by Noah S. Hartman, Head of School
It has been an incredible year. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years. My hometown team, the Atlanta Falcons, won 3/4 of a Super Bowl. And Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School celebrated its 70th birthday. It’s been a year of firsts, a year of surprises, and a year of milestones.
I’m pleased to now reflect on some of our achievements from the last year, and to paint a picture of our future. After 70 years, our school is stronger and more vibrant than ever: we welcome over 540 students and 120 staff members every morning. We have the most advanced academic program with the greatest educational opportunity in our history. We have wildly popular athletics and music programs, an actively engaged PTC, our largest Nursery and 8th grade classes ever, and a clear, open, pluralistic Jewish identity fostered by our Jewish Studies teachers and our intentional environment. The mission articulated in 1946 by Rabbi Solomon Goldman, our school’s founder, is largely still the mission we fulfill today:
We are an independent Jewish day school for the 21st century where academic rigor and purpose, collaborative learning, and a deep commitment to humanity develop engaged, confident learners and compassionate leaders for a stronger, more vibrant community and world.
My vision for our school, in perfect alignment with the strategic priorities of our board, is to educate, nurture, and prepare exceptional students and empathic human beings guided by Jewish values to become leaders in their communities, and to ensure a strong, vibrant school today and for generations to come.
The three overarching areas to focus on in order to achieve this vision are academics, identity, and sustainability.
Academically, we offer the very best primary Jewish education available. Our program is rigorous, experiential, and dynamic. Our teachers are innovative, expert practitioners who model inclusiveness and lifelong learning. Just yesterday, the Harvard Business Review published a fascinating article titled, “Lifelong Learning is Good For Your Health, Your Wallet, and Your Social Life.” I highly recommend the article.
Our future is in cutting-edge, inspired teaching and learning that are increasingly personalized and that exceed all typical standards. It’s in classrooms and common areas that allow for a range of teaching and learning, where students develop their multiple intelligences, hone their strengths, and exercise new talents. And it’s in the context of what will prepare our students for the best private and public high schools in Chicago.
- Of Bernard Zell students who have gone on to public schools in the last 5 years, 99% have gone to one of top 15 high schools in Illinois, according to a 2016 U.S. News & World Report. These include Northside, Payton, Jones, Whitney Young, Lane Tech, Lincoln Park, and Evanston Township.
- Of Bernard Zell students who have gone on to independent schools in the last 5 years, 99% have gone to 5 of the most established and respected independent schools in the city: Beacon Academy, Francis W. Parker, The Latin School, Chicago Lab School, and the Wolcott School.
And now let’s rewind for a moment: Since I stood here before you one year ago, we have enjoyed renewed excitement and growth in Early Childhood under the leadership of Abby Aloni and her spectacular team of teachers and Associate Teachers. The Early Childhood faculty has engaged in rigorous and regular professional development coalescing around the Reggio Emilia-inspired approach we know to be best practice for our youngest children. Next month, Abby and two of our Early Childhood teachers (Hagit Lewis and Lindsey Elliott) will travel on a study tour to Reggio, Italy, with the Community Foundation for Jewish Education and the Erikson Institute.
By making Bernard Zell a philanthropic priority, you enabled the physical renovation of our Early Childhood space that has had a profound impact on educational practice and attitudes already. Your leadership from the front has created the conditions in which our teachers lead their students through all kinds of spectacular experiences.
Albert Einstein said, “The only source of knowledge is experience.” Experiential learning, which is a focus of our approach at Bernard Zell, adds complexity, relevance, and the potential for deeper understanding to a more traditional curriculum, and it demands an additional skill-set that students here develop young and will apply in other settings throughout their lives.
At Bernard Zell, we have successfully increased our integration of experiential, project-based learning across the curriculum, school-wide. Just one example of this is in 4th grade, where the students were charged with creating t-shirt factories and had to determine appropriate sizes, quantities, and other characteristics that demanded multiple kinds of learning: math, writing, collaboration, communication, and more.
Many excellent schools teach “what.” We teach the appropriate “what” with a lot more “how” and “why.” That’s what makes Bernard Zell different.
