Our Venture of the month features a congregation that has gone through a systemic change process while working with Jewish Learning Venture. This month, we are featuring Mishkan Shalom in Philadelphia, who incorporated PJ Goes to School into their curriculum for the year. Gabby Kaplan-Mayer and Mindy Dorfman, Gan-Alef-Bet Teachers at Mishkan Shalom, shared their experiences with us. 

JLV: Please describe the change, innovation, or transformation your organization has achieved:
Mishkan: We are entering our third year of participating in PJ Goes To School–a companion program to PJ Library to enhance Jewish content in classrooms through Jewish books and extending activities. The books have been a wonderful way to bring age-appropriate Jewish themes into the classroom–our children really love stories and love engaging with expressive art activities to share their thoughts, feelings and ideas in response to the books. What we appreciate is how the selected books (4 each year) connect to a common theme so that we can build on that theme throughout the year. This year’s theme of “Heroes” will allow us to help the students look at and celebrate their own courage and strengths. It’s also been helpful for us to be part of a community of teachers using the books and curriculum materials–through PJ Goes To School newsletters and webinars, we get to share with and learn from other teachers which always gets our creative juices flowing!

JLV: How did Jewish Learning Venture help you achieve what you described above?
Mishkan: Ellen Walters reached out to Mishkan School Director Rivka Jarosh to see if we’d initially like to participate and we all agreed that we would love to try. Ellen has come out to observe and visit one of our PJ Goes to School lessons each year and shares her enthusiasm for the books/themes with our students. She’s also shared ideas and images of how other teachers are using the books and that is very helpful.

JLV: What words of wisdom would you share with other organizations who are interested in making a similar change?
Mishkan: I think we all get into our “bubbles” and places of comfort when we’re teaching–and it’s healthy to break out and learn from other teachers. It feels good to be in a network and know that there are resources to draw from when creating lessons. We would encourage other teachers of students in grades K, 1, and 2 to participate in PJ Goes to School if you have an opportunity to do so.

JLV: Anything else you’d like to add?
Mishkan: Our kids love talking about the PJ Library books that they get at home–it is clear the books are having an impact on their Jewish learning. Our congregation has a large percentage of interfaith and multi-cultural families and PJ Library has helped our parents make time with their children to talk about Jewish holidays and values and to learn together.