As things have settled down, I had the privilege to spend some more time in classrooms, observing reading groups, tfillah, social studies and Judaic studies. As I watched your children working on Rosh Hashanah projects while simultaneously working on their spelling, handwriting, punctuation and organizing their ideas, I couldn’t help but smile. This integration of addressing our students’ learning challenges in the context of Jewish living and learning is what the Shefa School is all about. Our children bring so much background knowledge about these upcoming holidays, and we are capitalizing on this depth of experience and enthusiasm to teach essential skills. The research shows that children (and adults) perform best when asked to speak, to write, and to read about content with which they are familiar. For example, if I were given a book about education or child development, I would be able to read and comprehend with speed and accuracy, but if you gave me a book about astrophysics, my comprehension rate would be significantly decreased. Our children, by and large, feel safe and excited about our Jewish traditions, and it is wonderful to see that we can layer on instruction about the mechanics of writing and the use of language at the very same time.
Over the past two weeks, we have continued to receive many emails and calls in which parents have shared that their children continue to come home happy and relaxed. But we have also heard some concern, “Is the work going to get harder?” or, “Is it possible for my child to learn if she continues to come home happy and with just a few minutes of homework?” The answers are yes and yes! The first few weeks of the year, particularly this year when ALL of our students are new to Shefa, are largely devoted to helping children to acclimate, to trust that learning can be fun, to feel comfortable taking risks, and to unlearn some behaviors and strategies that might have been necessary in their old settings but no longer serve them at Shefa.
We also need to fill in gaps in areas that might seem like review. In order to build on a strong foundation, we need to first invest the time in securing this base. Please be assured: your children are working extremely hard! For most of them, spending 80 minutes on reading is extremely challenging. These are very small group settings, and the teachers are both asking them to do things that they can do but also slowly and steadily raising the bar of difficulty. We are also working on their language, processing, and organization throughout the day. And so, while your child may report that she made apple sauce in her “Shefa Chefs” chug yesterday, your child is also reading the recipe, following the sequence, finding clear language to describe her experiences and so much more. Similarly in math, while they may be using hands-on manipulatives, they are also working on shifting from concrete to representational to abstract understandings of mathematical concepts. They are learning to “own” their learning so they can confidently build upon solid understanding as they move toward more complex concepts.
As we met each of you this past year, one of the most inspiring things to hear was how much effort you all put into helping your children navigate the challenges of their previous schools. It made us tired just hearing about the tutors, the testing, the speech and language, and all of the resources you devoted to helping your children. We also understand how hard it is to trust that, now that your children’s learning is not in your hands in the same way, it will truly meet their needs. As you know, we believe this is a sacred responsibility, and we will partner with you to help every child grow and succeed. It will take time for our students to build the foundations they need and to feel trust and confidence. There will be challenges and setbacks. And yet, we feel confident that by taking the time to build solid, trusting relationships, and creating solid foun dations of learning, there is no limit to what is possible ahead!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Ilana received her B.A. from Harvard College and a Master's Degree in Education from Bank Street College. She was born and raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and now lives there with her husband and three children.
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