July 19, 2024
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Yavneh Academy Redhawks Read: Connecting in a Time of Quarantine

Before the world turned upside down, my eighth graders were reading “The Diary of Anne Frank.” I had expected Anne’s character, and her honest exploration of her own adolescence, to resonate with my middle schoolers. But this year, as we wrapped up the unit on Zoom, my students were identifying with Anne in ways I had not predicted: the daily monotony, the struggle to pass time and keep busy, the isolation from peers, managing clashing familial personalities in close quarters. In these strange days, my students were seeing Anne’s story through the lens of their own.

At this moment, we are all yearning for connection. My students, who six weeks ago were asking when Yavneh would “shut down already,” are now writing journal entries longing to return. The life of an elementary and middle school student is so centered around peer interactions, and it is only natural that they are feeling this loss now. In recognition of this reality, Yavneh Academy has been packing the schedule. From distance davening and learning, to special Rosh Chodesh and Shushan Purim events, Yom HaShoah commemorations to night activities like challah baking and concerts—the days have felt full. And students have been coming—opting in and filling the room—so to speak. Our students are craving community.

Books have always offered an avenue for community and connection. We see ourselves in characters and feel less alone. We connect to others who have read and loved those same characters and we feel a part of something. We see our stories portrayed—our challenges, our victories—and we feel comforted and empathetic. It’s why book clubs are so popular. It’s why my students felt Anne Frank’s story so powerfully across the distance of decades and continents. What a perfect time to encourage our students to be reading. During this time of quarantine and seclusion, when our worlds can feel so small, who wouldn’t want to plug into a larger one for a bit?

And so, the Yavneh faculty set out to make a push for independent reading. Because everyone loves some friendly competition, the first Yavneh Academy school wide reading challenge was created: Redhawks Read. Students were instructed to read and post completed books, and the amount of pages therein, through a simple Google Form. Just weeks into this program, Yavneh Academy has read more than 600 books and has eclipsed over 102,000 total pages. A tracker was created for our website, allowing students to watch our numbers climb upwards, while a leaderboard of students who have read the most pages provides some positive peer pressure and a chance to cheer on friends.

On the Friday before Pesach break, we had our first of what will become a bi-weekly live event surrounding and extending this school-wide reading experience. Grouped by grades, these Zoom meetings will present a rotation of guest teachers reading a favorite book (for the younger students) or the first chapter of a book (for the older students). The meetings will end with a raffle for anyone who submitted a book in that time period.

My middle school students are often tripping over themselves to pick up any morsels of who I am as a “real” person. They want to know my favorite bands and sports teams, what TV shows I’m watching and what kinds of pets I have. Yavneh’s extracurricular, distance activities—many of them run by faculty—have shown students their teachers in a different light. Now they will have the chance to hear our passion for the books we loved when we were their age and connect with us in an authentic and personal way.

We hope and pray that the day will soon be here when our doors reopen and our students excitedly spill into our halls and classrooms. Until then, through programs like Redhawks Read, we can feel a sense of closeness even in this time of physical distance. As we are all learning now, and as my students this year learned from Anne Frank, humans have a natural desire and an awe inspiring capacity—even in the most trying times—to adapt and connect.

By Eitan Novick, Yavneh Academy Middle School

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