Farber fifth graders with teacher Arielle Howes
Farber fifth graders with teacher Arielle Howes

A Roundup of What’s Happening at our Local Day Schools

After several years of undergoing expansions and renovations, several Jewish day schools around town are settling in comfortably into their new academic environs as they continue to innovate on teaching everything from Talmud to technology for the 21st century.

Now one full year in its brand-new building, the Farber Hebrew Academy features wings for each of its grade levels — from preschool to high school — all have their own designated space. There is, as always, an emphasis of creating a schoolwide community atmosphere where older students can have the opportunity to mentor the younger ones and where everyone is responsible for cleaning up their classrooms and keeping hallways tidy.

Farber’s Head of School Rabbi Scot Bergman said this year teachers will instruct older students with a method called “visible thinking.” Developed by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, this teaching pedagogy aims to integrate the development of students’ thinking with content learning across subject matters. Trained on this concept, Farber educators will challenge their students to document and illustrate the way they think, which requires them to visualize and illustrate the material they are presented in subjects ranging from English to math to Talmud and Bible studies.

At the high school level, there is also an emphasis on gaining an understanding of the history of Detroit and how the Jewish community has meshed with the wider one through the decades.

“We are educating our students to be engaged thinkers who learn not just by gathering up facts and dates or learning how to solve for x,” Berman said. “We want them to think deeply about each subject they learn so they can reflect upon them and then explain back how the things they are learning apply to real-world conceptualization.”

Being in the new space allows for optimal environments of course offerings that have long been in place at the school, such as a better equipped art studio for courses like AP Studio Art, a new theater for dramatics and new rooms to teach instrumental music.

No matter the changes to the physical surroundings, Berman stressed that the emphasis remains on Farber building a Jewish community through tolerance and civility for all branches of Judaism and other faith and racial groups.

“In recent months, we know there have been splits and culture divides in American Jewry as well as between Jews in the diaspora and Jews in Israel,” Berger said. “But these events do not trigger a change to our continued approach of respecting people with different religious values and viewpoints. Our school is named for a Reform Jew. Approaching differences with a respectful and civil manner and respecting pluralism within Judaism has always been a part of our educational philosophy.”

Just as at Farber, there is also a call and an emphasis for deeper and more connected learning at Hillel Community Day School as the school prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary. Students, teachers and administrators are enjoying the open spaces of the school’s new design, which are fostering community building and increased learning collaboration, according to Head of School Steven Freedman.

“The students report that the space and furniture inspires creativity, innovation and independence, and they are eager and happy to learn in these comfortable spaces,” Freedman said. “I have parents telling me their kids want to arrive earlier and stay at school later.”

With the departure of Rabbi Yoni Berger, Rabbi Jeremy Yoskowitz and educator Lee Epstein have joined the staff to guide Jewish life at Hillel.

Barbara Applebaum, a native of Michigan who recently returned to the area, will step into the role as assistant principal. The seasoned educator and former senior staff member of Tamarack will be a key player in supporting a student-centered culture.

According to Freedman, the school’s faculty will offer a flex time where they can have more one-on-one time with students to deepen their knowledge on a lesson. There will be also be a new offering of a computer coding course. The school will also continue to expand its STEM curriculum, the greenhouse, makerspace and prototyping lab.

As Frankel Jewish Academy begins its 17th academic year, Head of School Rabbi Azaryah Cohen begins his third year and continues to put his stamp on the school with administrative and academic changes, including the hiring of Dr. Seth Korelitz as the as school’s director of Jewish studies. Korelitz was previously a faculty member at Hillel Day School. Two other key leadership changes include the addition of Teri Giannetti as the school’s director of student services and programming and the hiring of Shana Kantor as FJA’s first director of advancement.

Independent-minded students will enjoy enrolling in the school’s new entrepreneurial course called SPARK, which is akin to an independent-type study where students will brainstorm solutions for problems big and small.

A new Jewish history course will also be introduced and taught by current faculty member Sharon Eretz and new Jewish studies hire 2006 FJA alumna Rebecca Nadis.

Cohen said he is very enthusiastic about the school’s use of what it calls Genesis Lab, which is FJA’s STEM facility, filled with high-tech gadgets like virtual reality machines and 3D printers.

“We soft-launched Genesis Lab last year and have spent considerable time and resources to help our faculty learn how to incorporate Genesis Lab’s technology into the full breadth of our course offerings,” Cohen said.

“From traditional ‘STEM’ subjects like math and engineering to Jewish studies and the humanities, Genesis Lab will take collaboration to a new level throughout all our classes,” Cohen said. “It’s a resource that will truly be transformative.”

Stacy Gittleman Contributing Writer

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