Gabriella Burman Special to the Jewish News
New At Hillel Day School Staff will implement new initiatives to increase student success.
Following a celebratory 60th school year, Hillel Day School is kicking off its 61st school year with plans to expand its Early Childhood Center, which is filled to capacity.
“We’ve had wait lists for the last three years, and we know from demographic studies that there are more Jewish preschool students who could enroll in a program like ours,” Head of School Steve Freedman said.
The expansion will grow ECC enrollment from 140 to 180, with room for more “if demographics permit,” Freedman said.
The expansion will commence in the fall by FNI, the architectural firm responsible for the renovations of Hillel’s existing building. The renovation will be complete in time for the 2019 school year.
Inside the building, a team-teaching approach meets the needs of each child, preparing students for high school with skills that will help them compete in an increasingly disruptive economy, using the space and technology that are the result of the school’s recent renovations.
The school is also making social-emotional growth a priority alongside academics, since one’s well-being “has a direct effect on learning,” said Dean of Student Learning Dr. Jennifer Friedman. To that end, the school has hired a second full-time social worker and is partnering with Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit on its “We Need to Talk” mental health initiative to help struggling teens.
A reinvigorated focus on making Judaic Studies “transformative” for students, in addition to providing them with knowledge and skills, is also in motion. The school is ushering in two new programs that will help students engage in Jewish learning so that it becomes personally relevant and meaningful to them.
A “Yisrael b’Hillel” course for eighth-graders, designed in partnership with the Atlanta-based Center for Israel Education, will take students through the history of Israel from the Bible to modern times, and includes the origins of statehood, ethnic diversity and the nuances of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“The ultimate goal is for students to think about their personal connection to Israel in the context of a deeper understanding of what Israel is all about, as they prepare for their class trip,” Dean of Judaic Studies Saul A. Rube said.
Eventually, the partnership between Hillel and the center will “enable us to weave Israel education organically throughout every aspect of a Hillel Day School student’s experience,” Rube added.
A strategic partnership with a second program, Ayeka, whose mission is to “evoke the heart and soul of the student,” helps to “internalize the latent potential of our classical tradition to make a positive difference in the lives of our students,” Rube said.
The approach will be integrated into minyan for fifth- through eighth-graders so that their experiences “will be more soulful,” he said.
Rabbi Nate DeGroot, who joins the Hillel staff from IKAR, a Jewish renewal congregation in Los Angeles, will engage meaningfully with fifth- through eighth-graders through Judaic programming and prayer as well.
The investment in the physical expansion and the school’s programs demonstrates the school’s commitment to ensuring a vibrant Jewish Detroit.
“For 60 years, a high-quality education in both general and Judaic studies has been the core of our mission,” Freedman said. “And we plan to continue that tradition for at least another 60 more.”
Gabriella Burman is the communications coordinator at Hillel.