Showing Up: The Courage of the COVID Class of 2021

At last year’s Grade 8 Graduation, I referred to them as the “Coronavirus Class of 2020,” assuming that a year later we would return to the regularly phrased “Class of 2021”.  Like every other of my assumptions during the pandemic, that one, too, was incorrect, and here we are at the graduation for the Coronavirus Class of 2021.  This time I hope, but don’t assume, a return to normalcy next year.  But next year is next year, and tonight we focus our attention on this remarkable group of graduates and the extraordinary journey – particularly of late – they have taken to reach this milestone.

As the year, with its months-long pivot to distance learning, has been winding down, I find myself reflecting more and more on Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech, which has been re-popularized in recent years through the work of Brené Brown.  The big idea is that what really counts in life is not outcomes, but the courage to get “in the arena”.  That what matters is not whether you are successful, but that you are willing to engage, to get your hands dirty, to commit to big ideas and bigger ideals, that you get back up when you fall and – ultimately – that you strive to live a life of meaning.  The shorthand way of describing this is to say that what really matters is showing up.  And if there was ever a class who has shown up over the last year and a half of pandemic learning, it is this Class of 2021.

But let me first pivot back towards two other critical partners who have shown up and shown out…

Parenting Matters

Last year, I stood in awe at the perseverance of parents with everything that they were asked to do without time, training or support to facilitate at-home learning.  Well, not only are all of those things still true and then some a year later, but what I have come to realize even more broadly is how much parents and parenting matters.  And I don’t mean from a COVID-specific perspective, although that is obviously true.  And I don’t mean from a generic school-home partnership lens, although that is absolutely critical.  No, even as a parent myself, I don’t think I realized just how important parents and parenting truly are to supporting children’s willingness to get in the arena.

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 way 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 show up and 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 virtual 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 journeys.  Years like these two sharpen 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 and those sacrifices, and proves the power of parenting.

The Vulnerability of Teachers

Teachers make a school and we never saw greater proof of that than during these last two years.  In her book Daring Greatly, Brené Brown identifies “vulnerability” as one of the superpowers that allows folk to show up.  Allowing yourself to be vulnerable in front of others is a strength, not a weakness, and I actually believe it goes a long way towards explaining what our teachers and our school has been able to accomplish.  When you are forced to fly the plane while you are building it, when you have to teach from home with your life on display in the background, when you have to use new skills and new platforms without having had adequate time to learn, let alone practice, when you are willing to publicly acknowledge to your students what you don’t know, when you show up as you are and not, perhaps, as you would like to be – could there be more powerful role modeling for our children than this?  Vulnerability is what lets our teachers know our children like no other school can.  Vulnerability is what gives permission to our students to be who they most authentically are without fear of judgement.  Vulnerability 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 validates the value of vulnerability.

The Courage of Graduates

It takes courage to get into the arena for any of us under normal circumstances.  With all our complicated personalities and unique experiences, just showing up – getting into the arena – is a genuine act of courage.  But when showing up means sometimes being at home, or sometimes being at school, or trying to create new or maintain old relationships from inside a Google Meet, dealing with unusual safety protocols and sacrificing much-anticipated capstone experiences – what I have seen firsthand from you each – and know secondhand from all your teachers – is that you bring your courage to your individual work, your group projects and your class commitments.  You bring it to your academic challenges, and you bring it to your extracurricular opportunities.  You bring it to your varying Jewish commitments, and you bring it to your many expressions of community service and social justice.

And sure, some of that would have been true in the most normal of years.  These last two years, however, were 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 experiences as we could, but we know they aren’t the same.  It is here, too, where you have shown your courage and your character.  You have stuck 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.  You have come into the arena each and every day and there is no greater testament to your courage than that.

Our OJCS “North Stars” 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 (these) 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 Transparency Files: The 2021-2022 Faculty

Happy Monday!

We are heading into our final week with students and teachers, and somehow, despite it all, we are actually on track to successfully wrapping up this year.  We are also beginning to prepare for, what we have every reason to believe, will be a triumphant return to (perhaps a somewhat new) normal for the 2021-2022 school year.  Here are a few quick thoughts before sharing what you came here to read…

…we are looking forward to seeing actual human beings on campus this week for “Popsicles, Pals & Pickups”!  We know that the timing of when we received the rules from the province, to when we were able to make sense of them for our spaces and times, to when we were able to share them with parents, inevitably put pressure on already stressed working families.  This is regrettable and we are sorry for any extra drama this may have caused.  On the flipside, we can also tell you how incredibly excited we are to see many of our students in person!  If you are an OJCS parent and have any questions or concerns, please do be in touch with your child(ren)’s teacher(s).

…as hinted at above, we have no new information, other than what we shared in last week’s blog post.  What I can promise new and returning parents is that we will be transparently and proactively sharing details about next year’s plans for a safe, in-person return to school as they become clear.  I can also promise you that the information will be shared directly with families by email.  I may also share here, in my blog, but I do recognize that not every parent reads my blog religiously.

…for new and returning JK and SK families, I do want you to know that we are preparing for all circumstances – despite my sunny optimism from three paragraphs above.  My biggest regret from this year is that we (I) were not smart enough to start exploring daycare options so that our SK, dual-working, essential worker families had a landing spot for their children during the extended at-home learning pivots.  Even though the odds are truly small that we will be in this position again, please know that we have already begun exploring institutional partnerships and options so that in that unlikely event, we will have an address and a solution.  Our first priority will be JK and then SK and I look forward to reporting back to those families when I know more.  Your choice of school should not be determined by who gets to stay open and who has to close in a worldwide pandemic.  We are looking forward to the launch of JK done #TheOJCSWay and a smoother year for our youngest students.

…we are thrilled to have TWO Grade 6s next year (that will help you understand what you see below)!

…final caveats: the assignments below are tentative (they always are!) and there are at least two ways they could change: 1) JK and SK are the most likely to continue growing over the summer and, thus, additional sections could open (SK is the more likely).  If that happens, there will be a bit of a domino effect on staff assignments.  2) If the province’s rules for a safe reopening are different from what all schools are planning for, we may have to make a few adjustments as well.

