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entries tagged with: Solomon Schechter Day School Of Bergen County


Global learning at Schechter and Moriah

From left, Ethan Murad, Josh Forman, and Michael Bruck discuss work on their electrical circuit. Amy Levine

It was supposed to be “hush, hush” in the science room at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford last Wednesday. It wasn’t that anything top secret was going on, but just that the nine seventh-graders needed all their powers of concentration for an international science competition.

But as the questions began rolling in over the Internet, youthful enthusiasm took over and discussion bubbled up as the students hashed out the possible answers to the 14 questions posed, all involving electricity.

In the final tally, the Schechter kids got most of the questions right, but the score was less important.

“I’m much more interested in them having fun and learning,” said science teacher Stephen Taylor.

The program was also hailed at the Moriah School in Englewood, where 12 sixth-graders took part, said teacher Anastasia Kelly. “The students were very excited and took it very seriously,” she said.

They also did well in the scoring, which was especially gratifying since the students don’t cover electricity in their regular curriculum until the eighth grade, said Kelly, who teaches the program along with Batya Kinsberg.

The contest was part of the E2K program (translation: Excellence 2000) created by the Israel Center for Excellence Through Education, which trains the participating teachers. The program is coordinated and funded for participating Jewish days schools in the United States by the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education, based in New York.

Some 20 schools from Israel, the United States, and Singapore participated in the competition. Besides the Bergen County schools, students from the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston took part.

The participating Schechter students were Ben Danzger, twins Ben and Josh Forman, Ben Iofel, Josh Kauderer, Leah Koretski, Brett Levine, Michael Bruck, and Ethan Murad.

The Moriah School participants were sixth-graders Gabriel Billing, Zachary Greenberg, Rachel Leiser, Talya Kornbluth, Noam Lindenbaum, Aviad Sussman, Harry Ottensose, Gabrielle Klein, Evan Polinsky, Jeremy Rosenblatt, Zachary Orenshein, and Yael Weitzner.

The medium, as well as the message, was high-tech. The schools were linked via the Internet, and students interacted via a large-screen “SMART Board” on which the questions and diagrams were projected.

At Schechter, the students’ answers were entered on a computer keyboard by Dov Kruger, a Schechter parent. It was done on the honor system — adults could not help with the answers. All participants knew ahead of time was that the questions would involve electricity.

The special software enabled the students to hear each other speak around the world, but not to see one another.

“We’re all at the mercy of the Internet,” said “Liz,” the moderator from Israel. Fortunately, though, the software and Internet cooperated, and the session went off with nary a glitch.

At Schechter, the atmosphere was, well, highly charged, and the questions spurred spirited debate among the students.

“What’s the difference between magnetism and static electricity?” One answer: static electricity can exist in many materials but magnetism requires certain metals.

“What did Benjamin Franklin invent to protect against lightning?” Answer: the lightning rod.

The contest included questions relating to diagrams displayed on the screen. The Schechter students scored points when they correctly spotted a “short circuit.”

The highlight of the competition was a hands-on experiment involving an actual electrical circuit with batteries, some wire, and flashlight bulbs. In accordance with the contest directions, the students were supplied with the materials beforehand.

The students were asked to configure the batteries and two bulbs in “series” and in “parallel,” and were asked to determine if there was a difference in bulb brightness between the two configurations. There was.

“The lessons are in the answers,” said Taylor.

“I learned a lot about electricity and circuits,” said Josh Forman.

For Leah, it was a lesson in “what a short circuit is.”

For Brett it was a very practical lesson: “A short circuit ruins the battery.”

The hush returned to the group as the session ended and the youngsters intently waited for the winner to be announced. Top score went to the Catholic High School in Singapore, a primary and secondary institution.

The scoring was based on correct answers and speed of answering, and the Israeli organizers did not immediately announce the complete individual standings.

