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

Principal's Perspective: Rabbi Matthew Bellas

Rabbi Matthew Bellas

Purposeful "Whole Child Education"

It's academic jargon, the term "Whole Child Education," easily stated as part of a school's educational philosophy, but often incompletely implemented or executed. At the CESJDS Lower School, we embrace the challenge posed by our belief in the education of the whole child and purposefully fulfill it in ways that are unique to the Jewish Day School experience. In our school, the spheres of academic, social-emotional, spiritual, and physical learning intersect on a daily basis, leading to the growth of children who possess strong personal identities and confidence in all four of these key developmental domains.

The rigor of our academic program meets and exceeds those of the best independent and public schools in our area and is a leader in the field of Jewish education. Our dual curriculum, with growing elements of integration across academic disciplines, challenges students to think critically and deeply, to work collaboratively, to develop creatively, and to hone their communication skills - all domains critical to success in a 21st century world in which the rapidity of change causes so much of the future to be unknown. Our focus on academic skills in addition to content is what will lead to their future success.

"Derekh eretz kadmah la-Torah/Courtesy/Respect precedes learning." Without a grounding in values and character, what we like to call menschlichkeit, all of the academic knowledge and skills in the world mean very little. Our emphasis on middot/values each and every day in the way that our teachers are trained to lead and manage their classrooms and in the expectations and standards that we set for students for their interactions with each other and their teachers, results in the raising up of menches, children who instinctively use Jewish values to inform the choices they make in their lives.

Other elements of our social-emotional education include a focus on developing resilience and courage in the face of challenges, a growth mindset of self-understanding, and mature social skills in a time when human interaction becomes less and less frequent. It is a deliberate choice at the Lower School that the only individual awards that we grant are Middot Menschens, personalized recognition of students nominated for values-based behavior. And where else will you find a team of four guidance counselors for an elementary school of our size? Our counselors are available on-call for students and teachers to support social-emotional needs and have developed a spiraled curriculum of guidance lessons that proactively address topics that commonly arise in various grade levels.

Who am I as a Jew? How does Jewish tradition speak to me today? What does my Judaism mean to me? How will I express my Jewish identity and commitments as I get older? These are the deep questions at the heart of the spiritual learning experience of the Lower School. While we immerse our students in Jewish experiences and tradition, we do so through a pluralistic lens and approach, fostering exploration of and conversations about the diverse expressions of Judaism that exist in our school and in the world. As our students develop strong senses of Jewish identity, they develop an appreciation for and understanding of the larger Jewish world in which they live. We celebrate the diversity of our Jewish community and expose students to the variety of practices - traditional and liberal, ashkenazi and s'faradi - that make up k'lal Yisra-el/the community of Israel. As our students move on to Middle and High School, they have the background to begin making informed choices about the course of their personal Jewish expression and pursuits in Judaic Studies.

Elementary school students need their exercise in order to be in optimal condition for learning. Therefore, we emphasize the importance of outdoor recess each and every day (weather permitting) and two breaks a day for students in Junior Kindergarten-1st grade. Our recess schedule is research-based, with studies having shown that recess taking place before lunch - as we have scheduled it - leading to higher academic achievement results. We have a comprehensive physical education curriculum with multiple P.E. classes each week taught by experienced specialists in the field. Students must develop their spatial awareness and coordination skills along with the values of personal health, cooperation and sportsmanship. Our planful approach to physical learning addresses all of these areas.

Whole-child education is a challenging endeavor to achieve. However, with deliberate and planful curricular and scheduling choices, the Lower School has been consistently successful at it. As we continue to review our program with an eye toward its constant improvement, this approach is at the forefront of our minds because we know how important it is to the comprehensive education of our children.