Leaning Into Forgiveness 5781

We are right now in the עשרת ימי תשובה‎ – the ten days of repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  Each year, I look forward to the opportunity to pick a personal growth goal general enough to my work with students, teachers, parents, colleagues, community, etc.  [Last year at this time, I blogged out my personal growth goals as well.]  By doing this publicly, I hope, it will inspire others to think about how they wish to grow and provide me with a little public accountability to keep me honest.

Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.

I worry, in general, that one of the challenges we have in the world is a genuine empathy gap.  I think that we find it harder and harder to feel, show and teach empathy.  I think that COVID only makes this harder.  But instead of focusing on others or the culture or the pandemic, this time of year calls upon us to focus on ourselves.  And I want to spend this year shrinking my empathy gap across the stakeholder groups I encounter…

Students

School came really easily to me.  Sure I had some social concerns around adolescence (I am sure being forced to wear headgear to school did not help), but by-the-by school was a comfortable and safe place for me to be.  I had a secure social group and I got lots of positive reinforcement from teachers who recognized and appreciated my natural (and in no way earned) skill set and performance.  I fully appreciate that my experience of school is not that of all, or even most, of my students.  Part of my job is spending meaningful time with students who don’t find school easy, safe or enjoyable.  Their discomfort is made manifest in all kinds of ways – some productive, some less so – but I am making it a goal this year to start with empathy.

Before I leap to judgement or into problem-solving or consequences, I want to do a better job trying to understand their lived experiences.  I hope that helps deepen my relationships with the very students who would benefit from it the most.  I hope it helps me be more constructive in my feedback and my response to students in distress.  I hope it makes me a better principal.

Teachers

I was never a teacher.  My path to day school leadership was highly atypical.  Although I did have a brief stint as a (very) part-time teacher in the late 90s at a Jewish day school in Los Angeles, I came into Jewish day school sideways.  After a brief career in Jewish camping and some time as a congregational educator, my first full-time job in Jewish day school was as a founding head.  I was never a full-time teacher and I never worked my way up from teacher to administrator to principal to head.  I came in as the head and that’s all I have ever been.  This unorthodox (no pun intended) path has its advantages and its disadvantages.  I have always found the biggest disadvantage to be in my lack of empathy.  Do I truly understand what I am asking of teachers if I have never had to live it myself?

We have set the bar very high for teachers at OJCS, with the teachers themselves often leading the way.  COVID has only made it harder to reach towards our North Stars.  This year, I want to make sure that I dedicate time in all my teacher discussions and encounters towards building empathy.  Am I asking the right questions to truly understand the lived experience our expectations demand?

Before I leap to judgement or into problem-solving or accountability, I want to do a better job trying to understand their lived experiences.  I hope that helps deepen my relationships with the very teachers who would benefit from it the most.  I hope it helps me be more constructive in my feedback and my response to teachers in distress.  I hope it makes me a better head of school.

Parents

I am a parent.

I am struggling with how to best express this next part, because I for sure do not wish to imply that my marriage or my children or my family doesn’t have all the same stressors and challenges and flaws as everyone else’s.  It definitely does!  But I think it is fair to describe my marriage as healthy and my children as fairly typical and my family as relatively functional.  Luck has as much to do with this as anything else…

I say this only to state that I recognize that life and luck may not be equally distributed across all families and there are parents in our school and community who are dealing with challenges that I have not experienced.  As the head of school, I am sometimes privy to the burdens parents carry, but just as often, I am completely unaware.  When a parent comes forward with a question or a concern or to provide feedback or for help, I want make sure that I lead with empathy.  Have I done enough work to truly understand a parent’s experience or perspective before I offer thoughts of my own?

Before I leap to judgement or into problem-solving, I want to do a better job trying to understand their lived experiences.  I hope that helps deepen my relationships with the very parents who would benefit from it the most.  I hope it helps me be more constructive in my feedback and my response to parents in distress.  I hope it makes me a better leader.

So during this time of introspection, let me take this opportunity not only to ask forgiveness in general for anything I have done – purposely or unknowingly – to cause offense or upset during the last year, but let me specifically apologize for any moment in which I didn’t show empathy towards you.  I am sincerely sorry and ask for your forgiveness.

As you ponder the purpose of this season for you and your family, I hope you find the time for introspection and the inspiration for the teshuvah you are seeking.  From my family to yours, wishing you a tzom kal (easy fast) and a day of meaning.

G’mar chatimah tovah.

The Very Unique & COVID-Friendly 2020 OJCS Middle School Retreat

We just completed our third annual Middle School Retreat and I am so proud of our students and teachers (and families).  Just figuring out how to conduct a retreat adhering to COVID protocols was a challenge in and of itself.  But compliance was not our goal – creating community, inspiring growth and fostering (this year’s theme) grit was.  And even if we were unable to do all the things we wanted to (the ability to mix the grades being the single biggest loss), we still made it happen.  It was so nice to be outdoors, to hike, to zip, to talk, to play and to learn together.  It was like a little slice of normalcy during abnormal times.

Our theme (borrowed from last year’s graduation) was grit.  Over a decade ago, academic and psychologist Angela Duckworth released her first paper on the notion of grit and its application to education.  In both her TED Talk and her book, Duckworth defines grit as “a combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal” that is a key ingredient for high achievement, not only in school, but in life.  If there was ever an adjective that described this year it would be “grit”.

We fused together these notions of grit – spending the first day focusing on “passion” and the third day on “perseverance” (with the second day spent ziplining through the trees) – with Rabbi Hillel‘s famous three questions:

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?  If not now, when? (Pirkei Avot 1:14).

In between the social bonding, the hiking, the scavenger hunts, the sports, and the ziplining, our students found their passions, set goals, explored the relationship between the individual and the community, culminating in the concluding conversation, answer the question:

How can we work together as a Middle School Community to foster each other’s passion, to overcome each other’s obstacles and to show grit on our way to achieving our individual and communal goals for 2020-2021?

We ended our retreat by doing what comes naturally at OJCS, giving back to the community, by launching a project with our local Kosher Food Bank: developing social media campaign to amplify the important work of feeding our community.  All in all, we spent three days living our North Stars and strengthening our Middle School Community.  You can see for yourself…

A huge thank-you goes out to our Student Life Coordinator, Deanna Bertrend, for all her hard work putting this together!  Putting the Middle School Retreat together isn’t easy in a normal year, but doing it while we are just a week or so into figuring out how to reopen in the middle of a pandemic, and having to adapt the retreat to all kinds of protocols…well that’s a lot.  Our students and school are grateful for her leadership.

We are looking forward to next week’s “Virtual Back to School” on Wednesday, September 23rd beginning at 7:00 PM.  We will be sending out a schedule and links early next week.

As the eve of a new Jewish Year approaches, it is my most sincerest hope that this is the year we’ve been waiting for.  To all the teachers, staff, parents, students, donors, supporters, and friends in this special school- thank you for your enthusiasm and your hard work.  Let’s make sure that 5781 is not only an amazing year, but a safe one at that.

From our family to yours, “Shanah tovah!”