Because of the international time zones involved, the students turned out at 8:30 a.m. to participate. If there was any disappointment it quickly faded, and after the session was over at 10, the students rushed to catch up with their regular classes.

The science is important, but so is the social interaction, said Taylor. “These are the values we want to instill,” he said.

Both at Schechter and Moriah, the students participate in an after-school science and math enrichment program. “Everybody gets something out of it,” said Linda Goldberg, math and science coordinator at CIJE. “Everybody who participates is a winner,” she said.

CIJE works with some 70 schools in the U.S., involving 21,000 students, said director Judy Lebovits. The program is for highly motivated youngsters seeking challenges beyond the regular curriculum.

Besides math and science, CIJE works with arts, and English and Hebrew language programs, Lebovits said. Assistance includes providing the “SMART Boards” and the teacher training program. Participating teachers visit Israel for training, and once a year meet with Israeli professors during sessions at Yeshiva University in New York.


Day schools laud Ridgewood principal for Facebook stand

It seems like everybody these days is on Facebook — well, almost everybody.

Anthony Orsini, the principal at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, made worldwide headlines last week after he sent an e-mail to parents urging them to take their children off the social networking site. Speaking to The Jewish Standard earlier this week, Orsini said the general reaction from the local community has been one of gratitude. Some parents have heeded his advice while others have ignored it, he said, but his e-mail succeeded in getting people to talk more about Internet safety with their children.

“I was simply imploring them to look out for the safety of their kids,” Orsini said. “I also made very, very clear that obviously it’s a family choice and I respect any choice a family makes.”

The Standard turned to area day-school leaders to see if they agreed with the principal’s actions.

At Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey in Oakland, Facebook is blocked on all of the school’s computers. Social networking, said Robert Smolen, general studies coordinator and middle school director, is meant to be face to face.

“We know that the Ridgewood principal is correct,” he said. “The use of the Internet for communication that can be very negative and bullying and provocative is something we are not in favor of. We have gotten feedback from time to time about children using it inappropriately and taken them to task for that.”

Smolen acknowledged that Facebook can be used positively. But children, he said, don’t always keep things in perspective, and the site can have a negative impact and lead to cliques.

A recent “South Park” episode lampooned those who get so caught up with the site that their non-virtual relationships are defined by their popularity status on Facebook. In the episode, the main character Kyle befriends a third-grader named Kip Drodry who has no other Facebook friends. Kip is ecstatic, but Kyle watches as his own friends count drops because of his association with this perceived outcast.

At Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford, the sixth- and seventh-graders receive formal education in Internet use, said Larry Mash, principal of SSDS’s middle school.

“Our position is we encourage smart use by our students and we encourage careful oversight by parents,” he said. “The parents need to be aware of where their kids are on the Internet and how much they’re using the Internet.”

The Moriah School in Englewood holds a program every year, with local police, on the dangers of Facebook. The school has in the past urged parents not to let their children use the site, but realizing that’s not always realistic, the school asks parents to monitor their children on the Internet, said principal Elliot Prager.

“What a child does in his or her free time, if it involves another child in the school [negatively], Moriah will take all necessary steps, including expulsion from school if necessary,” he said.

Last year Moriah instituted a new cyberbullying policy, considering cyberbullying an offense whether it takes place in or outside of school. After letters about the policy were sent home the school issued a handful of suspensions for violations, but has not had to respond as harshly this year.

“From what we can see and what we know, the policy has had a very positive impact on the behavior of the kids,” Prager said.

Arthur Poleyeff, general studies principal at high school Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck, not only agreed that middle school students should stay off Facebook, but added that high school students should not use the site either.

“There is very little benefit for students being on Facebook in middle school or high school,” he said. “Parents should take control over what their kids are doing online and not allow them to have computers in their bedroom where they’re locked away all day and night.”

Gerrard Berman’s Smolen urges parents to closely follow what their children do on the Internet. Facebook, he said, is just one of many opportunities children have to interact online and if it’s taken away, they can easily find another vehicle.

