New Developments In The Classroom And Beyond

New Developments In The Classroom And Beyond

New Jewish studies curriculum for special-needs students; family history project through PELIE; Shalem Center to become liberal arts college.

Hidden Sparks Grows

Hidden Sparks recently unveiled the first part of a new Judaic studies curriculum at its sixth annual retreat, attended by 40 educators from 30 day schools in New York, New Jersey and Baltimore.

The group, which addresses the needs of diverse learners, works to help Jewish educators discover, understand and support all the students in their classrooms, including those with learning difficulties.

Aviva Stern, a teacher at Yeshiva Har Torah and a Hidden Sparks coach, said that “doing Hidden Sparks work has impacted me tremendously as a teacher to my students and in all of my relationships. Being trained to be attuned to individual’s strengths and weaknesses will continue to affect even my parenting style and how I relate to my extended family.”

Hidden Sparks aims to identify students whose potential has not yet been reached in school and in life. Founded in New York six years ago with a pilot program in seven schools, the program currently serves almost 40 schools in New York, including Ramaz in Manhattan, Bnos Pupa of Williamsburg and The Hebrew Academy of Nassau County. Through a Covenant Foundation grant, Hidden Sparks has also partnered with SHEMESH in Baltimore and REACH in Chicago, and has trained educators in Nashville, New Orleans, Tampa, Fla., and Hollywood, Fla., to bring their programs and curriculum to those cities.

A three-time recipient of the Slingshot Award, which recognizes the 50 most innovative Jewish organizations each year, Hidden Sparks is currently working with 281 teachers. Since its inception, Hidden Sparks has trained more than 1,000 teachers and has reached an estimated 10,000 students.

Debbie Niderberg, executive director of Hidden Sparks, said, “Our core curriculum and approach introduces the skills, strategies and sensitivities of special education into mainstream classes. We believe this enhanced understanding positions both teachers and students for greater success. By using a mentoring and school-based delivery model and by training ‘Internal Coaches’ in diverse learning, we believe that the program will have the greatest and most sustained impact over time on the students, teachers, and school culture.”

Hidden Sparks has also spurred additional programs, like Hidden Sparks Without Walls (HSWOW), which brings free audio and online hour-long classes to educators to enhance their knowledge of the field of diverse learning. To date, 1000 participants from 95 schools in 21 states have participated in the 45 webinars offered. In an effort to share its expertise with parents Hidden Sparks launched HSWOW Parent Connection, a free webinar series. Additionally, the group offers School Change Administrative Leadership Endeavor, or SCALE, for principals. Hidden Sparks funding comes from individuals, foundations, government and Jewish charities, including UJA-Federation of New York.

— Staff Report

iPads For Young Contest Winners

Most children like making art, but they don’t usually earn tangible rewards from their work.

However, posters created by 8-year-old Amarya Levy-Mazie, of Brooklyn, 9-year-old Sophia Trigub of Fairlawn, N.J., and 10 other children around the country, were rewarded with new iPads.

In a contest celebrating the Harold Grinspoon Foundation’s new “Voices & Visions” program, which brings together Jewish thinkers and artwork, children created their own version of posters inspired by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner’s quote: “If you see something that is broken, fix it.”

In an e-mail interview, Trigub said she loves arts and crafts and that she learned about the contest through the PJ Library, another Grinspoon Foundation project.

“I have been getting PJ Library books since I was a little kid, and now my little brother gets them,” she said. “I always liked these books and my parents used to read them to me until I learned how to read the stories myself.”

Trigub’s poster involved gluing different colored papers that show the world and the continents “breaking apart because people across the world are too different and are not always very nice to each other.”

“I think that all the trouble in the world can be fixed if we all try to accept each other more, so I glued different color words — trust, respect, peace, fairness, caring, and responsibility — because that is how all people should treat each other,” she explained.

Levy-Mazie, a Hebrew school student at Park Slope Jewish Center, said her piece was inspired by a visit to a nursing home this summer, while she was at Camp Young Judaea Sprout Lake in upstate New York. “My poster shows an elderly woman smiling when someone takes her out to a beautiful garden,” she said.

