A JK-12 pluralistic school that engages students in an exemplary and inspiring general and Jewish education.


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The State of Israel as a Classroom
Nancy Wassner

My sophomore roommate in college was a Jewish girl from Silver Spring who had a pair of cool sweatpants from her high school after-prom party. But who has after-prom sweatpants? Everyone knows prom season is May, way after sweatpants season. Turns out, my sophomore roommate had gone to a kind of famous Jewish day school in Maryland where the senior prom was in January, they graduated in February, and then most of the class spent the entire spring in Israel. That school sounded great. And of course, that school is now my school, CESJDS. And that spring semester in Israel? I coordinate that program now.

Israel as a Classroom at CESJDS

This is my third year working with the Irene and Daniel Simpkins Senior Capstone Israel Trip. Just yesterday I joined families in front of the Upper School to welcome back the Class of 2017 from Israel. They arrived after a very long day of traveling, about twenty-four hours. And they looked tired. But they also looked tanned and happy and relaxed. That look is one of the reasons I love CESJDS's senior trips.

There's a lot of research about the benefits of gap time between high school and college, most of it pointing toward the importance of academic rest. We should be proud of our rigorous academic programs at CESJDS. But by the time they graduate, it's safe to say that many of our students are academically tired. They've spent a large portion of their lives in a classroom. Many are pretty sure they know everything. At the very least, they assume they can find everything they need to know on their smartphones. What gap programs like our senior trips offer is a chance to see just how much there still is to learn. And how many ways there are to learn it.

CESJDS Class of 2017 in Eastern Europe

Inside CESJDS, we teach in classrooms, sometimes on the athletic fields. On the Irene and Daniel Simpkins Senior Capstone Israel Trip, the country of Israel is the classroom. The streets of Prague too. True, participants sit in seminars and hear lectures by members of the teaching staff at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel, who facilitate our trips. But then they walk in Roman ruins. They pick vegetables and paint fences on kibbutz. They shvitz in the desert and shiver in Poland. They hear the call of the muezzin in the mosques in the Old City. They hike, swim, and ride. They have an immersive, all-senses-engaged three months, and they get to have it with all their friends and classmates. It's pretty awesome. I mean that in the most literal sense, by the way; to me, this program is awe-inspiring.

It turns out that this kind of Torah Lishmah, learning for learning's sake, provides one of the most important benefits of gap time before college. In addition to offering rest for the academically weary, our senior trips allow for an unparalleled growth experience. Yes, the Class of 2017 came off the buses yesterday physically tired. But they're intellectually awake in a way that will only help them succeed in college and beyond. They are Jewish citizens of the world now. So as they sport their after-prom sweatpants to college roommates in the fall, I think our newest alumni will have a lot to be proud of.

Nancy Wassner is a High School English teacher and coordinator of the Irene and Daniel Simpkins Senior Capstone Israel Trip at CESJDS.

View the Senior Trip Blog to read more about the Class of 2017's journey to Israel and Eastern Europe.

Proficiency Approach for Learning Hebrew for Students who Struggle with a Second Language
Jenna Schilit, Adi Zaken, and Daniella Friedman
Jenna Schilit, Adi Zaken and Daniella Friedman

Historically, when learning a second language, language teachers emphasize the importance of learning to read. Learning to read in a new language helps students access class material and many believe "that by practicing this skill it will help learners keep hold of the language for a longer amount of time." However, learning to read does not translate into language acquisition. Reading as the main goal of a language curriculum helps "students learn about the language without giving them the opportunity to fully acquire it."* The Hebrew Department at CESJDS has explored this idea and, in so doing, has a reinvigorated perspective on teaching Hebrew and all the skills necessary to communicate in the language: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. This method for teaching a second language is called the Proficiency Approach. We want our students to have a better capability of communicating in Hebrew outside of the classroom and in the real world.

The Proficiency Approach has been particularly beneficial for our students who find it challenging to acquire a second language. The Approach asks teachers to move away from teaching the rules and structure of the language and, instead, pushes the use of simulations so that students have a more authentic experience when using the language. For example, when learning names of foods, students took part in a restaurant simulation. In this simulation, students learned and used prompts and patterns to converse with a "waiter" and, additionally, wrote their own menus! A similar idea was implemented during a clothing unit, when students needed to "shop for clothes" in a classroom store. These simulations encourage teachers and students to go beyond the traditional question-and-answer patterns by giving the students opportunities to explore the language in true-to-life situations. Moreover, the Proficiency Approach promotes the use of authentic materials to complement the curriculum--materials created for Israelis and by Israelis such as Israeli songs, books, video clips and shows. We want our students to feel a connection to Israeli culture and absorb the language by being immersed in it.

