Frequently Asked Questions
1. Paul Penna DJDS is known for being an Open Door to Jewish education. What does that mean?
Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School provides children and their families an open door to diverse Jewish life and education in a unique downtown community. We believe in the intrinsic value of diversity both within and beyond the Jewish community. We welcome and honour Jewish children and their families from across the broad spectrum of practice and engagement, including families who celebrate other cultural traditions. Paul Penna DJDS recognizes the need and provides the opportunity for a welcoming and safe Jewish space for children and families to get involved and feel connected.
2. What makes your school unique?
Toronto is fortunate to have a wide array of public and private schools, each offering something special and unique. Our stand out integrated curriculum, strength in cultural diversity, approach to differentiated learning, highly involved and inclusive community, and exceptional attention to the academic, social and emotional well-being of each child distinguish us. Our downtown Toronto location is reflected in our approach to curriculum integration, community inclusiveness and social action. A strong and frequent assertion from many of our school families is that if not for this school, they would not have chosen a Jewish Day School.
3. What is the advantage of sending my child to Paul Penna DJDS compared to other Private, Religious or Public Schools?
Our mandate is to build upon and surpass the core skills outlined in the Ontario Ministry of Education guidelines. Critical thinking skills are artfully woven through all aspects of curriculum development and delivery. Our Core and Hebrew teachers are able to teach across the disciplines, ensuring consistently high teaching standards and integration of Jewish and secular studies. The school institutionalizes individualization and recognizes and addresses a broad range of learning styles and individual needs, enabling children to grow and flourish. Paul Penna DJDS provides an environment in which children love to learn, are engaged in their learning, think critically, participate authentically in independently and collaborative work, and approach tasks with a creative mindset.
Our school’s philosophy is rooted in a strong commitment to developing Jewish values and identity. We embrace families of all Jewish and combined cultural backgrounds. Jewish identity is discussed and explored through open dialogue and examining the many ways in which individuals and families express their identity. We take pride in being known as a community of differences.
4. What is an integrated curriculum?
Our approach to instruction through integrated units allows us to provide meaningful learning experiences while ensuring children develop essential skills. We are able to offer our students a broad foundation of knowledge, leading to an understanding of relationships amongst concepts. Resources go beyond textbooks, to include a wide range of books, films, media sources, speakers, and community connections; student groupings are flexible and dynamic; thematic units are developed around “big picture” essential questions.
Our integrated units bridge concepts between Science, Social Studies, Language Arts, and Judaic Studies. An integrated curriculum classroom is a place where meaningful, interdisciplinary connections are made and experiential learning is encouraged. As students delve more deeply into a unit, students become aware of links to other areas of the curriculum, as well as connections to their own lives.
5. How does the school manage social emotional development of student mental health and resilience? How does the school meet student needs?
Paul Penna DJDS takes the social emotional development and health of its students very seriously. We have a school social worker who meets with individual children to help build resilience and strength with some of the most common school based issues that cause difficulty for students. As well, our students meet with the school social worker in small groups in the classroom to process age-appropriate social topics. This provides an opportunity for teaching students important social and emotional skills at a grade-appropriate level.
6. 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. In 2020, the Graduation Legacy Fund developed an Arts-Enhancement fund. This will allow for special school-wide experiences to enhance arts-based education in interesting, unique and creative ways.
7. What does social justice look like in our school? How do we engage in social justice learning and experiences?
Social justice is one of the seven values on which our program is based. Throughout the school year, our students engage in various social action projects. In addition, curriculum and our location at Bloor and Spadina also drive our engagement with social action projects – particularly with respect to homelessness.
8. How much Hebrew do the students receive?
Beginning in SK, between 1 ¼ and 1 ½ hours of our school day are devoted to Hebrew language study. Hebrew instruction happens daily and takes different instructional forms. The children learn to read, write and speak in Hebrew.
9. Can you accommodate students without any prior Hebrew language instruction?
We readily accommodate students who enter the school at grades beyond SK and/or have differing levels of Hebrew proficiency. Small-group instruction is part of the instructional norms and thus facilitates introductory level Hebrew instruction beyond entry level grades.
