Stephanie Bloom, Head of Middle School
Dear Middle School Families,
Over the past month, our students have witnessed a myriad of national events at a time in their development where such milestones can leave an imprint on their hearts and minds and shape their beliefs as growing adolescents.
Each event brought varied responses, but our teachers have seized on these unique experiences, tying current events to curriculum and drawing out incredible lessons that only deepen student learning.
In classrooms, teachers provide space to think about hard choices. In our advisory work, we help students to consider what it means to be a bystander, an upstander and an advocate. Just this week, in Eighth Grade Reading Workshops, students prepared to read the landmark 1954 play 12 Angry Men, by Reginald Rose, (referred to by our students as 12 Angry Jurors) in which a jury must reach unanimous consensus in a murder trial. Over the course of studying this play, students will consider what it means to have their beliefs confirmed. They will ask themselves, when do you hold onto your beliefs? What makes you change your beliefs? And how do you consider evidence objectively?
Students were then asked to step into the role of a juror and consider a number of statements:
It is easy to hold an opinion that is not the majority.
Certain people are more likely to commit a crime than others.
Everyone is innocent until proven guilty.
The judicial system is always fair and impartial.
They shared reasoning for their agreement or disagreement with each statement. When discussing “It is easy to hold an opinion that is not the majority” one student pointed to the impact a large majority can have. Another student connected this statement to their recent reading of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” pointing to whether they would have stood up to racism if living within the text. When speaking of “Certain people are more likely to commit a crime than others” a student boldly spoke, “No one is born to commit a crime; you are a product of your environment.”
Tomorrow evening, these same students will join resident artist, Ann Weiss, for an eighth grade family night anchored in images from her book The Last Album: Eyes from the Ashes of Auschwitz Birkenau. As students launched the year considering what is human versus what is humane, they are now drawing upon these images to consider how Holocaust survivors moved forward after all that they endured and saw the strength of humanity. During this event, students will facilitate discussion with their family over a series of these images. As they did with the statements in our pre-reading of 12 Angry Men, our eighth graders will not “look this way or that”—they will pause and consider the depth of the image and its message.
In all this work, I see a deep connection to an article by Dasee Berkowtiz, “How to Build Character in Your Children” in which she dissects this biblical phrase of “looking this way or that,” first applied to Moses. Dasee urges us as educators and parents to make space for our children to consider and process hard moments and choices. Our teachers in Middle School align with Dasee's calling to “make space” for our students to talk through their wonders, ponderings and considerations—especially in these moments of national significance. When our students graduate from Bernard Zell, they’ll face a multitude of challenging moments and will have to choose whether to “look this way or that way” or to do the right thing. Together with you, by providing a curriculum woven with current events, purpose, challenge, Judaism and space, we offer our students the opportunity to begin to create their path beyond the Middle School years.
Head of Middle School