Shofar, So Good: Reflections On A First Week Like No Other

Long time readers of this blog know that there is no pun too corny; and that I am good for a “shofar, so good” blog post each year come the Jewish High Holidays.  With our annual (reimagined for COVID) Middle School Retreat taking place next week (!) with its inevitable blog post to follow, it means that I get to use my pun even earlier, albeit a week too soon for Rosh Hashanah.

I have been a head of school for thirteen years across three schools and, like all my colleagues, I have never had a spring like last spring, a summer like last summer, or a first week of school like this one.

So after all the work and the planning and the logistics and protocols and the procedures…how are things going at the end of the first week of the 2020-2021 school year at the Ottawa Jewish Community School?

Shofar, so good!

We have lived a thousand micro-dramas these last few weeks as it is one thing to put protocols into writing and an entirely other thing to put them into practice.  I lived this experience myself as both a parent and a principal on the very first day of school!  My experience of trying to figure out what to do in the grey areas between policy and life is being played out in homes and schools throughout our community, province and country.  Teachers and parents are being called upon to exercise both caution and discretion in the face of unheard of conditions and we will be well-served to give each other space and permission to overcorrect and overcorrect again until we calibrate into our new normal.

But as I tried to express in last week’s post, our school is way more than a collection of COVID protocols and processes!  Of course, safety is our most pressing concern these days, but only a schmidge below is our sacred duty to educate.  And with regard to that holy enterprise, I am so grateful towards and proud of our teachers – especially the many new ones.  The job of being a teacher has never been more complicated and never more important.  Not only must our teachers do everything they had to do before, but they are also called upon to be distance and hybrid learning experts, healthcare workers and mental health professionals – all while taking care of themselves and their families.  And while this is generally true of all teachers, it is especially true at the highest bar for OJCS teachers.  Seeing the time and effort that goes into reaching it, is nothing short of inspirational.

We saw last spring how amazing our teachers were when we needed to make the pivot unplanned.  (And we know that our community was paying attention as our enrollment has grown – and is still growing – despite an economic downturn.)  Imagine how extraordinary our teachers are going to be when we have done nothing, but plan!  If you are a current OJCS parent, of course, you don’t have to imagine – you can see it each and every day.

Other thoughts and musings from the first week…

…you know how you sometimes don’t fully appreciate something until you can’t do it?  I always feel badly that I am not more of a presence in classrooms, but now I crave it!  I can’t wait to be back in classrooms!

…I didn’t think I would miss the Shofar Patrol this much!

…I know I mentioned it above, but it really is true that you cannot know something until you live it.  We have lots of fine-tuning ahead of us as we gain experience!  We appreciate both your feedback and your patience as we learn and our policies evolve.  Our “COVID FAQ” is live for a reason…it will change.

…I love using three entrances and exits this year, but please don’t tell any parents who hate it.

Please save the date!  By both parent and teacher request, we are bringing back a traditional “Back to School” on Wednesday, September 23rd at 7:00 PM.  The platform (virtual) may be new-school, but the program will be old-school.  Apparently, my telling you each year that all the information you need as parents (homework policies, behavior management programs, and the curriculum) is simply on the classroom blogs hasn’t satisfied parents or teachers!  So now that I have united you in your disagreement with me…welcome back “Back to School”.

The Transparency Files: We Do More Than Plan For COVID

[NOTE: I wrote most of this post prior to our school’s first direct experience with COVID yesterday.  I considered delaying or rewriting this post because I do not wish to appear cavalier or tone deaf when so many families and teachers are carrying anxiety into our first day of in-person school.  However, as real – and as sad – as this “new normal” may be, it is our new normal.  And I believe that part of making that true means that we will need to resume talking about things other than COVID.  So without further adieu…]

There is obviously nothing more important than the safety of our students, teachers, families and community.  That being said, it has been wonderful to be reminded this week why we are investing so much time and energy and so many resources to be able to both safely reopen for in-person learning and provide high-quality educational, social and spiritual experiences for distance learning.  It is because we love to teach children!

So, for one blog post at least, let’s take a break from COVID safety procedures and protocols…

You may recall that despite the challenges that last spring brought us, we learned a lot through being forced into distance learning.  We summarized those gleanings in a blog post that became a slogan: “Don’t go back to school; Come forward to OJCS”.  You can see evidence of that growth by looking at how we are planning for 2020-2021.  Let’s spend just a little time sharing what our amazing OJCS Faculty has been learning about and working on during our annual “Pre-Planning Week”.   Hopefully it will leave you not only feeling comforted that your children will be safe, but feeling excited that your children will be inspired to learn, to grow and to become their best selves.

Here’s a curated selection from our activities…

The Hyflex Cafe

Each year (13 years, 4 at OJCS and counting!), I begin “Pre-Planning Week” with an updated version of the “World Cafe”.  It is a collaborative brainstorming activity centered on a key question.  Each year’s question is designed to encapsulate that year’s “big idea”.  To no one’s surprise, this year’s big idea?  Hyflex Learning!

We call it “hyflex” because we are not simply offering a “hybrid” of both in-person and distance learning; we are preparing for the flexibility of students (and teachers) switching from one to the other in both a planned and unplanned fashion.  The “flex” stands for “flexibility” and that is as good an adjective for this year as any other.

“Getting Started With Hybrid Learning” with Emma Pass

Thanks to a generous grant from the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, we have been able to bring in some outside experts to work with our teachers during this week of planning.  One extraordinary expert is named Emma Pass.  Leaving aside the whole hybrid/hyflex thing, her session was an hourlong tour de force of all things hybrid learning that really set the table for the week.  Or as our Teaching & Learning Coordinator Melissa Thompson put it:

Speed-Geeking Critical Platforms for Hyflex Learning

After having spent some time exploring the big picture, here we began to explore some critical platforms that OJCS teachers are becoming more familiar with in order to succeed in hyflex learning contexts.  What do we love about speed-geeking at OJCS?  That the sessions are led by our own teachers!

Let’s check out them out!

Classkick

In this session, our Kitah Alef (Grade One) Jewish Studies Teacher Morah Ada shared about Classkick.  Classkick is an app that gives a teacher maximal flexibility to incorporate audio, text, video, picture into a shared document that students and teachers can edit and work on seamlessly.  For example, a teacher can record herself giving video instruction, embed a PDF and ask students to record their responses all in one document.  Teachers can also take pre-prepared documents (like an alef-bet chart) and designate individual letters as student manipulatives.  Meaning that a student could drag an “alef” around the document and place it where it belongs.

Primary teachers can import critical documents like their calendars or job charts.  Teachers can easily customize and personalize different assignments.  The most exciting part of the session was the conversation between teachers.  One of the goals we have as a school is to find more opportunity for our students to use their languages.  Classkick makes it really easy for teachers to record themselves giving oral prompts (personalized if needed) and for students to record themselves responding.  This will be a great way to build in more authentic contact time with Hebrew and French!

