May 28, 2024
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May 28, 2024
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“Reading homework? Again?” This reaction was common from Rabbi Grosberg’s seventh-grade Chumash class. One of Rabbi G’s goals was to help his students develop independent learning skills. To this end, he felt that consistent practice reading pesukim was essential. He couldn’t worry about his students’ complaints. They would appreciate the extra work one day.

“More revisions? I thought we were done!” This reaction was common from Ms. Averbuch’s English students. As head of the English department, Ms. Averbuch had to set the tone for all the English teachers at the Sacramento Hebrew Academy for Real Knowledge (SHARK). To do so, she required her students to revise essays until they were almost flawless. Not all teachers at SHARK were as strict as Ms. Averbuch about revisions, but her example definitely raised the bar for all classes. She knew that most students did not appreciate having to correct, re-correct, and re-re-correct their papers, but she hoped they would … one day.

Throughout SHARK, teachers placed high expectations on their students, both academically and personally. Students were expected to conduct themselves according to the Sacramento Hebrew Academy for Real Knowledge Behavior Initiative for Torah Expectations. A copy of SHARK BITE was posted in each classroom, and teachers held themselves and their students to the standards set by the BITE. Needless to say, not every student was thrilled to have such high standards at school. In fact, a group of middle schoolers started a club with the aim to get the teachers at school to “chill.” They called their club STACHE (Students for Teachers Applying CHill Education). To show that they wanted the teachers to lighten up, the students of STACHE wore fake MuSTACHEs to school every day.

At first, STACHE was viewed as a cute and funny way for students to share their feelings in a humorous and good-natured manner. SHARK’s principal even wore a fake mustache one day. The middle school teachers arranged a “chill day” for the students, with a bit less work and learning than usual. However, as school year neared January and first semester finals approached, the stress that some STACHE members were feeling pushed them to a breaking point. STACHE students began protesting and recruited other students to join them. Soon, it seemed that the middle school was in full revolt, with students refusing to do work, and teachers, parents and administrators left without knowing what to do.

To try and fix the situation, Rabbi Nathan, the principal of SHARK, organized a meeting with all 112 middle school students. He was the only faculty member set to attend, and he promised the students they could be honest with him, as long as they were respectful when talking about their teachers. The students were excited about this meeting. They felt that Rabbi Nathan was clearly going to agree with everything they said and would make the changes they wanted.

So, on a Monday afternoon, the entire Middle School student body filed into the cafeteria for the meeting. Not every student attended, as many did not agree with what the STACHE club had started.

Of the 112 middle school students at SHARK, 71 came to the meeting, and many of them just to see what would happen. Among the 71 students sat Kaylie Bluefeld, a recent transfer into SHARK. The family had recently moved to California from the East Coast, and Kaylie had only been attending SHARK since mid-October. Kaylie generally kept to herself, as she was still getting used to her new environment. However, she did make a few friends, and one of them, Brielle Newman, was surprised to see Kaylie walking towards the cafeteria. “Kaylie, why are you going to the meeting? I thought you didn’t agree with this silliness. Wouldn’t you rather leave school early? We have permission to leave if we aren’t interested in coming to the meeting.” Kaylie smiled at Brielle. “Brielle, I get what you are saying, but I have my reasons. You can go on without me.” Brielle shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. “Forget it. If you are so attached to going to the meeting, I’ll go too.” So all (what was now) 72 students took their seats and the meeting began.

The meeting started with Rabbi Nathan calmly and eloquently explaining the school’s attitude towards learning. The STACHE members seemed a bit moved by Rabbi Nathan’s speech, but not enough to convince them to call off the protests. As students took turns presenting their own opinions, one theme seemed to come through clearly: Why don’t teachers just leave us alone or give us a break?

When all seemed lost, and the meeting seemed close to wrapping up, a hand shot up in the back. “Yes, Ms. Bluefeld? Do you have a thought for us?” At this, everyone turned to the newest addition to SHARK’s middle school, Kaylie Bluefeld. Kaylie gave a bashful smile and began to speak. “I’d just like to give a perspective from someone coming from another school.” Rabbi Nathan smiled. “Please, go ahead.”

Kaylie went on to explain how in her old school teachers did leave the students alone. If a student missed homework or performed poorly on a test, most teachers let it be. No tutoring sessions, revisions or emails home. Although this sounds nice, this meant that the teachers didn’t really care about the students, and the students felt it. How nice it was, explained Kaylie, to attend a school with teachers who pushed you to do your best, because they actually cared.

This week’s parsha recalls the story of another “exchange student,” Yitro, who rejoices over all that Hashem did for Bnei Yisrael. Yitro, not the Jewish people, was able to best see that everything Hashem did wasn’t for Himself, but for His special nation. Sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to teach us how to appreciate what we have. Shabbat Shalom!


Yair Daar is the middle school dean of students at Yeshivat He’Atid. He can be reached at [email protected].

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