The Three Pillars of Excellent Elementary Education


The Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island is a pluralistic Jewish Day School that provides an excellent general and Jewish education for children in Pre K through grade 5. After graduation, our students attend the finest public and private schools and thrive in their studies. They are knowledgeable Jewish leaders who go on to play active roles in community life as teenagers and adults.  But none of that is what makes JCDSRI special.

JCDSRI approaches our curriculum through three lenses: progressive education, joy and  meaning. Because we pursue these three values in everything we do, our students learn more, feel better, exhibit more leadership skills, and have more pride than in any other school we’ve experienced.  Our students skip to school every morning, hang out and play after school, and cry on the last day of school.  They love school, and here’s why.

Our school models progressive education, not traditional education. That means the teachers aren’t asked “to be the sage on the stage, but rather the guide on the side.” Students have a voice and power to help choose what they will learn.  Curiosity and creativity aren’t a nuisance at our school- they are the prime motivators of education, and we do everything in our power to build those skills.  Our students engage in Project Based Learning, so they are learning by doing, and they learn to collaborate with  peers to build critical communication, negotiation, organizational, and delegation skills they will use throughout their academic and professional careers.

Progressive education used to be seen as something countercultural – an alternative to the traditional frontal classrooms, in which teachers lectured and students absorbed knowledge.  These days, it is widely recognized that having student-centered classrooms in which the students are actively engaged, not just listening and copying, is simply good education. But unfortunately, old habits are hard to break, and many schools simply lack the courage, resources, or vision to commit to a truly progressive vision. Perhaps this is why, even with the plethora of fancy independent schools in Providence, JCDSRI is the only one with a design thinking class, the first to establish a Design lab (what some call a makerspace, STEAM lab, or Innovation lab), and is the ONLY school in Rhode Island with a partnership with the Brown/RISD STEAM group.  This partnership, named KinderSTEAM, has facilitated many workshops at JCDSRI directed by diverse leaders from undergraduates in industrial design at RISD to post graduates in applied mathematics at Brown.   JCDSRI’s design thinking program and lab was featured at the National Association of Independent School conference this winter, and has gained national attention, because at our school, progressive education isn’t just jargon- it affects everything from the way we set up our classrooms to the way we manage our classrooms to the way we partner with local universities.

The second lens that makes our school so unique is Joy.  We are acutely aware that we aren’t just responsible for teaching our students skills and content, but also for helping to form the joyous memories that will sustain our students for the rest of their lives. Life isn’t just something that happens when you get older – it’s happening right now, to each and every one of us.  We want our students to lead happy lives.  That means putting people before product.  We provide ample opportunities for field trips (we have our own bus), for recess, for community building, and for supporting the social and emotional growth of all our students.  It’s shocking how rarely joy and happiness are discussed in education these days – perhaps because it’s harder to create a standard, a benchmark, and a multiple choice test to measure for happiness. But we know that happy kids are more excited to participate, learn, fail, try again, and grow than kids who are sad, worried, or bored.  So we make sure school and learning are fun.

The third lens that makes JCDSRI special is our focus on meaning.  As a Jewish day school, we take our role as agents of Tikkun Olam seriously.  Our students use Jewish prayer and the holidays to reflect on the meaning of their lives and explore how they can be better friends, children, brothers, sisters, and community members.  We use the full range of our traditions and critical thinking skills to devise ways to make the world a better place.  Happiness is wonderful, but without meaning, it can become shallow and vacant.  Our school is grounded in our ancient tradition and our passionate belief in the power of community, purpose, and living an ethical, meaningful life.  This is too often overlooked – perhaps because of the separation of church and state, or perhaps because without a rich, shared tradition, finding the common texts and language in other schools is too hard to do.  But we know that creating deep roots in childhood helps our students to live more solid, grounded lives as adults.

JCDSRI is truly a unique school.  The warmth, vibrancy, and energy of our community continues to grow each year.  We welcome you to come for a visit and see for yourself.