April 14, 2024
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Introducing Dr. Shoshana Klein Poupko, Ma’ayanot’s New Dean of Students

Dr. Shoshana Klein Poupko is joining the Ma’ayanot faculty this September in the newly created role of dean of students. Dr. Poupko is a dynamic, thoughtful and beloved educator who has worked in the world of Jewish education for almost two decades. For the past 15 years she has worked at North Shore Hebrew Academy in numerous capacities, including assistant principal for Judaic studies, department chair in Chumash, and director of Israel guidance.

As Ma’ayanot Director of Community Relations, I sat down with Dr. Poupko to learn more about her educational philosophy and vision and to ask about her goals for her first year as dean of students at Ma’ayanot.

Ms. E: We are thrilled to welcome you to the Ma’ayanot faculty and are grateful for the opportunity to get to know you better. I guess we should start at the beginning: can you tell us what drove you to become a Jewish educator?

Dr. P: I was the high school student that no teacher wanted to have, and that was my motivation for wanting to become a Jewish educator.

Ms. E: Wow, what does that mean that you were “the student no teacher wanted to have”?

Dr. P: I was a frustrated high school student, and as a result my parents were called quite a few times a year, primarily from my Judaic studies high school teachers. I was searching for meaning and answers, but, in my high school, questions were discouraged. I found that frustrating and limiting. My class—we were outspoken and somewhat critical, but we were also deep thinkers with sincere questions. We were searching, and we never felt, through all four years of high school, that our teachers appreciated us. This is what led me to a career in Jewish education. I thought, “I could do this better.” I love working with teens. They may be edgy at times, but they are also passionate, sincere and curious. I went into Jewish education to meet their passion, to stoke their curiosity and to at least try to answer their questions.

Ms. E: At what point in your education did you know that you wanted to be a Judaic studies teacher?

Dr. P.: I went through college debating between law and education. By my senior year I decided I needed to give teaching a try, so I applied to teach one elective at HAFTR. I was hired, so I traveled every day for a year from the city to Long Island to teach that elective. I taught a class about “Questions You Should Be Asking.” I prepared hours each night to teach a 40-minute period, and that class became an elective that I continued to tweak for the next eight years.

Ms. E: So what is your main goal for your first year as dean of students?

Dr. P: On an individual level, I want to get to know every student in the building. Not just by name, but to really get to know them and their families, to help each student maximize her four years of high school. I want to help students find their strengths, and even more important, I want to help them become familiar with the process of self-discovery, which is a lifelong endeavor. On a more communal level, I’ll be searching for pockets of energy—areas that have not been sufficiently tapped into—that allow students to fully express themselves. I’ve learned that the best potential for energy and spirit is when we dig deep and tap into what motivates the students. I look forward to finding the range of interests that will likely be expressed. For some this may be a chagiga and for others it could be an agriculture club. Tapping into these motivators generates enthusiasm and results in increased spirit and energy. That is what I’m looking for in getting to know the students.

Ms. E.: I know that you are coming from the North Shore Hebrew Academy, which is a co-ed school. How do you feel about coming to an all-girls high school?

Dr. P.: I’m super excited! Having worked in co-ed schools for 18 years, I’ve really come to believe that an all-girls environment is more healthy for many teenage girls. At this developmental stage, a co-ed school environment puts our young women under enormous social and academic pressure, and I believe that many girls will do better in a single-sex environment.

Ms. E.: What about your experience in co-ed schools has led you to this conclusion?

Dr. P: There were times that we separated the boys and girls at North Shore, for example for health classes or certain seminar classes, and I just saw that a different side of the girls came out. They were more willing to share, they were much less self-conscious, and they were much less inhibited. Also, if I think back to my early career, those first three years at HAFTR—Judaics courses were separate and secular courses were together. I remember students constantly asking to be let out five minutes early to go to the bathroom to put on makeup and brush their hair before the next class, which was with boys. That is normal behavior, but why burden our girls to feel the need to worry about their appearance during the school day? For many teen girls, these are the most vulnerable years. I believe we need to let them get to know themselves, to get comfortable with themselves, without the distraction of having to impress the boys. Then, after high school, they will be strong, confident and ready to enter a co-ed environment.

Ms. E.: What did you know about Ma’ayanot, or what was your impression of Ma’ayanot, before you applied to work here?

Dr. P.: Ma’ayanot is a brand name. From the beginning to today, Ma’ayanot is such a unique offering—a brand all to itself. I can tell you this, of all my friends who went into Jewish education, so many of the superstars went to work at Ma’ayanot. When I would hear about one of them taking a job at Ma’ayanot, my reaction was “of course,” since the standard was if you were a superstar, you went to Ma’ayanot to teach. It is very humbling; I am very humbled to now be part of that.

By Pam Ennis

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