Home |
About Us | Merrill's Musings
email page print page small type large type

Portland Jewish Academy is a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland and is proud of our partnership with them in strengthening our local Jewish community as well as the global community.

The View From the Fishbowl

Merrill's Musings

PJA Principal, Merrill Hendin has the best view of PJA from her office.  Here in this blog, she'll share with us what she's seeing at PJA, what she's been thinking about, and, in general, share her thoughts.

We think you'll enjoy the view from the fishbowl too.

Email Merrill


Saving the best for last!

Hello everyone,

So sorry to be getting this email to you so late in the day. As I said in the subject line, I saved the best for last today. It is truly my pleasure to keep you up to date on my calls with the group.

Today’s call was especially wonderful. The class called in this morning and did the morning opening. They added Hatikvah which we all felt was most appropriate considering where they were phoning from. Ms Brewer was in the office and spoke to a number of students who were all llined up to speak with her!

It was 6 PM Wednesday night, their time, when we spoke. They were in Jerusalem and had just spent a full and intense day at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum, and Mt. Herzl.  For those of you who have not been to Yad Vashem, it is a magnificent and awesome campus which includes gardens, a beautifully designed museum, memorial statues, and a stand-alone memorial to children lost in the Holocaust. I will let your children share their experiences with you when they return as I am sure that they will have a great deal to reflect upon after this kind of an  emotional day. The students I spoke to said that while it was intense and upsetting, it was important and worthwhile to be there.  Mr. Blumberg said that the students all asked excellent questions and it was amazing to realize what they had retained from their learning here at PJA.

What was most inspiring and significant to me was how much Mr. Blumberg talked about our students’ knowledge of, appreciation for,  and understanding and excitement about all of the things that they are seeing and doing on the trip.  He and Ms. Rogers said that everywhere they go people are amazed and impressed by their depth of knowledge and the connections they are making to the people and places.

Mr. Blumberg told me a sweet story about their opening circle on the beach in Tel Aviv which I am sure you will appreciate. Their guide, Philip, held up a picture of an ‘old Jewish guy’ and asked the students if they knew who it was. Karly was able to identify the person as Martin Buber and talked about what she knows about him (Martin Buber is ‘her character’ in the JCAT curriculum). Our students have been able to identify Jewish leaders, educators, historians, significant biblical and historic landmarks, that they have studied over the years here.

The learning they have done here at PJA, is truly coming to life for them in Israel. As Mr. Blumberg said, this is the ‘most authentic assessment’ there is and affirms for all of us, how relevant and important the education at our Jewish day school is.  We are all very proud of your children.

Let’s not get lost in all of this intensity as this morning they are waking up to PURIM celebrations. They are staying very close to Ben Yehuda street which will be filled with festivities and Purim Joy. It will be very freilach (happy) and fun for them, a Purim unlike any they have ever celebrated.

I look forward to hearing more about their experiences and sharing more with you. Don’t forget to check the blog. Have a wonderful Purim! Chag Purim Samayach!


Graduation 2014

Mazal tov 8th graders, parents, grandparents, friends of PJA grads, PJA board members, teachers and community leaders.


After many years of walking these halls, tonight you will be graduating and saying L’hitraot to your beloved school. You are graduating from a school that has given you opportunities to learn deeply and to work passionately.


Here you have learned to read and write, not only in English, but in Hebrew, and Spanish.


Here you have learned the tremendous importance of Jewish text, simple stories when you were young that turned into deep lessons as you got older and were able to ask important questions about their meaning.


Here you learned that science and Torah have connections, that math is seen in everything that we touch, that celebrating Jewish holidays is more than just eating apples and honey or blintzes.


Here you have become not just cooks, but chefs, not just singers but composers, not just people who love to draw and paint, but true artists.  As you grow you will choose to become athletes, rabbis, doctors, writers, teachers, mechanics, librarians, technologists, engineers, cantors, actors, social workers, politicians, and maybe even school principals. The possibilities are endless.  You have learned that a computer is not just used to write an essay, but a device that has endless possibilities for research, creation, and conversation.  You have grown up in homes that honor and value education, and you have had the great fortune of having extraordinary teachers to guide and teach you.


You have learned from each other, and you have had opportunities to learn from experiences outside these four walls.


As 8th graders you have been able to take much of your learning and find a passion that spoke to you. You have viewed this passion thru a Jewish lens, have researched and reported on the important work you have done, and have taken steps to making the world a better place through action. The lessons of these many years and this culminating project are deep and lasting.