10. How religious is the school?
We are a non-affiliated pluralistic Jewish day school, welcoming students and their families from a spectrum of Jewish affiliation and observance. We believe that a positive Jewish identity emerges from a deep knowledge of self, tradition, values and history, as well as from questioning and self-reflection. By integrating Jewish content into all aspects of our students’ learning experience, we foster in them an appreciation of their heritage and the rich fabric of Jewish life. We engender a love, knowledge and appreciation of prayer, striving to create meaningful and personal connections for our students. We enjoy celebrating all Jewish holidays throughout the year, including Shabbat each Friday and a monthly Rosh Chodesh assembly.
11. How does the school teach about Israel? What is the scope and sequence on Israel education?
Israel is one of the 7 values of Paul Penna DJDS. Guided by our Israel Education vision statement and accompanying standards and benchmarks, we aim to teach Israel as an evolving country of diverse narrative. We also believe that the Jewish people have always had, and will always have, a relationship to Israel. We provide opportunities for our students to explore connections to Israel through intellectual, emotional,spiritual and personal engagement.
12. When my child leaves, will he or she be able to fit into another Jewish or non-Jewish day 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 are successful through these transitions.
13. What neighbourhoods do you serve?
Families come to us from a wide range of neighbourhoods in Toronto including the Annex, St. Clair West, Dufferin/Dovercourt, Beaches, Danforth, Cedarvale, Forest Hill and Leaside. As the only Jewish day school in Toronto’s downtown core, we largely draw families who live south of Eglinton, although more and more families who live north of this boundary are choosing to come to our school.
14. What is a typical class size?
A typical class size is 20-25 students. Most classes have staffing models that allow for more than one teacher in the class at any time. We are focused on a robust single grade cohort model.
15. Do you have a Middle School?
The school is investigating the launch of a middle school at Paul Penna DJDS. Currently the Board has tasked a Middle School Exploration Task Force with looking at the myriad of factors that go into opening a Middle School program. In the Fall of 2020, the task force will make a recommendation to the board about next steps for the exploration.
16. Do you have before care and after care?
We offer a small before care program which can be used on a regular or occasional basis. The MNJcc runs a year-long after care as well as a School’s Out program to provide coverage on days when we are closed or close early. These services are very convenient for and popular with families.
17. What are some of the advantages of being in the MNjcc?
The MNjcc is a full service community centre with a broad range of athletic, artistic and community facilities. We take full advantage of the beautiful facilities including the gym, swimming pool, meeting rooms and Al Green Theatre. In addition, the MNjcc offers a range of programming for our students after school, including a full service after-school child care program. This creates a seamless approach to school-aged programming. In addition to the benefits of being in the MNjcc, the MNjcc is highly inclusive, providing services and support for children and young families, individuals with disabilities, seniors groups,and the LGBTQ community. Our location puts us alongside several downtown communities and resources, including Arts and museums, University of Toronto, Native Centre of Toronto, Kensington Market, and the historical Jewish community of Toronto.
18. How does the subsidy system work?
Access to Jewish education is a value of the school, as we want everyone who wants access to a Jewish education in the downtown core to have one. Paul Penna DJDS is part of the UJA Koschitsky Centre of Jewish Education subsidy program. Families apply for subsidy in late spring for the following September. The school uses discretion and strict confidentiality with respect to tuition subsidy discussions.
19. What are the security measures you take?
We have coordinated our security procedures with MNjcc, CIJA, and the Toronto Police Services. We are in constant contact with these partners. We continue to consult with these various experts about security and update our procedures accordingly.
20. How can I be involved as a parent?
We encourage parents to become involved in their child’s education by helping their child with homework, attending school functions and communicating with the 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 in the school and we welcome this. The Board of Directors and Parents Association are the formally organized vehicles for parental involvement in more significant elements of school life. Some of our parents have said that when they enrolled their children in our school, little did they know that they were becoming part of a community. Parent involvement is a defining aspect of the school community.