“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!