A Culminating Capstone Experience
Picture the entire 8th grade class sitting, deeply reflecting upon, and journaling about the Portrait of a Graduate on their 8th grade trip to the South. Now picture the entire 8th grade class on the Shabbaton that immediately followed the trip, sitting in a quiet, contemplative circle, listening so intently to one another that one could hear a pin drop as each and every student shared what CESJDS has given to them as both students and human beings. Students talked about community and family, how their teachers have helped them grow, what they have learned because of CESJDS, their intellectual stimulating courses, and their ability to learn about Judaism and study Jewish texts in a very serious way.
In Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Hillel says ?אם אין אני לי, מי לי? וכשאני לעצמי, מה אני? ואם לא עכשיו, אימתי “Im ein ani li mi li uchsheani l’atsmi ma ani v’im lo achshav eimatai/If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” Each grade level focuses on a unique section of this verse, which can be summarized as identity, community, and taking action. The 8th grade trip truly served as a capstone that allowed students to focus on, celebrate, and live what they were studying for the past three years.
As individuals our 8th graders were able to express who they are and what they think in a place outside of the traditional school walls, allowing them to take more individual positive risks. They pushed themselves in ways that we had not seen before to think about themselves and others. To consider their history in the context of a larger history, to become aware of how another person can impact a person’s self. Students witnessed role models for leadership and considered how they themselves might have a larger, positive impact on their surroundings.
During and after the trip, students repeatedly and excitedly shared how great it was for them to get to know other students in their class with whom they did not normally interact. By the end of the trip, tables no longer created boundaries during mealtimes. Students could be seen pulling as many chairs together as possible to invite as many friends as possible into their group. During havdallah on the Shabbaton, the 8th graders learned that they were using their class havdallah candle for the first time just as the Seniors were using their class havdallah candle for their last time together in Jerusalem, providing the 8th graders a scope of where they are in their educational journey.
Our students walked in the footsteps of giants in our history. They examined multiple communities, including their own, and how these community may be impacted by the students’ own personal actions. Throughout the trip students readily picked up on the biblical themes interwoven within the slave experience and extrapolated this to understand what it means to make space for and protect others. They considered and discussed how the actions of some can imprison others and how the actions of others can set people free.
We are extraordinarily proud of our culminating trip and for the impressive and amazing learning that our 8th grade students brought to and learned during their experience. In addition, they learned adaptive thinking strategies and skills to manage small logistical changes, how to travel as a group together, and how to be mindful of a space they are entering that is not their own. All of which has begun preparing them for their Senior Trip to Israel.