The Schechter Spotlight


The Schechter Spotlight highlights how each Schechter school is uniquely excellent. It shines on the projects, activities, students, and faculty that make the schools and the Network vibrant communities of learning.

Read more about incredible Schechter schools below!

Table of Contents




Name of School: Gross Schechter Day School

Area of Strength/Passion/Specialty:STEM, Hebrew Language, Creative Writing, Critical Thinking

Brief Description of Current Work/Projects:

There’s no doubt that Gross Schechter has always had a strong science and mathematics program.  Proof of this can be found in our excellent showing at Science Fair year after year, as well as our graduates’ record of advanced placement in math.  However, as an institution committed to best practices and 21st century learning, this year we have incorporated increased hands-on projects and design challenges in the science lab.  These projects help students gain critical thinking and problem solving skills through an enhanced science program, which more deeply integrates Science with Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).  This integrated approach facilitates learning from an engineering point of view, which fosters creativity and promote participation (and enjoyment) for all students.

In eighth grade, we have combined two curricula, Engineering Fundamentals and Physics by Inquiry. Engineering Fundamentals is supported by The Center for Innovation in Jewish Education (CIJE) and emphasizes the Engineering Design Process.  As a testament to our strong foundation in science here at Gross Schechter, we were one of 35 schools selected to receive a grant to implement this special program.  In this course, students learn about the role of engineers in society and practice using some design engineering tools, such as drafting tools, computer aided drafting and bridge loading software.  Students learn the fundamentals of engineering and then will be presented with design challenges.  These challenges will require them to use physical science concepts to design and create a working model that meets the criteria of the design challenge.

Our adoption and integration of Physics by Inquiry is supported by The University of Akron Department of Physics and Department of Science Education. In this program,each of the design challenges and activities will be presented without the aid of formulas, laws, or theories. After data gathering and analysis, students will look for patterns and formulate rules that lead them to what we call The Laws of Physics. This approach engages students and keeps them on their toes as they learn through discovery.

At Schechter, it’s paramount that education is joyful and engaging (in all subject areas), and that our teaching inspires a lifelong pursuit of learning.  We believe that these enhancements to our science program will do just that.





Name of School: Adat Ari El Day School

Area of Strength/Passion/Specialty:

Through a progressive teaching lens – applying project-based learning and design thinking methodologies – our highly-trained faculty address the individual needs of each child by utilizing a specially developed, integrated curriculum. Indeed, academic excellence is a fundamental goal of Adat Ari El.  We maintain a rigorous general and Hebrew/Judaic studies program, combined with top-notch instruction in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math), physical education, and music.  Furthermore, ADAT supplements the core curriculum with extensive enrichment opportunities in all areas, as well as academic support, if needed. Our students graduate with all the skills and confidence to succeed in their next educational endeavors, and make a difference in the world.

Brief Description of Current Work/Projects:

Our school philosophy, rooted in the Design Thinking process, launched this year, along with the opening of a new Design Lab.  What makes ADAT’s version of Design Thinking different is the added ingredient of empathy.  It is the why we are doing what we are doing, not just the what. Jewish values should ultimately guide us to use a process like Design Thinking to gain a deeper understanding of the world around us and challenge us to try and make a difference.

The Design Lab is a creative action-oriented space that will provide heightened learning opportunities and a cutting-edge 21st century learning program – all wrapped up in the Design Thinking process.  It is comprised of five different rooms: the Think Tank, Research Café, Development Center, Innovation Lab, and Digital Processing studio, each of which correspond to a step in the Design Thinking process.  So, in short, we have an Innovation Lab AND four other rooms that allow our students to bring the Design Thinking philosophy to life.

Links to Photos/Articles/Videos of Current Work/Projects:




Name of School: Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County (New Milford, NJ)

Area of Strength/Passion/Specialty: STEAM, Inquiry Based Approach & Science Fair

The Science Department is creating and hosting a competition that will include schools from around the country.  Students will have to solve logic problems, engineering challenges, and mathematics problems.  This will be conducted live via web based technology.

Brief Description of Current Work/Projects:

  • C-Span Student Cam 2016 documentary contest
  • IB – All Middle School teachers are being trained in IB framework as we pursue IB accreditation
  • Community Outreach – Our Live Streaming continues to be a success with the recent streaming of both the Siddur Ceremony and the Havdalah Ceremony.We have had very positive reviews of our streaming events.

Links to Photos/Articles/Videos of Current Work/Projects:




Name of School: Community Day School (Pittsburgh, PA)

Description of School: Community Day School is a nurturing, academically excellent Jewish day school for the 21st century. From Early Childhood through Middle School, we inspire our students to love learning through innovative teaching methods and hands-on discovery. CDS is a welcoming community where Pittsburgh families who span the spectrum of Jewish belief and practice can learn and connect along with their children. As our students grow in knowledge from preschool through 8th Grade, they grow as people — finding their passions, embracing their Jewish identities, and preparing for successful and meaningful lives.

