Friday, August 31, 2012

Premier Soccer Club Accommodates Shabbos for MHA Student

You may not know it by looking at her, but 5th grader Shayna Kahane ranks among the school's most highly accomplished athletes.  Though a few years back she played together with our elementary school girls on our first ever lower school girls soccer team, Shayna's knack for the sport quickly propelled her onto more and more competitive teams in more and more competitive leagues.

Most recently, it was recommended that Shayna try out for the newly created MidSouth FC Elite Academy, a conglomerate of the region's premier competitive soccer programs: Memphis Futbol Club, Arlington Soccer Academy, Bartlett Soccer Club and Futbol Club Legendinhos.

According to the MSFC's website, their program boasts the following accomplishments:

  • Appeared in SIX national Finals
  • Winners of nine international tournaments
  • In 2010, five Midsouth FC teams qualified for TN State Cup finals
  • The only Memphis club to produce a US national team player to appear in a world cup
  • More than 400 MidSouth players have gone on to play for top colleges on scholarship
  • Eight Midsouth players have gone on to play in the MLS (Professional soccer league)

Knowing that their practice and travel schedule would pose a problem for Shayna in terms of shabbos, the Kahanes initially did not pursue it.  However, when members of local soccer community assured Shayna and her parents that if she was good enough, the program would find a way to accommodate her, they decided to give it a try.

So, two weeks ago Shayna tried out for coach Ross Paule, a former Major League Soccer player.   Just as predicted, when he saw what Shayna could do an offer quickly followed to provide her a private workout every Sunday morning in place of the team's major workout on Saturday mornings, as well as an exemption from all Saturday games without risk of losing her starting spot.  The MSFC can now proudly list "accommodated one shomer shabbos athlete" to their list of accomplishments.

We wish Shayna the best of luck on her new team and - more importantly - the strength to continue making a kiddush Hashem wherever she goes!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Back to School BBQ

The PTA ushered in the new school year with another Back to School Barbecue yesterday evening.  Whether in the gym eating or on the fields playing a good time was had by all!  Thank you to all the volunteers who helped make it happen.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

C21: Gemara and PBL - A Blog about the Journey

The focus of our first annual faculty summer institute this past July was Project Based Learning.  With the help of Professor Moshe Krakowski and a team of educators from the Denver Academy of Torah, our faculty learned the ins and outs of this radically different approach to classroom learning and began collaborating with their colleagues on how we might introduce it to our classrooms.

While PBL lends itself more easily to areas such as science, math, civics, and even halacha (Jewish Law) - where the "real-world applications" tend to be evident, text-centered subjects like Gemara and Chumash provide a far more daunting challenge.  Thankfully for us, and for the field in general, Rabbi Aaron Feigenbaum, rabbi of the Young Israel of Memphis and a rebbe in our Boys High School, has thrown himself headfirst into this challenge and is documenting the process for all of us to see on his blog called Southern Figs.  Here's a selection from his first post:

PBL Gemara Day 1
A great start! I greet the students as they enter. I walk to the front of the room and I say “I have no intention of giving any exams this year, you don’t want to take them and I don’t want to grade them.” Gemara Honors erupts in applause. I explain we’re going all in PBL, group projects and presentations with content, collaboration, and presentation rubrics (will post all soon). The class is all on board and we are only five minutes in...

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Lion on the Loose

There was a lion on the loose today, creating havoc throughout the campus.  The lion was officially a guest of Kitah Aleph, who began their Hebrew reading program by meeting its central character Ari Ot - the Letter Lion.  While in years past Ariot looked an awful lot like one of our teachers  - except for the red cape and crown - this year the REAL Ariot decided to make a cameo appearance.  Needless to say, Morah Deena's students in Kitah Aleph were rather excited.

The real mayhem began, though, when Ariot left Kitah Aleph.  Amongst other places, he was spotted on the carpet in 2nd grade, doing Wordly Wise in 6th grade, breaking out Color War in the Boys High School, and eating a tangerine during AP Government in the Girls High School.

Here's what it looked like...

Beginning with the End

The Upper School kicked off the school year by beginning with the end.  The end, that is, of the Talmud which was completed at a festive breakfast after davening by Rabbi Gersten.  While the 100 7th-12th grader who packed into our lunchroom didn't create quite the same scene as the 90,000 who packed into MetLife Stadium earlier this month for the official siyyum ha-shas, our breakfast did start with video clips from that event so as to help our students feel connected to that historic event from just a few weeks ago.

