Religious School FAQs

GENERAL

Can you summarize the changes this year?

The biggest changes this year include:

1.  A brand new curriculum being written for each grade 
2.  Alternatives to Thursday learning offered to allow for online classes on different weeknights as well as an early bird Sunday morning 
3.  3 “family days” where in place of Religious School, your whole family will learn together (mitzvah day, field trip day, and home-hosted Shabbat)
4.  An official partnership with Keshet to support our diverse learners
5.  Expansion of our education team and the support we offer to our teachers


What's so different about the new curriculum?

In the past we had no formal curriculum. This year we identified annual goals for what topics each grade should be learning. In addition, this year we are providing teachers with daily lesson plans as opposed to general outlines and annual curricular goals.  We feel this will make it easier for our teachers to know what to teach and when, while giving them the ability to bring their creativity, knowledge and adaptations to the classroom presentation of materials. Over time, the curriculum will build and be improved and expanded.


What's the long-term plan? What changes can I expect to see next year?

A commitment to excellence in Jewish education means trying lots of ideas and then hearing feedback from parents, students, and teachers regarding what worked and what could be done better. This year, in addition to making the changes outlined above, we are conducting ongoing evaluation of these changes to understand how they are working (or not) and what we can do to make things better. Next year, we may make additional changes and improvements based on the feedback and evaluation.

One specific area of focus that is important based on past and current feedback is the Hebrew instruction.  We know and have heard that because different students are at different stages of learning, a one size fits all model for Hebrew is not working. We are exploring ways to teach Hebrew to classes where students are working at multiple levels at the same time. In the long run, we intend to move towards “responsive classroom” models where we emphasize social/emotional learning.

What is not changing about the school?

Though we are making many changes to youth education, our core identity hasn’t changed. At the end of the day, our job remains the same: to nurture passionate and informed Jewish kids.  To accomplish that end, while we are offering many flexible options for weekday learning, we are committed to keeping the student community together on Sunday mornings. We continue to be dedicated to fun and active learning, to creating strong bonds between students and families, to fostering a deep grounding in Jewish ideas and Hebrew language, and to inculcating a love of Judaism and Jewish People. Religious School and all of the opportunities at Anshe Emet should be a launching pad to ignite meaningful Jewish dialogue and lasting Jewish identity in all of our children.

Are the changes permanent?

No. Nothing is necessarily permanent. We have adapted a culture of change and excellence so that we are constantly learning and growing. We do not assume that we have found all the answers yet, but rather that we are on the path of constant innovation and improvement.  At the same time, we recognize that too much change at the same time doesn't serve our purposes, which is why we are making sure we evaluate and get feedback as we grow. When we try ideas that don’t work out as we hoped, we will “fail forward”- learning from our missteps and pivoting into new and better ideas.  At the same time, we recognize that too much change at the same time doesn't serve our purposes, which is why we are making sure we evaluate and get feedback as we grow. We should always be building on what works and then experimenting with new ideas from there.


Are the changes at the RS coming from the Rabbis or from parents? Was something wrong?

Our Religious School has always been good and met the needs of many.  What we are striving for is excellence and a way to continue to meet the challenges and opportunities for our community and kids in the 21st century. The changes we are making came from a vision developed by the LaAtid Task Force ( a group of 24 lay leaders, parents, teachers, and professionals) which called on us to rethink how we learn and teach, and to emphasize our four new pillars: Knowledge, Community, Diversity, and Flexibility.

Who is in charge of the RS? How is Emily's position different than Laurie's?

Our Religious School curriculum and vision is written and set by Emily, who also is part of the leadership for vision of education across Anshe Emet as a whole.  Day to Day “love and logistics” are managed by Laurie. Together they are in charge of Religious School.

How is the school supporting teachers?

We have made a new commitment to invest more than ever in our teachers. Each teacher is asked to participate in a weekly check-in with either our Director or our Principal. Each grade is mentored by a “content coach” from amongst the master educators (each with an MA in Jewish Education or the equivalent)  on our Education Team (Maxine Segal Handelman, Rabbi D’ror Chankin-Gould, Cantor Elizabeth Berke, and Samantha Isenstein). We have also added three full day professional development opportunities for our teachers. These are held during “family days” so that they don’t intervene with Religious School.

