HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

Head and Heart

by Skip Vichness Issue: Formal-Informal Education

A prominent, longtime camp advocate and administrator discusses a new program designed to foster productive interchange between camps and day schools.

We were convinced that this environment would inoculate our children against an increasingly accessible and often attractive path of assimilation while still preparing them for college.

While content may remain distinct—basket-ball cannot replace reading—innovative educators are looking to inculcate the joy of informal learning into the school environment.

Far too often, though, we forgot that most day school children do not grow up in a vacuum. They are not isolated from the world around them, a world which includes extracurricular activities, television, and of course the omnipresent Internet. Suburbia provides our children with a panoply of attractive options that conflict with the intensive Jewish world provided during the school day.

How many times do we hear from parents “He needs a break from praying” or “I can’t make her go to synagogue on Shabbat.” This is increasingly true as the day school movement broadens its reach to families who may not be observant, Jewishly well-educated, or particularly committed to creating a strong Jewish home life.

Unfortunately, this results in a day school “product” that is knowledgeable, but unengaged in the practice of living Judaism outside of the school day. Day schools may thus be successful in creating a Jewish “head,” but fail at instilling the Jewish “heart.”

This apparent disconnect is beginning to receive increased attention from both Jewish educators and lay leaders. To find the answer, many are looking at institutions that over the past decade have been increasingly recognized as identity builders for those who have often not received an intensive Jewish education. The “three legged stool” of day school, Israel and Jewish summer camp has become increasingly normative. No longer do we hear the parental lament, “My children are in day school all year, so they need a break in the summer.”

More and more parents have come to realize that the best way to maximize their investment is to intensify it. Summer camp and Israel travel provide a 24/7 Jewish environment that gives “heart” to the day school student’s Jewish learning. In these immersive experiences, education is fun and hands-on, kids can explore their own connections to what they are learning, and they often teach each other. For these and many more reasons, over the past decade more and more parents are sending their children to Jewish summer camp and participating in school and movement trips to Israel.

However, an increasing number of innovative Jewish educators, foundations, and academic institutions are beginning to realize that the stool with three “siloed” legs may well not be the only—or even the best—solution to creating the “Jewish head, Jewish heart.” Many of us have come to believe that the answer to this issue lies in integration rather than segregation. While content may remain distinct—no one is suggesting that basketball replace reading—they are looking at a methodological approach that inculcates the joy of informal or experiential learning, of camp and trips to Israel, into the formalized school environment.

I believe that our role as lay leaders is to assess and prioritize strategic initiatives and to empower the professional staff to define and execute tactics to address these priorities. The strong partnership between the Board of the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) and its very capable professional staff embodies this approach. The board had watched these integration trends over time and recommended to our staff that it investigate opportunities to collaborate with others to bring “head and heart” together.

As a result, an example in creative collaboration is a new program of FJC called Nadiv, about which we are very excited. This innovative initiative, created collaboratively with the Union for Reform Judaism and funded generously by the Jim Joseph Foundation and AVI CHAI Foundation, will create senior experiential Jewish educator positions to be shared by nonprofit Jewish overnight camps and Jewish day or synagogue schools.

The Nadiv program model developed with the benefit of learning from related efforts in North America, including the 2009 Legacy Heritage Foundation’s camp-synagogue partnership program and the recent collaboration between URJ Camp George and the Leo Baeck Day School in Toronto. The learning from all of these pilot programs may inform and inspire others seeking to share Jewish educational resources more effectively and efficiently.

One of the intended outcomes of the Nadiv program is to model a new way to foster deeper collaboration between different kinds of institutions in the Jewish educational world. It aspires to build synergy and collaboration in Jewish education and strategically bring fresh and relevant content to future generations. This educator will help the camp work with more intension over the summer and bring more experiential components to the school. Ultimately, it will be more sustainable to retain the best talent in the field. Ideally these educators will break through the silos and help our students develop their “Jewish heads, Jewish hearts.”

Now is the time not only to teach our children about Judaism but also to teach them to love it and live it. I hope that the Nadiv model will be one we look to expand in the future. By working together, formal and informal educational institutions can provide this wonderful opportunity for our children, creating future generations of committed, educated, and excited Jews.♦

Samuel “Skip” E. Vichness, PhD, has served as Chair of the Board of the Foundation for Jewish Camp and as President of the Golda Och Academy; professionally, he is Senior Partner of Quality Camping Properties and Managing Partner of GreyPine LLC. He can be reached at skipv@nyc.rr.com.

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Formal-Informal Education

If only school could be like camp… Many people’s fondest childhood memories are of camp with its unstructured days and enjoyable activities. Increasingly, under the rubric of informal or experiential education, schools are capturing some of the atmosphere of camp in the classroom and beyond. How can this model be adapted effectively to the educational rigor of a day school?

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