School Spread: Value Proposition Through the Eyes of New Students
From New York To Nashville
Fourth Grade, Akiva School, Nashville
This year, I moved to Nashville from the Big Apple, aka New York City, Manhattan. Everything is SO different. To start, There were around 840 people in my old public school and 100 at Akiva school. So yeah, HUGE difference. Also, we have to learn Hebrew. It’s my first language I got to study, and I am learning a lot. Like “?,???” that’s “why” in Hebrew.
Even though almost everything is different, a lot isn’t as different as I thought it would be. I thought the school would be smaller. I thought Nashville would be hotter. I also thought it would be more peaceful. So I had no idea what Nashville was like.
When I got to Akiva, two things were there I never thought would be: uniforms and homework. Weird enough, I didn’t have any homework at my old school. All the homework was done in class. I also never thought there would be people who treated people unkindly. A girl in my class started bullying me at the start of the year. Little did I know that she would soon be my best friend!
In Akiva, our student body is called the Knesset. I campaigned to be the first grade liaison. Even though I didn’t win, it was still fun to try out.
The best thing about New York is the fact that it has almost everything. You want Chinese food, there! Do you want Mexican food? Also there! Some people say, “If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.” Even though New York has a lot, in Nashville there are so many things to do with your family and friends, including bowling and rock climbing, or riding bicycles around town.
Being a Jew is very different from what I thought it was. People who are kosher have so many rules they have to follow, like not using electronics on Shabbat, or not being able to pick flowers. I found out how few Jews are in the world and I never thought about this when I lived in New York. While taking Hebrew classes I have learned a lot on how much we cherish God and how we treat each other and take care of each other as part of who we are as Jews.
While I am in Nashville, I’m hoping I can have something I’ve never had before, a way to think before I act. I can say something that’s mean in a way that I don’t want to be unkind.
Moving has been a big experience. Everything is as different as a crocodile and a sheep. I thought a big city girl like me shouldn’t be in the suburbs, and we shouldn’t have moved. My parents didn’t tell us we were moving until a couple months after they started planning. Life is different, yes, but all I have to do is stay focused on learning, having fun and making friends.
Feeling Cared for
Ellia Ferneau and Shayna Towler
Eleventh Grade, Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy, Silver Spring, Maryland
Any transition takes time, especially a switch into a brand new school, but school programming can harm or help this process. Since we walked in through the doors on our very first day, we’ve learned a lot about what a change like this means to us. Through ups and downs, good days and bad ones, new friends and teachers, we’ve been able to settle in and find our places as part of the Berman Upper School.
In all honesty, the first day of school was not only incredibly draining, but incredibly stressful as well. Following a schedule with only a few minutes designated for each class, we were ushered from room to room for brief introductions with each teacher. Unfamiliar with the new surroundings, we desperately dashed back and forth, looking for the right rooms. In each session, we met yet another new teacher with a whole new set of classroom guidelines and expectations. Name after name, class after class, syllabus after syllabus… It was chaotic and overwhelming.
In addition to eight mini-class periods, we sat through multiple assemblies that were full of information regarding school policy. For returning students, this was hardly groundbreaking, merely a routine check-in about changes to past school guidelines. However, for new students, it just felt like an information overload that was simply impossible to follow. With snow cones and Berman slides in hand to cap off the day, we went home, overwhelmed but optimistic.
Then came Day Two, and then Day Three, and so on. Slowly but surely, we adapted into a new normal. The names, faces and hallways no longer seemed so foreign. The school norms and guidelines became second nature. We developed connections with peers and teachers and felt like a greater part of the community every day, partly due to the new student infrastructure that Berman has in place.
At Berman, a buddy system exists, matching up new students with peers so that no new student is completely alone. Although neither of us had to rely on the buddy system because of our preexisting friends at the school, it was reassuring to have it in place. Staff members, too, were designated to interact more closely with specific grades and with new students. Knowing that someone was particularly looking out and available for us was incredibly comforting.
Even staff and students who weren’t specifically assigned to new students were immediately open and accommodating. It was never awkward or embarrassing to ask questions, even later in the year. The transition to Berman was greatly enhanced for us by the welcoming attitude of both the faculty and students and has the potential to be for many new students to come.
Becoming a Part of a Kehillah
Sixth Grade, The Davis Academy, Atlanta
When I first came to The Davis Academy, I was worried about so many things. Would I make friends? Will I understand what we are learning? Are the teachers going to be nice? As time went on, I realized there was nothing to worry about, and Davis was a perfect school for me.
At Davis, we often talk about what it means to be part of a kehillah (community). At my previous school, I didn’t even know what that word meant! I quickly learned how lucky I am to have found such a special kehillah that I now get to be a part of.