What lay leaders are helping to shape the vision and monitor our progress?

The Youth Education Steering (YES) Committee is working as stewards of the vision and to advise the professional educators in how to move forward. The vision is not just for the school.  We are trying to make sure we are creating the foundation and building blocks for lifelong learning. The YES committee is tasked with considering education and programming across the entire youth cycle - from babies to high schoolers. Current members include: Dani Lazar (chair), Sam Schwartz-Fenwick (chair),  Lauren Chernyak, Andrea Minor, Jason Star, and Felix Tollinche, along with Max Handelman, Rabbi D’ror Chankin-Gould, and Dr Emily Schoerning. In addition, the Parent Association (PA) works with Laurie Orenstein to advise and assist with Religious School: Marla Barkoff, Rob Stepen, and Laura Pollack.

What can I do if I have ideas or I want to be part of planning for the future?

Please contact us! We always want and need more support, more ideas, and more people involved in securing our future.

 
CURRICULUM SPECIFICS 

With all these changes, are you asking my kid to go to school for more hours?  

No.    No additional hours have been added HOWEVER in 3rd-7th grade YOU have more options for when to fulfill those hours.  In addition, we have reduced required hours for 7th graders since most kids are taking Bar/Bat Mitzvah lessons. The following chart will help you understand the total hours and days/options. 

 

Sunday

Thursday or On Line

Grade

9 a.m. - 12 p.m.

Thursday in person (4:15-6:00) or On Line Weekday (1 hour) plus 30 minutes on Sunday

JK

x

 

K

x

 

1

x

 

2

x

 

3

x

x

4

x

x

5

x

x

6

x

x

7

x

(in 7th grade, no earlybird Hebrew, hours reduced)  

8

x

 

 

JK-2nd: Sunday mornings. 
3rd - 6th:  Sunday mornings AND either Thursday class in person OR on-line learning and early-bird Hebrew on Sunday morning 
7th: Sunday mornings AND either Thursday in person OR on-line learning (no early bird Hebrew on Sunday) 
8th: Sunday mornings.


Seventh grade is nuts with preparing for bar / bat mitzvah, how will Religious School account for that? 

We know how hard our 7th graders work, it’s different from any other year! Given that most 7th graders are preparing for Bar or Bat Mitzvah, outside of Sundays, 7th graders only need one additional hour of learning (either on Thursdays in person or online at a different time). 

Thursdays are so difficult, what are my options for learning outside of those hours? 

If Thursday learning at Anshe Emet doesn’t work for your schedule, we have options. Your 3rd-6th grader, can learn the same core content by choosing a 1 hr online course offered during the week along with a 30 minute early-bird Hebrew intensive from 830am-900am on Sundays.  7th graders can learn by either coming in person on Thursday or attending an on-line class (no early bird Hebrew).  If that doesn’t work, there are plenty of other options and we will work with your family to find what works best for you. 

As we begin to exercise more flexible scheduling options, how will we maintain strong community and bonds between children? 

We agree that community is built when people are face to face.  It is why we feel so strongly that while we want to have more options and flexibility, Sunday will always remain as an in person learning environment.   But Sundays are not the only place where our kids and families will have time together in person.  Our Family Days are designed specifically to create and grow relationships between students and families.  Our Shabbat services (one for each class) are all about making and deepening friendships. We strongly encourage families to participate in youth group activities, Shabbat is Awesome (Shabbat afternoon sports and crafts for the whole family) and family programs (like our AMAZING family retreat- email [email protected]) to increase those community ties.  Anshe Emet has so many opportunities, we hope you take advantage of them. 

What exactly does the partnership with Keshet do for us?  

Keshet is Chicago’s leading Jewish organization working to celebrate and support people with disabilities. Anshe Emet is the only Chicago city synagogue with an official partnership with Keshet to support diverse learners.  Keshet works with our team to provide professional development, individualized support for our teachers and our learners, and to consult and advise about how our school can become a model of inclusive learning at its best.  We also will make sure that our teaching assistants (madrichim) have training from Keshet, especially if they are working with kids with diverse needs.

