Two years ago, MetroWest Jewish Day School unveiled a new tag line: Engage. Inspire. Excel. This phrase was selected after a lot of thinking about what was unique about our program and what we wanted to highlight to others. So, what does it mean?
At MWJDS, we understand that in order to teach students we need to first engage them, excite them, and grab their attention. In today’s frenetic world of sound bites and video clips, this can be harder than it once was. We engage our students by trying to meet them where they are and involve them as directly as possible in their learning from the very beginning – helping them initiate attention to educational targets.
Once their attention has been grabbed, we have to inspire them to continue the learning process on their own. I think inspiration initially comes from seeing someone who is engaged and excited about a subject, and who also has ways of pulling you into the learning process. But of course the word inspire literally means to breathe in, and ultimately that is what we want: for our students to breathe in the subject and the process of learning so that it becomes integrated into their minds and bodies.
Once the learning is part of them, then and only then are they able to truly excel. We don’t always know the way in which an individual student will excel, whether in traditional modes or a way that is unique to him or her; that is part of the excitement of teaching of course. One thing that is clear though: when our children excel, we soar with them.
What makes MWJDS so unique?
What is truly unique about MWJDS is our desire and ability to individualize learning. In order to individualize, we of course have to come to understand your child as best as we can. Communication is the key to this process of getting to know each other, communication with the students and communication with parents. Another important part of individualization is assessment. As you may know, I have spent many years as a pediatric neuropsychologist, and I have a healthy respect for testing, as well as an equally healthy salt dispensary for interpreting test results. And the truth is we do a lot of assessment at MWJDS, although we don’t always refer to it as such. Indeed, Hamorah Michelle, one of our middle school teachers, calls assessments “chicken.” There are several types of assessment. Some are used for placement, some for checking in about progress and other assessments are used to ensure that our kids are meeting benchmarks, national or otherwise.
We place our kids into different types of groups for different subjects. Humanities (English Language Arts & Social Studies), Hebrew and Math tend to be grouped by academic level and learning styles, whereas most other subjects are grouped into two grade cohorts (first & second, third & fourth, etc.). There is always a lot of anxiety, especially among parents, but also sometimes among students themselves, about classes and levels. We rarely refer to particular classes by grade level; instead we refer to a class by the teacher who is teaching it. Put simply, every teacher is just teaching math, and their goal is to bring your children to the next place on their developmental path. As a result, it’s possible that a child in our school will have the same teacher for more than one year for the same subject. It is important to note that this does not equate to “repeating a grade.” We are all working on skill acquisition, and we try to group kids together who are working on the same types of skills.
Nevertheless, we do have guidelines for grade level and age, as well as a sense of how these map onto the Common Core Curriculum. Earlier this year, students in grades 4 to 7 took a lengthy math assessment to see how they were faring in their math skills development. This assessment helped us to determine the optimal initial groupings for math, though there will likely be movement throughout the year.
Another way in which we individualize education for our students is through our Academic and Behavioral Support (ABS) staff. I daresay there is not another school our size that has put as many resources into its academic support team, and there are few schools of any size that can compete with our local talent. The ABS at MWJDS consists of myself (click here for my biography), our part-time school psychologist, a clinical social worker, a post-doctoral neuropsychology fellow, two full-time special educators, a part-time special educator, and a cadre of consultants from Gateways, including speech and language pathology, occupational therapy, and behavioral educational therapy. This ABS team is in addition to our own primary teachers, many of whom are dually licensed in general and special education.
I need to stress that all this specialized people power is not because we are a special educational school. Though we are not a special education school, we believe in bringing all the best tools forward in our goal of educating children so that they can engage, be inspired, and excel at learning both within our school and in the world beyond our doors.
I invite you to visit and learn more about MWJDS and the innovative learning environment we have created for our students.
Rav-Hazzan Scott M. Sokol Ph.D.
MWJDS Head of School