A Message from Stephanie Bloom, Head of Middle School: October 20
  • Academics
Stephanie Bloom, Head of Middle School
Dear Middle School Families,
This year as leaders across the school, one of our goals is to increase our observation of teaching and learning to provide requested feedback by classroom teachers as they prepare and provide meaningful daily lessons for students. One way of engaging in thoughtful observation is by taking a learning walk. A learning walk is often best conducted with a group to promote dialogue around a single focus or framing question. On my most recent walk, I visited classrooms across the Middle School thinking about the question “What common bonds do we see in content across humanities classes in the Middle School?” 
I started with a conversation with Mrs. Shosh Bernstein, our eighth-grade Jewish Studies and Hebrew Teacher. Mrs. Bernstein is in the process of launching a Jewish Identity Roots project calling on eighth-graders to investigate the question “What is my Judaism?” She began the project with a survey full of questions to ask students to dive into who they were. Interestingly enough, one student felt that a doorway opened when they were able to name Judaism as a feeling of belonging and traditions. Just as students are growing their thinking, Mrs. Bernstein is pushing herself to think about if it may be possible for her students to each create their own virtual museum to share their learning.
Just down the hall, in a J-Lab class, students are diving into Moral Dilemmas in Ancient Texts. The Dilemma of the day anchors in a true experience from one of the most well-known ghettos, Kovno. Kovno was located in German-occupied, central Lithuania. Students were asked to identify the moral dilemmas found in a scenario where the Judenraht (a council of named Jews within a German-occupied ghetto/community) could only save just 5,000 of the community’s 30,000 Jews to work in artistic trades. The other 25,000 would be sent to death camps. Craftsmen within the ghetto learned of this and began to steal the white slips or passes to life. As students wrestled in conversations they identified dilemmas such as:
  • Was it morally right for the craftsmen to steal the white slips to life?
  • Should the Judenrat have taken the white slips back and redistributed them to craftspeople?
  • Who should determine who lives and dies?
Further down the way, sixth graders continued to study Shemot, specifically the role of women in protecting the children of B'nai Israel. While Pharaoh ordered all baby boys to die, the midwives took it upon themselves to keep the babies alive. As students analyzed, they wrestled with how to define what a hero is, identify heroes and acts of heroism. Through their conversations in class, a common theme emerged: save a life and you save the world. Next, students will move to identify and write about a hero in their life and draw connections to the text they’ve read.
Just as sixth-graders wrestle with biblical texts, in an eighth-grade reading class as students face challenging quotes from Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. Quotes like “You never really understand a person until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” and “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience” require them to dig deep into understanding characters, setting, themes and more. Unlike in past years, they are charged to notice how their own thinking evolves as they read further and analyze the text. 
Finally, in an art class, students are creating masterful self-portraits mirroring the work of Frida Kahlo to express their identity. Images that represent their interests weave together with their drawings of themselves. Perhaps most interesting is noticing the quote they select to represent themselves around the border including: 
  • “nothing will work unless you do” unknown
  • “yesterday is history, tomorrow a mystery and today is a gift. That’s why they call it a present.” Master Ogway
  • “In spite of everything, I still believe people are good at heart” Anne Frank
In just over an hour’s walk visiting rooms and connecting with teachers, I noticed the common thread connecting our humanities classes—our portrait of a graduate. Each class called on students to listen and question while thinking critically. Similarly, students grew skills preparing to advocate for themselves and others, all while weaving kindness and compassion with new knowledge. More so, several of our Jewish domains or focus areas were highlighted including identity, applied philosophy and ethics. Students were:
  • Actively engaged in considering diverse perspectives
  • Critically reading and engaging with Jewish texts
  • Engaged in nuanced, complex thinking about difficult social problems
Over the course of the year, I hope to open the doors to our classrooms with you and have you join a learning walk—through a Morning Brew, a Ma Nishma or a conversation!

Stephanie Bloom
Head of Middle School



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