OK, I think I have given a lengthy enough preamble.  Let’s 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 2021-2022 OJCS Faculty & Staff

Lower School General Studies Faculty

  • Junior Kindergarten: Susan Wollock (plus French) & Mushki Kurtz (EA)
  • Kindergarten: Andréa Black, Sophie Pellerin (French) & Taylor Smith (EA)
  • Grade One: Ann-Lynn Rapoport & Aaron Polowin (French) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Two: Lianna Krantzberg & Sophie Pellerin (French) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Three: Julie Bennett & Aaron Polowin (French) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Four: Faye Mellenthin, Sophie Pellerin (Core) & Stéphane Cinanni (Extended) [TWO Classes]
  • Grade Five: Grade Five Teacher, Stéphane Cinanni (Core) & Dr. Sylvie Raymond (Extended)

Lower School Jewish Studies Faculty

  • Kitah JK: Susan Wollock
  • Kitah Gan: Shira Waldman
  • Kitah Alef: Ada Aizenberg [TWO Classes]
  • Kitah Bet: Bethany Goldstein [TWO Classes]
  • Kitah Gimmel: Sigal Baray [TWO Classes]
  • Kitah Dalet: Jewish Studies Teacher [TWO Classes]
  • Kitah Hay: Marina Riklin

Middle School Faculty

  • Science: Josh Ray
  • Mathematics: Chelsea Cleveland
  • Grade Six Language Arts: Mike Washerstein
  • Grades Seven & Eight Language Arts: Melissa Thompson
  • Social Studies: Deanna Bertrend
  • Extended French: Wanda Canaan
  • Core French: Dr. Sylvie Raymond
  • Hebrew: Ruthie Lebovich (Hebrew Alef for 7 & 8), Hebrew Teacher (Hebrew Alef for 6), and Marina Riklin (Hebrew Bet)
  • Jewish Studies: Mike Washerstein
  • Rabbinics: Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy (supervised by Brian Kom)

Specialists

  • Art: Shira Waldman
  • Dramatic Arts: Andréa Black
  • PE: Josh Ray (Middle School) & PE Teacher (Lower School)
  • Library: Brigitte Ruel

Department of Special Education

  • Keren Gordon, Vice Principal
  • Sharon Reichstein, Director of Special Needs
  • Ashley Beswick, Resource Teacher & Behavior Support Coordinator
  • Brian Kom, Resource Teacher
  • Chelsea Cleveland, Math Resource

Education Leadership Team

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

Administration

  • Josh Max – Director of Technology
  • Ellie Kamil – Executive Assistant to the Head of School
  • 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 some new names above!

We are excited to welcome Ashley Beswick (B.A., B,Ed., M.Ed), as our new Primary/Junior Resource Teacher. Ms. Beswick comes to OJCS with many years of invaluable experience supporting and teaching students with Special Needs at Mindware Academy, as well as through her own business. She is eager to meet our students, and brings much experience with strategic learning support, as well as behavioural and social skills coaching. Mrs. Signer is spending much time with Ms. Beswick to ensure a smooth transition.

We are also thrilled to introduce Madame Wanda Canaan (B. Sc., B.Ed., M.Ed.) who will be joining our French Faculty in the Middle School. Madame Canaan comes to us with almost two decades of teaching experience from all over the world. She is extraordinarily passionate about teaching Francais and looks forward to meeting you all in September.

Susan Wollock (B.A.A., ECE) is a familiar face here at OJCS, as both a parent and having taught with us in the past. She has two decades of ECE experience and will be our trilingual Junior Kindergarten teacher. Morah Shoshana is such a joyful and creative force who worked closely with our school community through the virtual Little Learners program this year.

This fall we will be moving away from music to introducing a new specialist activity across Kindergarten – Grade 5, and as a Middle Elective. We are thrilled to share that a Dramatic Arts program with Andréa Black will be launched and lead to opportunities for students to experience cooperative imagination-based dramatic play, music and movement, media studies that leaps off the page, and more…Morah Andréa has starred in more Theatre Shows than we can count, and we can’t wait for her to inspire our student!

We are already at final interviews for the remaining openings and between our extraordinary returning teachers and the quality of our new teachers, we know that the future is bright at OJCS.

Graduation is this evening at 7:00 PM and we are looking forward to celebrating our amazing Grade 8s who have earned the right to be celebrated considering all that they have experienced these last two years.  Graduation is a rite of passage for the school as much as the students, and we welcome our entire OJCS Community to watch the livestream and kvell along with us!

The Transparency Files: Reasonable Assumptions & Known Unknowns

With report cards largely written, we are squarely in that time of year where we are leaning into joy and celebrating community.  This year more than ever, where people’s bandwidth for online learning is less and less by the day, please know that we don’t just understand (or have plenty of empathy!), but that we are doing whatever we can to provide your children with however many doses of positivity as we can however often we see them.  Today is a great example.  Despite its virtual nature, our Harry Potter-themed “Maccabiah 2021” was a wonderful day of ruach that hopefully makes another day of at-home learning a little more bearable with summer achingly within reach.

As we prepare for the final seven-and-a-half days of school, in addition to online joy we hope to spark, please be on the lookout for your child(ren)’s cohort(s)’s announcement about “Popsicles, Pals & Pickups”!  This is our response to the province’s allowance for a final in-person gathering for all grades.  We have received our guidelines and we will be creating a schedule for each cohort – most likely during the final week – to come back to school, to spend time together in person to properly wrap up the year, to return library books and other school materials, and to pick up yearbooks and personal belongings.  More details will come from your teacher(s), stay tuned!

Here, in my little slice of the blogosphere, I, too, am winding down for summer.  Today, I would like to share with you some preliminary thoughts about how we are preparing for next year.  That leaves with me two additional posts before I go on a bit of a hiatus for summer.  I will share out my words to this year’s graduating class and I have one final “Transparency Files” post in which we will announce the 2021-2022 OJCS Faculty & Staff.

We have received very little questioning about next year, which could be for all kinds of reasons.  No need to speculate here.  But I thought it would be helpful for parents to be aware of what reasonable assumptions we are using to plan for next year and what are our “known unknowns”.  If either leave with you with questions or concerns, as always, please do be in touch.

Reasonable Assumptions

  • With the reasonable expectation that every adult who works in the building will be fully vaccinated by the start of the school year, we are not planning for either a hybrid or hyflex learning program next year.  We expect to fully return to in-person learning.
  • It may be true in some grades for some subjects, however, that a child who is home sick next year could participate virtually or work asynchronously on planned lessons.  However, our teachers will not be expected to produce fully hyflexed schedules and assignments at all times.
  • We are planning for the return of regular PE and Tefillah as they would no longer constitute “high risk” activities.
  • We assume enhanced cleaning protocols will carry over in some fashion.

