Rethinking Traditional Educational Models

From Kim Bodemer, Director of Congregational Learning...

A driving force in rethinking TCS’s traditional educational model and moving to SULAM was to ease the burden on already over extended families. Creating opportunities to learn at a time that worked best for families felt like the right thing to do. After all, religious education is not an “activity” in the same way that dancing school or soccer is. As parents who have enrolled their children in religious school, SULAM, we have a shared value – wanting our children to learn about and experience the traditions, the language, the mitzvot (commandments) and values that have been passed down for many generations. As parents we take the words of the v’ahavat very serious “V'shinan'tam l'vanekha…” and you shall teach them diligently to your children.

We know that “teaching our children” is a collaborative effort between home, school and community. The traditions we put into place in our homes model for our children the things that are important to us and may be traditions that are carried on in their adult lives in their own homes. On Friday nights growing up, my parents emphasized being together, sharing a special meal and inviting guests. Now as an adult, my husband and I have incorporated that value in our home and added some new traditions as well. We begin Friday nights by saying the Shabbat blessings before and after our dinner and sharing a highlight of the week. These traditions that my daughters enjoy, and invite friends to participate in regularly, might be ones that they bring to their own families some day.

“Teaching our children” in school seems obvious, but in a rapidly changing world, the ‘how to’ accomplish this is less obvious. Our school programs must strive for excellence and create opportunities for children to explore concepts in a variety of ways to reach our diverse group of learners. The Book of Proverbs tells us:
quote kim

Train/teach a child his/her way; and even when he is old, he/she will not depart from it.

We must make sure that we have regular communication with families, so that learning can be reinforced at home. We must help students find modern application and value in Jewish learning.

Where does the responsibility of community lie in “teaching our children”? Essentially, we must create opportunities for children to learn both formally and informally. We need to be models that learning is a lifelong endeavor. Our famous sage Hillel said, “Do not withdraw from the community…do not say, ‘When I have time I shall study,’ perchance you will never have time” (Pirke Avot 2:4). As part of SULAM, there will be many opportunities to be models of lifelong learning. On Sunday mornings, many different committees will be sponsoring classes, study sessions, exercise groups, and other informal gatherings. This is a wonderful opportunity to engage with members of the community around shared interests, while serving as a role model for our children.

The teachers and I feel strongly that the students need a firm foundation and proficiency with decoding skills before we move into looking at specific prayers. Some of our madorim are ready and are moving ahead with prayer now; others will be ready in the next few weeks; and still others need a little more time. One of the main benefits of the madorim model is that students move at the pace that makes sense for them – not on a predetermined schedule.