You have performed mitzvot daily at PJA from the time you were very young until the very last moment of your locker clean up as you were able to contribute to a school supply drive straight from your very own lockers. 


The middot of Achrayut-responsibility, hoda'yah-gratitude, kavod-respect, limmud-learning, kehillah- community, and perhaps most importantly as you walk out these doors, zehut- identity, were learned and reinforced here and in your homes.


As you graduate I think of the very important directive we all have from Pirkei Avot, Ethics of our Fathers, lo alecha hamlacha ligmor, v'lo ata ben chorin l'hibatel mimenah, you are not obligated to complete the work, nor are you free to desist from it.  Go out, dear graduates, and continue to do the good and important work you have done here at PJA over all of these years. Be the extraordinary mensches we know you are and continue to use your learning to guide you to do good.


Mazal tov to you all. We will miss each and every one of you.


Dive in and Learn

An edited version of this piece was written as a reflection on my experiences at the RAVSAK conference in January and can be found at: http://upstartbayarea.org/blog/245-guestblog1

Earlier this week I came upon some of our middle school students posting sticky notes on one of the walls in the school lobby. They were excited, engaged, and interactive. Where was their teacher? He was present, standing off to the side, watching them work and giving them space. I watched for a while and noted the three distinct categories they were working on: show ideas, things we need, and roles to fill. Sticky notes were going up like wild fire as ideas were flowing and excitement was rising. From their teacher I learned that they were working together to decide on what their radio show was going to be. This was the first week of our 3rd quarter and these students are all participating in a cross grade media exploratory. The focus of this class: to produce a radio show. We are thrilled that we are going to have a first ever radio show produced on campus; the level of energy and engagement with the process was palpable and contagious!

Why did this all seem familiar to me, like something I had JUST participated in? THIS WAS DESIGN THINKING IN ACTION and I had just returned from participating in the day long Deep Dive at the RAVSAK/PARDES conference in LA on Design Thinking and Adaptive Leadership. I must admit I was a skeptic going into the Deep Dive. There were other seemingly more relevant offerings for Deep Dives which my colleagues at PJA were participating in. Our middle school Jewish Studies teacher Mr. Blumberg, was spending the day diving into Tefillah, our Hebrew and Jewish Studies director, Rabbi Chaiton, would be attending Effective Technology, our General Studies Director and School Counselor, Betsy Bailey, was ‘diving’ into Special Needs and the Diverse Classroom- a topic we were very grateful to see on the conference agenda as we continue our own strategic planning in this area in our school; and of course the Board Leadership Institute which four of our board members attended.

Back to my ambivalence about Design Thinking and Adaptive Leadership. I had used Design Thinking at school when, under the leadership of Sarah Blattner of Tamritz (former Technology Integration Specialist at PJA), a team of faculty participated in Social Media Bootcamp through Darim Online. I understood the ideas and liked what they could offer us as a school. We embrace collaborative work, are not afraid to take risks, and have as one of our goals to be more project based and student centered, but an entire day? Was this the best use of my time? Was this going to be yet another layer of new learning to tuck away into our file cabinets and never really have the time to implement? I knew that I did not want to be engaged in anything that would just be more work, another program, something new to learn but not really use. Our faculty is already creative, risk taking, and hands on. Could we ask more of them?

I walked into the first session with resolve and an open mind. There were crafts and colorful materials in the middle of all of the tables. It looked playful and fun and I was ready to engage. After all, conferences are usually about serious learning and here we were being given an opportunity to create, to work together, to do something colorful. What could be better? We were asked to redesign each other’s wallets. What did we keep in them, what style, color, and shape did we prefer? Our wallets say a lot about who we are. The activity gave us opportunity to inquire and communicate. It was already easy to see all of the applications of Design Thinking for schools.

After spending the first half of the day with Maya Bernstein, educator and facilitator of the Design Thinking Deep Dive, I was eager to return after lunch to dig further, understand more, and try to imagine how we could bring more design thinking models into the school. Spending the day like this, engaged in hands on learning with other deeply committed Jewish educators from around the country, felt like education at its best. It helped me see educators as facilitators, students as active learners and collaborators, innovators, decision makers-this was exciting! Fast forward a few days and here I was watching our students engage in Design Thinking with excitement and passion for their learning.

