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 the curriculum development work that one congregation, The Narberth Havurah, has done. Rabbi Simcha Zevit described the work she has done with Gloria Becker, Ed.D., Director of Educational Leadership at Jewish Learning Venture.
JLV: Please describe the change, innovation, or transformation your organization has achieved:
SZ: Our community is about 30 households, many are young families, and we are growing. We’ve gone through a transformation, which we are continuing to shape with the help of Jewish Learning Venture, in which we have created a curriculum/structure that best allows our small school of 15-20 kids to learn in a multi-age environment with children of widely varied levels of prior Jewish knowledge. When I first started working with Dr. Gloria Becker at Jewish Learning Ventures, I was seeking help in creating an overall school curriculum, as the new rabbi and education director for The Narberth Havurah. I saw our school environment as an incredible (but fun!) challenge: small student population, classes of multi-age levels, varied Hebrew backgrounds among kids entering the program at different stages, working in a rented space without any educational resources at our fingertips, varied exposure to prior Jewish learning, etc.!
Working with Gloria has transformed my outlook in terms of seeing most of what I saw before as obstacles, as assets. Her support has helped me to move from seeing the need for a set curriculum that spirals student learning and covers set curricular expectations over the years students attend, to allowing for a program in which the student’s creativity and curiosity are driving forces for exploration of an engaging and meaningful learning theme every year. The yearly learning theme as a basis for our school’s structure provides a lens through which students will explore, through a combination of teacher driven, interactive, and student driven project based learning, all the key topics we’d have covered with a much more complicated and “set” curriculum structure (Torah, history, prayer, holidays, Jewish values and tikkun olam) and will do so in a way that is fun, meaningful, and has academic focus. The transformation from heading in a direction of basing our school on a set curriculum over the six years that kids can attend school, to a yearly learning theme that allows for greater creativity and freedom to engage students of varied ages and learning backgrounds and abilities, has been freeing for me, and exciting for our students and their parents.
JLV: How did Jewish Learning Venture help you achieve what you described above?
SZ: Through a series of meetings with Gloria Becker, who acts as a guide and consultant, and suggests resources.
JLV: What words of wisdom would you share with other organizations who are interested in making a similar change?
SZ: Get the leadership support you need to brainstorm new ideas, and to empower yourself and others to be creative, flexible, and serious all at the same time!