After the videos, the students heard from Mr. Hirsch Serman, who was one of the tens of thousands who learned one page of gemara a day for 7 years as part of the daf yomi program, thereby completing the entire Talmud this summer.  The featured speaker for the event, though, was Rabbi Gersten and he didn't disappoint.  Between his powerful exhortation to make talmud Torah a central part of our lives, to his moving tribute to Mr. Matty Osdoba, z"l, it wasn't a speech anyone will soon forget.

The speeches were followed by dancing in the gym after which the school year officially got under way.  What a way to start.

Below are some clips from the speeches as well as pictures from the siyyum and the rest of the first day.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The IKaRR Initiative

Like all schools, and like all Jewish Day Schools in particular, we at the MHA are interested not only in the academic learning of our students, but in the social, emotional, and behavioral learning of our students as well.  As Rabbi Yisrael Salanter emphasized a century and a half ago, the gap between Jewish learning and Jewish behavior is too often too great, and we as Jewish educators have a responsibility to try and close that gap to the degree that we can.

We therefore began reading up on PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports), an approach to behavioral learning that has gained quite a bit of momentum over the past few years and about which quite a bit of research has been done and published.  As one of the central principles of PBIS is a school-wide focus on 3-5 positive desired behaviors, our admin team sat down at a meeting last year and asked ourselves what the 3-5 most elemental character traits that we'd like to see in each of our students might be. We came up with kindness, integrity, respect, and responsibility.

Our next step was to share those four with our faculty and get their feedback.  They were quite supportive.  The challenge we ran into, though, was an acronym: KIRR, RIRK, or IRRK, didn't seem to work very well. Over the summer, however, one of our teachers noted that with the inclusion of an "a" the letters of our four character traits fit a transliterated form of the Hebrew word "ikar" which means "the most important thing."  Despite not quite knowing what to do with the "a," the power of that message - that these four traits comprise the most important thing - was too great to pass up.  Therefore, we made the "a" small, and made our slogan "Acting (note the a!) with Integrity, Kindness, Respect, and Responsibility."

At this point, we are approaching the IKaRR initiative more as a school-wide awareness campaign than a full-blown PBIS system, simply because we have quite a few other things our faculty are working on at the moment and we felt that so much of the teaching around these values will arise organically from the material we teach simply by sensitizing ourselves and reminding ourselves of their centrality to our mission.  To that end, we created a logo which students and teachers will see constantly throughout our building and which we hope will serve as that all-important reminder.  We also have begun collecting quotations about these four values from Jewish and non-Jewish sources that are short, powerful, and to the point and have hung them throughout the school - together with some questions to provoke reflection - for students and faculty to see (yes, some are hanging in the teachers' room and are aimed at us adults, who are as much a part of this initiative as are the children).  Here's a link to what we have put up to date.  As we are a PreK-12 school, you will note that some are more geared to younger children, others to older students, and still others to our faculty and administrators.

If you have quotes we can add to our list, please send them as we intend to change the signs throughout the year. We have a few other ideas for heightening awareness of these values that we'll unveil in the coming weeks.  Here too, though, if you have ideas, please send them our way.  We'd love to hear them!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

ECE and Lower School are Up and Running!

Our beloved old building sprung back to life this morning as parents and students in the Early Childhood and Lower School filled our hallways for their first day back at school.  New faces blended in with the old, and there were smiles on all of them.

Here are some pictures of what it looked like:

Thursday, August 9, 2012

GMSG Teacher to be Honored by Hadassah

Mrs. Bluma Zuckerbrot Finkelstein, our Girls High School's phenomenal Zionism teacher, will be one of three teachers honored at Hadassah's Third Outstanding Jewish Educators' Awards Brunch on Sunday morning, August 19th.  The brunch will take place at the Memphis JCC at 10:30am and will feature guest speaker Mr. Daniel Kiel, a professor at the University of Memphis Law School and the author, co-producer, and director of the "The Memphis 13" and the cost is $25 per person.

We encourage everyone to attend and join in giving Mrs. Finkelstein the honor she so deserves.  To make a reservation contact Cindi Weinstein.