The ‘buzz’ at the end of the day of Deep Dives was palpable. I believe that each of us in our own way had gained a great deal of knowledge, done a lot of networking with people in various areas of school life, and were eager to work together to bring back that energy and information to our schools.

As we continue to plan as a faculty for the coming school year, we will use Design Thinking to help us plan and make decisions. We are already planning for our year’s essential question of defining ‘pluralism’. We will use much of the learning from the RAVSAK conference, sessions on Design Thinking, knowledge gained from sessions given by Susie Tanchel, Yechiel Hoffman, Noam Silverman, Jonathan Cannon, and many others, all of whom facilitated inspiring sessions on pluralism, creating community, and knowing and believing in one’s mission, to help inform our planning. In addition, the SULAM alumni Shabbaton which I was honored to attend with Rabbi Shai Held as the scholar in residence, helped prepare me mentally and emotionally for the full conference. Engaging in thought provoking philosophical and practical conversations about living our lives with intention and chesed will be at the center of our important work at school. In addition to working with faculty it is my hope to engage the board in deeper conversations about community and mission and what it means to be a pluralistic school. My hope is that this will create a strong community amongst faculty and board as we work together towards our goals.

All of the sessions my colleagues and I attended help us think about the intentional community we build at PJA.  Jonathan Cannon spoke about knowing our schools, believing in and speaking our mission, and truly building a cohesive culture. I reflected on Jonathan’s words, and on much of the learning we did at the RAVSAK/PARDES conference in LA, while sitting in a strategic planning committee meeting on admission. while reviewing some of the strategic work we did leading into this admission season, we spoke of some of our successes and how to continue to do the challenging work we have ahead to maintain our strong presence as a community Jewish Day School in Portland, Oregon. One of the more gratifying reflections was from one of the parents on the committee. She expressed the belief that, more than ever, we know ourselves, we believe in our mission, and we communicate it well. I felt so grateful at that moment for all of the continued hard work we do at PJA with all of our constituents, and have confidence in our continued strength and perseverance to do the work of a pluralistic, thoughtful Jewish Day School in 2014.

Thank you RAVSAK for giving us this opportunity to learn together. We were very fortunate this year to have had a team of 8 people, both professional and lay leadership, at this conference. Never before have we had so many from PJA attend any school conference. It was energizing and invaluable to all of us to learn, network, and come back together to check in about our sessions and review what we had learned and how it would impact our strategic and tactical planning at PJA. We are truly a community of learners, an example to all, and PJA is our kehillah kedosha.

Posted by Becky Hornsten Ewer in curriculum, Learning, Students, study on Tuesday February 18, 2014
0 comments get link

Happy Reading!


Happy Reading! This year I decide to commit myself to reading more young adult novels. I love to read but have always felt like I wanted my reading time to be ‘for me’. I love fiction and because of my work I am also reading many articles, journals, blogs, and books on education. Professional reading is important and interesting but in my down time (hmmm), I want ‘my’ books! I have always known young adult novels to be great, after all I did swallow them up as a young adolescent, but not since then have I read them (except for the books that I read to my own children when they were younger).

Lucky for me, our fabulous school librarian, Safranit Molly, started a Newbery Club this year for any 5-8th graders interested in participating. I decided to jump on this opportunity as I was eager to read these books, and to find a set time to be with students. Perfect!!

Wednesdays at noon are sacred on my calendar and since committing to do this I have not missed a session. As a matter of fact I am already regretting that I will miss this week as I will be en route to visit our daughter in Israel.

So what is the Newbery Club? For those of you who are not familiar with Newbery I have included a short description and history of what the Newbery medal is. Newbery is one of the most prestigious literary awards for young adult literature.

How the Newbery Medal Came to Be

The Newbery Medal is awarded annually by the American Library Association for the most distinguished American children's book published the previous year. On June 22, 1921, Frederic G. Melcher proposed the award to the American Library Association meeting of the Children's Librarians' Section and suggested that it be named for the eighteenth-century English bookseller John Newbery. The idea was enthusiastically accepted by the children's librarians, and Melcher's official proposal was approved by the ALA Executive Board in 1922. In Melcher's formal agreement with the board, the purpose of the Newbery Medal was stated as follows: "To encourage original creative work in the field of books for children. To emphasize to the public that contributions to the literature for children deserve similar recognition to poetry, plays, or novels. To give those librarians, who make it their life work to serve children's reading interests, an opportunity to encourage good writing in this field."

The Newbery Award thus became the first children's book award in the world. Its terms, as well as its long history, continue to make it the best known and most discussed children's book award in this country.

