When I’m talking about education with our staff and parents, I often reference the 4 C’s of 21st Century learning – communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. It is upon these building blocks that our learning is built and developing these skills will help our students succeed in a wide variety of learning environments and life in general.
At the recent edJEWcon conference, keynote speaker Silvia Tolisano talked about a 5th C, connectivity. Often times, this means Skype conversations with people in distant parts of the world or using a Twitter account to share student work or to help with researching a topic. In a conference that had a huge technology focus, Silvia made it clear that this was not about technology, however, but about relationships.

Sometimes it is the local relationships that are most important, rather than our global connections. It can be easier to draw meaning from these relationships and as anyone who has ever been in a long distance relationship, it can certainly be simpler to maintain. Our students are truly amazing at creating these connections.

Once again, our Middle School students engaged in another of their Tikun Olam Projects  (TOPS) and scattered out into the community to help repair the world. Danielle Shainker and I took a group of 14 sixth graders to Montefiore to visit with residents. This is not as simple as it sounds. We took small groups of students into residents’ rooms for “friendly visits”. While the students had lists of questions to help keep the conversation moving, making the initial bid (i.e. knocking on the door, saying hello, and getting the conversation rolling) was probably the hardest part. The students didn’t know the residents and vice versa. Add to this some general anxiety from the students on interacting with the aged and infirm, and it could have been pretty awkward.

What was amazing was that it wasn’t. Our students were incredibly poised, articulate and engaging. They asked incredible follow-up questions (particularly to the former owner of an ice cream shop in Cleveland Heights). And, they connected with the residents.

In the fourth grade, more connections were happening this week. Next week, these students will be participating in a Bracha-a-thon as they strive to bring more blessings into the world by raising tzedakah. Students researched and presented about potential charities that could receive the money that they raised. One of the chosen groups, Bikur Cholim of Cleveland, visited the class this week. Bikur Cholim is a volunteer-based organization that annually provides over 13,000 free kosher meals, makes over 9,000 visits to help the sick, provides 5,000 medical rides, loans needed medical equipment out, has fully stocked hospitality rooms at area hospitals and even has three houses that are used to provide complimentary lodgings for Jewish patients coming to Cleveland from other states and countries for medical care. The guest speakers were impressed with the passion, sincerity and dedication shown by our fourth graders in learning all about brachot and then using that knowledge to themselves be a blessing. Because our students have connected with Bikur Cholim and now have a relationship, their engagement in the Bracha-a-thon is that much deeper.

As Silvia said, it’s about connecting. It’s about the relationships. And Gross Schechter students are proving that.

Shabbat Shalom,

Dr. Ari Yares
Head of School

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