Ready to Learn and Lead

4 September 2015
20 Elul 5775

Shalom Chaverim,

We’re back from summer vacation, and our teachers and students got right to work! Thanks to tremendous preparation from our faculty, staff, and student-leaders, we had a successful ninth grade and transfer student orientation on Monday and first day of classes for all students on Tuesday.

In many schools teachers spend the first few days easing in, going over syllabi, and talking about learning. Not here at Gann! Our Director of Teaching and Learning Jacob Pinnolis visited 20 classes on our first day and shared some of the highlights with me:

  •  Students in a Jewish Studies class analyzed a piece of abstract art as a way of exploring Jewish identity;
  •  Students in an English class wrestled with the distinctions of legal, moral, and spiritual crime as they discussed their summer reading;
  • Students in a science class compared and contrasted the human brain and the ape brain; and
  • Students in a Hebrew class crawled (literally) around a large map of Israel and chose places in Israel that they found significant.

Our students returned from their summer vacations ready to learn and eager to engage, and their enthusiasm continued into our All-School Retreat on Wednesday and Thursday. Whether playing basketball or drama games, doing personal audits of their middot (character traits, inner qualities), or competing against each other in one-minute games, our community filled Camp Yavneh with energy and excitement.

On Wednesday evening our juniors conducted a special program for the ninth grade class while seniors gathered around a campfire singing and bonding at their last All-School Retreat. And the next morning, during one of the activities that we call “Gann Happenings,” I walked around camp and observed our students learning from our Dean of Students Laila Goodman how to tie a magic rope, running (or, I should say, riding) around the gym playing a game of Quidditch that was designed entirely by students, creating sculpture out of nature, learning from Rabbi Hillel Greene how to yo-yo, using high-power telescopes to observe the sun and stars as amateur astronomers, and reading and writing poetry under the guidance of other students who created and facilitated the entire experience.

When I asked an alumna who helped out at the retreat how this was different from the retreats she remembered, she commented specifically on the amount of student leadership and ownership of the program and the culture. Especially considering that this was the first week of school, it truly was remarkable to see how many students contributed meaningfully—in both big ways and small—to the building of community and the creation and execution of retreat programs.

This week set the tone for what promises to be an inspiring year. Our students understand that learning happens everywhere and that a strong and supportive community that pursues moral and spiritual excellence is the best foundation upon which the pursuit of academic excellence can take place. They also understand that leadership is not about a formal position or hierarchical authority, but, instead, leading is something that all of us can do. They lead when they are mindful about their choices, when they contribute their unique voices, talents, and passions to the community, when they support and model for their peers, when they challenge their teachers and yes, me, to live up to our mission and values, when they bring their full selves to school every day.

I wish all of you a fantastic start to the new school year!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Marc Baker


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