Last month, our science team was published in Science Scope, the middle school magazine for the National Science Teachers Association. The publication of their unit on engineering, titled, Call The Plumber!, has already resulted in two schools (one in the U.S. and one in the U.K.) asking our teachers how they can run the unit in their schools.
I believe the future of education will live within what Clayton Christensen calls a “modular architecture,” a system—in this case, a school—in which "components fit and work together in well-understood, crisply-codified ways.” Schools must offer flexibility and customization that allow them to meet the unique needs of each student without redesigning everything else. And we will.
Next year, we’ll be working to even better customize the support, enrichment, and general approaches we take to educating every student—and challenging him or her accordingly.
We’re grateful for the investment in our Student Services that will support a new Literacy Specialist and potentially some additional related services. It is this kind of specialized resources that support all of our students in their academic and social-emotional growth.
We are also excited about introducing a robotics program at Bernard Zell next year. Just yesterday, Mark Cuban, responding to a question from a 23-year-old asking what industry he’d target today if he were just getting started, tweeted that he spends 90% of his reading time learning about machine learning, neural networks, computer vision, artificial intelligence, etc. He said, “They will dwarf the last 30 years of technology.”
Under the leadership of our science specialists, Beth Sanzenbacher and Elizabeth Holland, and in collaboration with our technology and math teams, we’ll incorporate computational thinking, mathematics, programming, and more, into our curriculum. Imagine your child programming a robot to light Chanukah candles or to write in a foreign language.
Our academic goals are lofty, measurable, and achievable, and one significant challenge of fulfilling them is finding the time to do so. This year, we adopted a block-rotation schedule in the Middle School that enabled us to schedule some longer class periods and make appropriate changes more nimbly. We are considering the same rotation in Lower School next year for the same reasons, and we are also extending school on Fridays until 3:35 during the Daylight Savings months. This means 1,000 more academic minutes for your children next year. It’s also a basic gesture to working parents that should still allow everyone to get home in time to prepare for Shabbat, one of our core values at Bernard Zell and something we hope our students experience with their families.
Bernard Zell proudly affirms the unique identity of every student, teacher, and family in our school. We base our community norms on values such as empathy and kindness, and by living those values, we create a special and unique identity as a school. We are lucky to live in a city and at a time when many of the best educational institutions espouse similar values; none of us has a monopoly on them, but our Jewish identity is fundamentally defined by them. We are our values, and our values are us.
We are a Community of Kindness. We aren’t perfect, and as human beings we can always improve—think Growth Mindset!—but we must be accountable to each other to practice these norms. Every morning in every class, our students and teachers greet one another with eye contact and a different greeting. In combination with other strategies and elements of our social-emotional curriculum, this direct behavior instruction makes a difference. We teach our values explicitly through our Jewish heritage and tradition. For example, our 7th grade studied models of Jewish leadership from biblical characters including Joshua, Deborah, and others, and then created books using color and abstract shapes inspired by the work their teachers did with renowned Jewish artist David Moss.
This year, our new Associate Head of School, Michael Kahn, has established a behavior task force that is working to refine and articulate our philosophy and protocols related to discipline. Based on both anecdotal information and data from last spring’s Parent Survey, we know that many parents don’t know what our policies are or whether we implement them in a given situation. The task force is addressing these issues directly and will recommend where our protocols should be modified, and better ways to communicate information to parents. Bigger picture, behavioral norms are part of our overall educational philosophy, and our work is trained on helping students understand their relationship to each other.
In order to keep educating and nurturing the Jewish leaders of tomorrow, we need to ensure financial sustainability for the future. Our Board of Trustees is serious about its fiduciary responsibility and is committed to fiscal planning that provides the best education for students today and long into the future.
My vision for a sustainable future includes (1) a fair and rewarding compensation structure that helps us attract and retain the very best educators; (2) a facility that supports what we know about best-practice elementary & middle education today and into the future; and (3) an endowment that helps us fund these priorities without major tuition increases or fees. Plans for further fulfilling each of these priorities are well underway.