Flipgrid

Flipgrid is not new to OJCS, although it may be new to our new teachers.  [We made heavy use of it during last year’s PIVOT, especially in the primary grades.]  In this session our Grade Two General Studies Teacher Morah Lianna caught us up on all things Flipgrid.  Flipgrid essentially allows students to record 90 seconds of video in response to all kinds of prompts.  A teacher could ask the class to tell her all about their summer vacations, and each student would record themselves in response.  Flipgrid gives you both public and private options for maximal flexibility.  Flipgrid also is a great global connector since it is heavily used around the…globe!  With a sea of platforms available, one question that our teachers always have to ask is which platform makes sense for which lesson or unit or subject or students?  And how can we make choices that don’t overwhelm students (or parents)?  (How many logins can anyone manage?)

Nearpod

Nearpod is a platform we are eager to begin using at OJCS because of how easily it allows us to factor in both synchronous and asynchronous learning.  As explained by our Middle School Hebrew I Teacher Morah Ruthie, Nearpod, is a little like Classkick, but even moreso, and is intended to be a “one-stop shop” for teachers.  Nearpod allows a teacher to create lessons that can be delivered by the teacher, or can be done in-class either in groups or individually, or done at home.  Lessons can be guided by the teacher or offered to students to do at their own paces.  And, critical for these times, lessons can be offered synchronously or asynchronously.

Of the three platforms we explored, Nearpod clearly has the most maximal utility for our teachers.  They can pull content from a ton of sources, including virtual reality presentations, YouTube, Google Slides, PDFs, and just about anything and anywhere you can imagine.  Teachers can use materials that they have already created, of course.  Part of what makes Nearpod so powerful, however, is that it has a full and growing library of lessons across every (general studies) subject and each grade-level.  You can even select lessons benchmarked according to (US) national and state standards.   You can embed polls, quizzes and activities to keep students engaged and accountable.  Finally, the teacher can not only track student progress, but also provide ongoing assessment.

Proficiency Approach to Hebrew Language

Here is the second place we are utilizing grant funding from JFO.  As you know, we are in the middle of a major consultancy with our French Language Faculty that we call TACLEF.  One thing that we have learned through that experience is how much we would like to give our Hebrew Language Faculty a similar experience.  While we cannot (yet) invest in a consultancy of that magnitude, we have begun working with Orly Lavi Travish.  We will work with her on the “proficiency approach” to Hebrew language instruction.  Proficiency is…

…the ability to use language in real world situations in a spontaneous interaction and non-rehearsed context, and in a manner acceptable and appropriate to native speakers of the language.  Proficiency demonstrates what a language user is able to do regardless of where, when, or how the language was acquired.  The demonstration is independent of how the language was learned; the context may or may not be familiar; the evaluation of proficiency is not limited to the content of a particular curriculum that has been taught and learned.

Just like with French, we want our Hebrew outcomes to be real, spoken, authentic language.  We want to both teach and assess language proficiency in this way.  We are way farther ahead in using this approach in French (although not as far as we would like to be) than in Hebrew, but this session will hopefully be the beginning of an exciting Hebrew journey.

Did I do one of my spiritual check-ins on the topic of hitlamdut (mindfulness)?  Sure did!

Did Mrs. Thompson do a great session on use of classroom blogs and student blogfolios?  Yup!

Did Mrs. Bertrend and Mr. Ray take us all outdoors and show us all the ways we can use our outdoor space for recess, outdoor education and learning?  Absolutely!

Did Mrs. Reichstein lead a session on creating a caring and nurturing classroom during these COVID times?  You bet!

Did Mrs. Gordon go over all the guidelines and protocols and procedures and rules and mandates to keep us all safe?  100%!

Did the PTA sponsor a yummy breakfast and lunch?  Yes!

Did our teachers have lots of time to meet and prepare and collaborate and organize and do all the things needed to open up school on Tuesday?  And then some!

All that and much more took place during this week of planning.  But at nearly 1,500 words, even I need to stop writing.

Needless to say, we are prepared to do way more than create a safe learning environment.  We are prepared to develop a rigorous, creative, innovative, personalized, hyflex and ruach-filled learning experience for each and every one our precious students who we cannot wait to greet (in-person and virtually) on Tuesday morning!

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday weekend and a successful launch to the 2020-2021 school year…

The Coronavirus Diaries: OJCS Safe Reopening FAQ II

The 2020-2021 school year is shaping up to be every bit as unique as the 2019-2020 school year wound up, but we are hopeful that this year will be safer, happier and – perhaps -a bit more predictable.  It is wholeheartedly bittersweet to share out that we have now closed out two of our grades, with a couple of others trending towards closure.  (It is a Jewish day school head’s dream to have a waitlist, but there is little joy since it took a global pandemic to help make it happen.)  We also recognize that there is a great deal of churn and angst as the return of school draws closer.  It feels like the rules of the game change daily; it is like trying to put a puzzle together with new pieces being dropped in.

Here at the Ottawa Jewish Community School, we are simply doing our best to stay on top of the health guidelines, to hold awareness of what the public board and other private schools are doing, and to be as transparent as we can about what we have already decided and what remains in play.  As I shared directly in an email with returning, new and prospective families last week, we have not received any new guidelines since we made our original announcement to safely reopen with cohorts of 15 students or less.  The announcement last week of Ontario’s return to school without class caps (but with teachers and students [grades 4-8] masked) came as a surprise, but did not come from a change in health guidelines.

So although it is logical for anyone to ask if we are going to align with the public board’s plan, in the absence of new guidelines, we continue to feel comfortable with the caps we have put in place.  We are considering aligning our student masking policy as we are always happy to err on the side of additional safety.

To recap…

…three weeks ago, I blogged out our first round of questions and answers in a kind of FAQ, as part of our initial announcement of a “five-day, full-day” safe reopening.

…two weeks ago, I blogged out an updated list of our faculty that is both now complete and updated for our new, COVID-adjusted schedule.

…last week, I emailed out a revised Parent Handbook (downloadable from our website) that added lots of additional layers and details.

Now that you are all caught up, it is time to share the next bunch of questions and answers, also in the form of an FAQ.  (Please note that the entire list of FAQ will not only be uploaded to our website, but will remain dynamic so that updates and revisions will live there [not in my blog].)

Will my child still receive resource support?  

For students learning in-person or at home, any student with an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) will continue to receive the support and resources required.  Sharon Reichstein, Director of Special Education, is available (s.reichstein@theojcs.ca) to discuss any questions you may have around the delivery of services, if needed. 

Can the front office administer my child’s medication? 

As per the recently published OJCS Handbook: For this phase of our re-opening, our personnel will not be administering any medications.

Will there be before and after-care? 

In a recently sent email, we indicated that we are leaning strongly towards NOT offering “Before Care” at this stage of our reopening.  We are fielding feedback from working parents and will soon clarify our position.  (If you have not yet informed us that you will need this, please do so!)  We have worked with the SJCC and can share that their Aftercare Program will mirror our larger grade-level groupings (K-2, 3-5 and 6-8) to maximize health and safety.  They have also pledged to keep non-OJCS students in a separate group.  Please contact Gail Lieff (glieff@jccottawa.com) for information and to register.

Will there be a hot lunch program? 