Known Unknowns

  • We have no current guidance as to whether or not the province and/or public health will have any masking guidelines (in any grades) or social distancing requirements.
  • We cannot yet say whether or not multigrade experiences, whether they be as simple as recess or as complicated as the “Sukkah Hop” –  with everything in between (like assemblies) – are returning next year.  Ditto for the Middle School Retreat, the Grade 8 Trip, and field trips.  We are planning for them all to return, but we don’t know yet for sure.
  • We don’t know if we will need to continue to utilize three different entrances and maintain separate access to washrooms and water fountains.

These are just initial thoughts as we wait for the province to provide us with the official guidelines for safe reopening.  As was true last year, we will – of course – send a detailed email to all our parents when we have a clearer picture.  But for now, as we do our best to put at-home learning to bed for the 2020-2021 school year, we can also look forward to a return to in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year…and that feels great!

While we wait to announce the full faculty for next year, we do – here – want to share out that our own Linda Signer will be retiring after many years of quality teaching at OJCS when this school year closes.  It has become a recent tradition to publicly celebrate retiring teachers with a “Retirement Tea” where we bring back former teachers and students, as well as inviting current staff, families and students to share in the moment.  We don’t believe this lends itself properly to a virtual context, so we will be celebrating Ms. Signer’s retirement at the end of next school year when we can do it properly.  However, those of you who know her and want to wish her well as she prepares to enjoy the next phase of her life are more than welcome to do so over these next weeks.

No Grasshoppers Here: Charge to Kitah Bet Upon Receiving the Gift of Torah

[This is the brief dvar that I shared with Kitah Bet, their parents, grandparents, and special friends on Friday, June 4th in honour of their Chagigat Ha’Torah (Torah Party).]

As I look at each box on my screen, representing teachers, students and their families, extended families and friends, and so on, I can’t help thinking about the distinction between “grasshoppers” and “giants” from this week’s parashah.

This week in Parashat Sh’lakh we get the famous story of the Twelve Spies sent by Moshe into Eretz Yisrael to bring back a report on the land they are poised to enter.  The majority of the spies report back that the land is filled with giants – Nephilim – and, thus, they should not attempt to enter and conquer.  The people are filled with fear, God is angered, and as a result the people are punished with forty years of wandering – until the entire generation of this episode dies out.  There are two reasons typically cited for this punishment.  The first is their lack of faith in God.  Remember, these are the same people who witnessed both Yetziat Mitzrayim (the Exodus from Egypt) and Matan Torah – how could they have lived through those events and still doubted God’s ability to lead them safely to Eretz Yisrael?  But it is the second one that I want to zoom in on (pardon the expression!) today.  The Torah says in B’Midbar 13:33 that the spies report back “…we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them”.  It wasn’t that B’nei Yisrael lacked faith in God; B’nei Yisrael lacked faith in themselves.

I’ve been thinking a lot about “grasshoppers” and “giants” during this spring’s pivot back to distance learning.  What this moment has asked of teachers, students, parents and families has sometimes felt so giant that it would have been easy to lose faith in each other and in ourselves.  One of our school’s “North Stars” is that we “each own our own learning”, but we never meant it literally.  Yes, we believe a school’s job is to foster self-directedness in its students, but not to this extent.  At various points going back to the beginning of the pandemic, it would have been easy for us to look out into the land of hyflex and distance learning, say “This is too big!” and refuse to enter or engage.  It would have been perfectly understandable.

But each and every day, I see the grit, the resilience, the care, and the love that each sacred partner to this holy endeavor – student, teacher and parent – brings and it fills my heart with gratitude and nourishes my soul.  Yes, there are moments and days when we are frustrated or overwhelmed.  Yes, the work is taxing and tiring.  Yes, as time goes on it gets harder to find those moments of joy and meaning that make it all worthwhile.   The size of your box may make you look like grasshoppers, but the heart you have shown this year proves you are truly giants; giants who have behaved with heroic courage while facing challenges unimaginable just a couple of years ago.

And that brings us to today.

We celebrate our children’s first accomplishments in the study of Torah with the (symbolic) gift of Torah.  Your choice to provide your children with a Jewish day school education forges the link between the Torah given at Sinai with the Torah your children learn and live today. Your choice connects your children to the generations who came before and to those yet to come.  Your choice joins your family story to the larger Jewish story.  Your choice honours the Jewish past and secures the Jewish future through the learning and experiences you have made possible for their Jewish present.

That is why, as was true with the Siddur they received at the end of Kitah Alef, the Torah they receive at the end of Kitah Bet is not a trophy to sit upon a shelf, but a tool to continue the Jewish journey they are just beginning.  It is our hope and our prayer that the work we have begun together as partners – parents and teachers; home and school – continue in the years ahead to provide our children with Jewish moments of meaning and Jewish experiences of consequence so that they can continue to receive and accept Torah in their own unique way, infused by a love of Judaism, informed by Jewish wisdom and aligned with Jewish values.

Thank you.

Thank you to the parents who have sacrificed in ways known and unknown to give your children the gift of Jewish day school.  Before COVID-19, we would describe teachers as in loco parentis – teachers who serve as stand-ins for parents at school.  Well, in this time of distance learning, we can aptly describe parents as in loco teacheris, and thank them for the extraordinary effort that goes into schooling-at-home.  Thank you for entrusting us with the sacred responsibility of educating your children.  It is not something that we take for granted.

Thank you to the teachers who give of their love, their time and their talent each and every day.  On a day like today, special thanks to Morah Batya who has poured herself into your children and into this day.  Our teachers play a significant role in shaping our children’s stories and we are grateful for the care they attend to that holy task.

Thank you to the students who show up each day as their authentic selves, even on Google Meet!  Your passion and enthusiasm for learning and for Judaism is why we wake up each day at OJCS with a spring in our steps and a smile on our faces.

My prayer for you is that you always see yourselves as the giants you are…

Mazal Tov!

Keeping the “R”-uach in Siddu-“R”: My Words to Kitah Alef at Our Chaggigat Ha’Siddur

The following was shared with our Kitah Alef (Grade One) Families during our school’s annual Chaggigat Ha’Siddur – our celebration of early Jewish learning with the gift of a siddur:

“Before I call each student by name to ‘give’ them their siddur, I want to take just a handful of minutes to share a few words…

The Hebrew word siddur comes from the Hebrew root samech-dalet-reish which means “order”.  (You have another common example from the Passover Seder – same root, same idea.)  The siddur, in this sense, represents the commonly accepted order of prayers for each service, handed down from generation to generation, with some changes and modifications, but largely intact from the days of the Talmud through today.  Thus, one way to view an event like today’s is to celebrate our children taking up their links in the chain of Jewish history.  And it is that, for sure, but there’s another idea I’d like to name.

