Atlanta Jewish Academy

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Leah's Thinking About…Mascots!

Go, AJA!!!

There is tremendous excitement building about our new Infant through 12th grade school, Atlanta Jewish Academy. With AJA t-shirts, AJA sunglasses, and AJA chocolate, the enthusiasm has just mushroomed.  I can't believe that we have been in school for only two weeks and yet the name AJA is naturally rolling off our tongues.  This is our new identity.

Of course, no school can function without a school mascot.  But what should it be? 

In keeping with our philosophy, which values student input and student engagement, we have begun the process of empowering our Middle School and Upper School students in choosing the mascot. The students in each division were given forms on which to submit their ideas. They were asked to include a suggested name as well as a reason for why that particular mascot would best represent our school.  On Monday, the Middle School students voted on their favorite choices, and I tallied the votes in real time via a Google Doc that the students saw live on the classroom Smartboards.  Our top three choices have been combined with the Upper School's top three choices to form a new ballot of six options.  We will all vote on the six top choices and will be ready to unveil the final decision tomorrow to the whole school.

Stay tuned for the final decision.  Go, AJA!!!

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I was thinking…about integrated learning

Sounds complicated, I know. But it’s a wonderful approach to learning, and we try to incorporate it into every area of the school.

Integrated learning simply means that we try not to learn subjects in isolation. For example, our Judaism and our love for Israel are such vital parts of who we are at GHA that it underlies all our learning. Why not bring it out into the open in art classes, or literature classes, or science, math, or drama?

As I walked down the hallways this week, a beautiful exhibition of the work of our eighth graders caught my eye. Art teacher Anita Stein and Judaics teacher Debbie Bornstein collaborated on a project about the Four Sons of the Passover Haggadah. Mrs. Bornstein analyzed the famous parable with the eighth graders, discussing the lessons learned from studying these four sons and their Passover education; then, Mrs. Stein had students draw themselves as all of the Four Sons, with a short paragraph examining how each of these figures might sometimes represent a quality they find in themselves. Mrs. Stein taught the students how to create the four identical but differently colored prints in the style of artist Andy Warhol.

Not only was the students’ work arresting and beautiful, the content that informed their analysis of the Four Sons—and themselves—was equally lovely, and brought all the different pieces in all of us—wise son, defiant son, simple son, silent son, Jew, artist, student, teacher—into an amazing, integrated whole.

I am so proud to be a part of the remarkable community of learners/teachers at GHA, where everything comes together.



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I was thinking…about testing

Well, the results are in!  We received the ERB scores and found what we already knew—that our students are doing great.  Our sixth, seventh, and eighth graders scored way above the independent school norms, and all those who qualified for untimed testing consistently scored way above national norms.   

However, the question I still have to ask is, "What does this mean?"

Recently, there has been a spate of articles questioning the validity of using standardized tests. Information has surfaced indicating that these norm-referenced tests were never intended to measure quality of learning or teaching. They ignore the fact that there are multiple ways to reach the same outcome. Alfie Kohn, a popular author and lecturer on education, states that the "main objective of these tests is to rank, not to rate; to spread out the scores, not to gauge the quality of a given student or school."  Some maintain that the "one size fits all approach of standardized testing is convenient, but lazy."

As I have remarked in the past, scores on tests should be seen as only one piece of data in a full educational profile.  There are truly gifted students who perform poorly on standardized tests, as well as average students who excel in their testing. 

Yes, we showed well as a school; but the data does not truly tell us about the learning that is taking place for each individual child.  Let us not make the mistake of defining our children by this rigid tool of measurement alone.  The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, just as our children's education profiles are greater than this one small component. 

First Lady Michelle Obama, Princeton and Harvard graduate, once said, "If my future were determined just by my performance on a standardized test, I wouldn't be here.  I guarantee you that."

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I was thinking...about teaching social skills in school

Six years ago, all our teachers were trained in an approach that deliberately teaches emotional and social skills to improve the classroom environment. The two programs we used were called Responsive Classroom technique in the elementary school, and Developmental Designs in the middle school.  Whenever we talked about the teachings of these programs, we fondly referred to the "RCD2 approach." Teachers could be heard saying, "Oh, this is so RCD2!" or "RCD2 is magical."

We knew that these techniques create more harmonious classrooms and better-behaved children, but there were few studies that looked at the academic impact.  

Lo and behold, on March 6 of this year, the Washington Post published an article citing a long-term study that demonstrates how improved social and emotional skills also lead to greater academic achievement.  In a randomized controlled trial, researchers found that children in classrooms where the "RCD2" techniques were fully implemented scored significantly higher in math and reading tests than students in classrooms where they weren’t applied. 

It is so gratifying to know that GHA is on the cutting edge of what is Best Practice in education.  Go GHA!!!

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I was thinking…about the joy of learning

Mishenichnas Adar Marbim b'Simcha… When Adar comes, our joy increases…

Every morning, I arrive at school at 7:00 a.m.  It is always dark and chilly.  I usually enter the building with my eyes half closed, grab my first cup of coffee, and check out my email before I get ready for the day. 

This past Monday morning was different.  It was still dark and chilly, but my eyes widened when I saw a big sign welcoming me to Hogwarts.  Quidditch sticks and owls lined the walkway up to the door. On Monday morning, instead of going straight to the teachers' room to get my coffee, I just had to turn towards the lunchroom, drawn by the figures of Harry Potter and his friends in the hallway, each representing a different character from the Purim story with an accompanying verse from the Megillah. Hagrid pointed me towards the lunchroom, and there they were: four long tables for each of the four Hogwarts houses.  I smiled…I giggled…and started my day as it should be started on the first day of the month of Adar.

I was eager to see what else our talented B’not Sherut had in store for us.  And if I was that excited anticipating what delights might come next, how much more exciting would the experience be for our students? 

It occurred to me that this is what I love about GHA.  Yes, school is about formal learning, but it is also about real and meaningful applications; it's about joyful engagement. 

"Ultimately, we want our kids to love to learn.  A passion for learning is quite different from just studying to earn a grade or to please parents or teachers.  Those who develop a love of learning at an early age continue the process throughout their lives and are generally more successful, interesting, and happier than those who don't."

Let's keep the joy of Adar with us as we move into the final third of our school year.    


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