The added challenge of safely preparing and delivering hot lunch during this phase of our reopening (along with the challenge of no longer having a kosher restaurant on campus) has led us to pause our hot lunch program until after the Jewish High Holidays.  We will look to resume a modified hot lunch – possibly focusing on our Tuesday/Thursday “meat days” – using both our PTA (Hot Dog Days!) and the local community.

What will we do about supply teachers?

We will inevitably require supply teachers from time to time (it is possible that teachers can do some teaching from home with creative in-school supervision).  We are looking to narrow our circle of supply teachers to a group who will commit to substituting only at OJCS to reduce the risk for community spread.  However, like all OJCS Faculty, supply teachers will be required to be masked and socially distanced while teaching at OJCS.

What kind of enhanced cleaning protocols will the school use?

Working with the Campus, we will have enhanced cleaning both in terms of frequency as well as products.  The Campus will be using a fog sanitizer machine that’s called the Fogger. It can sanitize a classroom in minutes, as well as hallways and lockers.  It will be in use during each school day to sanitize outdoor play structures and each evening in every classroom and learning space.  If a child or teacher is sent home due to illness, it will be brought in immediately to that room for a cleaning.  The product is an organic chemical that is safe for humans, animals, plants, etc.

Additionally…

  • In accordance with recommendations from Public Health Ontario and Ottawa Public Health, high touch areas will be cleaned and disinfected at least twice daily. This includes door handles, push bars, railings, washroom surfaces, elevator buttons, kitchen surfaces, and light switches. 
  • All other spaces will be cleaned and disinfected once per day, including hard floors.
  • In accordance with recommendations from Public Health Ontario and Ottawa Public Health, outdoor play structures will be disinfected during school hours, after each cohort has used the structure.  Protocols for cleaning outdoor play structures during winter months will be determined at a later time, as further research is required as to the safety of doing so in sub-freezing temperatures.
  • Sanitizing machines and stations have been set up in various locations on campus, and will be cleaned and filled as required. All hand sanitizer is alcohol-based.
  • Touchless paper towel dispensers have been installed in many washrooms.
  • All air filtration systems will be cleaned quarterly, and filters will be replaced regularly.

OJCS is working with Campus to determine whether or not an additional OJCS-dedicated housekeeping staff person will be required to meet the above and other COVID-specific cleaning protocols. 

A detailed list of the disinfectants to be in use is available upon request.

Will water fountains be in use or turned off this year?

Water fountains can safely be used to fill water bottles (and cups) only.  We will ensure through either signage, physical blockage or manual shut-offs that students are unable to use the water fountains by mouth.This last grouping are not applicable to all families/students, but we think it is helpful to share here as well.

I’ve indicated my child will be engaging in virtual learning only due to health reasons, how will that work?

We expect the following broad principles will guide the distant learning program for the upcoming school year:

  • Teachers will plan and share schedules of weekly classes and assignments in advance, which will give you an opportunity to plan for synchronous (live) and asynchronous (on your own time) learning, as well as printing of any required materials. These will be housed on the class blog.
  • Teachers will record and archive lessons, either in advance or after delivery, and will link to any useful resources. These, too, will be housed on the class blogs. 
  • Students will be responsible for attending some live sessions as part of larger class activities, as well as one-on-one with teachers and remotely working with peers on group projects, if any. 
  • Students will be encouraged to be more self-directed and self-motivated to complete assigned tasks, and explore areas of personal interest. 
  • Teachers will support students to prioritize their tasks by clearly distinguishing between required and supplementary assignments, with flexibility in the ways students can complete their work from home.
  • Teachers will continue to closely monitor students’ work and hold them accountable for their performance with high expectations. 
  • Any student with an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) will continue to receive the support and resources required. Sharon Reichstein, Director of Special Education, is available to discuss any questions you may have around the delivery of services, if needed. 

How will the library lending service work this year?

We will be operating the Library through the online management system we installed a couple of years ago.  This site includes our entire catalog, searchable and customizable, and allows students, teachers and families to check books out of the Library.  (This is different from our Library Blog, another valuable source for library, literacy, research and informational media needs at OJCS.  Each site links to the other.)  Through this site, we will be able to continue basic Library services in a safe and touchless form.  For more information, please contact Brigitte Ruel (b.ruel@theojcs.ca).

Will there be a Middle School Retreat?

There will NOT be a formal Middle School Retreat at Camp B’nai Brith of Ottawa as has been the case the last couple of years.  There will, however, be a scheduled Retreat on September 15th – 17th here on Campus.  The goals remain to build relationships within and between grade-level cohorts, to team-build, to create community, and to set the tone for a successful Middle School year at OJCS.  We may incorporate field trips into the program, but needless to say, all activities will include adherence to all relevant health protocols.

Will there continue to be electives for the Middle School students?

Yes, we will be offering Middle School electives this year, and they will be contained to grade-level cohorts (i.e. each grade will have their electives once per week within their classroom or outdoors).  More information to follow.

As was the case before, if you have any questions or concerns with any of the above, please don’t hesitate to reach out.  If between FAQ I, FAQ II and the Parent Handbook, you continue to have unanswered questions, please let us know and we can add it to our lists.  In the absence of significant new information, I will likely pause the blogs (and mass emails) so we can focus our energy these next few weeks on preparing for our faculty’s return on August 31st.

Enjoy the beautiful weather and these last weeks of a most unusual summer…

The Coronavirus Diaries Transparency Files: (Re)Introducing the OJCS 2020-2021 Faculty

I guess it should come as no surprise that a summer like no other requires a higher frequency of blog posts…

Thanks to all the parents who replied, asked questions, shared concerns, etc., after last week’s first list of FAQs!  Your feedback has been really helpful and clarifying.  We have added some of your questions to the list of unanswered questions at the bottom of last week’s post and it is our plan to share out next week our next round of answers.

Two weeks ago, we decided to go ahead and share out our annual “Transparency Files” post announcing the “OJCS 2020-2021 Faculty” even though we knew (and stated) that it was (more than normally) subject to change.  And we were right!  Our plans for a safe reopening have indeed required us to be more creative and strategic in our staffing.  Before proceeding directly to the list, let me update you on a few items…

…Janet Darwish – Morah Yaffa – will be taking a year away from OJCS out of caution due to COVID-19.  We are pleased to share that Andréa Black will be joining our OJCS family as our Kindergarten General Studies teacher.  Morah Andréa has over a decade of early years teaching experience and knows many of our families from both Ganon and Camp B’nai Brith.  She is a stellar addition to our Kindergarten Team.

…we are overjoyed to welcome back Stephanie Lebhar who will be taking on the Grade One French Studies portfolio.  Madame Stephanie was a wonderful addition to our team last year and looks forward to reuniting with our students in the fall.

…we are also thrilled to introduce Sophie Pellerin, who comes to us extraordinarily passionate about French language learning and ready to join our French Department.  Madame Sophie will be teaching both the Kindergarten and Grade 2 portfolios.