Current Work/Projects:

  • We’re opening our new 3-year-old program in Fall 2016 (currently accepting applications on a waiting list).
  • We’re implementing Lucy Calkin’s Writing Workshop curriculum school-wide. This groundbreaking model used by thousands of schools worldwide was developed at the Teachers College Reading & Writing Project (TCRWP) at Columbia University in New York City. It’s a rigorous and engaging curriculum with a proven track record of improving student achievement that transforms children as early as kindergarten into published authors.
  • Community Day School has been recognized as a Facing History and Ourselves Innovative Schools Network Partner School, and we’ve introduced a rich “Facing Choices” curriculum in Pre-K to Grade 8. As part of this initiative, this year marked the first time that Community Day School was in session for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  Instead of taking the day off, we took on the essential themes of this important day together as a school and with the broader Pittsburgh community in a meaningful way that honored the life and legacy of Dr. King.
  • We’re training interested CDS teachers on each level to coach every grade in mindfulness practices and we’re linking mindfulness to the ancient practice of t’fillah. Our students begin each morning in a meditative space as a way to connect with their past, reset their priorities, and get set for a day of purposeful and sacred work.
  • We’ve embarked on a visioning process by convening a task force of educators, parents, technologists, and scientists to identify opportunities for innovation and growth related to technology integration at Community Day School.
  • We’re establishing a Middle School Advisory program.
  • We’re benchmarking Hebrew language progress with a DIBELS-type Hebrew language assessment being created and piloted for us, as well as piloting “Dvash,” a new program for teaching Hebrew to children with dyslexia and other language-related challenges.
  • We’re offering a new class for parents of children ages 2-10 years old called Foundations for Jewish Family Living developed by The Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning to enrich the Jewish conversations that naturally emerge around the dinner table when parents and children are able to share their learning.





Name of School:  Ner Tamid Community Day School (Sharon, MA)

Area of Strength/Passion/Specialty: Multi-age, personalized learning

At Ner Tamid Community Day School, we do not divide our community of learners by age and grade level. Elementary and middle school aged children have the opportunity to learn together and from one another. Our multi-age classroom supports individual growth through an approach to learning that is child centered rather than curriculum centered.   Each child becomes a successful learner on his or her own continuum of growth.   The mixed-age environment requires teachers to facilitate the learning of each child rather than to instruct the class as a whole based on predetermined grade-level skills and content.  This grouping evolves into a true family of learners.

Brief Description of Current Work/Projects:

We end our week with Passion Project Friday!  Each child has the opportunity to explore a topic that is personally interesting to them.  Children investigate their topic across the content areas, incorporating everything from science, to Judaics, to Hebrew.  They learn research skills, connect with experts on their topic, and end the year with an exposition.





Name of School: Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School (Chicago, IL)

Area of Strength: We’re considered strong in many areas—general studies, for example; our Humanities program; our play-based, Reggio Preschool; critical thinking, our Buddy Program, multi-age learning, etc. I would say if I had to choose one thing to hang our hat on, which encompasses all of that, it’s our individualization. We are known throughout the community for our ability to challenge even the most gifted children while still scaffolding for those who need more support. We teach students, not subjects. People come to us because they feel the other schools treat them like cogs in a machine, not as individuals. They value the individualized attention we provide.


The Dollhouse Project: Our 7th/8th science classes have been studying electricity and circuits. As part of their final project, they had to work in groups to build dollhouses. The houses had to be fully functional with working electricity. Students built every aspect of the house themselves. One even included a working elevator. Photos of the dollhouses can be found on our Facebook page.

The Family Project: Our Preschool is play-based and Reggio-Emilia inspired. Integral to these philosophies is the notion that our curriculum emerges from the students, and the students document their own learning. The Family Project is something the entire Preschool/Kindergarten took on together, and the concept was that each class documented what family means to them, but in a different way. The students created a giant gallery about the concept of family. Here is a blog post that features images from the gallery and some examples of what it looks like for preschool-aged children to document their own work: Our Preschool has become a leader in Reggio learning, and last year three of our teachers were selected to visit Reggio Emilia, Italy, to learn about this philosophy at its source, in its original home.

The Mishkan Project: In Tanach class, our 5th/6th graders learning about the Mishkan created 3-D models of the vessels used in Tabernacle. Then, they presented them to parents in a Mishkan fair. The intention was to bring the Mishkan to life through hands-on, collaborative team work, and to be able to present their creations orally to a formal audience. Here is a blog post with photos:

Mock Appellate Court: As part of their unit on Mesopotamia, one of the 5th/6th History classes is going to be holding a mock appeals court. During their study of Hammurabi’s Code, they found some passages that were remarkably similar to passages inParshat Mishpatim. They specifically looked at the case of a pregnant woman who is accidentally hit and miscarries. The punishment in each text is different, but the question is the same: is the fetus a human life or the mother’s property? The students then looked at a modern day court case from Massachusetts that deals with the same scenario: Thibert vs. Milka (1995).  The students will be simulating a mock appeals court by taking on the roles of appellate lawyers and writing appellate “briefs.” They will do this after analyzing a series of fictional cases and deciding whether these cases hurt or help their position. They are also looking at the various excerpts from the Talmud that deal with this issue.

Three schools of different sizes in different cities all of whom are doing great works, the “Schechter Difference” indeed!  We look forward to introducing to you more of our schools in the weeks and months ahead…