Musings on Jewish Education and Jewish Living

Camp Every Day

“Camp every day?  What does that mean?”  At our Religious School Opening Assembly on September 9, I shared our new “camp every day” philosophy, endorsed by the Lifelong Jewish Learning Committee, with both its physical and substantive manifestations.  To recap:

  •  A more casual, camp-like dress code among the faculty and staff, conducive to a more active form of learning while at the same time, appropriate to our being in the synagogue.
  • Teacher have been encouraged (but certainly not required), to the extent that they and their students are comfortable, to go by their first names.  Parents who are uncomfortable with this should rest assured that none of us would ever “correct” a student who called a teacher “Miss,” “Mrs.,” or “Mr.”
  • We have essentially eliminated textbooks in most classes, the exceptions being Grades 8 and 9, who will use textbooks sparingly.  This allows us to engage our students in more active learning, such as projects, role-playing, discussion and debate, and more.
  • Teachers will be utilizing the entirely of our Temple building as learning spaces, depending on their activities for the day.  While each class has a classroom as a home base, they are no longer confined to them.  We will also be conducting our weekly T’fillah (worship service) in different places around the building, not just in the chapel as we have in the past.  In this way, our entire building becomes a beit k’nesset (house of gathering), beit t’fillah (house of prayer), and beit midrash (house of study).
  • We are considering carefully the structural groupings of our students.  We have not fully developed this idea yet, however teachers are already beginning to plan lessons together that combine and divide the students differently at different times.  We hope this will lead to greater socialization of students on each grade level.

Why are we doing this?  We have been discussing what we might learn from the principles of Jewish camping that make Jewish education in the camp so successful and apply them to our Religious School.  You may be interested to know that this discussion is not happening only here in San Antonio, but across the Reform movement.  We believe that if our children are comfortable, happy and eager to be here, we stand a much greater chance of helping them to gain the knowledge, understandings and attitudes that they will carry into their lives as Jewish adults.  A camp-like atmosphere encourages exploration of Jewish identity, ideas and practice in a safe environment.

What are your thoughts?  Are we on the right track?  What else should we be thinking about?

I would love to hear from you and invite you to join the conversation. If you are not comfortable responding here, please feel free to send me a private email at lgoldstein@beth-elsa.org

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