We have found that this approach has given students with learning challenges a new excitement and love for learning Hebrew. The simulations are a type of experiential learning which resonate. Additionally, we are proud that the data shows that these students are making significant strides in their Hebrew speaking and conversational skills. Their confidence in learning the language and using it has increased as well. We are looking forward to observing how the Proficiency Approach continues to positively affect how these students view Hebrew, learn Hebrew, and communicate in Hebrew.

Jenna Schilit and Adi Zaken are Learning Specialists at the CESJDS Lower School, and Daniella Friedman is the Judaic Studies and Hebrew Language Coordinator at the Lower School.

Read more from the CESJDS Educational Support Services team in the Spring 2017 ESS Update.

Ringvald, V. (2005, Fall).The Proficiency Approach: A Tool for Advancing the Hebrew Language Curriculum in our Schools. Lookstein.org. Retrieved from http://www.lookstein.org/online_journal.php?id=80.

How the Ma'ayan Campaign Helps Our Children Thrive
Barbara and Gary Libbin

CESJDS provides a first class education in both Jewish and secular studies, but it is so much more. While our children learn the basics, like how to read and write in English and Hebrew, they also learn how to be part of a community. While they learn basic math and science skills, they also practice computer coding by teaching a robot how to celebrate Shabbat. CESJDS is the excitement that our children bring home about learning a broad variety of subjects while internalizing the infectious joy of all-school Kabbalat Shabbat.

It is because their school is so much more than an education that we became involved with the Ma'ayan campaign. When we can see not only the progress our children make in reading, in math, and in Judaics, but in how they look forward to learning,we, as parents, are called to do more. When we see how the school encourages our children to act like a mensch, even when no one is looking, we want to participate in the Ma'ayan campaign and encourage the school to go further. When the teachers and staff share their love of learning by always going above and beyond, we want to also go above and beyond and give back in any way that we can. That is why we are giving to the Ma'ayan campaign this year and hope that others will too.

We also greatly appreciate that the Ma'ayan campaign has a participation goal and not just a fundraising goal. We are proud of the school's commitment to financial assistance, which helps a significant number of families enjoy the benefits of the CESJDS education and community, and it is important to acknowledge each family's gift to the campaign comes from the heart, regardless of the size. Every dollar that a family contributes will make a difference to CESJDS.

We relish those sparks we see in the eyes of our children: the new parts of the Passover seder that they led this year, the conversation our 1st grade son engaged in with an Israeli shliach in Hebrew, the prayers our children say as they finish Shabbat dinner. Fundraising, such as the Ma'ayan campaign, is what allows CESJDS to provide the breadth and depth of experiences that enrich our children's education beyond the basics.

Barbara and Gary Libbin are parents of CESJDS students Ezra (1st grade) and Rina (kindergarten).


The Ma'ayan Annual Campaign provides educational and extracurricular enhancements that make each student's experience unique and powerful. Learn more and make your gift today. #PowerofParticipation

Ma'ayan Annual Campaign

Gurim: An Amazing First Year
Dr. Natalie Billington
Gurim Junior Kindergarten class at CESJDS

When I was asked to write an article on the Gurim class, my initial reaction was to run a mile. In fact, my husband had to convince me to do it. Why? Because when I was in elementary school it was implied/stated that I wasn't very bright and I was, as my report card told me consistently, below average. Before you direct me to adult education classes, it turned out OK. I did well at upper school, made it to college, did rather well, and ended up with a Ph.D. But that "below average" feeling doesn't leave you, it's that little voice at the back of your head.

What does this have to do with the Gurim class? Well I was an August birthday (23rd if you want to wish me a happy birthday) as is my youngest (16th). When she came to visit CESJDS, it was suggested that she may benefit from the Gurim class, a Junior K class, giving her an extra year before Kindergarten. Initially we were concerned if were making the right choice – were we holding her back, would she be bored, would being the oldest in the class be an issue for her - however I suddenly remembered that "below average" child and how it affected her life.

So we signed her up and WOW! What a gift we gave her.