From the beginning of the awarding of the Newbery and Caldecott Medals, committees could, and usually did, cite other books as worthy of attention. Such books were referred to as Newbery or Caldecott "runners-up." In 1971 the term "runners-up" was changed to "honor books." The new terminology was made retroactive so that all former runners-up are now referred to as Newbery or Caldecott Honor Books.

I have now read about 5 young adult books with the club, all contenders for this year’s medal. They are all varied and interesting in their own way. Some of them are absolutely distinguished novels, while others have a good story to tell but would definitely not get my vote! My great joy in participating in this ‘club’ is not just about reading these wonderful books, but more importantly, about spending the time with the students, listening to their insightful comments and seeing their commitment and passion to reading. The depth and sensitivity our students show towards literature is phenomenal to me, and although I loved reading as a child, I am not sure my passion or insights could ever have matched theirs.

Who will the winner and honors go to? We will all find out at the end of January after the Newbery committee, who have spent countless hours reading every young adult novel published in this calendar year, makes their decision. I know which book I would choose from our school selection….but it’s a secret only to be shared amongst club members when we return in January!

Happy Reading PJA. We will be sure to keep you posted on the winner of the Newbery Medal this year and OUR Newbery Club choice for the medal.

Posted by Becky Hornsten Ewer in curriculum, Learning, study on Wednesday December 18, 2013 at 10:57AM
0 comments get link

Gratitude, Light, and PEW

As we all prepare for Thanksgiving and Chanukah (ok I will say it, Thanksgivukah) this week, and look at all of the light in our lives and the treasures for which/whom, we are grateful  I thought it an appropriate time to talk a bit about some of the things that have been floating through my mind over the last month or more. We have had more than our share of wonder here at PJA and have much to celebrate and much gratitude to give. Classrooms have been filled with rich and engaging learning and we have been witness to much of that through performances, blogs, wiki pages, newsletters, classroom visits,  facebook and more.

In addition to all of the good,  we have also had to grapple with  difficult and painful news about natural disasters, nuclear weapons in the Middle East, and of course, the future of the Jewish community in America. We have all heard more than our share about the Pew Research Study on  American Jewish Communities.

http://www.pewforum.org/2013/10/01/jewish-american-beliefs-attitudes-culture-survey/. Like other Jewish educators and community leaders, my email and Facebook  continue to be full of much ado about PEW. The data reports tremendous assimilation in the Jewish community at large, struggling institutions, and a changing face of Judaism as we know it. Everyone is talking about it, so with some apologies for raising concerns, I thought I would too. What I hope is that together we will see the tremendous importance of the choice we have all made to educate our children in a Jewish day school and that that will give us hope that together with our children we can and will strengthen our Jewish community and the world.

Every day here at PJA we are doing our part to ensure that there will be engaged, interested, knowledgeable and thoughtful young  leaders emerging from these halls.

  • Teachers and faculty members who work with your children every day are making a difference by instilling in them  a love of learning and a sense of who they are as members of the PJA community,  the greater Portland Jewish community, and the world.
  • Parents and grandparents are making a difference by providing their children with an excellent education at PJA.
  • Your children, our students, are making a difference as they learn to ask questions, take action, and do what is right and just.
  • Boards and community members are making a difference by supporting Jewish education.
  • All of us who have made the choice to send our children to Jewish day school, are working for our Jewish future. Yes, we are making sacrifices. And it is well worth it.

As a mother of three and a day school educator I know that our children will all express their identity in different ways as they go out into the world. Some will work for Jewish organizations in their local communities, lead youth groups, take trips to Israel, go on Aliyah, teach in a synagogue schools while in college, teach in a day school when out of college, become Rabbis, Cantors, Jewish institutional executives, will work for the world by doing good and helping others,  will heal, defend, sing, write.

There are so many ways of expressing who we are and here at PJA we work to give our students the ability to understand the world that we live and work in through a Jewish lens. Just in the last two weeks our students participated in a communal tefillah service where all of the 3rd-8th graders davened (prayed) together. Our 5th-8th graders were able to see the performance of the Story of Lillian Wald, performed by the Jewish Theatre Collaborative. Through the generosity of the OJM we had the privilege of meeting Sam Silberberg, holocaust survivor and author of an autobiography for young adults. This past week our sweet kitah alef (first grade) students visited the Rose Schnitzer Manor to bring cheer to the residents and hear their stories. These are just a few of the things that our students participated in giving them an opportunity to question, reflect, learn, and experience Judaism from different perspectives.

