May 25, 2018

The Oxford Dictionary defines a graduate as a person who has completed a course of study or training. As we approach the end of the school year, we turn our attention to our Grade Six class and become both sentimental and nostalgic about their graduation from our school.  I’m mindful about what it means to complete a course of study or training in the context of an elementary school environment. What are the essential and resonant elements of this course of study?  What are the lessons, messages and skills that are going to stick with them?

In the context of school, we aspire for our students to remember the novels they have read, the multiplication skills they have learned and the historical knowledge we have taught them when they reflect on their elementary education.  However, in reality, there are many other moments and experiences, different from academics, that truly speak to our students and form the backbone of their course of study here at Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School.

When I spoke to Grade 6 students about what it means to be a graduate of Paul Penna DJDS, they talked about experiences and lessons that can easily be sorted into our three pillars: inspiring curiosity, honouring diversity and creating community.

Students told me it was their teachers, their Jewish identity and their community of friends that they would miss the most and cherish into the future.  Students shared with me moments of learning that were extra fun and creative. They talked about different ways to look at Jewish experiences, and knowing enough about their heritage to feel comfortable in many different Shabbat and holiday experiences.  They talked about learning to get along with all sorts of different people because they have to; among their memories of people, the Shinshinim they have had in school over the years stood out strongly.

I was blown away by their insight and their awareness of the fortune they have had to be here.  Our graduates talked with passion about how much they have learned from the best teachers. They gave advice to our current kindergarten children to savour their time here because it goes quickly, and they were adamant that the teachers at Paul Penna DJDS are the best around.

I was surprised by the maturity of their insight and understanding.  They expressed their nostalgia about people who have guided them through their years here and their collective sadness about not having standard Paul Penna DJDS traditions in their lives next year — the Chanukah concert and Lag Ba’omer field day among their list of things they will miss most.

As a newcomer to this community, I learned a lot from their memories and reflections on their seven years here.  What are the traditions that are part of the fabric of the culture that have long-lasting impact? How is our vision and mission being translated into the artifacts and experiences of our students?  What can we add to have more of an impact? What must we keep to truly live our core values as a school?

As you begin to reflect on your year, speak to your child about what elements of this year have resonated most strongly and consider what story each child tells about the work we are doing and our ability to live our mission: to deliver a superior intellectual, creative, Jewish and general education for our students; to deepen our honouring of diversity; and to further focus our thoughts and actions on social justice within our school, and within our local, national and global communities.

As I reflect on this year and move my thinking to next year, I am focused on learning from my experiences and those of our graduates, faculty, students and families. As we move forward, may we further enhance our curriculum to live our mission and educate our students with the best of general, Jewish and social action-focused education.