…with all the challenges of conducting a thorough search process for a position as critical as “Head of Jewish Studies,” we have decided to delay this hire for an additional year.  This position is too important to our school not to get it as right as we can.  What it means for 2020-2021, is that the component pieces of this position will have to absorbed by others.  I will be assuming direct responsibility for supervising and supporting the Jewish Studies Faculty.  Elements of ruach will be absorbed by Deanna Bertrend, our Student Life Coordinator, supported by me.  Celebration of Jewish Holidays will be a shared responsibility of the Jewish Studies Faculty.  The one element that cannot be absorbed by an existing administrator, is the teaching of Jewish Studies.  Here, I am pleased to share, we will be prototyping use of the Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy:

Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy is an award-winning, accredited online school for Jewish studies. We bring quality online Jewish education to Jewish students everywhere, regardless of geographic location or ideological orientation.

We have contracted through Lookstein for Grades 6-8 Jewish Studies (I will share directly the exact course descriptions and scope and sequences with those families.)  These classes are three-days-a-week and will consist of two live experiences (with the teacher from remote) and one asynchronous experience (with activities prepared by the teacher).  The quality and rigour of the courses is high and we will have a live, certified teacher of our own – Mr. Brian Kom – physically present to support at all times.  We believe that our students’ experiences of distance learning – along with the likelihood of additional distance learning at times next year – have well prepared us for a successful experience.  (Any middle school parent who has questions or concerns, should not hesitate to reach out.)

This leaves us with just one position, a second Kindergarten EA, to fill and we are nearly done with that search process.

And it is now my pleasure to (re)introduce…

The 2020-2021 OJCS Faculty & Staff (COVID Safe Reopening)

Lower School General Studies Faculty

  • Kindergarten: Andréa Black, Sophie Pellerin (French), Taylor Smith (EA) & Educational Assistant [TWO Cohorts]
  • Grade One: Ann-Lynn Rapoport & Stephanie Lebhar (French) [TWO Cohorts]
  • Grade Two: Lianna Krantzberg & Sophie Pellerin (French) [TWO Cohorts]
  • Grade Three: Julie Bennett & Aaron Polowin (French) [TWO Cohorts]
  • Grade Four: Faye Mellenthin, Sylvie Raymond (Core) & Aaron Polowin (Extended) [ONE Cohort]
  • Grade Five: Faye Mellenthin, Melissa Thompson, Sylvie Raymond (Core) & Aaron Polowin (Extended) [TWO Cohorts]

Lower School Jewish Studies Faculty

  • Kitah Gan: Shira Waldman [TWO Cohorts]
  • Kitah Alef: Ada Aizenberg [TWO Cohorts]
  • Kitah Bet: Bethany Goldstein [TWO Cohorts]
  • Kitah Gimmel: Sigal Baray [TWO Cohorts]
  • Kitah Dalet: Yardena Kaiman [ONE Cohort]
  • Kitah Hay: Yardena Kaiman & Ofra Yfrah [TWO Cohorts]

Middle School Faculty

  • Science: Josh Ray
  • Mathematics: Chelsea Cleveland
  • Language Arts: Mike Washerstein
  • Social Studies: Deanna Bertrend
  • Extended French: Stéphane Cinanni
  • Core French:  Sylvie Raymond
  • Hebrew: Ofra Yfrah (Level I) & Ruthie Lebovich (Level II)
  • Jewish Studies: Mike Washerstein
  • Rabbinics: Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy (supervised by Brian Kom)

Specialists

  • Art: Shira Waldman
  • Music: There will be no formal “Music” (COVID)
  • PE: Josh Ray: [Will become “Outdoor Education” for Grades 4-8 (COVID)]
  • Library: Brigitte Ruel

Department of Special Education

  • Sharon Reichstein, Director of Special Education
  • Linda Signer, Resource Teacher
  • Brian Kom, Resource Teacher
  • Chelsea Cleveland, Math Resource

Faculty Coordinators

  • Melissa Thompson, Teaching & Learning Coordinator
  • Deanna Bertrend, Student Life Coordinator

Administration

  • Josh Max – IT & Technology Support
  • Ellie Kamil – Executive Assistant to the Head of School
  • Sharon Reichstein –  Director of Special Needs
  • Emily Jiang – Chief Accountant
  • Staci Zemlak-Kenter – Director of Development
  • Jennifer Greenberg – Director of Recruitment
  • Keren Gordon – Vice-Principal
  • Dr. Jon Mitzmacher – Head of School

Thanks to all the wonderful word of mouth that so many of you have been contributing to, I am pleased to share that the first few of our cohorts and grade levels are nearing closure with waitlisting to begin.  We wish we had unlimited space and teachers to accommodate all, but we are thrilled to be welcoming so many new families to OJCS in 2020-2021!

If you or someone you know is interested in enrolling at OJCS next year, please do not wait to inquire about availability or to get the process started.

The Coronavirus Diaries: OJCS Plans for a “Five-Day, Full-Day” Safe Reopening

Based on a thorough review of provincial guidelines, an examination of the physical facility, and feedback from teachers and parents, the Ottawa Jewish Community School has announced that it will be able to open after Labour Day with a “five-day, full-day” program for all its enrolled students.  The fundamental idea is to restrict contact to as few spaces and people as is reasonable, while still being able to offer meaningful in-person learning.  OJCS has sought to do this by restricting cohorts to 15 students who will spend the overwhelming majority of their school day in one designated space.

As exciting as this news is, we know there remain lots of questions and concerns about what this means for students, teachers and parents.  To guide our community’s thinking, we have put together a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for your convenience.  [This FAQ will eventually be housed on our school’s website.]   We have also included a list of questions that are still in the process of being adequately addressed.  [If you do not see your question on this list – or have additional questions or concerns based on any of the answers – please do not hesitate to be in contact with the school for greater clarity.]

So you have enrolled or are thinking about securing your spot (while we still have them!) at OJCS for 2020-2021.  What do you need to know?

How will cohorts be created?

At the time of our decision-making, enrollment dictated that we would be able to offer two cohorts in Grades K, 1, 2, 3, and 5 and one cohort of Grades 4, 6, 7 and 8.  The normal rules for “class-splitting” apply with the major exception of keeping twins and siblings together.

Where will cohorts learn?

Each cohort in Grade K-5 will be assigned a primary classroom or learning space (Library) where all its learning activities are designed to take place.  General, French and Jewish Studies Teachers for each grade level will move between their spaces; students will remain in their space.  Cohorts in Grades 6-8 will be assigned a primary classroom or learning space (Makerspace), but students will travel to limited additional spaces during their learning day.

Will students within cohorts be socially distanced in their own classroom? 

Students will be seated at individual desks spaced apart.  Students will not be sharing school supplies, but rather each student will have their own materials and books assigned to them. 

How else have you restricted contact?

As described in greater detail in our soon-to-be-published, updated “OJCS Handbook”, we have created three different entrances and exits to the school to further separate K-2, 3-4 and 5-8.  Similarly, we have restricted bathroom access to those groupings.

Will parents be allowed in the building to pick up and drop off students?

Parents, guests and visitors will not be able to access the building during this phase of reopening.  Normal drop off and pick up procedures will prohibit parents from entering the building.  Additionally, parents coming to pick up sick children or to take children to off-site appointments will be asked to wait outdoors.  Our Office will be prepared to facilitate all these comings and goings via intercom.  