As our students navigate their Jewish journeys at OJCS, they are introduced to a critical concept for understanding Jewish prayer – the idea that prayer exists on a spectrum between kevah, the fixed order of thingsand kavannah, the intentionality that one who prays brings to his or her praying.  Both are critical to meaningful prayer, but we tend to focus on kevah and forget the kavannah.  It is true that without kevah you cannot have community or continuity.  The fact that Jews throughout time and across the world say these prayers at these times with these words and this choreography creates a sense of shared experience which builds community and fosters continuity between generations.  But that cannot be the whole story.  Without kavannah, prayer becomes a rote or robotic exercise lacking in the joy and meaning that makes prayer nourishing and soulful.

Have you ever gone into a Kitah Alef classroom and listened to them pray?

I have, even though it has sadly been a while, and what I can tell you is that you don’t have to worry about joy or ruach or kavannah!  You got a taste of that this morning – the younger you are, the more spiritually open, and the more easily one finds it to sing without self-consciousness.  It sadly changes for almost all of us as we get older.  I view this, however, as a challenge to be met, not a fate to bemoan.  I view the giving of our siddurim to Kitah Alef not as a gift, but a brit – a contract.  Our job as a school, and I hope your jobs as parents with us as sacred partners, is to ensure that our children don’t simply learn how to say the words, chant the prayers, and when to stand, sit and bow.  Our job is to nurture and foster the joy and the meaning.  We don’t simply want our students to be technically proficient so they can perform at their Bar or Bat Mitzvahs.  We want them to know from experience why a high schooler, university student, young adult and adults in general would choose to pray when it becomes their choice.  That’s the holy work ahead of us in the years to come.  That’s why this rite of passage marks not an end, but a beginning.

It is why a Chaggigat Ha’Siddur – why a celebration of a siddur gifted by the school, decorated by the parents, and instructed in by the teachers is so appropriate to mark this stage of our journey.

One of our school’s North Stars is that “we are all on inspiring Jewish journeys” and the Chaggigat Ha’Siddur is just the next stop on a journey that began together under the chuppah on the first day of Kindergarten.  Another of our school’s North Stars is ruach.  My prayer for this class as they go on this journey together is that we manage to hold onto the Ruach in sidduR.  That’s how we can ensure that the siddur we give them today won’t be just a trophy to be admired on a shelf, but becomes a tool to be used for discovery and meaning.  Let today’s simcha not merely serve as a moment to celebrate, but an inspiration to reach the next stop, and the stop after that, in the extraordinary and unpredictable Jewish journey of this remarkable group of children and families.

Ken y’hi ratzon.

Thank you to Morah Ada for all the love and work that goes into a day like today.  Thank you to the Kitah Alef team for their support and participation.  Thank you to the parents and grandparents for all the things you do – seen and unseen – to make a Jewish day school journey possible.  Let me now welcome Keren Gordon, our Vice Principal, along with the teachers in Kitah Alef, as we prepare to celebrate each of our students…”

I Didn’t Want to Have to Write an Israel Blog Post

I found myself nudged early last week – and justly so – by my Jewish Studies Faculty for not having quickly issued a statement about the situation in Israel.  It wasn’t that I wasn’t paying close attention.  I just shared last month my perspective (and my pride) about having my older daughter studying in Jerusalem.  I always try to pay attention to what is happening in Israel, but I have naturally been paying even-closer-attention since she arrived.  I knew as soon as anyone about the current escalation of violence through the WhatsApp message you can see above.  I knew and I cared and yet still I delayed speaking.  Why?

Well, I guess that similar to other issues of national or international import, I am never entirely certain whether it is an appropriate use of my small slice of the blogosphere to add to a conversation in which I bring no particular expertise and no concrete suggestions.  Is there something I can say or offer that will help address what is going on in Israel right now and how we could or should respond?  Do I have something critical to share with our school community about how to process and discuss current events?

The truth is that our school is taught by talented and bright professionals who have access to a myriad of resources.  Our community (in concentric circles of city, province, country and international) provides all kinds of additional expertise which I do my best to funnel to our families, teachers and alumni.  I can be a hub for sharing inwards and a megaphone for sharing outwards, but I certainly don’t think that I have an answer or a perspective that will move the needle in anyone’s conversation or advocacy.

And yet…

Saying nothing at all doesn’t feel right either.  As a Jewish educator – as a Jew – I believe it is appropriate to speak purely from the heart about Israel…

…a place that changed my life in 1988.

…a place that changed it again in 1992.

…a place that changed it once again in 1997 and 1998.

…a place in 2021 that I have sent my older daughter to study, and will do the same for my younger one when she, too, reaches Grade 10 in 2024.

…a place that I anxiously await revisiting.

Because like a lot of Jews of my generation, a teen Israel experience (along with camp) was a crucial step on my Jewish journey.  It also was my very first job in Jewish education.

I’ve shared this first part before.  I first went to Israel in 1988 as part of our local Federation’s teen tour.  It was an extraordinary experience and I met friends that summer that I am still close with today.  I returned to Israel in 1992 as part of a NFTY in Israel summer experience.  (Yes, that is a bandana over my long, long hair.)

My very first job in Jewish education was working for the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angles (BJE-LA) running teen programs, paramount of which was the LA Summer-in-Israel Ulpan.  I cannot provide a link to the program because, unfortunately, it no longer exists, but for many years it was a signature summer-in-Israel program combining the regular touring experiences of other trips with an actual Hebrew ulpan for which students received high school and college credit.  I spent the summers of 1997 and 1998 leading this trip and having an opportunity to provide teens with the experiences I had been blessed to have as a teen myself.

The power of the Israel experience is real.

That’s why we visit.  That’s why so many do our first or second b’nai mitzvah there.  That’s why we have Federation and synagogue missions.  That’s why we send our Jewish day school classes (like I hope we will one day do here at OJCS).  That’s why we send our teachers for professional development.  That’s why we make aliyah.

That’s why the current situation is heartbreaking.

I have no interest in injecting politics of any kind.  I have my beliefs and I am sure you do as well.  I don’t know what the answers are to safeguard our homeland, our beating heart.  I’m not even sure that I even know the questions.  I am sure that the opportunity to experience Israel transformed me and the opportunity to provide that experience to others transformed me just as thoroughly.  To contemplate the idea that one day it could prove too unsafe to visit stirs my soul to anger. To wonder if one day it could prove impossible shakes me to my core.

