By Yoni Binus
I wait by the entrance of the conference room as students begin to skip down the hall toward the dining room. Happy chatter, smiling faces, and arm-linked students slowly file by, turning to me as they pass, saying, “I have lunch with you, today!” and continuing on to get their hot lunch to-go.
The conference room seats are taken, one at a time, over the course of five minutes or so, as students either enter with home-packed lunch or return with something from Chef Liz’s kitchen. When the half-class (seven to nine students) has arrived, we get started with HaMotzi (prayer before eating) and a greeting. This is year three of Head of School lunches with students; many have been here before. New students and kindergarteners get a more detailed introduction.
“Thank you all for having lunch with me today,” I say. “Each year, I invite all students to join me for conversation about, well, just about anything. I can answer questions you might have, we can discuss whatever is on your mind lately, or you can give me any thoughts and feedback you have about school, so we can make it the best place possible for students.”
This last one, as returning students know, is why they are there. At that point, one student will inevitably pull out a Chromebook or an iPad and make their way to a list, compiled by friends. If they brought no technology or physical list, it is all in their brains ready to go.
Here are the common themes so far this year:
Lunch--many love the changes we’ve made, some want meat back
Electives--love electives. Everyone feels that each grade has better options.
Hebrew leveling--academically challenging but great opportunity to be with different grades.
These are actually the topics we discuss at lunch, all the way from kindergarten up to seventh grade (I haven’t had an eighth grade class yet this year.). One of the most striking things about the lower school (K-5), is that with our addition of science specialist classes twice per week and introduction of the Makerspace, students are clamoring for even more sciences. Music to teachers’ ears!
While any one of these topics is worthy of its own essay and in-depth report, I think the most notable thing happening at these lunches is that students at Heilicher are incredibly immersed in their academic and community experience. They also do not struggle to engage with me and each other on topics like Jewish pluralism and leveling of classes, discussions that most adults shy away from or find too fraught with controversy to approach. Students are accepting, inquisitive, honest with one another, and knowledgeable about their differences, their similarities, strengths, and challenges. We could all learn a lot about how to dialogue and confront challenging topics by watching our students in action.
Here is my observation after my first wave of these lunches:
- Heilicher students are actively engaged in the world around them. That engagement will serve them, this community and the world as the need for leaders emerges for every generation.
- Heilicher students care. They care about their academics, they care about their peers, they care about their Judaism, and they care about the school.
- We have the green light to continue down our STEAM path and provide sciences, as a standalone subject and integrated across the curricula.
- And more recess.
B’teiavon! (Bon Appetit) (Let’s have lunch)
- Yoni's 360