Heilicher classrooms are safe spaces for students to learn, grow, and be themselves.
By Dr. Dan Ahlstrom
Each year as we come together to celebrate Chanukah, we are reminded of the enduring symbolism of bringing light into darkness. In this present moment, I am filled with a deep conviction that Heilicher serves as a beacon of light within our community. Our students continue to flourish, embarking on a journey to strengthen their Jewish identity and acquire new knowledge every day.
Recently, we had the honor of hosting a team of esteemed educators as part of our accreditation process with ISACS (Independent Schools Association of the Central States). Over the course of several days, this dedicated team engaged with our administration, faculty, board members, and some of our students to gain insight into our school’s essence.
During these interactions, I felt an immense sense of pride as I shared the remarkable progress we have made over the past year and a half. Equally rewarding was the opportunity to engage in profound and meaningful dialogues with the members of the accreditation team, many of whom also hail from Jewish day schools. Together, we explored shared concerns and laid out plans for a promising and successful future.
One of our greatest strengths has been our ability to create a safe and secure space for our students and faculty as tensions rise worldwide in response to the Israel-Hamas conflict. These events have sparked widespread concerns about the safety and well-being of Jewish students who may face bigotry and threats of physical harm. In response to these challenges, I want to share my perspective and our efforts here at Heilicher.
At Heilicher, we fully acknowledge the gravity of these hate incidents and their potential to profoundly affect our students. It is this understanding that fuels our unwavering commitment to creating a safe and inclusive campus community. Our primary goal is to ensure the physical safety of our students, closely followed by safeguarding their emotional and mental well-being. To achieve this, we have implemented a comprehensive security plan and multiple layers of protection. While we do not disclose the specifics of these security procedures, you are likely familiar with some, including real-time surveillance, on-campus security personnel, and controlled access to our facilities. These measures are further reinforced by our strong partnerships with local law enforcement agencies and regular security audits conducted by experts in the field.
Many communities have turned to Jewish day schools like Heilicher for guidance in light of the increasing threats faced by schools across the nation. We have consistently invested in the necessary resources to create a secure environment, and we share our expertise and experiences.
As educators, we also hold the responsibility of providing fact-based instruction and materials to our students, staff, and the wider community. Our aim is to facilitate an understanding of antisemitism and all forms of discrimination, with the ultimate goal of inspiring our community to contribute to a more just and equitable society. We remain steadfast in our commitment to protecting and respecting all religious minorities and social classes.
Diversity of thought is a fundamental part of Heilicher’s mission. We encourage our students to seek out facts, engage with different perspectives, support one another, and approach differing opinions with respect.
In these challenging times, these simple suggestions can promote resiliency among our students and community:
1. Practice Mindful Media Use: Pause and reflect. Teach young students the value of mindful media consumption. Encourage them to pause before clicking on or watching something online. Ask them to think about whether it’s appropriate for their age and if it will make them feel happy or worried. Emphasize that they can always talk to a trusted adult if they have questions or concerns about what they see online.
2. Embrace Routine: Anchor your day. Encourage the importance of routine, especially during chaotic times. Stick to bedtimes, reinforce study hours, and maintain expectations regarding chores.
3. Thoughtful Responses: Take a breath. Remind students that not everything warrants an immediate response, especially on social media. Encourage them to listen, gather facts, and consider whether a response is necessary.
Creating and maintaining a safe and healthy learning environment remains our top priority at Heilicher. We are dedicated to ensuring our school serves as a sanctuary for teaching and learning, free from antisemitism, prejudice, and violence.
If you have any questions regarding this message or suggestions for how we can better support our families during these challenging times, please do not hesitate to reach out. Your input is invaluable to us.
Thank you for your continued support and commitment to our shared mission of providing a secure and enriching educational experience for our students. I hope your Chanukah is filled with light and that you enjoy some rest and respite over winter break.