Our daily prayers call upon us to face our sacred ancestral home.  May a day come when peace envelopes our home, our Israel.

And may that day come without delay…

The Transparency Files: Annual Parent Survey

Looking out my daughter’s bedroom window – as this is where I now work from, when I work from home – at the empty sunny streets, is both a reminder of what is presently true and a foretaste of what we all hope will shortly become true, the first stirrings back towards normalcy.  As atypical as this year has been, we do find comfort in familiar habits and experiences.  And so if it is mid-May, it must be time to share the results of this year’s Annual Parent Survey.  If you would like to see a full comparison with last year, you can reread those results or have them open so you can toggle back and forth.  In this post, I will try to capture the highlights and identify what trends seem worth paying attention to.

The first thing to name, which does not come as a tremendous surprise considering the times we are living through, is that we continue to have a less-than representation.  The only good news here is that we have at least stabilized a bit.  We have gone from 81 students to 84 students to 54 students to 58 students.  With increased enrollment, it essentially holds steady from last year, with the survey representing no more than a third of our student population.  As the survey is per student, not per family, it runs the risk of being even less representative than that.  (In the service of anonymity, we have no way of knowing how many families the survey actually represents.)  We had set a goal of 50% and we have a long way to go.  If you have feedback on what might incentivize greater participation, please drop it in the comments or email it to us directly.

Of course, this is definitely not an “all things being equal” circumstance.  This is definitely not a year for drawing any meaningful conclusions about participation rates.  Whereas it is common wisdom that folks with concerns are usually more likely to fill out these surveys, there is no common wisdom when it comes to pandemic times.  So for what we hope is just one more year, instead of worrying about the motivations for why families did or didn’t fill out surveys, let’s celebrate the parents who did participate and try to make meaning of what they are telling us.

Interestingly, we have more spread than normal.  It is more typical to have a big cluster in the youngest grades with diminishing returns as you get older.  This year, we have a healthy distribution across most of our grades.

Without knowing how representative this third of students are, this data for sure lines up with what is true – that we have had the fastest and most successful re-registration in recent history!  The percentage who replied “yes” is up and the “nos” are always complicated to unpack because we have no way of knowing who of the “no’s” represent graduations or relocations, as opposed to choosing to attrit prior to Grade 8).  What continues to be true is that the overwhelming majority of families – regardless of their feedback – stay with us year after year.  This continues to say a lot about them and a lot about us.

Let’s look at the BIG PICTURE:

The first chart gives you the weighted average satisfaction score (out of 10); the second chart gives you the breakdown by category.  I will remind you that for this and all categories, I look at the range between 7-9 as the healthy band, obviously wanting scores to be closer to 9 than to 7, and looking for scores to go up each year.  In terms of “overall satisfaction”, we have now gone from 7.13 to 7.20 to 8.17 to 7.91.  Although it is just a tick down from last year, the difference is statistically insignificant.  Interestingly, this is the first time that no families graded the school a 1, 2 or 3.  Of course, we always want to see numbers go up, and not down, but based on how we survey it is hard to get much higher.

This continues to be a good news story, but let’s dig deeper…

[Please note that if it is little blurry, it is how I have to cut-and-paste-and-scan the data.  Hopefully, you can zoom in a bit more if you need.]

  • The topline number – probably the most important – like our overall satisfaction is barely down from 8.0 to 7.91 and a very positive outcome.
  • I am very pleased to see that every single category is essentially unchanged from last year’s all-time highs and that for the first time each score is in the healthy range!
  • I am thrilled to see that relationships with faculty comes in with the highest score (8.18) in this block, especially when you factor in all the challenges this year of pandemic have created.  Kudos to our teachers!
  • Our lowest score (again) is again in “Homework” but it continues to climb from 6.56 to 6.91 to 7.0, putting it inside the healthy band for the first time.  Progress has been slow, but we are seeing steady improvement in the full implementation of our new Homework Philosophy.

  • We have seen steady growth on the topline number, which again is so critical to our school from 6.61 to 6.97 to – finally! – jumping up to 7.58!  I wonder if having a higher percentage of families with older children and/or a percentage of families joining OJCS from other schools moves the needle?  It could verify that parents’ perceptions of their child(ren) as being well prepared for high school grows higher as they get closer (which would be good) to graduation.
  • The metrics for Spec Ed are a bit of mixed bag with the communication score dipping down a bit, but the satisfaction score for those who have IEPs jumping up meaningfully.  The numbers remain strong and of all the things to suffer during the pandemic, it is not surprising to see it impact our most vulnerable students.  Kudos to Sharon Reichstein, our Director of Special Needs Education, and her team for all their work this year!

  • Thrilled to see that our topline number continues to remain over 8!
  • Very happy to see that every metric in General Studies is well into the healthy band and each one is essentially unchanged.
    • Math: 7.09 to 7.60 to 7.67.
    • Science: 7.09 to 7.72 to 7.61.
    • Social Studies: 7.41 to 7.96 to 7.95.
    • Reading: 6.93 to 8.0 to 7.85.
    • Writing: 6.51 to 7.07 t0 7.41.
  • The biggest movement, which I am very pleased to see, is in “Writing” where we have, not coincidentally, a number of teachers spending what bandwidth for professional growth they have available on increasing rigor in our writing program.  This is a clear example over time where parent voice, aligned with teacher and student voice, leads to meaningful action.  (Fill out those surveys y’all!  We really do pay attention.)

  • I am so pleased to report that (if you allow for just a hint of rounding) not only are all our metrics up, but French at OJCS has finally fully entered the healthy band!  That’s fantastic news!  Our OVERALL metric went from 5.66 to 6.54 to 6.85.  French reading grew from 5.58 to 6.36 to 7.07.  French writing went 5.35 to 6.07 to 6.95.  To what can we attribute this growth?  Two things leap out: 1) The addition of three new, high-quality French Teachers and, 2) The impact of our final year of consultancy with TACLEF.  When you factor in how hard it has been to integrate the work of the consultancy to hyflex and distance learning, it makes the achievement all the more significant.  There is still room to grow, of course, but four years in, perhaps we can finally say that the narrative around French outcomes at OJCS has finally shifted.  Bon travail to the French Department!
  • Sticking with the theme of this section, it is not surprising with all the protocols that were in place that we’d see dips in both Art and PE.  We’ve made it hard for those teachers to deliver their usual excellence and in that context, their scores can be interpreted to be quite positive.  We know that even with a rigorous, trilingual curriculum, that we need to continue to offer the kinds of high-quality PE/Music/Art experiences that make a well-rounded education.  Look for these numbers to go back up next year.