Amelia was nervous her first day of school. She was upset to be leaving the safety of her preschool where many of the teachers were family friends. On top of that, she was aware that her pre-K friends would be in a different grade to her and that she would not know the children in her class. The first person she met was Morah Sivan (Gurim Judaic Studies teacher) whose warmth immediately calmed Amelia. I was surprised that Sivan spoke to Amelia in Hebrew from the start, however by demonstrating what she wanted her to do, Amelia was easily able to follow instruction and complete the task. She was so proud of herself.

Gurim GS Teacher Eve MargolNext she met Mrs. Margol (Gurim General Studies teacher), who welcomed her into the classroom and showed her where to put her things before guiding her to an activity station. Within five minutes I was out of the classroom, and Amelia could not care less! At this point, Day 1, five minutes into the school year, we suspected we had made the right decision for our child.

Our expectations of what Amelia would learn in Gurim were that she would be happy, make good friends, learn some of her letters, sing some songs, and have lots of fun. At our first parent-teacher conference, Mrs. Margol told us that some children in the class were now able to read. Jason and I laughed, exclaiming "not Amelia though!" Mrs. Margol and Morah Sivan took great delight showing us a video of Amelia reading simple words. She was confident and even taking risks by sounding out words she didn't know. We were shocked, proud, and also a little surprised at how she had accomplished this so quickly. The reason is Gurim.

The Gurim class has the time to assess how each child learns, creating appropriate and stimulating activities. The children feel confident to try new ideas, after all they are having fun, and learning through play is the best way to teach. This extra year gave the children time to, for example, play with letters. Using the 'Handwriting without Tears' program, the children learn to form letters from blocks, thus getting the feel and sounds of the letters. They form letters in shaving foam, giving their fingers the muscle memory before moving on to using a pencil. This process allows time for children of all levels to feel their way into writing. Amelia came home and suddenly wrote some letters. She has no fear of getting it wrong; a confident and brave learner – just fabulous.

Gurim writing foam numbers

They work with numbers, learning basic (and by the end of the year pretty advanced) math skills. On top of this, they learn Hebrew, embrace the Jewish life-cycle, learn fabulous songs in music, and even have science lessons. Amelia has loved learning how plants grow and has thoroughly enjoyed seeing her beans and carrot plants grow from seed. I loved how she learned about how to make floating cities, because in Gurim we have time to work with water, and getting wet makes the process much more fun!

Gurim is so much more than academic learning. They learn about forming friendships, how to be kind to their fellow classmates and the community around them. When the class decided bees were there to be harassed, Mrs. Margol quickly took the situation in hand by reading a story about what bees do for the environment, even getting the kids to make their own bees. Amelia came home so excited to share all she had learned and to warn me that we must be nice to the bees. She even inspired my older children to plant bee-friendly flowers for our garden.

With her background in teaching children with learning differences, Mrs. Margol was able to teach yoga skills that help calm the class and keep them from disrupting quiet times, such as whole school presentations. She took much delight in hearing that Amelia was very clear with her siblings that they must not enter each other's "personal bubble." Teaching kids about personal space and how to control themselves is a life skill I am so glad Amelia is able to share with the family. She is particularly great at tree pose!

As we come to the end of the school year, Amelia has had an amazing experience and feels very much a part of the school. Amelia feels she can achieve ANYTHING! She is confident, an academic risk taker, and most of all she has loved her first year of CESJDS – she is ready to set the world on fire. What more could you ask for?

Learn more about the Gurim program.

Dr. Natalie Billington is CESJDS parent of Amelia (Gurim), Aedan (grade 4), and Elana (grade 6).

Reflecting on the Past and Looking Towards the Future
Rebecca Weisman

Rebecca Weisman, Middle School Principal

CESJDS has been abuzz with preparation and implementation for our intense focus on Israel through commemorations on Yom HaZikaron and celebrations on Yom Ha'atzmaut. Ahavat Yisrael - a love for Israel -- is a core value of our school, and we strive to bring relevance and meaning to all our students on these days marking our connections to, belief in, and support of the State of Israel.

Another annual priority in May is administrators' reflection on the year that is closing to help shape the direction of the upcoming school year. It is particularly critical and meaningful for me this year, as I look toward the end of my tenure as Middle School Principal. While I would never equate our Middle School Redesign Initiative to the creation of the State of Israel, I will admit that I regularly have sought out wisdom from Jewish philosophers, scholars, and Zionist leaders for inspiration and direction in moving our initiative forward over the past few years.