In order to bring this to fruition, we all need to continue leading from the front. The impact of this leadership will mean the fulfillment of our vision to provide the very best educational program, teachers, and environment for our kids, as well as the best preparation for wherever they go from here. With your support, we’ll remain sustainable while still being able to put so much into our children’s experience.
Thanks to your investment through the Annual Campaign, we have made significant improvements in the past few years and have been able to fuel growth beyond just the status quo. This year, over 100 students are receiving some degree of tuition assistance. Over 115 students are participating in athletics. 110 students are playing band instruments, and another 40 are playing guitar. We have increased and improved security, leading to praise by local law enforcement for being the most secure school they’ve seen in the city. We have renovated the Lower School science lab and the entire Early Childhood corridor in ways that have directly and instantaneously improved the student experience. We have received almost a dozen new endowment commitments. And all of this is thanks to you. Your investment matters, it has a profound impact on our children, and as always,we remain committed to responsible stewardship.
Thank you also for your trust and your partnership. There is nothing more important than our children, and it’s a privilege for us to play a central role in helping them become the successful, creative, independent, empathic global citizens and Jewish Americans who will be leading our community into the future. Bernard Zell is an exceptional school with almost 70 years of high-achieving alumni making a positive impact on the world. Everything we do and every decision we make are centered on their best interests and setting them up for success.
Thank you for joining us tonight, and thank you for allowing us to be a part of your family’s Jewish and educational journeys. You are our school’s best ambassadors. Please help us continue growing by carrying the flag and sharing your stories with friends. In partnership, the next 70 days, weeks, and years will be even stronger and more vibrant than the last.
|Posted on: 2/23/2017 10:31 AM|| Comments (0) |
by Meghan Breyer, 2nd Grade Teacher and Expeditionary Learning Coach
“We can’t first build the students’ self-esteem and THEN focus on their work. It is through their own work that their self-esteem will grow.”
--Ron Berger, An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship
It was this quote from Ron Berger that first caught my attention as an educator and led me to immerse myself in every piece of literature and resource I could find about Expeditionary Learning, a teaching mode that falls under the umbrella of project-based learning. What is project-based learning? Quite simply it is a mode of teaching in which students acquire academic and life-worthy skills while investigating an important topic, problem, or question over an extended period of time. Expeditionary Learning is one form of this type of teaching. It distinguishes itself from other versions of PBL with its focus on student-driven learning and an emphasis on producing high quality work for an authentic audience, one that extends beyond the school walls. Rushton Hurley, the founder and executive direction of NextVista.org succinctly states, “If students are sharing their work with the world, they want it to be good. If they’re just sharing it with you, they want it to be good enough.” It is this knowledge that their work will be shared with a real world audience that fosters in students a vested interest in their work that drives them to produce work that exceeds their preconceived notion of their own potential.
Additionally, Expeditionary Learning nourishes collaboration among peers, encouraging students to work together toward a common goal and problem solve through the good struggles they encounter along the way. Students’ varying ability levels are taken into account consistently throughout each expedition, while still pushing students to create high quality work of which they are proud. Opportunities for this peer collaboration include critiquing each other’s work in an established safe and respectful environment, working together to identify criteria of high quality work in order to assess their own progress, and delegating responsibilities to ensure that each piece of the puzzle is completed and completed well.
Last year was my first formal foray into the Expeditionary Learning teaching model, and I saw firsthand how it energized our 2nd-grade classrooms. By giving students more autonomy and responsibility, I watched in amazement as they rose to and eventually surpassed my expectations. My fourteen hardworking 2nd graders produced podcasts about animals in the cat family that were eventually aired on a local radio show. Students worked for four months, researching, writing, revising at least ten or eleven times, rehearsing endlessly and even working with an actor to polish their on-air personalities. They used technology in authentic ways to record their podcasts, acting as editors of their own recordings similar to how employees at a radio station would edit commercial sound bytes.