As Thanksgiving and Chanukah converge I stand back and am so very grateful for all that I have personally in my life and all that I know we are giving to our children every day here. The middot (values) that we stand on: Limmud, Kavod, Achrayut, Zehut, Kehillah, Hoda’ah, (study, respect, responsibility, identity, community, gratitude) and the deep learning and action that we do to support these middot help us to be the people who will keep Judaism going for the next and the next, and hopefully the next many generations to come.

Wishing you all a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving and a Happy Chanukah filled with light, latkes, and much love.

Posted by Becky Hornsten Ewer in caring, community, appreciation, identity on Monday November 25, 2013 at 11:20AM
0 comments get link

Learning Happens

So much learning happens in the summer. It is a time for play, family fun, beaches, ice-cream, and travel. It is a time for learning. Summer learning looks different than it does during the school year and yet it is every bit as valuable. Taking time to read a much loved book and dig deep into conversation about a place you visit is a summer luxury. A true gift. We have adventures in the summer that we don’t get to have during the school year and all of these adventures help us grow and change and give us more fuel to begin a new school year fresh and ready.

Our faculty has had wide and varied experiences learning through an online digital teaching class with Tamritz (www.tamritz.org) , a two day science workshop with Sara Morton, faculty wide reading of Alan November’s Who Owns the Learning (highly recommended), and various other opportunities we have chosen to enrich our lives and deepen our summer experience. Faculty looks forward to coming together in one week to hear about all of the varied summer experiences people have had.

Like all of you, I have had a summer filled with learning; some of it traditional learning through books and classes, and some of it lessons of the day to day. Learning happens when we go through transitions and for me this summer has been filled with planning for upcoming transitions, both at home and at work. Professionally, we are planning together for the departure of our executive director, Lisa Horowitz, who is moving to a new city and a new position. The work of making this transition must be thoughtful and deliberate. We must work together to ensure that our school and our community center continue to be the incredible, vibrant, and strong institutions that they are today.

Personally, our family is preparing to ‘empty our nest’ and send our youngest off to Israel for a gap year program. The excitement and sweetness of this change far outweighs the sadness we feel at knowing she won’t be home at the end of every day, that there will be no meetings to go to for her school, no sporting events to attend, no back to school forms to fill out, and none of the joy of simply having her around. As we prepare for this big life change, we reflect on all of the sweetness, and sweat, of raising our children and, of course, while we know that this ‘job’ is not over, its scope is changing. No matter where our children are and how old they may be, the hope is that there will always be parenting moments, times together at the Oregon coast (hopefully), time to watch silly TV shows together, hit golf balls, go for breakfasts, have important and not so important conversations, have pedicures, gather for Shabbat dinners around our table.

As you reflect on your summer, what is it you have learned that you can bring with you into this new school year? Is it the book you read, the art class you took, the time you had to eat an ice-cream cone with your child, or run on the beach. Is it the trip you took as a family seeing new things and learning not only about the places you visited but the people you are?

Our teachers will be spending time upon their return to school and all through the year, reflecting upon their learning this summer and continuing their professional development throughout the year. They will work to incorporate this learning, whether it be the shells they found on the beach or the digital aged teaching class they took on line, into their classroom. This will make the learning richer as everyone, teachers, admin, and students alike, share in their experiences and continue to be active learners every day, both in and out of the classroom.

Wishing you all a happy end of summer! Continue to enjoy the sweetness of summer and the learning!

Posted by bhornsten in Learning on Thursday August 22, 2013 at 03:03PM
0 comments get link

Graduation Speech 2013

This was the speech I delivered at our recent PJA 8th grade graduation, on June 13. It was the same week my daughter graduated from high school, so it was a week filled with joy, reflection, emotion, and celebration. I miss these grads already!

Having spent this week living in a graduate's world, I have certainly had a lot of time to reflect upon time passed and to look forward to what is to come.  While an 8th grade graduation is different from a high school or college graduation, there are still many things that are similar. We look at all of you and think about how quickly you have grown, how much you have accomplished, and how much we are going to miss having you in our halls. you are a very unique, connected group of students. you have accomplished a great deal, just in this short year, not to speak  of all of the years you have spent here at PJA.