Will students be allowed to use lockers? 

During this phase of reopening, students will not have access to lockers or storage outside of their designated learning spaces.

What parts of the program have been eliminated to allow for a safe reopening?

Based on guidelines, we will not offer formal PE in Grades K-3 or Music K-8.  Grade-level teachers (in K-3) will have shared responsibility for supervising recess and other necessary (outdoor) physical activity.  Clubs, extracurricular sports, etc., are on hold as well.

What parts of the program have been adjusted to allow for a safe reopening?

Art will now be taught virtually (the Art Teacher broadcast from the Art Studio) in the cohort spaces with support from the grade-level team.  Library workshops will also be taught virtually and all library services will be rendered virtually and contactless.  Snack and Lunch will be eaten in cohort spaces with supervision from the grade-level team.  Recess will be scheduled by cohort, supervised by the grade-level team wherever possible and will take place in scheduled and demarcated outdoor locations which will be cleaned (see below) between usages. 

We are exploring “Outdoor Education” in Grades 4-8 that will take the place of indoor “PE” in those grades, be held fully outdoors (even in Winter) and conducted through social distancing.  [This means that PE Uniforms will NOT be needed until such time as we resume normal PE activities.  It may be helpful for parents to invest in quality outerwear.]  Tefillah (even in Middle School) will take place in cohorts and will launch without singing.  All assemblies, events, holidays, etc., will be reimagined with any necessary adjustments or virtual components to stay in compliance with guidelines.

Will students or teachers be required to wear masks?

The provincial guidelines do NOT currently require students or teachers to wear masks within their cohorts.  Teachers who teach multiple cohorts and/or grades will be required to wear masks during their day.  Students will be required to wear masks while walking the halls, using the bathrooms or in any other spaces other than their primary cohort space (with the exception of outdoor spaces when socially distanced).  Additionally, students in Grades 5 – 8 will be strongly encouraged to wear masks even in their primary learning spaces.

Will my child need to supply their own masks/hand sanitizer?

We do expect families to equip their children with hand sanitizer to be kept in their desk, and to come with their own masks.

How will IEP reviews look in the fall?  Will I still be meeting with the Director of Special Education?

Our Director of Special Education, Sharon Reichstein, will be in touch with all families of students with IEPs and facilitating IEP meetings via video conference.

What does this mean for children who receive services from outside specialists?

We will not be able, during this phase of reopening, to provide on-site, in-person access to learning specialists, reading specialists, occupational therapists, mental health therapists, etc.  We will try on a case-by-case basis to provide a supervised space for tele-therapy or virtual sessions for students in Grades 5-8.

Will temperatures be taken each day?

The guidelines do not call for mandatory temperature checks each day for either students or teachers. 

What are the procedures for kids with runny noses/coughs?

We will be proceeding with extreme caution and will be asking parents to keep home children with just about any symptom of illness at all.  We will be erring on the side of sending students home who exhibit any symptoms as well.  We will be treating our teachers the same.

What if a student or teacher tests positive or is exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19?

The decision to operate by cohort allows for a more limited, surgical set of closings in the event of a positive case.  We could send home just the cohort into self-quarantine or the grade-level, depending on the circumstance.  

Who do I get in touch with if someone in my family or community has COVID? 

Please notify both Ottawa Public Health and OJCS immediately should you discover that you have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

If someone in my immediate family travels, are there any protocols we need to follow when they return? 

Our school will remain aligned with all public health guidelines with regard to travel – within Ontario, between provinces and outside Canada.  This means that all requirements for quarantine will be applied to all OJCS families.

Here are the next set of questions that we are in the process of answering:

  • What kind of enhanced cleaning protocols will the school use?
  • What can you tell us about the state of ventilation in the building?
  • How will you handle supply teachers?
  • Will there be before and after-care? 
  • Will there be a hot lunch program? 
  • I’ve indicated my child will be engaging in virtual learning only due to health reasons, how will that work?
  • Will my child still receive resource support?  
  • How will the library lending service work this year?
  • Can the front office administer my child’s medication? 

In addition to the above, there remain lots of smaller, yet still important, programmatic decisions to be made.  Not everything can and should land in an FAQ, however, we are aiming to include as much as we can.  As stated about 1,000 words above, if you find anything above confusing or concerning, please let us know.  If you have a pressing question that you do not see above, please let us know.

Next week, we will provide you with an update on all remaining staffing concerns.  We are just about finished with hiring and have some wonderful new teachers to introduce to you!  We also know that parents are naturally curious to see how portfolios have shifted from what we have previously announced.  Stay tuned!

The Transparency Files: The OJCS 2020-2021 Faculty

We are doing our very best to tie up all our loose ends at the very same time, without getting tripped up!  The school itself has been physically open on Thursday and today for parents to come and drop off library books, used uniforms, etc., and to pick up the contents of desks, lockers, as well as yearbooks.  After all these months of distance it is very weird seeing actual human beings in our parking lot!  At the same time, we have report cards which are being sent home electronically today as well.  Those tasks will functionally close out the 2019-2020 school year.

That sets the stage for us to focus our energies squarely on the 2020-2021 school year to come.  The most important issue, of course, that we are working on is the plan for a safe reopening.  We are finishing up our review of provincial guidelines, I have been participating in calls with the Heads of Toronto Jewish Day Schools (through their UJA), and we are keeping up with best practices in both the private school world (through CAIS) and the Jewish day school world (through Prizmah).  The “good news” so far is that there are no huge surprises.  The threefold path we have already been planning to travel – in-person, distance and a hybrid (or “hyflex”) – is how every school is being asked to plan.  The two simpler paths are easier to conceptualize.  We can imagine what it might look like to have everyone back in the building with some amount of social distancing and with restrictions on activities such as PE or Music.  We would need to make adjustments, change schedules, etc., but we’d figure out how to make it work.  We can do more than imagine what it might look like to have everyone home, because that is what we lived through during the last 13 weeks of the school year.  However, parents should not expect that our OJCS Distance Learning program would look the same in the future as it did in the past.  With more time to plan, with experiences under our belts and with student/teacher/parent feedback, it is reasonable to believe that if we were forced back into a fully remote program, that it would look meaningfully different and increasingly improved (particularly in the youngest grades).

What is less easy to imagine, of course, is the hybrid or hyflex model and this is where we are doing the greatest amount of planning.  Guidelines that cap class cohorts at 15 students or seek to limit the amount of teachers who engage with a cohort are understandably tricky for a trilingual school with class sizes that average 15-20.  We have both physical and programmatic challenges to overcome to land in the right place.  We also have to have a better handle on parent needs and wants, which is why a parent survey will be sent out within the next couple of weeks.  We look forward to sharing more about our thinking and our proposed model as it comes into focus.  We appreciate your patience as we go about our work and we stand ready to answer any question or address any concern you may have in the meanwhile.  Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us directly.

This extended caveat – why not just tell us who the teachers are! – is necessary because what follows is a bit more tentative than it otherwise would be.  It is possible that the adoption of a hybrid model could require a different assignment for a teacher here or there because some classes (Art, Music, PE, etc.) may not take place (in the same way) or some grades may not be split the same way in a hybrid model than in a full in-person model.