Voices & Visions is a $1.1 million philanthropic initiative. The foundation is creating and distributing high-quality posters to numerous Jewish organizations, PJ Library partners, and others. The first series of 18 posters highlights the “Voice” — or quote — from a famous Jewish thinker paired with the “Vision” — or artwork — from a Jewish graphic designer. (

The other winners in the Voices & Visions contest are Stella Feldman-Abe, 7, Westchester, Calif.; Jordan Carey, 12, Oakland, Calif.; Avery Feldman, 10, Scottsdale, Ariz.; Haidee Clauer, 12, Kansas City, Mo.; Eliana Bertman, 7, Colorado Springs, Colo.; Sara Fajnland, 8, and Chaya Mushka Fajnland, 9, Herndon, Va.; Nathaniel Perkins, 10, Dedham, Mass.; Nina Katz, 11, Longmeadow, Mass.; Marissa Eisen, 8, Salem, Mass.

To see all winning entries, go to:

— Julie Wiener, @Julie_Wiener

Family History, Jewish History

Fifth through eighth graders from the 92nd Street Y Connect Jewish After-School Program and 19 other American complementary, or supplemental, schools will study genealogy and Jewish history this spring through a curriculum developed by Israel’s Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People and sponsored by PELIE, the Partnership for Effective Learning and Innovative Education.

Called “My Family Story” the program involves researching family roots, identifying personal stories with the ongoing story of the Jewish people and portraying findings in a unique artistic display. Outstanding projects are entered into the My Family Story competition held at Beit Hatfutsot in June, and finalists are flown as guests of the museum to the opening of My Family Story official exhibit.

A new website,, offers participants an opportunity to join worldwide conversations and forums surrounding My Family Story and Jewish identity in general.

The program has been running internationally for several years, but was never able to gain a foothold in the USA. PELIE made this possible by sponsoring the launch of My Family Story in complementary settings in the United States.

— Julie Wiener

Shalem Center To Become Liberal Arts College

The Shalem Center, a leading Israeli think tank and research institute that has been home to writers and scholars like Yoram Hazony, Yossi Klein Halevi and Daniel Gordis, will soon become the country’s first liberal arts college.

The Council for Higher Education last week approved the center’s move to become an academic institution. Beginning in the fall, Shalem College, as it will be called, will offer a bachelor’s degree in one of two programs: the Interdisciplinary Program of Philosophy and Jewish Thought or Middle East and Islamic Studies.

The degree will take four years, with the first year devoted entirely to a Great Books curriculum, according to a release from the center. Martin Kramer, a senior fellow at the center, will head Shalem College.

— Staff Report

No Debate About Success Of Israeli Program

A soldier in Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s 2009 war in Lebanon in 2009, Inon Tagner traveled to the United States twice in recent years to improve the public image of the Israeli army. Under the auspices of the Stand With Us advocacy organization, he and another reserve soldier visited college campuses here to tell the “humanitarian” side of soldiers’ experiences..

Tagner is back in the States, this time to introduce a decade-old, peacetime Israeli education program that has helped break down some barriers between Israeli’s Jews and Arabs since it was introduced among Israeli Arabs.

Tagner, a 29-year-old native of Tel Aviv, recently moved to New York to open an educational and fundraising branch of Debate Company (, a Ramat Gan-based firm that teaches the basics of formal debate, which usually is practiced in competitive high school and college settings.

The discipline of debating, which has turned young Israelis’ lives around, is now doing the same for some Israeli Arabs, Tagner, director of Debate Company’s international department, told The Jewish Week. He says debating presents students an acceptable outlet for their competitive instincts.

Debate Company expanded to the Israeli Arab community last year, when Faris Keblawi, principal of the Al-Qasemi High School in Baka El Gharbiya, an Israeli Arab village near Haifa, invited the debating trainers.

“While Debate is a private company … its core focus is to harness the power of communication to bridge social divisions,” said Craig Miller, former project director at the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York who is promoting the firm’s activities.

Debating is an elective at the Arab school; participating students’ behavior improved, they fared well in national competitions against students from Jewish schools, and word spread among other Israeli Arab schools, which “have been trying to initiate and integrate similar clubs into their extracurricular program,” Keblawi says. “Debate training serves as a fertile floor for students to develop strong personal qualities which prepare them [for] real life.”

Keblawi said the residents of his split village — half of the community is Israeli Arab; half, across the Israeli-Palestinian border, Palestinian — have come to support the program. “We have heard nothing but encouraging words.”

The apolitical debate training “does not promote other goals than merely providing tools for a genuine dialogue” between Jews and Arabs, Tagner said. “There is no doubt that any interaction between Jews and Arabs … helps to promote the relationship between the two sectors.”

— Steve Lipman

read more: