We are often asked to produce evidence that supports our educational claims that technology and learning spaces are powerful and necessary tools for the 21st century learner. According to our research, these tools foster curiosity and creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication. They help us to fulfill our mission to “inspire a passion for learning.” So what data demonstrates that we are on the right track, and that our approach is not only educationally sound, but also a model for the change needed in our national educational system?
The national and international attention our school has achieved is one such source of evidence. Educational leaders have visited our school in the last year from Haifa, Israel; Mumbai, India; Chicago, Illinois; New York, New York; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Boston, Massachusetts; Boulder, Colorado; and Washington D.C., with other schools expressing interest to visit. Locally, in the past year, we have hosted independent school educational leaders and teachers from Cranbrook, Roeper, and Yeshivat Akiva, and, from the public schools, we have hosted Farmington, West Bloomfield, Bloomfield Hills, Berkeley, Novi, and Livonia. All of these leaders and teachers have come to observe and learn from us, and bring that learning back to their own schools. These leaders and teachers are in earlier stages of redesigning their school spaces, and others are looking to implement strategies and learning approaches that we have adopted. This is powerful data and evidence that we are leading, and leading by example.
The feedback we receive is both affirming and humbling. I imagine the overwhelming endorsement from educational leaders worldwide can help parents feel pride in their choice to send their children here, and provide reassurance that we are on the right path.
I would like to suggest that in addition to data there is another tool to measure the success of our mission; this measurement is not in numbers. In fact, it is intangible, yet we know it is real. It is something that must be felt. The following story will help you feel it, too.
On Veterans Day, Mr. Bill Berman, an iconic personality in our community, and beyond, spoke to our eighth graders about his World War II experiences. For a solid hour before their lunch period, Mr. Berman told wonderful stories about his years at Harvard and living in the same dormitory as John F. Kennedy. He spoke about his challenges keeping kosher, and then he spoke about the war. At the time of this talk, Mr. Berman was one week shy of turning 98 years old!
Mr. Berman is a remarkable person, still bigger than life in physical stature, and in his vivid, long-term memory. Understandably, as a 98-year old, he was prone to repeating himself – making his story much longer.
This detail is important only because of how our eighth graders responded. Under the best of circumstances, it can be challenging for a hungry adolescent to sit silently for an hour listening to any story! But our students gave Mr. Berman their full attention. Even when he repeated a story, they listened as if they were hearing it for the first time!
What followed was most profound. When Mr. Berman finished talking, and students were dismissed, I expected them to charge downstairs to recess and the miznon (café). Instead, most of them “charged” to Mr. Berman to shake his hand, to thank him, and in some cases, to tell him about their own grandparents serving in World War II. It was such a beautiful and warm sight. And to see the smile on Mr. Berman’s face was priceless!
Of all the things that Hillel has to offer, the value of acting with derekh eretz and behaving as menschen ranks at the top. All else follows – including greater success in life! The eighth graders’ time with Mr. Berman, and how they responded to him, cannot be expressed in data points. And yet, the heart could not help but to feel, and the mind to perceive, how beautifully their interaction encapsulated many of the attributes that make Hillel a unique and important place for children to grow and learn! The heart certainly knows what numbers could never express.