Netivot - Rivky Ross (Head of School)
How would you describe your general philosophy of Jewish education? What do you see as the primary goals of Jewish education and how, in general terms, can we best go about trying to achieve these?
My philosophy, which is guided by the Montessori method, is to make sure that we are always doing what works for children: what's developmentally appropriate, what responds to their ways of learning. Maria Montessori's motto was "follow the child." That can mean both follow the individual child and see what speaks to him, and see how to work with him, and it can also mean that generally children have certain developmental planes, and to "follow the child" means to use what is appropriate to reach them and to engage them at different ages and in different parts of their lives. That's basically what guides our school: always seeking to be guided by that which meets the needs of children wherever they're at. It differs in that way from conventional school because we truly are responding to what we know, based on about one hundred years of Montessori education, is going to strike their interest, be appropriate for where they're at intellectually and emotionally, and meet them in different modalities. That's our goal and our methodology.
As you look at the program today, what do you see as its major achievements? What impact is it having on its participants? Can you give some examples? What do you see as the program's primary limitations?
In terms of impact on participants, it's very rewarding to see children at work. One thing that is important to realize is that children have a lot of freedom, but it is within limits. You can walk into our classroom, or any Montessori classroom, and it looks like there isn't a teacher running the show. The children have a great deal of freedom to choose what they are doing, and it's all based on self motivation. That's the magic of Montessori. Children come in on Monday morning in elementary school and make a work contract for themselves for the week. They plan out for the week what they're going to do each day, and then they execute the plan. We are truly nurturing kids who are governing their own learning and because they feel that sense of ownership are really excited to learn. They feel that their own choices are what "drive the bus." A remarkable part of our goal is to create children who will be lifelong learners and who never lose their curiosity and interest and drive to learn new information. When choice is a part of the experience in school, and they do feel as if they have a say and ownership over what they do when, that goes a long way towards allowing them to never lose that curiosity and drive. One example is that in other schools, children might be asked to memorize some verses from chumash and repeat translation back by rote. Here, we give them very early on a skill set in how to translate for themselves. By 3rd or 4th grade and up they have a beit midrash program in the morning and they have to translate for themselves, with provided aids. It gives them tremendous independence and a sense that they can do for themselves.
Do you see your program as affecting the whole person? Is this something you have consciously sought to do?
Absolutely. One of the tenants of Montessori is that it addresses the whole person. One thing we try to impress on people is that this is academic and intellectual and spiritual and emotional and religious and physical. In our classroom teachers are very much aware that only a percentage of what they do is straight academics. This is meant to be a program that touches every aspect of a person. Also, our program is very integrated. Parts of the curriculum are integrated one with another. For example, when we are teaching gematriyah, in order to show students that the numerical equivalent of a letter is a certain number, we go over to the Montessori material and use the golden beads, and show them how they can visualize it the same way they do it math. Another important thing about the way our classrooms function is that both general studies and Judaic teachers are there at all times. This allows for lots of collaboration and also means that no matter what the child is excited about at any given moment, no matter what sensitivity they are experiencing for their learning, someone is available to respond appropriately. There is no compartmentalizing, like there is in most day schools setting, so it's a very holistic approach. It really is designed to meet that little person in all of their aspects.
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