Over the past several years much has changed at Hillel. The most visible changes are, of course, our facilities. We have created a learning environment that is truly second to none. But just because Hillel does not look like the schools that you may have attended, the New Year is also an opportunity to remember that no matter how time marches on, some things do not change.
First and foremost, as a school educating children in their early to middle years, we are committed to teaching lifelong skills, a body of knowledge in Judaic and general studies, in an environment that supports academic, social and spiritual growth. The basics are still taught vigorously: students learn to become avid and strong readers; they learn to use math skills competently, especially everyday math skills; and they learn to write effectively.
Children will always need these skills. How they are taught, however, has evolved – teachers now tailor strategies that work best for each student and the way that he or she learns. Your child may not be learning math the way that you did, but she is still learning math. Your son may not be required to take spelling tests, but he is still required to learn how to spell. There are many engaging and meaningful ways to assess what a child is learning beyond performance on a test, and we are employing them at Hillel, as our Dean of Student Learning wrote in a blog last month.
The other constant that remains at Hillel is our commitment to Jewish values, Jewish living and the Jewish people. Our tradition and our history are the bedrock of our very 21st-century school.
While these familiar skills remain crucial, in today’s world so much more is needed.
In a day and age when knowledge is easily obtainable by grabbing your smartphone from your pocket, and information learned may be outdated two minutes after a student graduates, it is more important today that our children have the skills that will enable them to continue to learn over time and solve complex problems.
It’s not that content and facts themselves are not important. But as Tony Wagner, an expert in residence at Harvard’s Innovation Lab, and a thought leader to whom I have referred on several occasions, has said, “Content knowledge has to be engaging to kids. If kids aren’t motivated, you can pour content knowledge into their heads and it comes right out the other ear.” Kids need critical thinking and communication skills, and, above all, they need to be creative problem solvers. When using these skills content knowledge is more likely to stick.
Wagner advocates that students need authentic, real-world experiences, and that through project-based learning “students are learning many more real skills, as well as content knowledge.”
At Hillel we are committed to providing the education children need for this century. We are reimagining what schools and what learning look like. Along with the basic skills that will always be taught in our school, we continue to move towards more project-based learning and innovation in our newly designed spaces. We are proud that we have created the appropriate environment that promotes the essential skills of critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity, along with the traditional Rs.
It is our obligation to create an educational environment that is truly best for today’s children. And we have an unparalleled learning environment for our children. When you combine the educational experiences we are creating at Hillel with a rich, deep and meaningful Jewish education to ground children with a strong identity and moral compass, we really have what no other school can offer Jewish children in the Detroit area. We are proud of and excited about our progress, and, to paraphrase from Pirkei Avot, we know we cannot desist from the work that still lies ahead. With our parents, staff, trustees, and the community as our partners, we will continue to go from strength to strength!