Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the advantage of sending my child to Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School rather than a public school?
Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School is deeply committed to inspiring a strong and positive Jewish identity. For our students and their families, our school community represents a profoundly important Jewish connection that informs and enhances their lives. Our students’ identities as Jews emerge organically from the richness of their experiences at school, without the need for supplemental Jewish education.

2. What makes your school unique?
Our combination of educational excellence and creativity, integrated Judaic and general studies curriculum, arts focus, frequent field trips, and pluralistic approach distinguishes us from other Toronto Jewish day schools. Our connection to the Miles Nadal JCC and our location in downtown Toronto also set us apart from other day schools. The aspects of our school that our families often speak most appreciatively about are our highly capable, creative, and caring faculty and the warmth and inclusiveness of our school community.

3. What is the history of the school?
The school was founded in 1998 by a group of dedicated professionals and parents, many of whom had had children at the Bloor JCC Nursery School. The founders wanted to provide a high quality, innovative Jewish education to the children of Toronto’s dynamic and expanding downtown Jewish community. In 2003, the school was fortunate to be the recipient of funding from the estate of Paul Penna, from which the school draws its name. Since opening, we have expanded from 10 to 150 students.

4. What does “educational excellence” mean?
Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School maintains high academic standards. It is our mandate to build upon and surpass the core skills outlined in the Ontario Ministry of Education guidelines. Critical thinking skills are woven through all aspects of curriculum development and delivery. We provide a solid foundation in Hebrew language studies and integrate Judaic studies into both Hebrew and Core programs. The school recognizes and addresses a broad spectrum of learning styles and individual needs. We provide an environment in which children are engaged in their learning, think critically, work both independently and cooperatively, and approach tasks creatively.

5. What is an integrated curriculum?
Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School is an exciting centre of learning. Our approach to instruction through integrated units allows us to provide meaningful learning experiences while ensuring that children develop essential skills. We are able to offer our students a broad foundation of knowledge, leading to an understanding of relationships among various concepts. Rather than focus on these concepts individually, we link them to other areas of study, creating an integrated curriculum classroom. Our integrated units bridge concepts in Science, Social Studies, Language Arts, and Judaic Studies. Thematic units are developed around “Big Ideas” and “Essential Questions” of immediate and enduring relevance. Meaningful, interdisciplinary connections are made and experiential learning is emphasized. Resources include not only textbooks but also a wide range of other books, films, speakers, and community connections.

6. Do you do formal assessments and tests?
In the context of our ongoing program, students are afforded opportunities to demonstrate mastery in multiple ways, ranging from arts-based projects to more traditional tests and quizzes. We also administer the Canadian Achievement Test (CAT) in certain grades to assess student achievement in Math and Language Arts

7. How do you foster critical thinking skills?
Our students are encouraged to reflect on and ask questions about what they are learning and experiencing in school and in the world around them. They learn to consider their own past experiences and apply them to new knowledge. They are taught to think “outside the box” and not to take things for granted. A wide variety of problem-solving strategies are taught throughout the curriculum.

8. What is “Arts-Enhanced”?
Our Arts-Enhanced Curriculum encourages creative expression as a tool for learning. Our teachers create opportunities for students to explore subject areas through music, drama, visual arts, and dance. In addition to the integration of arts by our faculty, a variety of specialists from the arts community facilitate hands-on learning opportunities, further enriching our curriculum. Trips to museums, art galleries, theatres, concerts, and festivals highlight the relevance of arts and culture in the lives of our students.

9. How much Hebrew do the students receive?
One and a half hours per day is devoted to Hebrew language and Bible study. Classes are conducted in Hebrew, which provides ongoing opportunities for our students to read, write, and speak in Hebrew.

10. How religious is the school?
We are a non-affiliated pluralistic and egalitarian Jewish day school, welcoming students and their families from a wide spectrum of Jewish affiliation and observance. We believe that a positive Jewish identity emerges from an ongoing exploration of Jewish tradition, values, and history, combined with meaningful participation in authentic Jewish experiences. Our students enjoy celebrating all Jewish holidays throughout the year, including Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh. We engender a knowledge and appreciation of traditional and alternative forms of prayer, striving to create meaningful and personal connections for our students.

11. How do you teach about God?
As a Jewish school, we affirm the strong connection between Judaism and God. We respect the many different conceptions of God within Jewish tradition, while understanding that the ultimate reality that the term God connotes is beyond human comprehension. Because we are a pluralistic community, we do not wish to specify any singular belief system or any particular perception of God. We focus on the wonders of our world and teach students to be grateful for the chance to appreciate all that is around us.

12. When my child leaves, will he or she be able to fit into another school?
Given our integrated curriculum and high academic standards, Paul Penna DJDS prepares students for success at any school they choose to attend. Our students manage the transition to other schools effectively.

13. What community do you serve?
Families come to us from a wide range of neighbourhoods in Toronto, including the Annex, the Beaches, the Danforth, Wychwood Heights, Cedarvale, and Forest Hill. As the only Jewish day school in Toronto’s downtown core, we tend to draw families who live south of Lawrence. We welcome students from all areas of the city.

14. What are some of the advantages of being in the JCC? What are the security measures you take?
Our location at the Miles Nadal JCC puts us in the centre of the downtown Jewish community. We take full advantage of the wonderful facilities, including the gym, the swimming pool, the meeting rooms and the Al Green Theatre. We have coordinated our security procedures with those implemented at the JCC and we work closely with their administrative staff. They are in constant contact with local and national security experts and we benefit from their knowledge.

15. How can I get involved as a parent?
We encourage parents to become involved in their children’s education by helping them with homework, attending school functions, and communicating with teachers. Above and beyond this, many of our parents volunteer in the school. From chaperoning field trips to volunteering on a committee, there are many ways parents can be involved. Many of our parents have said that when they enrolled their child in school, they did not anticipate the benefits of becoming members of such a caring and engaged community.

16. How would you describe your school community?
Paul Penna DJDS is a warm and vibrant community that is thoughtfully, energetically, and lovingly devoted to its children. Our three foundational pillars—Inspiring Curiosity, Honouring Diversity, and Creating Community—reflect the core communal values that are exemplified by our capable, caring, and successful alumni. Our children learn and grow—academically and personally—with joy, confidence, and a sense of well-being. Together, we are working to ensure that our students always remember our school as a place where they felt truly valued as human beings and where they felt inspired to value others.