played upstairs, the Alexanders hashed out a bold idea with three other couples with preschoolers: Rabbi Alvan and Marcia Kaunfer, Joshua and Penney Stein, and Chuck and Ada Beth Cutler.  They wanted a Jewish day school education, but something more liberal and egalitarian than that offered by the Providence Hebrew Day School.

The four couples were recent transplants to Providence, and had experience with the Conservative movement’s Schechter schools that were sprouting up across the country.  As public school graduates, they wanted their children to have a stronger Jewish foundation than they had, or that was possible with afterschool religious education at a synagogue. So they started thinking about opening their own Schechter school. It was already March of 1978, but they aimed for the fall.

As Penney Stein recalled, “We were young and crazy enough to think we could pull it off.”  It helped that Alvan Kaunfer, the assistant rabbi at Temple Emanu-El, had been head of the Judaic studies department at Toronto’s Schechter school. Ada Beth Cutler had started her teaching career at a New York Schechter, and Penney Stein herself was an educator with a Ph.D.

These young families got crucial support from two leaders at Emanu-El, Joel Zaiman, the senior rabbi, and longtime trustee Sanford Kroll.  They had pushed for a Schechter school years before, but hadn’t been able to persuade parents to sign on.  This time, with parents taking the lead, it worked.

The founders informed president Marvin Holland and the board of the Jewish Federation (now Jewish Alliance) of their plans, but made no request for funding.  They did gain some vital philanthropic help and advice from Emanu-El trustees Max Alperin and Benton Odessa.

The parents met some resistance from those who worried that the community couldn’t support two day schools.  After all, Providence Hebrew Day School, while always Orthodox, had been the original community school when it started 30 years earlier.  Among its founders were the senior rabbis from Emanu-El (Conservative) and Temple Beth-El (Reform).  Emanu-El had even temporarily housed the school when it moved from its original downtown location to its present building at Elmgrove and Savoy.

A big step was asking Emanu-El’s board for a classroom, which the trustees granted for a token rental fee.  As for the legal details, Dan Kaplan, an Emanu-El congregant and lawyer, volunteered to handle the paperwork.  The Providence School Department required only minor renovations to the space, as well as a written curriculum, before allowing the school to open in September.

The Conservative Jewish Day School of Rhode Island started small, with just a half-day kindergarten class the first year.  By the end of the first year, the school formally affiliated with the Schechter movement and gained a start-up grant, leading to a new name, the Solomon Schechter Day School of Rhode Island.  Every year it added a grade as the original class moved ahead.

Ada Beth Cutler was the first teacher, and Rabbi Kaunfer served as an unpaid director on the side.  He would go on to serve for many years as the director, now paid, as did Penney Stein after him.  Marcia Kaunfer taught at the school for decades, and even in retirement continues to mentor teachers.  Sheila Alexander was president for several years, as well as a long-serving trustee.

Alexander remembers the founders all spent long hours meeting with prospective parents, describing the school and why they wanted it for their own kids.  Eventually the school demonstrated its staying power, while Providence Hebrew Day School was also thriving.  Now the community offered a choice, and some longtime supporters of Hebrew Day, such as Arthur Robbins, eventually came around to support the new school, too.  Over time, the Jewish Alliance also helped in various ways.

The first class of 10 kids came mostly from Emanu-El families, but the founders remember at least one from Beth-El.  They never considered making it the non-denominational community school, simply because they had no model or concept to draw on.  But by 2006 the concept was far along, and the school re-shaped itself as the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island.

Now beginning its 40th school year, the school is planning a gala celebration on the evening of April 7, 2019, as well as some smaller gatherings.

This article was written by John Landry and appeared in the September 21st edition of the Voice and Herald.
John lives in Providence and is the father of two alumni of JCDS.