So with that in mind, please get excited about this gifted and loving group of teachers and administrators who will partner with our parents in the sacred work of educating our children.  I know I am!

The 2020-2021 OJCS Faculty & Staff

Lower School General Studies Faculty

  • Kindergarten: Janet Darwish,  French Teacher (French) & Taylor Smith (EA)
  • Grade One: Ann-Lynn Rapoport &  French Teacher (French)
  • Grade Two: Ann-Lynn Rapoport/Lianna Krantzberg & Dr. Sylvie Raymond (French) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Three: Julie Bennett & Aaron Polowin (French) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Four: Faye Mellenthin, Yardena Kaiman (Core) & Aaron Polowin (Extended)
  • Grade Five: Melissa Thompson/Lianna Krantzberg, Yardena Kaiman (Core) & Aaron Polowin (Extended) [TWO Classes]

Lower School Jewish Studies Faculty

  • Kitah Gan: Shira Waldman
  • Kitah Alef: Ada Aizenberg
  • Kitah Bet: Bethany Goldstein [TWO Classes]
  • Kitah Gimmel: Sigal Baray [TWO Classes]
  • Kitah Dalet: Ada Aizenberg
  • Kitah Hay: Yardena Kaiman & Ofra Yfrah [TWO Classes]

Middle School Faculty

  • Science: Josh Ray
  • Mathematics: Chelsea Cleveland
  • Language Arts: Mike Washerstein
  • Social Studies: Deanna Bertrend
  • Extended French: Stéphane Cinanni
  • Core French:  Dr. Sylvie Raymond
  • Hebrew: Ofra Yfrah  (Level I) & Ruthie Lebovich (Level II)
  • Jewish Studies: Mike Washerstein
  • Rabbinics: A Rabbinics Teacher

Specialists

  • Art: Shira Waldman
  • Music: TBD (due to COVID)
  • PE: Josh Ray, Faye Mellenthin (Grades K, 1, 2 & MS Girls) & Brian Kom (3)
  • Library: Brigitte Ruel

Department of Special Education

  • Keren Gordon, Vice Principal
  • Sharon Reichstein, Director of Special Needs
  • Linda Signer, Resource Teacher
  • Brian Kom, Resource Teacher
  • Chelsea Cleveland, Math Resource

Education Leadership Team

  • Melissa Thompson, Teaching & Learning Coordinator
  • Deanna Bertrend, Student Life Coordinator

Administration

  • Josh Max – IT & Technology Support
  • Ellie Kamil – Executive Assistant to the Head of School
  • Head of Jewish Studies – Head of Jewish Studies
  • Staci Zemlak-Kenter – Director of Development
  • Emily Jiang – Chief Accountant
  • Jennifer Greenberg – Director of Recruitment
  • Keren Gordon – Vice-Principal
  • Dr. Jon Mitzmacher – Head of School

You will see two new names in the above list.  We are pleased to introduce Ofra Yfrah, a new Jewish Studies Teacher, who will be coming to us, with her family, from Israel with teaching experience and a passion for children.  We are additionally pleased to introduce Dr. Sylvie Raymond, a new French Teacher, who comes with a wealth of teaching expertise and enthusiasm for all things French.

We are moving full steam ahead with candidates for a new Head of Jewish Studies and a K-1 French Teacher, and between our extraordinary returning teachers and the quality of our new teachers, we know that the future is bright at OJCS.

This likely ends my weekly blogging for the season.  I will blog through the summer if and when there is what to share – obviously including all our thoughts and plans for a safe reopening.  Our office remains open, of course, but administration will take staggered vacation throughout the summer to make sure we are refreshed and recharged for 2020-2021.

Happy Summer!

The Grit to Graduate: My Charge to the Coronavirus Class of 2020

Over a decade ago, academic and psychologist Angela Duckworth released her first paper on the notion of grit and its application to education.  In both her TED Talk and her book, Duckworth defines grit as “a combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal” that is a key ingredient for high achievement, not only in school, but in life.  If there was ever an adjective that described this year it would be “grit”.  And if there was ever a class who could successfully, not only survive, but thrive in a school year complicated by COVID, it would be this (first) Coronavirus Class of 2020.

But let me first pivot back towards two other critical partners in grit and resilience…

The Perseverance of Parents

The path of small Jewish day schools is not always an easy one to tread.  Parents find their way into Jewish day schools for all kinds of highly personal reasons – personalized attention, family atmosphere, a deep commitment to Jewish Studies, or even just going where everyone else happened to be going that year.  We also know that parents find their out of Jewish day schools for all kinds of highly personal reasons as well.  We are not here to stand in judgement of those who opted out; we are here to stand in praise of those who persevered to opt in – year after year.  Jewish day school comes at a high price, and that price is not just financial.  There are many in this room who have sacrificed luxuries and necessities to reach this day.  All in this room have sacrificed their most precious gift – time – in service of their children’s academic and Jewish journey.  A year like this one sharpens both points.  COVID-19 has not only strained families’ pocketbooks, but even with extraordinarily self-directed Grade 8 students, the transition to distance learning has strained families’ living spaces, devices, time, and patience (not to mention wifi!).

We believe that a night like tonight validates those choices, those sacrifices and proves the power of perseverance.

The Passion of Teachers

Teachers make a school and we never saw greater proof of that than during this most unusual of school years.  When I think of all the reasons why our school was able to so successfully transition to distance learning for the last third of the school year, I would place their passion at the top of the list.  “Passion” marks the spot where teachers move from good to great and where teaching moves from occupation to calling.  Passion for students means that relationships become prioritized and through relationships the magic of learning is amplified.  Passion for learning means lifelong learning and through lifelong learning comes new and innovative practices, pedagogies and platforms.  Passion for community means choosing to work and stay in a school that may not have all the bells and whistles, but does have all the heart and soul, and through community we become family.  Passion is why graduation is not only an opportunity to acknowledge the Grade 8 Teachers, but a moment to celebrate all the teachers whose collaborations and contributions over time come together to create a class.

We believe that a night like tonight rewards those relationships, lauds that learning, commemorates community and proves the power of passion.

The Grit of Graduates

“A combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal” really makes an apt description of the OJCS Class of 2020.  That “singularly important goal” is different for each one of you and it has changed and grown as you have changed and grown.  But what I have seen firsthand from you each – and know secondhand from all your teachers – is that you bring these unique qualities of passion and perseverance to your individual work, your group projects and your class commitments.  You bring them to your academic challenges and you bring them to your extracurricular opportunities.  You bring them to your varying Jewish commitments and you bring them to your many expressions of community service and social justice.

And all of that would have been true in the most normal of years.  This year, however, was of course far from normal.  Like so many others, this year’s Grade 8 has had to sacrifice moments and memories as planned events became unplanned experiments.  We have, of course, done our best to be creative and go virtual in order to provide with you as many of the capstone experiences as we could, but we know they aren’t the same.  But it is here, too, where you have shown your grit and your character.  You have hung together, you’ve made your lemonade from lemons, and you have come through the other side with your bonds as tight as ever.