  • We are again thrilled to see all our Jewish Studies metrics continue to hold strong for another year.  We are especially pleased to see the OVERALL metric essentially hold steady from 7.29 to 8.08 to 7.91.  Considering, that we went forward without filling the “Dean of Judaics” position and all the additional COVID-related challenges, this is especially encouraging.  Kol ha’kavod to the Jewish Studies Department!
  • We have tried really hard not to let COVID be the excuse throughout the course of the year, but when it comes to the rest of the categories in this chart, it is hard not to.  These scores are way lower than normal, but unless they stay there again next year, I am inclined to view them a COVID blip.
  • Similarly with “Hot Lunch,” between COVID and the change in status for Creative Kosher, one expects us to be better prepared next year and I’ll look for this score to return to normalcy.

From this year’s experimental section, we yield these two data points (and two sets of meaningful commentary).  As we cannot predict the future, even with wholehearted hope of a return to year-round, in-person learning next year, our ability to navigate situations like this with minimal disruption and maximal academic progress – not to mention the continuance of meaningful Jewish experiences – will likely continue to be powerful value-adds for OJCS in the years ahead.

  • These are wonderful scores, all a bit higher than last year and all well into the healthy band!  We know that we have Ellie to thank for a lot of those high scores!
  • After having to take a COVID pause, I will be interested to see what the impact of “Student-Led Conferences” will be on the “parent-teacher conferences” metric once finally launched.

  • I have already shared my thoughts on my own job performance in my prior “Transparency Files” post.  I will simply state here my pleasure in seeing all these numbers climb from the prior year.
  • It is especially heartwarming to see the highest score we have ever registered, 8.89 (!), for providing a safe environment.  That, more than anything, is the story of the year.
  • The one metric that I am very pleased to see continue to climb is the last one, which essentially serves as a proxy for school-wide behavior management.  Two years we scored a 6.69 and I stated that, “we are working on launching a new, school-wide behavior management system next year based on the “7 Habits” and anchored in our “North Stars”.  I will be surprised if this score doesn’t go up next year.”  Well, last year it came in at 7.65 and this year it climbed up to 8.19.

Last data point:

Remember this question was scaled 1-5.   Our score remains consistent from 4.44 to 4.34.  I said last year, that I truthfully don’t know how much more there reasonably is to grow this, but we’ll keep doing our best to find out!

So there you have it for 2020-2021!

Thanks to all the parents who took the time and care to fill out surveys!  In addition to the multiple choice questions, there were opportunities for open-ended responses and a couple of experimental sections.  Your written responses added an additional layer of depth; one which is difficult to summarize for a post like this.  Please know that all comments will be shared with those they concern.  (This includes a full set of unedited and unredacted results which goes to the Head Support and Evaluation Committee of our Board of Trustees.)  As you can see, we really do use this data to make enhancements and improvements each year.

We very much wish to continue into next year, this year’s trend in increasing positive outcomes and satisfaction.  To mix school metaphors, each year simply becomes the higher “floor” we stand upon to reach towards our North Stars.  With no ceiling, we aim to reach a little closer each time.

Pandemic Faculty Appreciation Week 2.0

With all the “seconds” we are experiencing this spring during our current distance learning pivot, celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week has been among the most appropriate and depressing.  Depressing because instead of being able to directly hand our tokens of appreciation to our teachers and to take moments to directly express our thanks and to celebrate all that they do and all of who they are, we’ve had to again resort to gift cards and home deliveries and video tributes (thanks to all of you who took the time to offer your own!).  Appropriate, because nothing fosters appreciation for teachers like getting a birds-eye view from the vantage of distance learning…

As much as we would all like to know what is coming next – when will this lockdown end and when will we be permitted to return to in-person learning – today marked the end of Teacher Appreciation Week.  How did we spend it?

Have you taken an opportunity to show appreciation for your child(ren)’s teacher(s) yet this week?  Don’t worry if you haven’t…it is never too late!

Pump up this great “Teacher Appreciation Week” playlist, pick an item from below (aggregated from lots of blog posts) and make a teacher’s day:

  • A personalized note or email
  • A homemade craft
  • Caffeine
  • A hot meal
  • Gift cards
  • Plants
  • A personalized thank-you sign
  • Small treasures
  • Something special that reminds a teacher of his/her student(s)
  • Alcohol (but check first!)
  • Show up for school!
  • Spa treatment
  • Experiential gifts (like a remote yoga or dance class)
  • Donations to a dream project
  • Year-Round Advocacy

My personal suggestion?  Absolutely send gift cards and post creatively on social media.  Buy ads in yearbooks, post lawns signs and lead parades.  Do any and all of the above list.  Express your appreciation for all the things your child(ren)’s teacher(s) have done to make hyflex and distance learning as successful as it has been.  Please.

But let’s also try assuming the best of our teachers – even when they have difficult truths to share.  Give them the benefit of the doubt – even when they don’t communicate as well as they could.  Treat them as partners – even when they make mistakes.  Let’s not simply tell our teachers that we appreciate them; let’s actually appreciate them.

I look forward to sharing results from the Annual Parent Survey next week.  If you have NOT yet contributed and you want your results included, please fill yours out by Monday, May 10th.  Please and thank you!

The Transparency Files: Self-Evaluation

With all the unpredictability of a pandemic year, the one thing that you can be sure of as the calendar turns to May and June, is that I will deliver you a series of “Transparency Files” blog posts.  OJCS Parents have just received their link to our Annual Parent Survey, so I will again begin with a self-evaluation and will continue with the sharing of results of that survey, the results from our Annual Faculty Survey (which is shared directly with them) and will conclude with a discussion of next year and an introduction of the 2021-2022 OJCS Faculty.  [The world being what it is, these posts may not follow week-by-week.]

We are in that “evaluation” time of year!  As Head of School, I have the responsibility of performing an evaluation of staff and faculty each year.  Fittingly, they have an opportunity to do the same of me.  Our Annual Faculty Survey presents current teachers and staff with the opportunity to provide anonymous feedback of my performance as Head of School.  Our Annual Parent Survey presents current parents with an opportunity to do the same (as part of a much larger survey of school satisfaction).  Please know that the full unedited results of both are sent onto the OJCS Board of Trustees Head Support & Evaluation Committee as part of their data collection for the execution of my annual performance review.