I asked your 8th grade teachers to help compile a list of just your 8th grade milestones and accomplishments, large and small. I am quite sure I don't have them all but I think tha t you will be astounded to hear how much you have done. I know I was. Here goes:

Banned Book club
Physics carnival with 2nd grade and kindergarten
Mock Senate
Leading the shoa commemoration
2 of our 8th graders in the top 25% in Math counts competition
Leading the simchat torah assembly
Kabbalat shabbat buddies
Babysitting during tzevet (thanks caitlyn!)
Capstone project and paper
constitutional debates
courthouse field trip
Making ice cream to demonstrate phas changes
Watching 1776
Alice In Wonderland
Factored polynomials
Israel trip and all of the preparation it entailed, from class work to t-shirts and more.
Animal Farm
Fahrenheit 451
Becoming atoms to demonstrate bonding
The Declaration of independence
Writing in 4 modes-imaginative, expository, narrative, and persuasive
cinco de mayo field trip
cooking delicacies
becoming more fluent in Spanish and Hebrew of course
oaks park physics field trip
successful completion of high school level algebra (that’s the entire 8th grade class!)
playing with card and marbles to see how phusics works
Participation in numerous chesed projects
speaking hebrew in Israel
Taking the PSU hebrew proficiency test (very proficiently!0
leading Mincha with meaning and ease.
Mixing things to see reaction
leading shaharit in Israel
Various taglit experiences

As Mr. Blumberg expressed, you are a class who is very proud of your Jewish Background and values, a group of students who plans to continue your Jewish journey after PJA. To culminate your 8th grade Jewish Studies year you were asked to answer the following question based on a section of a book you were using in class called “who is a Jew”: how will you make sure that Judaism still plays a role in your life after PJA? What ideas and values that you have learned in your time here will help inform the way you live your life after middle school? I wish I could read you every single answer I had the pleasure and privilege of reading today but I obviously can’t so here are a few excerpts taken from your children’s writing:

At PJA I have learned a lot about being a person who is confident in their beliefs.

I feel that all the years I have spent at PJA have really made me feel Jewish and that I will always carry these traditions with me.

The most important things PJA has given me: my strong Jewish identity and my Jewish education

Being with all different kinds of Jews who have different beliefs actually made me realize that although we are different in may ways we are also the same, we are all Jewish

No one at PJA cares what denomination you are, or even if you are Jewish at all.. We are united by the choice to come to this school and that is what matters

PJA has taught me a lot over all of the years that I have been here and the one thing that I think that I am going to take away that is most important to me is a true respect for Judaism. I feel so lucky to have been able to go to a school that teaches me to respect who I am as a Jewish person.

We must educate a new generation of Jewish youth about our past, our present and leave the future in their hands

Jewish Day School has given me the opportunity to question, think about, and practice Judaism. Every day of my life I am running into Judaism.

I want my children to be raised Jewish because being Jewish is great and I wouldn’t trade anything for who I am.  

We are very proud of the Mensches you all are and our wish for you as you go forward is a favorite quote I carry with me from Pirke Avot: Al Tifrosh min hatzibur- Do not separate yourselves from community. Wherever you go, to the various high schools you attend and beyond, always stay engaged with your Jewish community and stay involved. We know that as individuals you will work to make a difference in the world and with your community alongside you, supporting you, you will go far to make the world a better place. Mazal Tov class of 2013. We will miss you.




Posted by bhornsten in appreciation on Thursday June 27, 2013 at 11:02AM
1 comment get link

As Time Goes By

It is hard to realize that we are at the end of February already and that more than half of the school year has passed. As we begin to look at the coming school year and plan for classrooms, faculty, professional development, and other important initiatives, I am astounded at all that we have accomplished to date and all that is still to come. Just in the past month we have had the middle school performance of Alice in Wonderland, the 3rd grade performance of the In Portland play, had three of us attend the North American Jewish Day School conference on leadership (more on that below), had a fabulous week of middle school Taglit (more on that below), just finished celebrating Purim with an outstanding 5th grade Purim Shpiel, great carnivals, and costumes and hamentashen galore, and are getting ready to send our 8th graders to Israel for 2 weeks this coming Wednesday morning (we will meet at the airport at 4:15 AM!!). Our faculty, in addition to all of this, has worked diligently on report cards which were sent out last week and which reflect the care and attention our teachers pay to student learning and achievement, in addition to overall social emotional growth. Reading a student progress report written by our faculty is like reading an in depth bio on each of our students. It is remarkable the time and thought that goes into these reports. This week Betsy Bailey will attend the NAIS conference in Philadelphia, and at the start of March Rabbi Chaiton will visit four Jewish Day Schools in the Bay Area.   As I write all of this I realize that it is no wonder we feel like time goes by quickly! We are busy with great things every day here at PJA.