The biggest takeaway for me circles back to Berger’s quote that I cited at the beginning of this post: my students left 2nd grade with not only an understanding of 21st century skills, but also a degree of confidence that was truly astonishing. Expeditionary Learning promotes student engagement and creates learners who possess the ability to think critically, communicate effectively, and create high quality work that contributes to the betterment of their community.
|Posted on: 12/16/2016 12:14 PM|| Comments (0) |
by By Rachael Gray-Raff, Director Lower School Jewish Studies
Engaging in service learning is a core element of our school’s goal of developing empathic, caring and thoughtful graduates. Our annual Day of Service is a day when our community comes together and lives this value to the fullest. That is why on Monday, November 21, 2016 every student and staff member took action in gemilut chasadim, acts of loving kindness, to serve a variety of different agencies and organizations in Chicago and around the world. The Bernard Zell Day of Service was created in 2014 in memory of former Head of School Dr. Alyson Horwitz's late husband, Judd Horwitz as a tribute to the many acts of loving kindness he performed throughout his lifetime.
Leading up to the day, teachers spoke with students about the importance of their classroom projects and how they connected to the Jewish values of tikkun olam and tzedakah. In order for the students to make sense of what they were doing, both teachers and representatives from various organizations around Chicago met with the students to help them fully understand the impact their efforts would have on members of the community.
The Day of Service kicked off with alumni Griffen Saul ‘14 and Elizabeth Goldblatt ‘14, sharing stories of how they started their own non-profit organizations to help others and how their experience at Bernard Zell helped shape them to become agents of change. Griffen and Elizabeth were joined by former Head of School Dr. Alyson Horwitz and Khiry Johnson from the WE organization to inspire our students before their day of giving back and sharing with the community. Students then returned to their classrooms or boarded buses to outside organizations and were ready to get to work.
Every student was engaged in a meaningful activity to serve others, from our youngest students in Nursery to our 8th graders. Eighth graders assisted in classrooms and on service projects to support the younger students in their efforts. In the afternoon, the 8th graders participated in their own service projects throughout the community. Senior Kindergarten students collected toiletry items and organized more than 90 children’s hygiene kits for Share Our Spare. Nursery and Junior Kindergarten students decorated and planted flower pots which 5th graders then delivered to seniors at the SelfHelp Home. Nursery Teacher Jenny Levine reflected, “The students responded positively--they really enjoyed working with their 8th-grade buddies and making something for people in need. They especially liked knowing they were doing something to put a smile on someone else's face.”
Thirteen different community organizations and agencies were touched by the efforts of our students during the Day of Service. First graders sorted books at Open Books, 2nd graders shopped at local markets using tzedakah money collected since last year to purchase food items for the Lakeview Pantry. Our 3rd graders took on responsibility for our school’s Lost and Found, which they intend to continue throughout the school year. Connecting to their social studies theme of immigration, 4th graders designed and created “stained glass” windows for the Uptown Cafe to serve as screens to protect the privacy of the Cafe’s clients. The 5th-grade service learning theme was והדרת פני זקן v’hadarta pney zakeyn -- caring for the elderly, which the students enacted by visiting the SelfHelp Home and preparing gifts for Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly. In preparation for the Day of Service, 6th-grade students studied the text and themes of birkat hamazon and how it connected to their service learning theme of food injustice. During the day, they continued their learning while preparing sandwiches and no-bake cookies to share with those in need. Khiry Johnson, the motivational speaker from WE organization, facilitated a workshop with the 7th grade to plan how they can be agents of change after they spent the morning out in the community assisting four different community organizations.
No matter the size of a particular project or the needs of its recipients, through this experience, our students walked away feeling that their engagement was meaningful and purposeful. We want them to feel good that they have helped others and to empathize with the struggles of those in need.
|Posted on: 12/2/2016 3:10 PM|| Comments (0) |
by Motoko L. Maegawa, Head of Middle School
You belong here. You are valued. Your voice, your experience, your truth, is an important part of our community.
You have the right to be you.
Recently our Bernard Zell Middle School community witnessed a historic event as we watched votes being counted to decide who would be our next President of the United States. As that map filled in with reds and blues, the one word that reporters continually fell upon was “divided.” Media outlets throughout this week have followed the results with questions about why as a nation we are divided, who is on which side of the division and so on. This line of questioning is fitting for media which seeks categorization and putting people and ideas into boxes.
