Lower School

The Lower School experience is rooted in high academic expectations, and is supported by teachers who provide gentle guidance within familiar boundaries. Classroom space is safe for risk-taking, questioning, collaboration, and rich discussion.
First-grade students are welcomed into warm, nurturing and inclusive classrooms as they begin their Lower School experience. This journey takes them on a path through exploration, creativity, technological experiences, intentional academics and important social and emotional achievement, and delivers them to Middle School as confident, motivated and growing learners.
Through the use of the Responsive Classroom approach, students take ownership of creating and molding the learning environment and community to best fit their needs. Students are encouraged to share their voices, explore their individual passions and contribute meaningfully to their classroom communities. Being part of Bernard Zell means being part of a vibrant Jewish community, where kindness and consideration of others are fundamental in our daily practices.  Learning Hebrew, participating in rich traditions like Friday Shabbat lunch and engaging in service learning help define our mission. As educators, we join together with parents and families to create a strong, guiding force in children’s lives, nurturing them through this special Bernard Zell journey.
Karen Leavitt
Head of Lower School
773.281.1858 x 236

What's Happening in Lower School 2020-2021

3rd Annual Poetry Slam in Second Grade
Lori Deradoorian, 2nd Grade Teacher

Last Wednesday, second-grade students held their third annual Poetry Slam as a cumulative event to their writing unit. Students were exposed to a variety of poems like free verse, acrostic, concrete, I Am, Cinquain and Haiku.

First Grade Celebrates Color Day
Nomi Fertman, Lower School Teacher

Recently, first-graders celebrated “color day." The students wrote their own books in Hebrew about their favorite color and got to share them with the class. To celebrate we played games and dressed in our favorite colors.

A Message from Karen Leavitt, Head of Lower School: June 9
Karen Leavitt, Head of Lower School

By all definitions, this 2020-21 school year has been the most unpredictable time in recent memory. Considering that adults and students alike are hard wired to find uncertainty stressful, it is no small feat that we have successfully completed our year together. And we didn’t just make it thoughwe grew tight-knit communities, completed curricula and innovated new programming!

Aesthete Third Graders Wrap Poetry Unit
Lydia Malkin, Third Grade Teacher

Third grade students have had an exciting end to the year! We have been counting down to the last day of school using the alphabet. For the letter R the class brought in their favorite book and something cozy like a pillow to spend some extra time reading. For the letter O, we had class outside using one of the tents on the field. 

A Message from Karen Leavitt, Head of Lower School: May 12
Karen Leavitt, Head of Lower School

It is hard to believe that this unique 2020-21 school year is drawing to a close. After today, we have 16 and a half school days remaining, which puts us in countdown mode! All the exciting end-of-year activities and preparations for next year are energizing for the students, and can also have the unintended consequence of causing feelings of angst.

4th-Graders Use Research to Study Immigration
Sarah Lyon, 4th-Grade Teacher

In fourth grade, students have been learning about immigration for the past several weeks. While wrapping up the unit, each student is assigned a topic of their choice. Using books and websites, fourth-graders used notecards to record their facts, citing each source and writing a five-paragraph essay to share their knowledge.

First Grade Authors Celebrate with Publishing Party
Alison Marsh, 1st Grade Teacher

For their informational writing unit, first-grade students spent several weeks researching various ocean animals. They used QR codes, websites, books and EPIC to research both in groups and individually.

Video: Fourth Grade Tells the Story of Purim
Bracha Dror, LS Jewish Studies Teacher

In honor of Purim, 4th graders have been extremely hard at work in preparing their own special play that tells the story of Purim. The play is in Hebrew and consists of six scenes with each student having one or two parts in the play. Students have been practicing their lines and busy recording their scenes.

A Message from Karen Leavitt, Head of Lower School: February 24
Karen Leavitt, Head of Lower School

Lit World, an organization that is dedicated to the mission of strengthening kids and communities through the power of stories, deems the first Wednesday in February each year as World Read Aloud Day. At Bernard Zell, we cherish the opportunity to celebrate reading aloud every chance we get, and happily participated in this special day on February 3, 2021.

First Grade Learns Letters in Hebrew & Host "Toast Day"
Noemi Fertman, Jewish Studies Teacher

Each week in first grade the students are introduced to the a new Hebrew letter and they learn the vocabulary associated with this letter. Last week, first graders in Hamorah Nomi's class learned the letter “Tet”, one of the words starting with this letter is toast in Hebrew ( טוסט ). The students were very excited to make toast in the class and eat it with Israeli chocolate spread!

5th-Graders Welcome Shira, One of BZ's ShinShinim!
Mali Barak, Jewish Studies & Hebrew Teacher

Last week, Ms. Barak's 5th-grade class was lucky to have Shira, one of Bernard Zell's ShinShinim, with them for the entire week! Shira helped as students performed a play about parashat toldot and assisted as they created their own shuk (market).