These teen learning options look like they're all at different times. What's the deal with that? 

Tikun Chicago offers four different mini-courses to 9th-12th graders, each one scheduled at a different day and time (Sunday afternoons, online in weekday evenings, Shabbat afternoons, etc.)  The goal is to make sure that no matter what sport your kid plays, or what clubs or activities they are involved in, there is a Jewish learning opportunity that will fit in her/his schedule.

Can you explain more about life cycle events in the curriculum?  My kid(s) told me they are going to be attending one. 

Anshe Emet strives to provide authentic experiences rather than simulations.  We want each child to attend and participate in lifecycle events (bris/baby naming, conversion, wedding, shiva minyan) rather than simply learning about them. In 3rd-7th grade your student will be invited to be part of the community by playing a role in a life-cycle event for an Anshe Emet member.  Our educators seek families who are enthusiastic about opening up their events and homes to our students.  This is what being in Jewish community is all about! 

My kids loved going to RS for the chugim (especially the sports).  Why was this eliminated?  What are some opportunities for my kids to play sports or do other camp-like activities in a Jewish environment.

It is essential that Religious School is active and exciting for our learners while simultaneously being tied to core Jewish content.  Our new curriculum is replacing Chugim (electives which while fun, were sometimes disconnected from the core curriculum) with active choices for our oldest students (4th-8th graders) about how to learn their core curriculum (theatre, art, improv, creative writing, cooking, etc.) 

Our amazing youth groups offer active opportunities for students of all ages to engage in fun, camp-like activities including sports, outings, retreats, and more! For example, at Shabbat is Awesome (monthly Shabbat afternoon hang-outs for children and families) basketball, soccer, ga-ga, crafts,board games, and more take center stage. Our youth groups go ice skating, play basketball, attend baseball games, and do other fun activities. To learn more contact Samantha Isenstein

Are children required or encouraged to attend Shabbat services outside of religious school?  

The only way to become familiar and comfortable with Jewish prayer is to make it a regular part of your family’s life. We strongly encourage families to regularly attend the many different youth and family prayer services which Anshe Emet offers. To encourage that life-long pattern, we plan to reward students who attend 10 or more services per year with a no-holds barred ice cream social. 

My kid is struggling with Hebrew / my kid is far ahead of the pack in Hebrew, what's the plan for meeting her needs? 

Each student is so different! This year we gave our first Hebrew assessment to all students to understand the different skills and challenges at each grade level. Students who are struggling or soaring will be  offered tailor-made approaches to meet their needs. We are actively exploring new methods for embracing a classroom working at multiple levels at the same time… stay tuned. 


What is the purpose of these Family Day activities? 

We want to bring Jewish ideas to life for your family out in the world they live in. Family Days are designed to bring together every member of your family, along with others who you may or may not know, to experience Jewish learning in the real world. We hope that these experiences will help make new friendships and bonds for children and adults alike. We believe that those who participate will have so much to gain! 

AS A PARENT 

How many times during the year are parents expected to participate in person? 

Generally speaking, we expect parent participation at the Religious School during the following times: 

  • Opening Day of School, Chanukah, Purim, and Last Day of School
  • Three Family Days (Mitzvah Day, Field Trip Day, and Home-Hosted Shabbat)
  • One parent brunch and learn per grade during Religious School
  • One Shabbat experience per grade at Anshe Emet where students lead and participate
  • 6th graders and their families attend J2M (Journey to Mitzvot) a six session learning opportunity preparing for Bar or Bat Mitzvah

Of course, this is just one avenue to support youth education as parents.  We encourage participation throughout the year and would be happy to talk about ways for you and your family to be even more involved in the Anshe Emet community.

How will the school do better at creating community between the students and families, and enabling more connection among RS families?

We are experimenting with different methods of communication so that we can keep you informed and involved in your child’s education. You will hear from us at least once a week during the school year. If there are other ideas you have about improving communication, please share!

How will having parents come into classrooms become more of a value-added or a family learning opportunity? 

On the same day as your child’s parent brunch and learn, you will be invited into their classroom for a short taste of their educational experience. We will work with our teachers to see that your visit is participatory and interactive.