“Education to be successful must not only inform but inspire.” T. Sharper Knowlson
This week Stephen S. Wise Elementary School put into action our belief that education needs to have deep meaning, be tied to real experiences, and be inspirational. Rather than teaching about the holiday of Tu B’shvat through books and lectures, we took our students to Camp Alonim for a day of Tu B’shvat activities. The energy was palpable early in the morning as we boarded over 400 students on school buses. When we arrived in camp and sat together in the campfire circle, we truly added to our sense of being one community. The students were amazed that they were sitting in one of the largest Jewish-owned properties outside of the State of Israel, and we strengthened their connection to Eretz Yisrael. Following our opening circle the classes went to rotations of nature scavenger hikes, Tu B’shvat cooking, art projects, drama, yoga, mountain biking, horseback riding, rock wall climbing, gardening, and Israeli dancing. We picked the ideal setting, and had the ideal weather, to learn about the importance of trees, plants and the environment. At 11:30 the entire school gathered on the dance pavilion with David Dassa, and we joyously celebrated by dancing together. Then we were in the dining hall for a loud and delicious lunch, followed by a wonderful presentation from our third grade of Tu B’shvat songs and blessings. The final part of our day was time for the kids to be on the field playing sports, singing with a guitar, lifting a parachute, or drawing a picture. Giving students the time to be free with nature was really magical, and I have a mental picture of a few young boys walking through the trees, picking up twigs and just talking. I know we ended the day with some very tired, and very happy children. Today I walked into my office and there was a stack of thank-you notes from a fourth grade class. Candice wrote, “Thank you so much for the amazing field trip. It was so fun! I will never forget the field trip all because of the fun rock climbing and activities.” And Megan wrote, “Thank you sooo much for the field trip to Camp Alonim. That was the best field trip ever! It was so good that I want to go next year.” With feedback like this I know we are doing something right, and I am encouraged to continue planning innovative experiential programs that take our students’ learning to deeper levels.
One of the things I enjoy greatly at Stephen S. Wise Temple Elementary School is sitting in our weekly Shabbat service and listening to the children talk about their learning of the weekly Parsha. The students are able to tell the name of the Parsha and what book of the Torah it comes from. But on a much deeper level, they are also able to talk about what happened in the weekly portion, where this story is in the larger narrative, and how it relates to them personally. Their insights are always interesting, and I invite you to join me at a service to see this first hand.
Tomorrow we will learn about this week’s parsha “B’Shallah” and have a discussion on the Israelite’s continuing exodus from Egypt. We will read a highlight story in our history of the parting of the Red Sea. There will be lots of conversation on the scientific explanation for this, as well as the idea of miracles in our lives. In this spirit, I want to share my thoughts on this week’s reading.
There is a midrash, or story, that the sea would not part until the Israelites showed enough faith to march into the waters. They were waiting for God to perform a great miracle first. It took one man, Nahshon, to be bold enough to step into the sea, and at that point the sea responded to his act of faith. Today I talked to parents about their taking an act of faith by dropping off their children to our school and trusting that we would do the important work of educating them. I don’t promise to do miracles, but I do promise each of you that we will reward your trust and faith by producing students at the end of their journey who are well-educated and well-rounded young adults. I am honored to lead this “exodus journey” and look forward to sharing with you the daily miracles we experience together.