Meaningful Study Fuels Hands-On Learning at Local Jewish Day Schools

Get ready to throw out your old-fashioned assumptions about education and learning, because at Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Hartford and New England Jewish Academy, the curriculum is cutting edge​! Greater Hartford’s Jewish community is fortunate to have two-world class Jewish day schools right in our backyard. Whether it’s building a sukkah from recycled materials or programming robots, these two educational institutions ensure that hands-on learning is — and remains — a priority.
“The best kind of learning — the kind that happens every day at Schechter — involves both learning and doing,” says Rabbi Jonathan (Yoni) Berger, Schechter’s Head of School. “By engaging students’ minds and hands, the learning is both fun and enduring.” Below, he shares some recent examples: 
"Back in September, we focused on bringing the holidays to life. Whether using graham crackers and frosting or a hammer and nails, our students greatly enjoyed building sukkot. And with this comes the bigger questions: Why all these fall holidays? What does it all mean? Ultimately, the answers come from good teachers and inquisitive Torah study. That’s why our second and third grade students built sukkot out of recycled objects like cardboard and egg cartons only after studying the holiday. The choice of used materials was deliberate. And after our middle school students studied sources from the Mishnah, they helped assemble the walls and supports of our school’s actual sukkah.
“'I want to encourage recycling and caring for the world,' explained Judaics teacher Michal Fein. 'Using these materials also leads students to be more creative; they work to imagine what they can make from a rough piece of cardboard.'
"This kind of learning isn’t limited to the holidays. Our fourth and fifth graders created wonderful pieces of art depicting the tohu va-vohu (primordial chaos) that the Torah describes before the world’s creation. To begin, they studied the first verses of the Torah in Hebrew. 
“'We looked closely at the words with Limor, our teacher, so we could understand what the Torah was really trying to say,' noted Nathaniel, a fifth grader.
"We are tasked with inspiring the next generation of creators and independent thinkers. Thanks to the steadfast support of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, students at Schechter and other day and congregational schools are prepared to face the challenges of tomorrow."
Meanwhile, the start of the 2021 – 2022 school year at New England Jewish Academy (NEJA) has been no less busy and inspired....
“We are thrilled that our enrollment has increased by 13%, and we are very happy to welcome 27 new students and their families to our NEJA family,” shared Director of Admissions Batsheva Oberstein. “And we are very excited to announce some new programs that launched this year.” She elaborates below: 
"With generous funding from the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford, our Early Childhood Center (ECC) is transitioning to a Reggio Emilia-inspired program. The new program allows young students to pursue individual areas of curiosity and interest while documenting their work and progress and communicating regularly with parents. Our ECC faculty underwent summer training and will receive top-quality professional development with weekly one-on-one Reggio training for the next two years. 
"Meanwhile, our lower elementary school students have started to program their new KIBO robots. We have been using KIBO in both Judaic and general studies. Students have learned the basics of engineering and programming – and during Sukkot, they learned how to build and program their robots to walk in a square around the bimah and shake the lulav
“'KIBO is way fun, especially when it went around the bimah! It was challenging, but at last it worked the way I wanted it to,' shared kindergartener Asher.
"In other news, the statewide pinch in children’s behavioral health resources has made headlines lately, and NEJA is prepared to meet the challenge. 'We are fortunate to benefit from extraordinary Federation funding to bolster our new partnership with Jewish Family Services,’ added Naty Katz, NEJA’s Head of School. 'JFS will provide social work services and wellness programming to our students as we strive to ensure their personal health and academic success.'"
To keep up with all the exciting educational happenings at our local Jewish day schools, visit the NEJA and Schechter websites.
Above, from left: Schechter students build sukkot using recycled objects; NEJA student Gabriella takes part in a Reggio Emilia-inspired activity involving playdough, sticks, and imagination. Images courtesy of Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Hartford and New England Jewish Academy.