You are welcome to review last year’s self-evaluation post before moving onto this year’s…

This year’s self-evaluation is based on goals created for this year (which was done at the beginning of the year in consultation with that same Head Support & Evaluation Committee).  You will not find a complete laundry list of my day-to-day responsibilities.  [I typically focus in this blog post on more of my “principal’s” responsibilities, and not as much on my “head of school’s” (i.e. fundraising, marketing, budgeting, etc.)]   This means that you are only going to see selected components [this represents about 50% of my annual goals; there are both more overall goals, and more goals in each area than I am highlighting here] for the 2020-2021 OJCS academic year:

Establish steady and measurable growth of the student population

  1. Reimagine recruitment and retention events in a COVID context.
    1. Develop a strategy and a calendar of virtual and/or socially distanced recruitment and retention calendar for the school year.
    2. Refine success criteria (i.e. will virtual tours yield the same rates of admissions as in-person tours?).
    3. Identify at least one new target audience (ex. Israelis) for recruitment and plan accordingly.
    4. Build upon successful marketing of hyflex learning during this year of pandemic.
  2. Introduce data-driven metrics for Admissions work in 2020-2021.
    1. Create templates for all required metrics (i.e. inquiries, tours, applications, enrollment, etc.) and back-fill three years of data.
    2. Introduce three-year rolling averages into all recruitment and retention predictions.

OJCS is a school of excellence

  1. Build capacity (in students, teachers and parents) in hyflex learning.
    1. Beginning in Pre-Planning, provide teachers with external resources (webinars, direct PD, links, etc.) to ensure teachers are capable of delivering a hyflex program.
    2. Prioritize self-directed learning skills in students at the beginning of the year.
    3. Partner with PTA to deliver parent education sessions to help parents be better (and feel better about being) partners when students have to learn from home.
  2. Prepare to launch OJCS JK for 2021-2022.
    1. Building upon work done with a consultant in 2018-2019, clarify a vision (and a curriculum) for JK at OJCS.
    2. Recruit and hire an excellent JK team, and prepare them for success.
  3. Facilitate CAIS Accreditation application
    1. Meet with CAIS leadership to better understand application requirements.
    2. Collect and create all reports needed for a successful application.

For a second consecutive year, it would neither be fair nor true to blame any unfinished business or any unaccomplished goals on COVID-19; in fact in some cases it may have actually accelerated our path.  But it is both fair and true to name that it surely was and is a complicated factor.  Nonetheless, I am pleased to say that we managed to hit many of the above goals and are on our way to hitting the rest!

Here are some things to focus in on…

again (see last year) we identified unaffiliated Israeli families as a desired target audience.  And again, other than recruiting and leveraging current Israeli families as allies and using “Israeli Facebook” our programs were paused.  But there is always next year!  When it comes to admissions, it should be noted that we have had the fastest and most successful re-enrollment in recent memory.  So whatever roadblocks COVID threw our way in terms limiting our recruitment and retention planning, something really positive is happening.  We thank Jennifer Greenberg, our Admissions Director, for her work (especially for becoming so data-driven!) and we thank all of our alumni and current parents who provide us with the most important admissions work – positive word of mouth.

…hyflex learning has been the main focus of professional growth this year at OJCS and I am very pleased with what we have been able to accomplish.  I encourage a review of relevant blog posts as evidence of this work, and I want to name the extraordinary work that our Coordinator of Teaching & Learning, Melissa Thompson, has done in this area.  The next exciting conversation is about what from hyflex learning ought to be carried forward post-COVID.

…when it comes to self-directed learning skills, we essentially treated the first few months of school as a boot camp for hyflex/distance learning (particularly in the youngest grades) to prepare for the inevitable pivots.  We even went so far in SK and Grade 1 to role play distance learning from school so that teachers could problem solve and prepare.  Feedback from parents (so far!) indicates that this was successful.  Enhanced self-directedness bodes well for future student success!

…we are so excited to be launching JK next year at OJCS!  Led by our Vice Principal, Keren Gordon, and the current SK team, we have already created a vision statement, sample schedules and curricular broad strokes to set up JK for success.  And although we cannot share with you yet, we do believe we have identified the team for next year (stay tuned!) and believe strongly that they will be well-positioned to hit the ground running.

…we are pleased to be in process for CAIS accreditation.  We will have a lot more to say about this in the months ahead as CAIS accreditation is the gold standard for private school accreditation in Canada and a very small number of Ottawa schools qualify.  We began meeting with CAIS in the Fall and the work began.  However, we were informed by CAIS that they are experiencing a serious COVID delay and, thus, we have paused our activities until next Fall where we believe we’ll be able to resume the process and start to really move towards accreditation.

Those are just highlights.

If you have already contributed feedback through our surveys, thank you.  Your (additional and/or direct) feedback – whether shared publicly, privately through email or social media, or shared through conversation – is greatly appreciated.  As I tell our teachers, I look forward to getting better at my job each year and I am thankful for the feedback I receive that allows me to try.

A (First) Trip Around the OJCS Student Blogfolio-Sphere

I can think of no better use of my blog on a snowy April day during a lockdown pivot of distanced learning than shining a light on the newest and fastest growing space on our OJCS Blogosphere, our Student Blogfolios.

For those who don’t like to click through, I’ll remind you that a “blogfolio” is a term of art that (I believe) my former colleague Andrea Hernandez created, and in her words:

Portfolios give students a chance to develop metacognition, set goals and internalize what “good work” looks like.  Blogs offer a platform for creativity, communication, connection and the practice of digital citizenship. “Blog-folios”are the best of both worlds- using a blogging platform to develop writing skills, provide opportunities to connect with an authentic audience and increase reflective practices. Instead of using the entire site as a portfolio, students will use the category “portfolio” to designate those selections that represent high-quality work and reflection.

We added “student blogfolios” to our blogfosphere a couple of years ago with a prototype in Grade 5 and now each current student in our school in Grades 3-7 has his or her own blogfolio.

I try to spend a couple of hours each week reading student blogfolios and what I enjoy seeing the most is the range of creativity and personalization that expresses itself through their aesthetic design, the features they choose to include (and leave out), and the voluntary writing.

This is what we mean when we talk about “owning our own learning” and having a “floor, but not a ceiling” for each student.  It is also a great example of finding ways to give our students the ability to create meaningful and authentic work.  But, it isn’t just about motivation – that we can imagine more easily.  When you look more closely, however, it is really about students doing their best work and reflecting about it.  Look at how much time they spend editing.  Look at how they share peer feedback, revise, collaborate, publish and reflect.

