Monday, March 27, 2023

For many parents in the Jewish community, conversations surrounding the dynamics of a dual curriculum are all too familiar. Many feel that it is “taxing” or “demanding” on their children, and, by definition, the entire family. But The Binah School, a unique educational model in Massachusetts, has added a third track to their education, and rather than finding it burdensome, the students have thrown themselves into their learning with enthusiasm. This third track is known as Expedition, which is modeled after Expeditionary Learning Schools, which emphasize high levels of student engagement, achievement, and character development.

“Modeled after the educational ideals of Outward Bound, expeditionary learning allows students to see themselves as part of the crew, rather than just receptors,” explained Michal Oshman, director and co-founder of The Binah School. “Each year, we identify a social-justice issue and weave it into the curriculum across topics.” Oshman gave an example of one year when they focused on food waste and hunger in Massachusetts and America. This was a springboard for them to not only learn about national food insecurity issues, but also what the Torah teaches about tzedek, baal tashchis (wastefulness), and the various halachos of agriculture, including Pe’ah and Leket.

In addition to academic studies, students at The Binah School also study photography, movie making, and art. At the end of an expedition, they present work intended for an audience outside of the student body. “Having the studies culminate in a project like this motivates quality, actionable goals, and real-world knowledge,” said Oshman. “Furthermore, it impacts the process of learning within the student herself.”

This type of methodology works off of the belief that education happens in multiple ways and times, and The Binah School aims to provide many venues in which education happens. This philosophy holds true in all aspects of curriculum development within the school. “It is a curriculum steeped in human development and invested in what is going on in a student emotionally, cognitively, spiritually, and socially,” Oshman said.

Oshman herself has a background in Arts Education, and attended Teacher’s College. As a strong visual learner she found herself appreciating learning by doing. Having worked in an interdisciplinary arts program, Oshman appreciated the need to explore the connection between art and learning, as well as other non-traditional approaches into an immersive educational experience.

When Oshman and her co-founder Rina Hoffman devised a pilot program for a group of home-schooled students, they focused on a project-based learning approach, rather than tests and spit-back learning. “There are so many dimensions in Torah, this opens itself up to multi-dimensional learning approaches,” said Oshman. The success of the pilot unit led to the school’s creation, based on the same premise.

The fact that The Binah School offers a new approach to learning has been recognized not only by parents, but by educational foundations as well. The Covenant Foundation, an organization that seeks Jewish educators across the spectrum who spark innovation and enhance Jewish identity, awarded The Binah School the Creative Collaborators Project, to help the school develop its curriculum integrating social justice, arts, community service, digital literacy, and leadership development.

The school has received a signature grant from the Collaborators Project, and in addition, it has received support and recognition from AVI CHAI Foundation for its use of educational technology in the classroom and for taking a lead in affordability.

The Binah School’s has earned a reputation that extends beyond the Boston community. While some of the students are local, The Binah School provides facilities for a boarding school, both because of its growing out-of-area student body, as well as because of the conducive environment a boarding school provides to the immersive nature of their program.

Tuition starts at $15,000 without boarding, and financial aid is available. Hoffman and Oshman will be in Teaneck after Pesach, toward the end of April, to further discuss their unique educational model. Please go to their website www.thebinahschool.org and contact them at [email protected] for more details.

By Jenny Gans

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