By Elana Rivel, Associate Director

Last Thursday night, 42 rabbis, educators, religious school teachers, parents and community volunteers came together for a Summit: Designing the Religious School of the Future, the latest step in the research phase of an exciting collaborative initiative. Last fall, Federation’s Center for Jewish Life and Learning invited Jewish Learning Venture and Gratz College to combine our creativity and expertise to develop and implement one or more innovative approaches to invigorate part-time Jewish education in Greater Philadelphia for learners in grades K-7.

Over the course of this year, staff has conducted research locally and nationally to identify and understand innovative educational initiatives. We recognized that for our process to be  successful we would need to include the voices of all of the key practitioners and stakeholders. Our Youth Summit gave us the opportunity to include students from 25 educational communities and many of their parents in our process. This Adult Summit allowed us to integrate the voices of key adult volunteer and professional community leaders from nineteen educational institutions.

Our conversation focused on meaningful Jewish experiences, the challenges of religious school education and how to re-frame those challenges as goals of supplementary school education. We took time to prioritize the goals in order to guide Jewish Learning Venture and Gratz staff in the development of initiatives.

Participants identified creating engaging educational experiences (including the development of materials and providing specific professional development for faculty) as the number one priority.

A close second was creating community-building experiences that would allow for our students to connect with other Jewish students across Greater Philadelphia.

We now enter the next of our work: integrating all that we have learned from our research as well as the priorities and key learnings of the Youth and Adult Summits in order to propose one or two new initiative to the Center for Jewish Life and Learning. It is our hope that this initiative (or initiatives) will be integrated in congregational educational programs for the Fall of 2015.