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entries tagged with: Rookie Billet


‘Who’s going to teach our kids?’

From left, Talya Rand, Pnina Cohen, and Lottie Kestenbaum work on an assignment for their teacher training course.

I don’t think there’s any way to better learn something than to be pushed into the middle of it and do it hands on,” commented a Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School senior on an evaluation form for a teacher-training elective she recently completed. “It really gave me a feel for teaching.”

The object of the elective course, sponsored by the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Jewish Educational Service, is to address a looming teacher shortage in Jewish day schools.

“The issue is, who’s going to teach our kids?” said Minna Heilpern, JES director. “There are not enough educators coming down the pike, and not enough [graduate] schools for Jewish education. We could already see the problem coming 10 years ago.”

That was when Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies Principal Fred Nagler secured a continuity grant from the federation and asked Heilpern and faculty member Bruce Ettinger to use it toward promoting education as a profession.

Heilpern and Ettinger created a curriculum for BCHSJS — a Sunday program for public high school students — called “Hemshech (Continuity): Inspiring the Next Generation of Jewish Educators.” After a few years, they decided to adapt the program for area yeshiva high school seniors interested in exploring a teaching career.

“The idea is to plant the seeds while they’re still in high school, to give them opportunities to test out teaching as a profession,” said Heilpern, who has taught the one-semester, twice-weekly course at the Frisch School in Paramus and at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck.

Ma’ayanot Principal Rookie Billet said Hemshech “suits the aspirations of some of our students. They appreciate a course that allows and encourages them to reflect on Jewish education in a meaningful, hands-on way. The course offers a taste of Jewish education as a career, and encourages creativity through original projects and assignments.”

The interactive class attempts to model and analyze what is effective. “The student are experiencing and ‘unpacking’ teaching,” said Heilpern.

This past semester, her 10 Ma’ayanot girls also observed teachers in action at Yavneh Academy and Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus, and at Solomon Schechter Day School in New Milford, with an eye toward understanding classroom management and teaching strategies.

“We also looked at professional films about teaching and even analyzed [the 1996 fantasy film] ‘Matilda’ for the different poses of teachers and classroom environments it presents,” said Heilpern.

The students studied how noted “horse whisperer” Monty Roberts applies his innovative horse-taming theories to classroom settings, and they wrote their own lesson plans and educational games. Fifth-grade teacher Talia Waizman came from the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey for a Q&A session with the girls, and Heilpern brought in her infant granddaughter for a hands-on demo of Piaget’s cognitive developmental stages.

“We try to look at things from a broad and unusual angle to extrapolate pedagogic theory,” said Heilpern.

Some of her former BCHJS students have gone onto teaching careers, she said, not just in schools but also in more informal settings such as youth groups, camps, campus Hillel houses, and family education programs. One of her Ma’ayanot students will be interning at Gerrard Berman Day School in Oakland. “There are all different ways this can play out,” she said.

The teacher shortage is a product of several factors, Heilpern explained. “People are not going into the field because it’s poorly paid and not well-respected despite past Jewish attitudes toward education,” she said. “Parents don’t necessarily encourage their kids to go into Jewish education. And there is no real career track seen; it seems that you have few choices but to be either a teacher or principal. However, there are other leadership roles available, such as teacher mentoring within schools.”

On their evaluation forms, many of the Hemshech students indicated that the school visits were their favorite part: “Hemshech helped me realize that I want to spend my life teaching children,” one student wrote. “I think it’s a very rewarding and fun job.”


Ma’ayanot mounts musical

Ma’ayanot students are putting on the Ritz for their own “High School Musical,” with a distinctively feminine twist: Their production, called Heartbeats, is a showcase of art, song, and dance exclusively by women for women.

The student-run production, which will take place on May 26, aims to raise money for Shalva, an organization in Israel that aids developmentally disabled children.

Heartbeats is a way for students to showcase their talents and present an arts festival to the community, said Rebecca Schenker, a senior at the Teaneck girls school who is co-chairing the event with her classmates Talia Pruzansky, Micolette Levine, and Nikki Sadek.

Nearly half of the school’s 230 students are involved in the show, either as performers or behind the scenes, Talia said, adding, “The whole school comes together to work on this. It’s a great unifying experience.”

The now annual production began as the brainchild of three students in 2008. That year, the Heartbeats fund-raiser collected $5,000 for Sharsheret, which helps Jewish women afflicted with cancer. Last year, the event raised $9,000 for Miklat, an organization in Israel that aids abused women. Organizers this year are optimistic that they will draw a larger crowd and raise even more money for their cause.