Even before the school year started, I was making new friends. All of the students were so welcoming and a lot of fun to be around. Now that we are farther along into the year, I have made more new friends and always have people to talk to and hang out with.
Along with the kind and welcoming students, the Davis teachers make it easy and fun to learn, and they also are very supportive and understanding when I need help with something. For example, when I first started at Davis, I had little experience with reading Hebrew. My teacher recognized that I was struggling and immediately helped me catch up to the rest of the class and ensured I understood all the new material. Now I am reading and writing in both block and script!
Also, when I started at Davis I was put into the on-level math class. All of the work was very easy for me, and I had all As. I spoke with my math teacher to see if I could move to honors math. She understood and agreed that I needed to be more challenged, and it only took a bit of time until I was in honors math. All of the teachers here are so understanding and make sure that what I am learning is right for me. I know that as a member of this amazing kehillah, my teachers and friends always have my back.
Lastly, the school building seemed difficult to navigate at first, but quickly I got the hang of it and have memorized where all of my classes are. The lockers and binders that we are given at the beginning of the year are a big help with staying organized and keeping track of my belongings so I don’t worry about losing anything.
Honestly, I thought my transition to Davis would be far more challenging, but Davis really is an amazing and welcoming school. My Jewish day school has been a much better fit for me.
Making Friends and Loving Learning
Fourth Grade, Columbus Jewish Day School, New Albany, Ohio
I came to CJDS because of Covid. At my old school, it was going to be virtual, and my mom didn’t want that for me, so she suggested that I go to CJDS, and I agreed.
When I came, I was surprised that there were not that many kids and they knew each other well. So I was scared that it would not be easy to make new friends, but to my surprise, I was wrong. I had a friend on one of the first days, and just a few days later the whole class was my best friend. I am thankful for each and everyone of them.
I get a lot of attention from my teachers, because we do not have a lot of kids. It helps my learning experience, because sometimes I don’t understand something, and the teacher is able to work with me to explain it. At my old school, I had to wait a long time for my teachers to come to me. I don’t think that I would be as smart if I didn’t go to CJDS.
I did not know if I was going to stay another year, but it was so great that I decided to stay until graduation. I am so glad that I stayed because if I didn’t go to CJDS I would not have some of the nicest friends, not to mention a better learning experience. Getting to learn at CJDS was the best decision ever.
Many Pleasant Surprises
Fifth Grade, Oakland Hebrew Day School
When I first heard I was going to enroll in an Orthodox Jewish school, I pictured it a certain a way. None of what I pictured was true. I’m going to tell you about some qualities of the school that I wasn’t expecting.
Keep in mind that I’m not the kind of kid who loves school, so when I say something positive, it should be taken seriously.
I imagined I would be going to a strict, impersonal school that just focused on learning. Actually, my first day was the opposite. Right when I entered, there was a community meeting that focused on welcoming me as a new student. At OHDS they try to really focus on you, your strengths and your needs throughout the year. For example, I was new to Hebrew when I arrived, so I got to sit with one of the banot sherut for extra help in Hebrew class.
I get called upon by teachers for tech support. This makes me feel important and like my strengths are seen and needed. Whenever I walk by the other classes during lunch, the kids who are out of class yell my name and say “Hi!” I know this sounds cheesy, but it feels like it’s one big community instead of a you-go you-learn and that’s it kind of place.
Judaic studies is also different than what I thought. I imagined that it would just be learning the rules of kashrut and studying Torah. Instead, we focus on interpreting the Torah for what it “really is” and finding new meanings of commentary and text. I enjoy arguing, so this is more interesting than I thought it would be. Coming up with questions and debating on the answer is way more challenging and creative than just learning text.
I also was surprised at the quality of non-academic classes. For example, I love the art program although it is strict, and we actually play games during PE instead of just warm-ups and exercises. I also enjoy an occasional hike in nature with my class.
Lastly, I’d like to talk about tefillah. I thought tefillah would be a bore, and to be honest, sometimes it is. But occasionally I like to try and pray to wake me up and start the morning. I appreciate that I’ve learned to navigate a siddur in so short a time! I wasn’t expecting to learn to be able to be hazan so early; I thought I would just have to sit through it. The ability to daven is a skill I can always use in my life.
As you can see, OHDS has surprised me in some ways. It is not an impersonal school that just focuses on Judaica and academics, although you still learn quite a bit. (In fact, my math class is the best I’ve ever had.) There are lots of ways to be creative and put yourself into the learning, like in Judaic studies and art. Even tefillah has some pluses! All in all, if I look back to what I pictured before I started, I’ve had many pleasant surprises.