This year, with the building largely sealed off due to COVID protocols, our classroom blogs and student blogfolios become even more important virtual windows into the innovative and exciting work happening at OJCS.  Recognizing that it still may be a new routine for families and that most families surely don’t have the bandwidth to visit all the blogs, it is my pleasure to serve as your occasional tour guide of The OJCS Blogosphere.  I do this a few times a year to inspire OJCS families to invest a little time, to inspire other schools and thought-leaders who may visit my blog from time to time, and to forge connections between our work and other fellow-travelers because we really do “learn better together” [North Star Alert!]

This week I will focus for the first time on student blogfolios.  [Please note that due to privacy controls that some OJCS students opt for avatars instead of utilizing their first names / last initials which is our standard setting.  That may explain some of the creative titles below.]

From Audrey’s Blog (Grade 6 / click here for the full blog)

The Best Moment of My Life – Posted March 17

My class is learning all about sensory writing.

Sensory writing is really important to incorporate into your stories, paragraphs, etc. because it helps the reader imagine what you are trying to explain and it helps the reader picture the setting.

If I were to redo this assignment, I would try to make the writing longer and extend the paragraphs.

Here is my picture and my sensory writing

My Drawing

I had no idea where my parents were taking me that day. The suspense was overtaking me and I felt worried for what was to come. Was I walking into a trap or were they leading me to the most wonderful place I will ever go to? My parents refused to tell me where we were going which only fed my anticipation. The car slowed to a stop in a vacant parking lot, all I saw were willow trees around us. As I slowly stepped out of the car and my parents told me to walk through a path nearby. When I reached the other side of the trees I was flabbergasted with the sight.

I found myself standing on the beach, gazing at the outstanding sunset with a mix of yellow, orange and purple. The sun was low in the sky as if it was playing a game of hide and seek. The sun reflected on the waves that were crashing against the shore line, then very slowly creeping its way back to the water, creating a soothing noise. The air smelled like smoke from a hut in the distance. I could just imagine a family roasting marshmallows over a bonfire fire as they told scary stories. The sand was very soft on my feet as if I were standing on a pill of feathers. The sand was molding my feet making it a reasonable thing to decide to stand rather than sit. The taste of sea salt on my lips created the illusion that I was swimming in the water. As i sat down on the sand i could feel the warmth overfilling me. I could tell already that this was hands down, the best moment of my life!

I hope you enjoyed this story

Have you ever been to an outstanding place?

If so where? What happened while you were there? What were your feelings about the sight?

From TE’s Blog (Grade 4 – click here for the full blog)

Innovation Day – Pulley Project – Posted March 18

[Jon’s Note: TE’s teacher nominated this blog post in part because she is new to OJCS this year and is just learning English.  Part of the magic of blogfolios is how well it allows you to chart progress over time!]

ELEVATOR

What did I need for the elevator I built: wire, 2 long pieces of cardboard, a box, 2 short pieces of cardboard, and a stick
How I connected all the parts: I took the hot glue and the 2 long parts and the 2 short parts I put 1 of the long parts
And on both sides I glued the short parts
And over the short parts I glued the last long part
  1. How I started the structure of the elevator: I took the box and made 2 holes up the holes and inserted the stick into the holes.
  2. How I build the evaluator pulley: I take the string and fold it. At the end of the fold, I glued it to the dowl (wooden stick). at the other end, I glued the elevator box
  3. How I built the flag pole: take a large wooden pole and glued it to the base. I take more wooden sticks and glue them to the top. I take two small pieces of cardboard and make a square shape to make a pulley. Between the small cardboard, I put the rope through and on one end draw a ‘T’ and two swords on the square flag. I glue the flag to the rope.

From Maytal’s Blog (Grade 7 – click here for the full blog)

Hebrew/Photo – Posted April 20

[Jon’s Note: I never choose my own children to highlight; this came as a recommendation from her Hebrew Teacher.  However, as student blogfolios were a big part of my last headship, Maytal’s blogfolio shows what it looks like when you start in Kindergarten.  Any OJCS parent who wants to see what it will ultimately look like should take a peek.]

בכיתה שלנו לעברית מורה רותי נתנה לנו 3 תמונות לבחירה. היינו צריכים לבחור אחת ולכתוב עליה. אני בחרתי בתמונה הזאת. אני מתארת את מה שאני חושבת על התמונה.

In our Hebrew class Morah Ruthie gave us three options to write about. I chose this photo down below. I described what was happening in the photo.

בתמונה יש 5 חיילים ויש חייל אחד עם מדים עם דם. החייל הזה נהרג והחיילים מאחור זה הוא עצמו שמבקש לא לבכות לבכות עליו. הוא גם מבקש סליחה על מה שהוא עשה והוא מנסה לדבר אל החיילים שלא נהרגו.

In the photo there are five soldiers and there is one soldier who is a different colour with blood. The soldier was killed and in the background you can see the exact soldier asking not to cry for him. He is asking for forgiveness for things he has done, and trying to communicate to soldiers who are still alive.

From Hermione’s Blog (Grade 3 – click here for the full blog)

French Blog Post – Posted February 5

Quel est le nom du dernier film que tu as vu?

Lightning Mcqueen

Combien de lettres contient ton nom de famille ?

J’ai 6 lettres dans mon nom de famille.

Qu’as-tu mangé pour déjeuner ce matin ?

Des céréales avec du lait

As-tu des animaux à ta maison ? Si oui, lesquels ?

J’ai un chien.

Quel est ton sport préféré ?

Natation

Quelle est ta nourriture préférée ?

Pain dore

Quelle est ta couleur préférée ?

bleu

Nomme ton livre préféré.

Harry Potter

Quel mois est ton anniversaire ?

decembre

Quel est ton animal préféré ?

Lou arctic

Quel est ton sujet préféré à l’école ?

Les sciences

Do you want more?  Here is a curated playlist from our Teaching & Learning Coordinator Melissa Thompson:

Grade 3

Grade 4
Grade 5
Grade 6 
Grade 7

English, French and Hebrew; Language Arts, Science, Math, Social Studies, Jewish Studies and so much more…our students are doing some pretty fantastic things, eh?

I will continue to encourage you to not only check out all the blogs on The OJCS Blogosphere, but I strongly encourage you to offer a quality comment of your own – especially to our students.  Getting feedback and commentary from the universe is highly motivating and will help this snowball (no pun or passive-aggressive take on what is happening outside my window!) grow as it hurtles down the hill of innovative learning.

Where will our next tour take us?  Stay tuned!