4th Grade Researches Immigration Experiences
Alicia Levy, 4th-Grade Teacher

Last week, students read Journey to America and discussed the process of how immigrants came to America. Later they studied Ellis Island and Angel Island, comparing and contrasting the two very different experiences immigrants had at the two immigration stations. This week, 4th-graders completed a mini-celebrity immigrant research presentation.

A Message from Karen Leavitt: January 27
Karen Leavitt, Head of Lower School

Hello Lower School Families! I am writing to you as I watch our Lower School students delight in our recent snowstorm! There is really nothing like the big first snow. Enjoy a few pictures, and remember to keep sending snow gear as we will enjoy being outside in our winter weather as much as we can. 

First Graders Use Math to Solve "Monday Mysteries"!
Jenna Adler, Lower School Teacher

First graders in Mrs. Adler’s class were inspired by a math routine called “Mystery Monday.” On Mondays during math, students are presented with an image of an unidentified number of items in a jar. It is their job as mathematicians and “detectives” to figure out how many items are inside. They are provided clues that require them to use math concepts to narrow the set of possibilities to a small set of numbers.

2nd-Grade Wraps Non-Fiction Writing Unit
Tommy Grogan, 2nd Grade Teacher

Second-grade students are wrapping up their non-fiction writing unit. Each student chose a topic to research and, using mentor texts, created their own "All About ..." book. The students learned how mentor authors craft their openings to "hook" the reader and provide lots of important information to help the reader better understand the topic.

Charki Dunn, Director of Music

While limitations on singing and group movement have presented some challenges for teaching music this year, these new constraints have inspired a revised and unique curriculum for our second-graders!

Diana Levich, LS Jewish Studies Teacher

In Mora Miri's second grade class, students used empty olive oil bottles to create their own unique Hanukkiot which were then sent home so students could use them to light Hanukkah candles at the school celebration last night. 

Second Grade Embraces Distance Learning with Hebrew Scavenger Hunt
Miri Allali, 2nd-Grade Hebrew and Jewish Studies Teacher

During this week of remote learning, second graders had a great deal of fun with their recent Hebrew scavenger hunt. Each was given directions in Hebrew and was directed to find several different items in their homes. Enjoy some of the screenshots that capture second graders and their scavenger hunt with Hamorah Miri! 

A Message from Karen Leavitt: December 2
Karen Leavitt, Head of Lower School

Holidays invite us to reflect upon our children's growth. Each year, Lower School students are ready to think about Hanukkah in new and complex ways. Learning about light, miracles, faith, leadership, bravery and courage are central ideas that will be infused into learning over the next three weeks at BZ.

Third Graders Demonstrate Their Superb Mapping Skills
Benje Casper, 3rd Grade Teacher

Third graders kicked off their social studies unit by investigating how symbols play a role on flags. They learned about the Israeli flag, the United States flag and the Chicago flag. Each student then made their own flag with four symbols meant to represent themselves, including one of them representing their Jewish identity.

Second Grade Casts Their Ballots for Best Book of the Year
Tommy Grogan, 2nd Grade Teacher

Second graders recently held their own caucus on the Field of Dreams to find the winner of the "purple party" and the winner of the "yellow party." Next week, they will cast their ballots (either in person or "by mail") to elect the best book of the year.

1st Grade Inspires and Uplifts with Art!
Shana Ryback, Art Teacher

All students in art class grades first through eighth will be focusing on sending positive messages of encouragement and unity to our community through public art. First graders discussed different ways they can use their voices to help, uplift and heal those around us. 

Preparing for the 2020 Presidential Election in Lower School
Karen Leavitt, Head of Lower School

I am thrilled to share some exciting and relevant learning from our Lower School students, in advance of our upcoming presidential election. As we all know, this election season is particularly complex and layered, but that is not stopping our young learners from understanding important facets of democracy, voting, leadership and election processes.

1st Graders Receive Their Very Own Library Cards!
Rena Citrin, Library Director

Last week, 20 1st graders received their very own library cards from the Chicago Public Library. Possessing and using a library card helps put students on the path of lifelong learning. If your child did not sign-up for a card through school, it's not too late to get one!

First Graders Receive Surprise Gift from Ariot, the Hebrew Speaking Lion
Noemi Fertman, Lower School Jewish Studies Teacher

It is that exciting time of the year when the students in Kitah Alef (first grade) receive their first Ariot book (a workbook the students will use to learn how to read and write in Hebrew). Ariot, the Hebrew speaking lion, usually comes to our school and delivers these books himself. Unfortunately, because of Coronavirus, Ariot's flight was canceled and he was not able to come to our school this year.

A Message from Bonnie Gamze, Lower School Social Worker: September 23, 2020
Bonnie Gamze, Lower School Social Worker

In these days of COVID-19, parenting can feel overwhelming. We are all living in unprecedented times that can generate a variety of emotions. Leaving home and resuming school following a sustained interruption can be a relief, and also a huge task for ourselves and our children

Social emotional development is something we really build on throughout the school year. Every June, my students leave my classroom with newfound independence, confidence and strengthened relationships.

- Bene Lederer, 1st Grade Teacher