Checking in With Chabad Hebrew Academyby Jacqueline Bull January 29, 2018
When I spoke to Rabbi Josef Fradkin, Head of School at Chabad Hebrew Academy (CHA), on the phone, winter break had just ended and the halls of CHA were full of kids again. “I heard some awesome anecdotes from kids this morning – there is nothing better. Over the break, being in the office and not having any kids running around here, it is not as fun,” Rabbi Fradkin said.
Bringing in the fun to capture the interest and engage the students is a big part of what they do there. CHA has a big focus on applied and experiential learning, so many different innovative projects are included in the curriculum. Many of these projects have a STEM slant; they have an aquaponics system, 3D printer, and have monitoring software for the solar panels powering the school. “All of these things are to try to connect and create ways for the kids to actually apply and see how things work together,” Rabbi Fradkin said.
The broader idea of ‘making connections’ gets interpreted into a theme for all of the projects and curriculum to fall under. The theme and the programs are decided on and thought out by their leadership committee, which consists of the school’s strongest teachers. This year’s theme is ‘Building Bridges.’
One of these programs is called Biztown, a simulated city where the students plan everything out and run it themselves. “It is part of our theme that all studies [have] to build bridges and apply it to actual life… They get a loan from the bank, they start a business, and the businesses are sponsored by major San Diego corporations,” Rabbi Fradkin said. “There is a brand new part of it called finance park that is for high school students and upper middle school. And we’re the first middle school to really try it … [It’s an] exciting time for kids to not only learn about not just math that they are learning everyday in class, but applying it how it works in real life,” he adds.
Building Bridges means making connections from concept to application, but the idea goes further than just things under the STEM umbrella.
“It is about making connections, not just amongst STEM activities (which are so much a part of what we do), but connecting that to the arts or connecting that to character building, through mindfulness to the community, through reaching out with programs like Rady Children’s hospital, it is really all about making connections,” Principal Liz Earne said.
Another program they are implementing is Random Acts of Kindness week. “Each day of the week is focused on a Jewish value, so we are doing gemilut hasadim, acts of kindness, we are including bikkur holim, visiting the sick. Every student in the school is creating a pet rock for children who are undergoing chemotherapy at Rady Children’s Hospital. And they are partnering with the PTO that will take the rocks and create care packages for the kids and deliver them. Some of the other themes that they are doing are taking care of the environment, showing kindness to yourself. And these are all activities that the teachers have come up with that are teaching the kids about being kind spontaneously and sporadically and to make that part of who you are and what you do everyday,” the principal said.
They are also bringing the idea of mindfulness into the curriculum. Over the planning in summer, they trained the teachers to use it in the classroom and are now going to teach it to students.
“Mindfulness really connects to Judaism because of kavanah, everything that we do has a purpose. And we have these fantastic, dynamic leaders who are using our school as a pilot for this to really help get this mindfulness in education going. And we have just been so pleased to see the results of the way the teachers are using it in the classroom and now we are going to be training the kids over the next 2-3 months,” Rabbi Fradkin said.
CHA seems like an idyllic example of what education can be when given the right conditions. The whole Pre K-8 school has 330 students with a 7:1 child to teacher ratio and the teachers have a significant involvement in the curriculum and programs under their planning committee.
People from other schools often tour CHA to learn and use as a model or example.
Rabbi Fradkin explains it simply as kids first and authenticity. “We all want individual growth for our students and every child here is our top priority. If you care about every child as if they’re your own, you’ll do everything. When you come in the morning, there is loud popping music, the kids are dancing, it’s fun. Kids are happy to come to school….The more engagement you have with kids, the more they are going to learn,” he said. Α