I am grateful for the fact that within the walls of Bernard Zell, we actively seek to break through and even dismantle barriers that might otherwise separate or divide us. As an inquiry-based, human-centered space, our Middle School commits to community building through recognition of the power of allowing and valuing a diversity of perspectives and opinions. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the opening hours of our school day on the morning after the election. I was fortunate to have observed all of the following:
- 5th graders gathered around their morning message board and drew pictures in response to the morning question, “Who is in your family?” which brought a smile to my heart.
- 6th graders circled up with each other after sharing their responses to the morning question, “How are you feeling this morning?” This helped me remember to always seek ways to meet students where they are when they enter our classrooms.
- 7th graders reflected upon the morning question, “What does it take to be a leader?” which gave space to both seriousness and levity in light of the important decision our country had just made.
- 8th graders used the protocol of a serial testimony circle to give voice to what was on their minds - thoughts, feelings and questions that they wanted others to know about, which became personally moving as I joined in one circle and observed another.
What I saw and heard being passed along to our students, both explicitly and implicitly, were messages such as:
- You belong here. You are valued. Your voice, your experience, your truth, is an important part of our community. You have the right to be you.
- Your teachers are here for you. We support you in your questioning, we celebrate in your accomplishments, we hold you in your tears, we share in your exploration of what it means to be a part of the Jewish American community.
- As both children and adults in our Middle School, we will be seen for the wholeness of who each of us are and be allowed to express our experiences within structures which encourage respectful speaking and active listening.
There is indeed a mix of emotions, differences of opinions, and an array of questions being expressed throughout our Middle School this week. And binding all of these together is the security of our unwavering Jewish values, which are lived each day by our incredible educators. I always take immense pride in the ability of our Middle School teachers to keep their teaching focused on building empathy and compassion. This week, in particular, they have been doing just this as they support our students not only as academic learners, but also as citizens of the world. We do not center our curriculum on providing answers in conversation. Rather we rely on the Jewish values that are core to our school’s mission to guide us in how to invite productive conversation, freely express emotions, and thoughtfully pose questions. The strength of this commitment to respectful engagement has shone brighter in these last couple of weeks than ever before.
On Wednesday morning, I participated in one of those 8th-grade conversations in which each student and teacher expressed their thoughts and feelings. One student shared their appreciation for having a heartfelt, truthful and peaceful dialogue. She expressed gratitude for our respectfulness especially because much of what students see in the media is adults yelling at each other. At the close of our shared time together, I commended the group on this exact point: during a time in which we are being told people are more divided than ever, it is our youth who are finding the means to engage in passionate AND peaceful dialogue. And, what makes me proud and gives me hope is that these same students are the ones who will next bring this commitment to productive dialogue to their next classroom, outside the doors of this school, and beyond the boundaries of Chicago. Through what I witness in the actions and words of our Middle School community every day, I see great reason for optimism in how we as a community can and will face whatever historic event affects our community.
|Posted on: 11/16/2016 2:25 PM|| Comments (0) |
by Natalie Rosenbaum, Class of 2017
Rabbi Goldman strongly believed in the integration of Jewish and general studies. If he were alive today, I think Rabbi Goldman would be thrilled to see that his vision -- for a non-Orthodox day school dedicated to the very best instruction in both Jewish and General Studies -- is thriving at Bernard Zell. As a member of the current eighth grade class, I am proud to say that I have received an education rich in both Jewish and secular studies. I have developed a love for Israel and America. And I have seen how Jewish learning and values are relevant to my everyday life.
As an eighth grader, I am in the midst of a very stressful high school application process. But it’s comforting to know that every year, Bernard Zell students are accepted into some of the best high schools in the city. If that’s not proof of the strength of our general studies program, I don’t know what is. Along with the general studies program, our Jewish Studies program has taught me to value the Hebrew language and Jewish texts. It prepared me for my Bat Mitzvah, helping me to learn how to take apart Jewish texts and find meaning in the Torah.
