July 13, 2024
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July 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Tap the Sap of Hidden Potential

Yielding Metal and Potential—This headline, along with a picture of a tree dribbling green sap, grabbed my attention and I immediately began devouring this article. It described how although there has been awareness that certain plants absorb metals for a while, it has not enjoyed widespread knowledge or practical application. The scientists in this case focused particularly on nickel-loving plants. When scientists harvest the ‘sap,’ with only a little bit of additional purification, they have very concentrated, valuable nickel. Today, nickel is most crucial to stainless steel, as well as for batteries in electric vehicles and a lot of renewable energies. This way of ‘smelting’ nickel is far more concentrated than any mining of nickel in the traditional sense! Phytomining or agromining can also be used in areas where the soil has been made toxic to clean up an area.

It occurred to me that this whole process is a metaphor for engaging children. We look at ‘plain’ plants and we don’t see that there is something truly valuable inside them. Sometimes, mining the traditional way is both more labor-intensive, and frankly, less successful. Instead, a more creative, out-of-the-box solution that pays attention to the actual needs of the plant yields a far more valuable result. A hidden aspect or what may be considered toxic dross is in fact, the most important. We may think that a plant only needs water and sunlight but it turns out that one of its vital nutrients must be nickel! Maybe an entire area that is ‘contaminated’ eventually will be the most worthwhile!

Creating an environment that allows students to tap their own hidden potentials is a primary mission of school that becomes particularly urgent by middle school. A wise middle school program recognizes this important goal and fosters an intentional and holistic framework to scaffold this potential for growth. Middle school naturally creates opportunities for students to build their self-knowledge and character, as the social interactions become more variegated and students learn to navigate relationships. Wrestling with more complex academic material also ‘forces’ students to reckon with their personal beliefs and articulate their values.

Over the last several weeks, I have been observing the fruits of this intentional approach to middle school. Let’s lift the veil and listen to a couple of recent classes.

One class was discussing one of my favorite quotes from Shakespeare, “The fire i th’ flint/Shows not till it be struck.” One student shared that sometimes we don’t know what is inside of us until we face a difficulty and then the ‘fire’ really comes out. Another student shared that what looks like a plain, ordinary rock can turn out to have fire inside it but no one knew that, and maybe the rock itself didn’t know it yet—it thought it was just a typical rock.

Several classes were engaged in reflective writing pieces. I admired the nuance of a student essay analyzing the pros and cons of scientific testing on animals. Although he abhorred causing pain to a living creature, he was torn because he felt that saving a human life from a fatal disease took precedence. Another student reflected specifically on the injustices suffered by beagles and made an impassioned plea for safe and effective alternatives to animal testing.

In another class, students described their feelings about being religious Jews, their areas of pride and their areas of struggle, particularly about confronting anti-semitism, in poignent and deeply-expressed essays. The students in another class were writing their reflections about their experience interviewing Holocaust survivors for Names Not Numbers. A common theme in those essays was the student amazement that seemingly small decisions ended up having tremendous impact and causing either the saving or loss of people’s lives.

One class was heavily involved in the production of a play. There were the outward manifestations of all their work. The students adjusted the Hebrew dialogue, created the dances and picked music. They designed sets and costumes. Underneath though, there was another layer of learning, as students learned how to collaborate, employing their strengths and weaknesses in unexpected ways and learning how to cope with deep differences in a kind manner.

Another group wrestled with applying proportions to congruent shapes, which requires a certain amount of visual spatial skill. Some students were initially stymied by their feelings of confusion and not ‘getting’ it right away. After several days of persistence, the lightbulb began to flash, and the students felt so good about their grit! Learning that a pseudoconcept is part of the journey to mastering a concept allowed the students to genuinely own their own progress.

Truly, tapping the hidden sap yields the true treasures buried in our children. As we have just recently completed the holiday of Purim, with its more ‘hidden’ miracles, let’s take the message to heart that each and every day, we have the opportunity to help our children tap their best inner qualities.


Mrs. Chana Luchins is the Principal of General Studies at Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva in Edison, New Jersey.

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