Englewood—Over the past eight years the Moriah School has made great strides in fostering increased levels of social and ethical sensitivity among its students, using its Brit Midot, Covenant of Ethics, as the guideline for the school’s standards and expectations of menschlich behavior. As Moriah’s principal, Dr. Elliot Prager, told the JLBC, “No less important than academic excellence is the moral excellence of our children. The time has come to take our midot education to a whole new level.” Toward that goal, the professional and lay leadership of the school created a new position, Assistant Principal for Student Life, and appointed Dr. Eva Lazar to head the new endeavor.
At Moriah for the past 12 years, Dr. Lazar served as school psychologist and Assistant Principal in the Middle School; her training, background and experience make her the perfect fit. With a doctorate in school psychology already earned, she is currently completing a degree in Educational Leadership, and will be a certified educational supervisor in the State of New Jersey and a licensed principal for grades K-12.
Assistant Principal for Student Life is the school leader, who is rooted in core Jewish values and ideals, and uses them to focus on every child’s social, emotional, ethical, and civic development,. It is a combination of hands-on training of students in meaningful and positive social interactions within the school and beyond, preventing negative developments, and creating opportunities for students to take on leadership roles in the local community.
This past July, Dr. Lazar attended a seminar at the Pardes Center for Jewish Educators, and plans on instituting Rodef Shalom a unique program on Moses’ brother Aaron, as a role model. Biblically, Aharon is called a Rodef Shalom, or “pursuer of peace,” and students must fulfill certain criteria to be considered “Rodef Shalom certified.”By using the program, students will learn valuable skills to resolve conflict and create peace, much like Aharon and his disciples did. Through this initiative, Moriah hopes to further elevate a warm, nurturing, welcoming environment that above all, values peace.”
To pursue peace, the students will have to create a culture of peace. Selected parents, students, and teachers will be the School Life Team who will work to develop awareness of what it means and how to make peace, by promoting positive values from Torah texts. School policies will be reviewed and renewed.
The second step is actually learning how to be a Rodef Shalom through the prism of Jewish texts. Dr. Lazar will visit classrooms to reinforce the program’s importance. Then students will get hands on exposure to what it means to be a Rodef Shalom. They will go on field trips to a variety of institutions who pursue peace and compassion, such as soup kitchens and food pantries, to experience first-hand what chessed is and to engage in acts of tikkun olam. The final stage is a two-year long peer-program, where students are trained to help their peers through peer mediation programs.
A Student Life Committee, made up of parents, has also been established to help launch initiatives to build a positive school climate. They will enable parents to be more involved in school programs for their children and working with Dr. Lazar, will create adult education seminars. There will be a book club on parenting-themed books, and special guest lecturers who will discuss parenting skills.
Dr. Lazar is very excited and looks forward to her new role. “Each grade is going to have a different thematic focus, and I plan on spending several hours over the course of the year in each class, working with the students,” she says. First grade might focus on conflict resolution, and they will use books and stories as a springboard for discussion, whereas middle school might study goal-setting, self-advocacy, or eating disorder prevention. Follow-up newsletters will go home so that parents can further support these important lessons.
“I’m very excited about the new role. It’s a testament to our school board and the leadership that this position was created,” Lazar says. “More than that, it’s a testament to what the parent and school body stand for, and the successful partnership between school and home. Moriah has always been dedicated to educating the ‘whole child’ and this new position and program will take that goal to a new level.
“Last year, for Rosh Chodesh Adar, Moriah had an ‘Upstander Revolution’ that taught kids not to be bystanders in conflict situations,” Lazar says. “It was school-wide, and it was fantastic. Middle schoolers went into lower-school classrooms and talked about upstanders like Moses, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Harriet Tubman. Projects were organized to highlight each child’s unique capabilities; there were books, stories, and facilitated conversations to focus on pro-social skills and healthy friendships. The entire event was inspired and created by a group of Middle School students.” Says Lazar, “We want more of that. Ultimately, it must come from the students themselves. That’s what this is all about.”
Moriah’s Board of Trustees President Evan Sohn says, “Like many schools, the challenges of being a child in today’s world places unique pressures on our children. This is especially true for Jewish children who carry the added responsibility of being an ‘ohr la goyim’ (a light unto the nations). While we continue to invest heavily in educational technology programs and professional development, we feel it is equally important, if not more so, to invest in the social and moral development of our children, inspiring them to become tomorrow’s leaders.”
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“Of all the rights of women, the greatest is to be a mother.” Lin Yn-tang
By Sarah I. Abenaim