Most important, though, is the fact that Jewish Studies and General Studies are integrated with one another, starting in the early grades. One of the General Studies texts that we read In fourth grade was a book called “Number the Stars”. It helped improve our reading skills, and served as our introduction to the Holocaust. But, most importantly, it helped us to learn about a major jewish value: the value of helping others. Last year, my science class continued to integrate general and Jewish studies when we worked to create a model of a micro-bot that could cure malaria. Not only were we learning about biology and how the body works, but we were learning about tikkun olam, repairing the world.
|Posted on: 11/11/2016 3:09 PM|| Comments (0) |
by Noah S. Hartman, Head of School
"To defend a country, you need an army. To defend humanity, you need education” —Rabbi
Jonathan Sacks, From Optimism to Hope
“Example isn’t another way to teach. It is the only way to teach.” —Albert Einstein
Seventy years ago, Rabbi Solomon Goldman, the founder of our school, faced a dilemma. As a passionate advocate for the very best progressive general and Jewish education, he couldn’t decide what the school should be called: Anshe Emet Day School, or the Abraham Lincoln School. Goldman was so enamored by the legacy of Abraham Lincoln and what he represented in American society that he even had a bust of the former president in his personal library. So which name would it be?
Of course, today we know the answer, and we are blessed to be part of the Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School community. Despite not being named for the president of the United States who led our country through the Civil War and effectively ended slavery, our mission as a school today still very clearly reflects the founding vision. We can debate whether we’re an American Jewish institution or a Jewish American one, but one thing remains constant: the education of our children is based on a value system that we hold dear. This system is facing an unknown and unnerving challenge today.
Will the vitriol and mudslinging of this presidential campaign carry over into the presidency itself?
Will the values that came under fire during the campaign, and that are antithetical to our core beliefs as a community, somehow become more normalized? As the head of a school that stands for compassion, empathy, and justice—and as a father of three young children—I am concerned. But our role as parents and educators isn’t to wait and see what happens or to let social or traditional media tell our children how to feel. Our role is to double down on our values and to become more engaged in our community and in what we believe. It is now more than ever that we need Bernard Zell.
|Posted on: 11/11/2016 12:59 PM|| Comments (0) |
by Deanna McBeath, Middle School Science Teacher and Middle School Advisory Coordinator
Earlier this month, I was honored to represent Bernard Zell at the Association of Middle Level Education (AMLE)’s national conference, presenting the sessions Interdisciplinary Design Thinking: Engaging Young Agents of Change
and Puberty Education in the 21st Century
. (For more on our 5th grade design thinking challenges from last year, read Barbara Applebaum’s excellent post
.) In my work over the last several years on the fifth grade human growth and development program here at BZ, I’ve delved into recent research and emerging best practices in the field, identifying four major trends.
|Posted on: 10/28/2016 10:39 AM|| Comments (0) |
by Tzivia Garfinkel, Director of Jewish Life and Learning
When Shimon Peres passed away this week, many people had a sense of personal loss. After all, he had been in our lives continuously through all the years of Israel’s existence. He was there from its earliest pre-statehood days, followed by both wars and peaceful times. He was a witness to everyday life filled with decades of development that brought Israel from 1948 to today. I personally remember winning an essay contest when I was in sixth grade called, “Israel Faces the Future”, in which I tried to imagine what Israel would look like when it turned 20, 30, 40, and 50. And, of course, Shimon Peres was there through it all.
|Posted on: 9/29/2016 4:52 PM|| Comments (0) |
By Noah S. Hartman, Head of School
On September 16, 1946, Rabbi Solomon Goldman entrusted our community with a gift of immeasurable value, a gift that is now 70 years old: the creation of Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School. For the past 70 years, Bernard Zell has inspired students with academic purpose – the discipline to unlock the possibilities of life. We teach students to ask the tough questions, the ones that are often uncomfortable to answer. And we encourage them to collaborate, because harnessing the energy of others will take them further than they ever imagined.
Throughout our history, our students have been immersed in a powerful educational experience inspired by Jewish culture, heritage, language, and spirit. We are and always will be a warm, inclusive community that welcomes families to become engaged partners in the lifelong education of their children and the larger community.
|Posted on: 9/19/2016 1:46 PM|| Comments (0) |