Welcome To Temple Beth El!

July to September 2016

I am thrilled to share with you some exciting changes to Temple Beth El’s Youth Education Program for the upcoming year!

Starting in September, our current Kindergarten to Seventh Grade Religious School program will be updated to a new model, which more appropriately fits the manner in which students learn in the 21st century.  This new program is based on significant research and exploration into alternative Religious School models, and best practices in the field of Jewish education.  It is being designed in consultation with both the United Synagogue Education Consultant and the Federation’s Education Department.  An inclusion education consultant from Matan, a national organization that works with communities to ensure that the learning needs of all students are met, is assisting in the development of this model as well.  The Temple Beth El Education Committee, Board of Directors, Clergy, Senior Staff, and teachers are all in support of this new program.

While the name of the new program has not yet been determined, the new program will no longer be referred to as “School.”  “School” has certain expectations of structure that no longer fit with our modern vision for educating youth.  Research has demonstrated that students must be actively engaged in the learning process to have the ability to translate and generalize their learning experiences into their lives.  This is particularly important in the realm of Jewish education – students and families, alike, must find personal meaning and relevance in what they are learning for it to be relevant and applicable to their everyday lives.

The new program will have several important features, highlighted below:

  1. Learning Environment. The learning spaces will become much less “school-like” and formal – moving from spaces that solely have desks to those that are much more flexible in nature, and might include bean-bag chairs, cushions and group tables.  The informality will allow students to be more comfortable and relaxed during their learning and add to the experiential feel of the program.
  2. Staffing. Like summer camp or a home-room teacher, children will be organized into grade-based groups and each group will have at least one assigned group leader for the entire school year.  The group leader will be responsible for creating a culture of community among the group, behavior management, as well as teaching particular elements of the curriculum.
  3. Increased Staffing Ratios: Due to the new design, children will have at least 2 adult staff members as well as additional teen volunteers with them, most of the time. The group leader will remain with the group throughout the program, allowing children both to have continuity with staff and exposure to a variety of people.
  4. Daily Activities/Specials. Group leaders will take their grade-based group to a schedule of daily activities.  These activities will be led by experts who will focus on specific areas of the curriculum such as: Torah study, Jewish holidays and traditions, Israel, T’fillah (prayer), Hebrew, Tikkun Olam, as well as cultural areas (art, music, stories, cooking, drama, etc.).
  5. Experiential Learning. Students will actively participate in learning experiences designed through a schedule of daily activities.  An example of this is: how students learn how, when to say, and the meaning of the Birkhat Hamazon (the prayer after a meal).  Through a multi-pronged experiential learning process, students will actively engage in learning different aspects of this prayer in the Hebrew, T’fillah, and music specials.  Students will also have an opportunity to use this prayer in real time during monthly community meals, which will have been prepared by the students who have chosen the cooking special.  That particular community meal might be further tied into learning about a Jewish holiday, a segment of the Jewish community, such as Jews from Poland or Iran or another component of the educational program like the weekly Torah portion.  In this new model, learning is experienced in a multitude of ways, both with purpose and intention.
  6. Choice. Elective components will be incorporated into the schedule to allow for children to explore areas of interest.  This provides an additional layer of community building among ages and grades.
  7. Timing. The new program will be held during the same time frame: Sunday 9:00-12:30 (K-7th), Wednesday 4:15-6:15 (2nd-7th).

It is important to note that the curriculum content in the new model is very similar to the curriculum that had been in the Religious School.  Children will continue to learn Hebrew reading and basic vocabulary.  They will continue to learn Jewish traditions and religious practices through a Conservative lens.  They will continue to establish a strong connection to Israel and to the larger Jewish community.  The new model offers an enhanced opportunity for children to connect to and internalize the material in a way that better meets their needs and learning styles.

I invite you to help us realize this new model through donations.  We need new or gently used area rugs, bean bag chairs and large pillows.  Monetary donations that help offset the cost of the new program are also greatly appreciated.

I encourage you to contact me with questions, comments and concerns.


Samara Sofian

Director of Youth and Family Education