Knowing the benefits I have found from the sage words of admirable trailblazers, during this season celebrating the accomplishments of Israeli heroes, I thought it would be valuable to share a few quotes from leaders whose insights can offer our Middle School community perseverance and perspective to continue to achieve what we have worked so hard to build -- no matter what the obstacles.

If you will it, it is no dream. -- Theodor Herzl

We must think differently, look at things in a different way. Peace requires a world of new concepts, new definitions. - Yizhak Rabin

Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life. Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement. -- Golda Meir

If an expert says it can't be done, get another expert. -- David Ben Gurion

Our faculty and staff have shown an unwavering commitment to our Middle School because they believe deeply in the benefits of what we are creating. I am incredibly blessed and will forever be grateful for working closely with colleagues who share our school's vision in helping our students become confident, compassionate thinkers who engage the world through Jewish values.

Rebecca Weisman is the Middle School Principal at CESJDS.

Teaching Our Kids to Think, Inquire, and Learn in a 21st Century World
Ginger Thornton

Several years ago at a conference, I heard what has become one of my favorite lines to share with colleagues who lament the struggles of 21st century teaching and learning - "You have every right to live in a cave . . . you just can't take your students there." At the time, the discussion was about how technology creates opportunity for students to discover and interact and share in ways not before imagined, about how teachers can capitalize on that opportunity and the energy it creates, and about the understandable angst these changes can create for teachers.

As time has passed, I've thought a lot about that cave and what goes on there. For some, it's like the cave Plato imagined, where reality passes by behind us while we are occupied with its faint echoes cast on the wall by a dying fire. For many, it's the last refuge of a passing civilization, a place to stockpile the known and guard it faithfully. For a few, it's simply a retreat, a quiet and unchanging place not lit by the glow of laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

These are not new struggles. The printing press was thought to be the end of civilization - torrents of information, way too much democratic access to it, etc. . . . sound familiar? For the past 30 years or so, from the first Texas Instruments computers that showed up in a tiny school computer lab in West Texas when I was a 25 year old teacher, technology has seemed to be the driving force for change in education. That's part of the myth the cave dwellers believe, a myth that leads them to the conclusion that technology in education is the root of much evil. In fact, technology is simply following the elephant in the parade, not leading it. That elephant - the global explosion of information, both its discovery and its dissemination - arguably began before I was born. The new methods that education has just recently begun to see the need for are necessary because information itself has changed, both the amount of it and the growing variety of ways in which we access and manipulate it. Just in the last year or two, the actual reliability of information - the truth of it - has become one of our most pointed questions.

There was a time not so long ago when what you knew mattered most. While I'm not among those who claim that knowledge no longer matters, I do believe the stockpile of knowledge you possess is becoming increasingly less important as one's ability to find information, vet it, and put it to use increasingly take precedence. As we've long argued at our school, technology is a tool and, when used well, a transformative one. We work hard to give our students experiences with as wide a variety of devices and platforms as possible, to help them learn to be adaptable, savvy, menschy technology users and consumers of online information - the sheer pace of technology change they will see by the time they leave college demands it.

And this is where Technology's longtime friends - Science, Engineering, and Math - come in. What all these changes really mean for education is a fundamental shift away from the primacy of knowledge and toward a primacy of process and skills. How we learn has overtaken what we learn - and that's a fact that has everything to do with STEM. After all, STEM is not about learning facts - it's about a way of thinking, one which should come to permeate every facet of education. This STEM thinking gets talked about as "growth mindset" or "inquiry-based learning". But what it really means is that we learn from posing questions and exploring possible answers. We assemble research and test hypotheses. We think critically and solve problems. We collaborate and share our findings.

Most important, we learn to fail. At the heart of STEM thinking is the ability to accept failure as not only inevitable but as a crucial step in learning. At CESJDS we believe in Torah Lishmah, the love of lifelong learning - and lifelong learners will always tell you that they learned more from their failures than from their successes. In the end, our job as educators is to do what's best for kids. The amazing STEM program we're building throughout our school helps to make all our classrooms into learning laboratories where our students learn to inquire, to persist and, in doing so, to thrive in a 21st century world.

Ginger Thornton is the Director of Instructional Technology at CESJDS.