The North American Jewish Day School Conference held this year in the Washington, D. C. area, was an opportunity to meet with Jewish Day School educators and leaders from across the continent. There were valuable sessions on board leadership, retention and admission, the mission of Jewish Day Schools in the 21st century, and of course around the dinner table opportunities to talk about what happens every day in our schools. We talk about our successes and our challenges and we are given the opportunity to create connections which, in this digital age, can continue when we return to our home schools. One of the more inspiring sessions I attended was given by Jonathon Cannon, Head of School at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in the D. C. area. Cannon’s topic was Leaders as Shapers of School Culture and the most important take away for me was that Jewish education is excellence in every single area; nothing we do isn’t Jewish education. Anything that goes on in the school should be linked to some area of the mission. I felt so grateful to Jonathon Cannon for summing up what we, at our admin and faculty tables, talk about all of the time, and the pervasive feeling we have that what we are first and foremost, is a Jewish Day School. The principles we stand on, the foundations of our learning every day, are built upon the six middot we display in our lobby and in every classroom: limmud (learning), achrayut (responsibility), kavod (respect), kehillah (community), zehut (identity), and hodaah (gratitude). Whether we are teaching math or tefillah, humanities or Jewish Studies, these middot and our mission of positive Jewish engagement, are what we base every day in our classrooms, every program we plan, and every activity in which our students are involved.

And so we come to Taglit, our one-week discovery session which is a departure from academics and focuses on passions and opportunities our students and faculty don’t normally get to experience in their every day learning at PJA. How is Taglit driven by our mission of Jewish engagement? In each of our Taglit experiences students had an opportunity to do community service, to work both within and outside the Jewish community to do good for others. Whether packing lunches for the weekend for underprivileged students, helping to beautify a Jewish cemetery and learn about rituals of Jewish burial, create toys out of recycled goods for animals in shelters, learn about composting and eating sustainably, or learning how to take care of the earth around us, each of these experiences gave students an opportunity to actively learn, as members of the Jewish community, about the importance of these mitzvot. Every one of our middot was actualized in these experiences. We are so proud of the work that was done, and the fun that they had doing it, and see this week of discovery, Taglit, as a perfect example of how our mission of Jewish Engagements guides us.

So, as time goes by, keep checking for my intermittent posts (I know, I need to get to these more often! Sorry!) to find out more about the daily activities that keep us moving every day at PJA and keep us focused on our important mission as a community Jewish Day School.

Posted by in curriculum, Learning, Faculty, kavod, respect, community, appreciation, identity on Monday February 25, 2013 at 09:09AM
0 comments get link

We Are All Responsible for One Another

Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh La’zeh- in other words, we are all here to take care of each other

As we all watch the events of Superstorm Sandy on the east coast and stay in touch with friends and relatives to hear how they are doing, share photos and stories, and do what we can to support them from a distance, we all realize the strength and power of community and how we can care for each other. It is never more evident than in times of crisis and tragedy. We rise to the occasion and help out those in need whether we know them or not. It is our responsibility as Jews, as members of a community, as citizens of the world. Whether we are up front and center, or far away as we are in this case, the desire to help in some way is always present. We cannot, from this distance, always do what we would like to, but we can, in our own way, work to make the world a better place and help those in need.

This last week our students participated in a Thanksgiving food drive along with the Jewish Family and Child Service (JFCS). We were asked to collect over 1,000 food items and of course, our PJA families, rose to the challenge and did it. Next week, our families, will participate in the Hand to Hand event that is part of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland's Super Sunday Community Action Day here at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center, and help pack food boxes for the families to use during Thanksgiving. Providing food and comfort during the holidays is but one simple act of kindness in which we can all participate.

There are obligations that we have to take care of each other that often times seem more difficult, even daunting. As a Jewish Day School it is always our goal and desire to welcome any Jewish child into our school. But can we? Is this our current reality?  We know that it is not, and I would guess, probably not the reality of most Jewish Day Schools, although I am sure that it is the intent.

From the time my children were young students at PJA (in the olden days - they are 24, 22 and 17!), our school always worked to meet the needs of all students. Through differentiation in the classroom, reading specialists, and other support services, we have always done our best to work with our student population to give them the best education possible. While we have done this, we have also realized more and more that our reality is that we cannot possibly work with every family who wants to have their child at PJA.  Not yet, that is.