We believe that a night like tonight confirms your character and projects the promise of your potential, and, thus proves the promise of grit.

Our OJCS “North Star” Prayer

Our prayer for you as you graduate and head out into the world is that you come to experience and embody our school’s North Stars; that you continue to point in their direction as you continue to grow and develop into high school and beyond…

“Have a floor, but not a ceiling” – be your best self.  Have high expectations at a minimum and unlimited aspirations at a maximum.  We hope you learned at OJCS to be comfortable in your own skin and to carry that confidence with you when you head out into the wider world.

“Ruach” – be joyful. School – and life – is supposed to be fun, even when it may seem hard or have difficult moments, like a global pandemic.  We hope you had many moments of joy at OJCS and that you have many more moments of joy in the years to come.

“We own our own learning” – learning isn’t something that happens to you, it is something you choose.  We hope you take the sense of ownership for your learning that we strive towards at OJCS into your next schools of choice and that you not merely be satisfied with gathering information, but that you take a growing sense of responsibility for what you learn and how you learn.

“We are each responsible one to the other” – make the world a better place. Take what you’ve learned (Torah) and do great deeds (Mitzvot); do great deeds and be inspired to learn more.

“We learn better together” – we are stronger and more successful together than we can be alone. Judaism has always been communitarian in this way and what is old is new again as we live in a world where collaboration is not simply advantageous, but required.

“We are on our own inspiring Jewish journey” – keep choosing Jewish. One can argue that the next years of your Jewish lives are more important than the ones you are celebrating tonight.  In your own ways – continue.  Whether that is in formal Jewish learning, youth group, summer camps, Israel, synagogue attendance, social action – you are no more fully formed Jewishly at your Grade 8 graduation than you were at Bar or Bat Mitzvah.  We pray that you build on this foundation and that you embrace the Jewish journey that continues after tonight.

In closing, know that you each are blessed more than you realize.  But do not ever be content to merely count your blessings.  Be someone who makes their blessings count.

The Coronavirus Diaries: OJCS Creates & Delivers PPE to Hillel Lodge

There is some irony (that may not be the best word) that COVID-19 delayed our official grand opening of the OJCS Makerspace (with generous support from the Congregation Beth Shalom of Ottawa (CSBO) Legacy Endowment Fund), and that the OJCS Makerspace has yielded our school’s first significant contribution to the community’s response to COVID-19.  We had softly opened the space prior to pivoting to distance learning while furniture and equipment were still coming in, but our official grand opening had to be indefinitely postponed.  This week, however, we got a firsthand look at what having a makerspace for our students can mean for their learning and for our community.

The Talmud (Kiddushin 40b) describes a debate about whether the study of Torah leads to action or whether action leads to the study of Torah, and like most talmudic debates, the answer is, of course, “yes”.  At the Ottawa Jewish Community School, we deliberately create experiences and learning holistically.  Our Jewish learning and values inspire us take action to repair the world and our engagement in the world inspires us to further our Jewish learning.  This project is a wonderful embodiment of this idea in practice.

Going back a number of weeks, a parent and frontline healthcare professional, Dr. Joanne Tannebaum, came to us with an idea.  A colleague of hers had worked out a design for 3D-printing face shields and “ear-savers” and she wanted to know if we wanted to participate.  We talked it through, brought in our Middle School Science Teacher Josh Ray, and decided that the most logical partnership for our Community School would be the Bess and Moe Greenberg Family Hillel Lodge, our community’s Jewish Home for the Aged.  I reached to their CEO, Ted Cohen, and with his enthusiastic support and partnership, we were on our way!

The next step was to host a meeting between our Middle School, Dr. Tannenbaum and the leadership from Hillel Lodge to officially launch our project for producing PPE for their frontline healthcare workers through our school’s 3D printer.  During that meeting, our students got a chance to hear firsthand about the importance of PPE and were given both a design challenge (How can we make face shields and surgical masks more comfortable?) and a practical challenge (How will we create, assemble and deliver the final product?).

Mr. Ray went ahead and safely retrieved our school’s 3D printer from the Makerspace, gathered supplies, recruited student volunteers and the work began!

The easier of the two to produce is the ear-saver:

OJCS 3D-Printed “Ear-Savers” for Surgical Masks

This item helps anyone who has to wear a surgical mask or face shield relieve the pressure off their ears.  You loop your mask on the appropriate notch and voilà – your ears are spared.  This one is easily printed, comes in lots of colours, and our students have even managed to personally inscribe messages.

Why does this work matter?  Let’s see what Mr. Ray has to say:

For me, this project is so important for many reasons. It teaches students 21st century skills like 3D modeling, while connecting the importance of community and empathy at the same time. I think everyone is always looking to serve, and give back wherever possible. The need for PPE in the community has provided both the students and I that opportunity. I’m so proud of the commitment and character shown from the group of students that volunteered their own time to get involved.

OJCS 3D-Printed Face Shields

The face shields were a little more complicated.  Because we have a smaller-sized 3D printer, it took some time, research and trial-and-error to find a program that allowed us to print plastic to hold a full-sized shield.  But Mr. Ray and team eventually figured it out and we are thrilled that we can now deliver these to Hillel Lodge.

Our first (there will be more!) delivery took place on Wednesday, June 17th and it was wonderful have a couple of our Grade 8 students – Talia C. and Jessica A. – join me, Mr. Ray, Ted Cohen, Karin Bercovitch, CFO and Morag Burch, Director of Nursing to commemorate the occasion.

What is the impact of this project?  Let’s see what Mr. Cohen has to say:

All long-term care homes including the Bess and Moe Greenberg Family Hillel Lodge has a critical responsibility to keep our residents safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Personal Protective Equipment such as face-shields and masks are vital to protecting our residents and staff during this pandemic. We are grateful for the strong partnership we have with the Ottawa Jewish Community School and for their assistance creating face-shields and masks extenders for our front-line workers. This innovative initiative is not only an educational experience for the students but provides our team with vital supplies. We are thankful for the assistance we’ve received and look forward to continuing to develop our partnership.

At the end of the day, this is an example of what it means to live our values, to reach towards those North Stars.  I cannot think of a better way to express what it means when “We own our own learning,” and then make sure that “We are each responsible one to the other”.  I know that it is easy to reduce things to slogans and hashtags (guilty as charged), but slogans and hashtags are meaningful when they serve as both reminders and catalysts.

So, what does it mean when we say #WhenTorahLeadsToAction?  Let’s ask Talia:

It was such a meaningful experience for me to be able to help my community in a time of crisis. It always feels good to give back to the Jewish Community, and be a part of something bigger.

What does it mean when we say #TheOJCSDifference?  Let’s ask Jessica:

Over the years, Hillel Lodge has provided me with so many life lessons and experiences that have enriched me as a person. Since kindergarten I have been involved with Hillel Lodge therefore, I wanted to give back to a place that has so much significance in my life.

Thanks to everyone at OJCS and Hillel Lodge who played a role in bringing this partnership and project to life!  Let our next innovative collaboration be inspired by health and joy…