“Parents have given their children a tool, and the children need to have an accountability for that tool,” Smolen said. “IPhones, iPods, and iTouches all have Internet capability. It’s like giving them the keys to the car and letting them go wherever they want.”

Orsini said he has heard from more than 100 parents about his e-mail. Some have disagreed with him but most have been respectful. He is amazed, he said, that news of his request has grabbed international headlines.

“It hit a nerve,” he said.


NNJKIDS launches awareness month to raise money for day schools

In order to increase responsiveness to their goal of stemming the rise of yeshiva tuition, the committee behind North Jersey’s day-school kehilla fund has declared May NNJKIDS Month.

NNJKIDS, or Northern New Jersey Kehillot Investing in Day Schools, is the community fund of Jewish Education for Generations, a non-profit group formed last year to explore ways to lower tuition. To date, the organization has received more than 1,000 donations and distributed more than $300,000 to eight area day schools.

“What we’ve seen in the past year is a step change in the impact you can have when you tackle the issue collectively rather than individually,” said JEFG chair Sam Moed. “The effectiveness of what you can do is magnified when you pool all of the resources and tap into broader community infrastructure and capabilities.”

More than 60 area businesses — including restaurants, salons, and hardware stores — are displaying signs advertising NNJKIDS Month, and customers will have the option of adding donations to the fund to their bills. Each school is sending letters to parents encouraging participation in the fund. The schools are also promoting learn-a-thons during Shavuot for students to raise money from sponsors for the number of hours they spend learning during the holiday.

“The idea is a multi-pronged strategy to reach people wherever they are,” said Jennifer Miller, an officer of JEFG. “The community lives in the retail establishments, they live in the synagogues and respect what the rabbis promote, and of course the community lives in the day schools. We wanted to hit every constituency at every level.”

NNJKIDS has made two distributions so far, with a third planned later this month. The organization intends to hand out money quarterly to the eight elementary day schools within the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey catchment area, based on the number of students each school has from that area.

“The funds we’ve received from NNJKIDS have enabled us to keep tuition increases at a very low level for the coming year,” said Elliot Prager, principal of The Moriah School in Englewood, who said the school has scheduled a 1.9 percent increase. “It would have had to be higher.”

There are 926 students in K-8 this year, and 22 percent of Moriah’s families receive tuition assistance. The school has seen an increase in applications in the past two years, said Prager, who expects the percentage to remain about the same for next year.

Yavneh Academy in Paramus has approved a $200 increase to its $14,000 annual tuition, said the school’s executive director, Joel Kirschner. Without JEFG’s contribution, however, the school would have had to increase tuition an added $200, he said. Yavneh has received more than $100,000 from NNJKIDS to date.

“If it wasn’t for that, quite frankly, I don’t where we’d be,” Kirschner said. “People really need to get behind this effort, because this is hopefully going to change the face of education in the community.”

Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford has received less than $10,000 from the fund to date. The funds have not had a major impact on scholarship levels, said head of school Ruth Gafni, but seven families were able to receive scholarships that allowed their children to remain in the school instead of withdrawing midyear.

“How blessed we are to have people in our community willing to spend an enormous amount of time on what may save Jewish education in years to come,” she said.

Beyond the money, Gafni praised NNJKIDS for bringing the tuition crisis to the forefront and uniting the area’s Orthodox and Conservative day schools.

“The message is you’re not in it alone,” she said.

Recognizing that all the schools are in this situation together is a major part of the organization, said Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, JEFG’s rabbinic adviser and religious leader of Englewood’s Cong. Ahavath Torah.

“It’s encouraged a level of cooperation that’s really wonderful to witness,” he said. “It’s opened up lines of communication between the communities that’s beginning to extend to other areas of education as well.”