Currently at PJA we have a wonderful and very dedicated support staff which this year increased in size to 1.5 FTE plus our school counselor who also works as our General Studies Director (and in her spare time reads does mosaics, manages her husband’s business, and is a political activist, oh and of course a mom and almost grandma. Yes, Betsy has a very quiet life!). The scope of our support services program has grown over the years. We work with students who have challenges in reading and math, are able to help students with behavior issues, can support students for whom Hebrew language is a challenge or who are new to the language, and of course, work with teachers and parents to help give them the tools that they need in the classroom and at home to support their children. This seems like a lot, and we are certainly very proud of the work that we do here, however we also know that it is just the tip of the iceberg. Our goal is to REALLY, one day, be able to support all students with special needs. Whether we reach this goal in 5 years or 20, is an issue of resources, logistics, space, support, and of course appropriate staffing. While we can certainly support students with a wide range of challenges, we want to be able to support more families and to one day be the place that the community can count on to educate all of our children.

To this end we are beginning a strategic planning process and will work with our families, faculty, community members, and experts in the field, to move this process forward and be the best PJA we can be.

Wishing you all a wonderful week. As we move into the Thankgiving holiday, we count our blessings for all of the gifts we have every day in each and every one of our families and faculty. We are grateful for a supportive and warm community that truly does live by the saying from the Talmud, Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh La’zeh, we are all responsible one for another.

Posted by in Learning, special needs, caring, kavod, respect, study, community, identity on Monday November 12, 2012 at 09:42AM
0 comments get link

Boot Camp (It's Not What You Think, Or Maybe It Is)

Wiki Spaces, Blog, Websites, social media boot camp, the cloud, 21st century learning, tech support, crowd sourcing, ning, twitter….I could fill the page with terminology that is so foreign to me, well sort of, and yet so intriguing. Since when does being ‘in the cloud’ mean collecting information literally up there somewhere, or boot camp mean that we are spending time learning about how social media, that’s facebook and edmodo for those of you, like me, who are not as in the loop as our children. Who knew we'd be using social media effectively in the classroom to communicate with students and educators around the world, let alone in our very own classrooms? This is exciting and overwhelming for sure. It is a BIG learning curve, for this luddite for sure!

Today I participated in the first of what I hope will be many webinars led by Darim Online. A group of faculty members at PJA were accepted into Darim’s Social Media Boot Camp, funded by the Covenant Foundation, which involves other schools across the country, synagogues, educational organizations, even Jewish universities, all looking at different ways that social media can be used effectively for their organizations. It is an exciting, yet daunting time, knowing that there is so much to learn to get up to snuff on the use of all of these tools, and feeling so lucky to be a part of a faculty here at PJA which is so supportive and so engaged in this work for our students, and of course to be working with all of these professionals across the country on this great opportunity.

Our group, comprised of Sarah Blattner (our chief cook and bottle washer), Michael Hyde (her second in command, for sure), Elana C-R, our fabulous 6th grade humanities teacher who is fearless and awesome at being a risk taker when using technology, Shahar Eden, our 5th-8th grade Hebrew teacher who, as the youngest member of our team, uses tech like the rest of us use pen and paper, and Jim Juntunen, our 4th grade general studies teacher, always willing and very eager to take big leaps into the use of tech integration in his classroom and give his students vast opportunities to learn using any and all available tools. What a team, what a lucky person I am to be a part of this endeavor. Together we decided that the best and most important initiative to tackle for us as a school is how social media can help enhance and effect professional development at PJA. Our ‘essential’ question for the project: “How can we leverage social media to enhance student learning and engagement across the curriculum?”

Sarah will lead us through the beginning stages of this project using the design thinking model (see http://designthinkingforeducators.com/ to learn more about this model), and we will continue as a team working under Michael Hyde’s direction on the best and most exciting and beneficial uses of social media for our faculty and students. We look forward to sharing with the other institutions involved in this project, and with you, as we continue to explore and advance our social media and tech integration focus at PJA. Go Darim Online! Thank you for providing us with this great opportunity. GO PJA! We are truly 21st century learners and educators.

Posted by on Tuesday October 16, 2012 at 09:17AM
0 comments get link

Choose groups to clone to:

PJA: An accredited independent school providing an extraordinary education for your child

powered by finalsite