From left are Ma’aynot students Micolette Levine, Talia Pruzansky, Rebecca Schenker, and Nikki Sadek. They will perform in a fund-raiser for an Israeli organization for developmentally disabled children.

Rebecca said she was impressed when she recently visited one of Shalva’s facilities in Israel and hopes that the fund-raiser will help spread the word about the organization’s good work.

“The building is filled with many different colors, making it a very fun, upbeat place to be,” Rebecca said. “I watched the children in different age groups in their activities and they were having so much fun while learning. They have different therapy rooms with the newest technology, a swimming pool, and a music room. During their weekly sleepovers, they learn how to fold their clothing and make their lunches, basic life skills, and just overall have a great time while giving the parents a break and some time to focus on their other children.”

Ma’ayanot Principal Rookie Billet said she’s proud of her students for taking the initiative and launching a project that gives back to the community while allowing young women an outlet for their talents. “They perform musical numbers in Hebrew and English with carefully chosen soulful lyrics that emphasize support and connection,” she said. They choreograph their own original dances, she added, and use “technological media to highlight lyrics on a screen accompanied by photos and graphics. Heartbeats is an incredible opportunity for our students to take an original idea and fly with it. We are so proud of the program and we hope to sell out the Ma’ayanot ‘Playhouse.’”

Talia first became involved in Heartbeats two years ago, when organizers asked her to choreograph and perform a dance for the show. She has been involved in the project every year since. “It is so great,” she said. “I love dancing. There isn’t anything else in our school to showcase dancing. This is the one opportunity to really use your talents. We practice all the time. This is the first time I’ve been able to dance in front of a crowd. I don’t think I’ll have the chance again after this because it’s all for women, so I really appreciate this.

“This is a huge group effort,” she noted. “The whole school comes together for this. We all work really hard on this.”

Micolette oversees the musical numbers and also sings in the show. Nikki supervises the set and artistic aspects of the program.

Rebecca, who manages the business end of the event, said, “Although everyone has their specialty, we all put our individual talents together to create an incredible production while raising the most money that we can for Shalva.”

“The show is amazing,” she added. It gets better every year. It’s a great way for the girls to show their talents. This is our only school production that is from start to finish totally run and performed by students. It’s every girls’ chance to shine.”

For more information and tickets, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


Is team spirit limited to sports?

Irene Stein, Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck’s math league advisor, left, with Shlomo Klapper, Yakir Forman, Natanel Friedenberg, and Gavi Dov Hochsztein, American Mathematics Competition winners who qualified for the American Invitational Mathematics examination.

When it comes to brain vs. brawn, who gets the accolades?

At Jewish high schools in the area, it depends on whom you ask. The educators agree that students cheer their academic teams as much as the sports teams. The students say, “Well, yes, but it’s a close call.”

The question arises following some stellar performances in the academic world: Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck brought home multiple awards in math competition. Three students from Ma’ayanot Yeshiva for Girls in Teaneck just were honored in Washington for winning a prestigious science competition. A student at the Frisch Academy in Paramus came out on top over 400 other students in a Talmud competition.

The schools field a full range of athletic teams, among them baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, track, and volleyball. But they also compete in such areas as chess, debate, mock trial, Torah Bowl, New Jersey Challenge, Science Olympiad, and math.

“We at TABC emphasize participation in all extra-curricular activities, be that athletics or academics,” said Arthur Poleyeff, principal for general studies at the Teaneck school.

The academic competitors “are applauded by their peers; they are held in high esteem,” said Irene Stein, the TABC math teacher who guided the math competitors. “They enjoy the competition,” she continued. “Success breeds success.”

The students experience intrinsic rewards, said Rookie Billet, principal at Ma’ayanot. “When the team brings a trophy, all the kids cheer,” and the praise of their teachers counts for a lot, she said.

At The Frisch School in Paramus, Principal Kalman Stein said academics share the space on the podium with athletics. “Sports are important, but they are not that important,” Stein said.

“The ‘big man’ or ‘big woman on campus’ is more often than not not an athlete,” he said.

By the numbers, TABC has had a winning year in math competition. Yakir Forman, a junior, won the first prize of $1,000 in the inaugural Jacob Goldfinger Memorial Mathematics competition sponsored by Touro College’s Lander College for men.

Senior Netanel Friedenberg won the third prize of $100, and junior Moshe Kollmar took honorable mention. Tzipporah Greenberg, a sophomore at Bais Yackovin Passaic also took honorable mention. There were 96 participants from around the country.

In the New Jersey Math League competition, TABC placed fifth-highest in the state and first in Bergen County.

