April 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

What Jewish Day Schools Can Learn From Pop Culture

Part II

In towns all over America and on many school campuses, sports rule! For day schools a more measured approach is necessary. However, Jewish day schools can learn from school sports that ruach counts!

School spirit generates its own significance and goes deeper than academics. It announces that “We are here and we are an important part of this community!” Ruach should be emphasized at every grade level, throughout the parent body, the teachers, staff, the Board and out in the community.

Day schools necessitate real and total commitment (not just financial). This means the experience must be more than a school and beyond just an education. Families need to see their day school as indispensable to their connection to the broader Jewish community. For this to work, the message can’t come just from the teachers and administrators who run the school. The PTA is the school’s primary ruach partner and the parent volunteers are crucial stakeholders of student retention and the development of new donors.

Team merchandise is not just big business; it also produces outrageous fan behavior. Why is it called “Football Fever” or “March Madness”? Because spirit is contagious! Day schools need to create contagious spirit. In addition to the serious educational component, shiriyah, rikudia, color war, ruach rallies etc. should be part of a school’s schedule. Show up at community events wearing school-logo outfits, pass out caps and water bottles with your school logo and have an online store where fans of all ages can order everything from hats and t-shirts to scarves, bags and flannel pajama pants.

Wow them with joy they never forget! Transfer the ruach of the cheering section to every aspect of the school experience from the moment prospective families walk through the doors until after they graduate. Walk through the halls of the school. Are the students smiling? Are the teachers smiling? Students, parents, grandparents, alumni, Jewish community leaders, donors—even local Jewish families who for one reason or another didn’t choose day school for their children—also benefit from school spirit. The joy that comes from school spirit translates directly to the joys of family, friendship and community.

It’s been remarked that people will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel. We need to stop arguing about the importance of day schools and just go out and share the spirit.

Teachers and administrators should smile and get excited about each day. They have the power to make this the best day ever for each student. The classroom is their stage.

At Disney, cast members have “free popcorn” coupons to give to children who drop or spill their popcorn. They take misfortune and turn it around to create magical moments. Focus on what’s most important—that everyone has a good day. At Disney, cast members found that guests with disabilities were often embarrassed because they had to constantly remind staff of their needs. Disney created Special Assistance passes and provided their cast with a wide variety of training so that they were able to identify and fulfill the needs of guests with disabilities without invasive questions. Some special needs you can see, but others impact behavior or attitude. Be understanding, supportive and friendly to everyone. You never know how much a smile can help someone feel at ease.

There are four components to everything Disney cast members do: safety, courtesy, show and efficiency. You need all of these pieces in school too. Create an amazing experience for everyone by remembering to always keep kids safe, be courteous and be efficient. Remember, you are helping create the magic of the “show.” When parents ask their children “How was school today?” Instead of the murmured “OK,” imagine the response being “It was great. First we learned about… and then we did… and then…”

There was a time when Jewish children absorbed the joy and experience of being Jewish simply by the osmosis of living in a Jewish environment. Those days of innocence are long gone. Martin Buber recognized this as early as 1929 at opening of the Lehrhaus Teachers Seminary in Berlin. He urged the new teachers to create Jewish memories and experiences for their students. Day school educators today must do the same. There is so much in contemporary society that militates against education in general and Jewish values in particular. Heroes are not men and women of refinement, learning or achievement, but those who demonstrate physical prowess at sports, attract crowds at concerts or who sell tickets at the box office.

Create lasting and positive memories and experiences each day. At Disney they call the evening fireworks the “goodnight kiss.” It is a chance to end the day with a “bang.” Teachers should think about not only saying “Hello and welcome!” but also “Goodbye and have a great day.” A little sweetness at the end of the day can help children view the entire experience as positive and fun. We understand that school and learning is serious business. Working to create the environment that allows for education to take place is also serious business.

By Wallace Greene

Rabbi Dr. Wallace Greene has had a distinguished career as a Jewish educator and administrator. He was the Executive Director and Principal of the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy, Dean of Ohr Torah Institute, founder of the Sinai Schools and is currently the Executive Director of The Shulamith School of Brooklyn.

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