Holiday Exchange Program
By Rebecca Steinberg, Grade 3 General Studies Teacher
Many parents send their children to Heilicher so that they can learn about Judaism and develop their Jewish identities. At the same time, parents sometimes express concern about whether our children are living “in a bubble”. Are we preparing them for the diverse world they will inhabit?
One way that we bridge these differences is through our third grade exchange between Heilicher and Good Shepherd Catholic School, which began over 20 years ago. Third graders participate in two programs in which they learn about each other's holidays and customs, as well as learning to respect and value different traditions.
Our first program occurs just before Hanukah and Christmas, during which Heilicher students visit Good Shepherd Catholic School. Our students prepare an engaging presentation to teach the Good Shepherd students about Hanukah, and the Good Shepherd teachers and students teach our group about Christmas. We visit their sanctuary and have an opportunity to ask questions of the priest. Students get to know each other by completing interviews and playing a friendly game of dreidel.
For our second program, the Heilicher and Good Shepherd students meet at Beth El Synagogue just before Passover and Easter. We visit the sanctuary where one of the rabbis explains the important symbols and objects found there. The Torah is also opened for students to view up close. We then move to the social hall for a mini-seder. Students from both schools, who by now are at ease with each other, sit at tables together and sample a variety of Passover foods including matza, parsley with salt water and even a bit of horseradish root! One highlight has been grating apples to make delicious haroset.
Upon returning from both field trips, students reflect on what they have learned. They observe that there are many similarities between our two religions, as well as significant differences. Our students feel proud to teach their peers about Jewish traditions, and they also gain a deeper respect and understanding of others’ practices. Heilicher’s mission statement says that our students will be “leaders committed to the Jewish community and the global society throughout their lives,” and this program helps us achieve that mission.
On Tuesday, October 27th, Maia Poling entered my classroom and informed me that we had our first confirmed Covid-19 case in the 8th grade. A swirl of questions formed in my head, but we first focused on informing the students and getting them ready for distance learning
Over the last 20 years, I’ve had the privilege of travelling to schools across the country, consulting about how to create vibrant and effective school cultures. The foundation of this work is about relationships. Regardless of a student’s innate skills or abilities, if the teacher and student have a strong relationship, that student has a greater likelihood of progressing.
One of the things I admire most about Heilicher is the dedication to supporting students through their development. I am so impressed to see how inspired the students are to grow and learn. The staff have fostered a culture of academic growth that allows each student to truly feel passionate about their learning.