The Mathematics Association of America uses a series of competitions to choose a six-person team to represent the United States in the math Olympiad. Although he didn’t make the final team, Yakir, a junior, finished in the top 80 out of 100,000.

Shlomo Klapper, this year’s TABC valedictorian, shared insights about these kinds of competition. He speaks from the experience of his roles as captain of the Science Olympiad, Torah Bowl, and College Bowl teams.

He explained that the math competitions are in test format and take place within the student’s school. This kind of competition is not a spectator sport.

“You can go to a hockey game, but you can’t go to a math competition,” he said. “It is a solo experience, you’re flying alone,” he said.

Other competition are out in the open, though — the College Bowl championships, for example. The Torah Bowl is in more of a quiz show format, with competitors pressing a button to buzz when they have an answer.

Picking a question at random, Shlomo demonstrated an answer involving logarithms, a concept that has mystified this reporter for decades. After Shlomo’s explanation, the concept is still mysterious, but less so.

In some cases, like the Science Olympiad, contestants have to practice, he said. In other cases, though, you can’t really study because the subject matter is so broad. Asked what was one of his out-of-the-blue questions, he recalled a U.S. history question: Who was the British prime minister during the American Revolution?

He just happened to have the answer filed in his brain — Lord North.

He said he was in school from about 7:40 a.m. to 5:25 p.m. Asked how many hours, caught without a calculator, he had to think a bit. Nine hours and about 45 minutes, he figured. “A calculator is such a terrible crutch,” he said.

If there is a divide between brains and brawn, Shlomo speaks from both sides. Athletics have their place, said Shlomo, who was on the tennis and softball teams and runs now and then.

“You can’t pickup and play college bowl, but you can with sports,” he said. While TABC is “very supportive” of academic teams, the satisfaction of winning is more within the team itself, he said.

“After all, in the general sense, mainstream sports have been, and probably will be, cooler than the College Bowl,” he said.

Shlomo will attend the University of Pennsylvania in the fall. His major? He doesn’t know yet.

At Ma’ayanot, sisters Ariella and Eliana Applebaum, and Elana Forman, all of Teaneck, were national winners in the Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVisionAwards Program.

The trio was cited for sifting through scientific literature and then forecasting 20 years into future for what the state of knowledge about human ability to regenerate limbs will be.

The girls were in Washington, D.C., to receive their awards last week. The contest is in its 18th year, and this is the first year Ma’ayanot has participated. Each winner gets a $5,000 savings bond.

Earlier in the spring, Ma’ayanot students Daniella Greenbaum of New York and Tzippy Steingart of Teaneck won first and third place in the annual Holocaust Memorial essay contest run by EMUNAH, a social service agency.

Daniella’s essay was named “Masha Greenbaum,” for her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. Tzippy’s was “A Nightmare to Remember, A Nightmare Never to Forget.”

At Frisch, the principal was speaking at the crest of a victory for senior Darren Sultan, who bested 400 students nationwide in the Yeshiva University Bronka Weintraub Bekiut Program. The contest is aimed at getting students to study Talmud outside the classroom.

Darren won first place in the United States portion of the International Bible Contest two years ago, and last year was first among the non-Israeli competitors in the international contest.

Jessica Oppenheimer, a Frisch senior on her way to Yale and captain of the debate team, said academic teams are appreciated, but athletic teams grab more of the spotlight.

“There is more of a sense of inclusion with sports teams because you can go and cheer,” she said. “You can’t do that with athletic teams.”

Soccer player Jared Hoch, also a senior, agreed that academic teams are appreciated, but sports teams get the edge. One reason he said is that academic teams often compete in a tournament setting, while the soccer team competes a game at a time. “When you win, everybody knows,” while academic victories are not as publicized, he said.

Rachel Cohen, a member of the girls soccer team at Frisch, agreed that sports teams get more attention, but she said part of that is logistics. Debates, for example, are held during school hours, while sports games are after school, so student spectators can attend.

But there is recognition for the academic teams, she said. “Everybody wants to show respect for their friends and show that they appreciate what they’re doing,” she said.

It was a winning season for the Frisch girls team — they won the league championship. Rachel said their sports activity dovetails with their Judaic studies.

“We all worked so hard together this year and it showed,” she said. “We did better when we were close.”

Last week, Rep. Steve Rothman welcomed Eliana Applebaum, Ariella Applebaum, and Elana Forman to Washington, D.C. The three students, from Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck, are winners of the 2010 Toshiba/National Science Teachers Association ExploraVision Awards.
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