NNJKIDS leaders appeared pleased with what they have accomplished so far but also warned against complacency. The ultimate goal, they say, is to get 100 percent participation from the community.

“We’ve taken a good first step,” said Gershon Distenfeld, chair of NNJKIDS and treasurer of JEFG. “Clearly there is a lot more education that has to be done. We’re still only reaching a small percentage of our target audience, but the initial results are certainly promising.”

For more information on NNJKIDS, visit


Solomon schechter unveils after school academy

It’s not easy to capture the attention of middle school students, says Daniel Jaye, director of academic affairs at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County. But Jaye has no doubt that his school’s new initiative will do the trick.

“With a program like this, it’s easy,” he said.

On Feb. 1, the New Milford Schechter will unveil The After School Academy for Advanced Studies in Mathematics, Science, Arts, and Technology @ Schechter, open to fifth- through eighth-graders not only from Schechter but from schools throughout Bergen County.

Ruth Gafni, SSDS head of school, joked that in some ways the program will have the school competing against itself, since it already offers so many after-school programs. Still, she said, this one is different.

Daniel Jaye, left, and Ruth Gafni

“We’re always asked, as educators, what more can we do for our children to give them an edge in the competitive world,” said Jaye. “Parents are always faced with difficult choices about what to do with their kids after school. Since we couldn’t fit anything else into our school day and we had more that we wanted to offer, we came upon the notion that instead of parents scrambling to get their kids involved in programs for motivated and gifted children, we would offer it here in one program.”

Jaye said the most important aspects of a successful educational program are “the types of role models and instructors you can bring to a program.”

Therefore, in conceptualizing the program, planners “worked backwards,” starting not with the courses but with the experts they could identify in the community, whether teaching in universities or working in their fields. The nine courses include Unlocking the Mysteries of Stem Cells and Genomes, Video Game Design, and Public Speaking and How to Win Arguments.

For example, to supplement a course on non-routine problem-solving that will be taught by a Schechter faculty member, the academy will bring in the head coach of the New York City Math Team to deliver a lecture.

“We look to eyewitnesses, outside experts, people who are making a difference,” said Jaye, adding that since students today are immersed in the digital world, offerings will include subjects such as video production and editing, computer architecture, web page design, and video game design.

He noted that a good deal of excitement was generated this school year when he arranged for a class to Skype with an astronaut.

When you bring in outside experts, he said, “you create a dynamic where student interest is magnified by interaction with people they look up to.” With the academy, he said, “we are engaging eyewitnesses and people involved in change to make magic in the classroom.”

Instructors will include five Schechter faculty members together with people Jaye has met through his own work experience, “all cherry-picked for the way they relate to kids and present engaging lessons.”

“Our universe of middle-school students is limited,” said Gafni, pointing out that the SSDS middle school embraces about 150 students. “To bring all these course offerings, we needed a [larger] core group. We felt it was so valuable that Schechter should take the lead role in the community,” she added, pointing out that “everything we teach is based on ethics and the values of the Jewish world.”

The response, she said, has been very exciting, with Fairleigh Dickinson and Montclair State Universities expressing interest in having their students participate. Some 15 percent of Schechter students have already expressed interest.

The eight-week program will cost $250 for non-yeshiva students, $225 for yeshiva students. Each course will meet for 16 hours.

Jaye said the academy program will benefit from “the enhanced equipment we already purchased to prepare students for the 21st century.”

Jaye said that Schechter may be the only middle school to own a PCR, or thermal cycler. Describing the device as a DNA amplifier, he said people should realize that “Solomon Schechter, right here in New Milford, is pioneering programs for very young adults, positioning them to be the next generation of Jewish leaders and scientists.”

Classes will be offered Tuesdays (4:30 to 6:30 p.m.) or Thursdays (4:30 to 5:30 p.m. or 5 to 7 p.m.), at the school, 275 McKinley Ave., New Milford. For more information, visit or call (201) 262-9898, ext. 201.

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