Early and Ongoing STEM Education for Girls Leads to Amazing Women in STEM Careers
Rogina Bolt

I gravitated toward science and mathematics early in life. I was surrounded by brothers and male cousins. They were always making something, going on adventures, building tree forts, hunting for frogs and snakes, playing on the farm, fishing, building rockets, making messes, etc. I had the option of being alone or learning how to keep up with all the fun. I became quite competitive with all of them. I learned I was as good or better at many of the games we played. It gave me strength for the career I have now. It gave me a sense of being equal to males. I have always felt there are no limits for females, only the ones we imagine for ourselves. I won my first science fair when I was in fourth grade. I kept winning science fairs from then on.

I truly believe it is important to immerse all children, especially girls, into STEM at an early age. They must feel a part of something in order to attach that something to their identities. The whole child must be embraced with this immersion. STEM is fun! It combines all modalities and genres of academia into one class. For me, it is the most important subject each student will take. For girls, it will give them a strong sense of their place in our world. The female mind must be heard throughout the scientific community. We have great instincts and abilities to see around problem solving that benefit this community and the world.

The program at CESJDS has the most amazingly cohesive and talented teachers who use cross-curricular skills to teach STEM through all the subjects offered here. We collaborate on all levels. We embrace the Next Generation Science Standards into our curriculum. We have a strong vision of where we are and where we are going with science. We see the need to be aggressive with our learning of technology. We know there is a need in the world for more creative design in engineering. The mathematical skills we are teaching with hands-on activities give the learner a stronger retention and understanding. Critical thinking skills are at the core of our STEM program. They are embedded into the curriculum in every lesson.

Rogina Bolt, CESJDS science teacher

Rogina Bolt is the science teacher for Junior Kindergarten-2nd Grade students at the CESJDS Lower School.

Reflections on the Women's March on Washington
Julia Gordon

Women's March Hebrew posterAt the Women's March in DC the day after Inauguration, I carried a sign I printed off the internet from a female artist who offered her work to be used by march participants.

The sign said: צדק צדק תרדפי (justice, justice, shall you pursue, with the original תרגף changed to the feminine form of the verb).

While the quote is well known perhaps to the point of cliché, it has a place in my heart largely due to a commentary I once heard as a teenager: that the repetition of the word "Tzedek" reminds us both the ends and the means must be just. Over the years, that message has become a core tenet of how I approach social justice activism.

But more generally, I chose a sign with Hebrew words and a Jewish message because my values and politics are rooted in my religious values, and it felt important to signify that commitment in my public expression.

Not unexpectedly, the sign brought me together with other Jews at the march. A number of passers-by wished me a Shabbat Shalom; many others identified themselves as Jewish as we stood near each other during the speeches or marched down the street together; and a reporter from the Forward delightedly interviewed my family.

Unexpectedly, I learned a few days after the march that Ruth Mergi, the artist who created the sign I carried, was a graduate of CESJDS! Yet while that discovery was unexpected, it wasn't surprising. The students at CESJDS not only learn values of tolerance and justice, but also how to be participatory members of their community.

In fact, quite a large number of CESJDS students attended the march – I saw many of them either in person or on social media photos – and I spoke to a couple of them after I was asked to write this blog post.

One of those students, Kate Sosland (grade 10) told me, "My Jewish values teach me that every single human being deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. I wanted to march to stand with those values and embrace myself in a beautiful community."

Kate, who had marched in Boston during an out-of-town visit with family, further reflected, "Marching that day was one of the most empowering experiences of my life. I was able to let go of my anger and fear about what lies ahead because I felt empowered that so many other people shared the same values as I do."

My daughter, Rochelle Berman (grade 7), sounded some of the same themes as Kate. She wanted to march so that she could be "part of history," and the unexpectedly large turnout in DC as well as the multiplicity of marches across the country and the world moved her greatly.

"As Jews, we're supposed to advocate for justice," Rochelle said. "I liked that while the march was focused on women's rights, people there also marched for welcoming refugees and supporting the black lives matter movement and standing for LGBT rights."

Both Kate and Rochelle view their participation in the Women's March as just the beginning of their activism. Kate has already attended two more rallies, and Rochelle has helped furnish an apartment that will house a refugee family.

In recent weeks, I've found hope in the many people who have offered messages of comfort and caring in the face of anti-Semitism and intolerance, but best of all is knowing our children are prepared to pursue justice vigorously and to love their neighbor as themselves.

Julia Gordon is the CESJDS parent of Rochelle Berman (grade 7).

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