This year’s Simchas Beis HaShoaiva started off with a pre-party pool-party. The party then moved to VTHS for dancing and pizza in the sukkah.
The Yeshiva Sukkah is up and ready to go. We hope you come visit. Valley Torah students, staff and administration wish you a happy and healthy yom tov.
What are you passionate about? This is a question not asked often enough in our schools. This is unfortunate given the fact that we know that when a student connects the learning to something they are passionate about they are more successful. Plus, if we are truly preparing them for their future, supporting the discovery of their interests is a critical preparatory element. At Valley Torah, we are asking this question.
A couple of week ago we began our TED-Ed Club, which is the speech component of our Improvisational Arts and Speech course. As stated by the organization, “TED-Ed Clubs is a flexible, school-based program that supports students in discussing, pursuing and presenting their big ideas in the form of short TED-style talks.” If you have never watched a TED talk, I highly recommend them and have provided a few of my favorites below. However, the talk is the end product of the development of an idea the speaker is passionate about, which is the primary goal of this class. We want our students to discover what they are passionate about, understand what makes a great idea and learn how to articulate their great idea. Sounds awesome? It is! Sounds easy? It is not.
At the first meeting the students were asked to describe themselves and list three things that they are passionate about. The meeting began by watching this video from TED-Ed Clubs.
After the video, which was meant to highlight the expression of passions, we turned to the students to begin the discussion of the above questions. This was a struggle given they were not used to these tasks. So, myself and Mr. McCaffery modeled the answers and explained how knowing yourself is helpful in figuring out what your passions are. The we turned it back to the students and the answers were open, honest, vulnerable and powerful. I was beyond proud of the two groups that have this club. They supported each other and laid the foundation we needed to move to the next question, which was “What makes a great idea….great?”
At at our second meeting, which is where the club is up to, the students watched this video and then were asked these guiding questions:
- What is your club’s definition of an “idea worth spreading”?
- What are the qualities of good ideas?
- Are ideas created by individuals or groups?
- What can keep ideas from spreading?
Again, the students were impressive and beautifully discussed what it will take to create “ideas worth spreading” in this course. We will continue down this path together and the students will learn how to develop their passions into ideas they can articulate as well as film them to share with the world. However, the question of what you are passionate about does not only sit with this club.
After the break, we will begin the Principal Project which will support our students interests in the areas of professions, universities and making a difference in this world. Our fine arts class is completely passion-based where students propose what they are interested in exploring and producing within the arts. We have expanded our electives to increase our ability to target the growing array of student interests and after the break we begin our clubs to further support their interests. In addition, our staff is exploring project-based learning and models of education that increase deeper and meaningful learning with the unique talents and interests of our students in the center of it all.
So, as we enter Yom Kippur focused on atonement and purification, may we all leave with a clean slate undistracted from the irrelevant and be able to return to school after the break able to answer the question what are you passionate about?
As promised, here are a few of my favorite TED Talks:
Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity?
Phil Hansen: Embrace the Shake (I wrote about it here)
Ron Gutman: The hidden power of smiling (I wrote about it here)
With the upcoming holiday of Simchas Torah, Rabbi Stulberger, Dr. Jones and I would like to bring to your attention something that concerns us. We have become increasingly aware that some of our students have been consuming alcohol without parental approval. This tends to happen at Kiddushim, Sholom Zochors, weddings, when parents are out of town or any time they can get access. Unfortunately, teens can also abuse alcohol under the guise of religion. They may, for example, drink dangerously – sometimes even with adult approval – on Simchas Torah or on Purim. As you know, alcohol impairs judgment, and when consumed irresponsibly, often lead to reckless and dangerous behavior among teenagers. With the added factor of a teenager’s prevalent sense of invincibility, those who do drink are at a very real risk of putting themselves in true peril. This is a pressing concern that needs to be addressed as a community, consisting of parents, educators, shuls and schools.
Just as our Rabbis had the foresight, wisdom and intellectual honesty to establish fences (gedarim) around our commandments so as to prevent us from giving in to difficult temptations, we must be brave enough to acknowledge the temptations our young people face and establish boundaries for them as well. Most importantly, we have a religious imperative to safeguard life and our bodies, “V’nishmartem M’od L’nafshotechem,” as they are holy gifts from our Creator. We have a religious, as well as communal, obligation to take a proactive stand in protecting our children from harm. There are two ways of dealing with this issue: we can either pretend it is not happening – putting our heads in the sand and our children at risk – or we can confront it openly. It is present in the school and we at Valley Torah are ready to confront it head on.
As a school, we will partner with you to help our students stay safe and out of trouble, but it is ultimately your rule-setting and vigilance that will help your children make wise decisions, now and in the future. Therefore, I am adding a set of guidelines that you may wish to implement with your children.
The bottom line is simple: be sure to know what your child is doing and with whom. Although this may give the impression that we do not trust our teens, the contrary is actually the case! We are open and honest about the temptations and invitations facing our teenagers from all communities (even the most sheltered children in religious enclaves often fall victim to these situations). We are giving our children the tools to prevent situations in which they are at risk of injuring themselves and innocent people. While some of our teenagers will find these rules initially oppressive, if they become the norm in our community, our children will find comfort in the safety net that we have created for them.
As a school, we will make it clear to the students that anyone consuming alcohol will be subject to significant disciplinary sanctions up to and including expulsion. In the case of any issue of abuse or distribution, we will thoroughly investigate the allegations while vigorously safeguarding individual privacies. Students abusing alcohol will be referred to a school-approved therapist/program. Students engaging in illegal activities will be dealt with to the full extent of school policies and the law. Our common interest in enforcing these policies is to protect our students – your children – and provide them with any support or guidance they may require.
Also, please know that even the most savvy and connected parents are sometimes at a loss when it comes to issues such as these. We have an excellent team in the school that would be glad to discuss any of your concerns and provide guidance. If you are aware of any issues you would like to bring forward, please do not hesitate to contact the administration.
Gmar Chasima Tova and may this year be one of health and true happiness.
- Speak to your child about your policies regarding alcohol or any other illicit substance.
- Have an exit plan for your child. If your child call for help – you will assist with “no questions asked.”
- Let your child know explicitly what the consequences are if you find they have been abusing any substance.
- Make sure you know where your child will be at all times and VERIFY what he tells you.
- If something sounds fishy, follow up with more questions or a surprise visit.
- Come up with a very clear solution if his plans need to change at the last minute.
- If there is going to be alcohol – make sure that there is an adult in charge.
- Be extremely cautious If your child calls around curfew time and asks to stay over.
This Yom Kippur, ValleyTorah will be having an appeal to raise funds to buy AEDs – Automated External Defibrillators – for both campuses.
On any day, hundreds of individuals – students, teachers, parents and visitors – pass through our campuses. If, G-d forbid, one of them were to have a heart attack, we want to be ready to save their life.
Please help us buy AEDs for each of our campuses. We will have trained staff on hand, and, if an emergency happens – we will be able to save a life.
Please visit our AED Donation Page now and make a generous tax deductible donation.
For those interested, there will be a mincha minyan on Friday at 4:00 at a private home (5144 Bluebell Avenue). Please text 818-209-3739 if you plan on going.
This is the latest segment of the weekly video series from Rabbi Stulberger – You’ve Been Called to the Dean’s Office. It’s a short (four minute) message on a timely Torah topic. This week’s message: “The Power of Our Words.”
Our Beis Medrash is ready for us to pour our hearts out to Hashem and to accept His rule over us. Wherever you may daven this Rosh HaShana, we you a happy and healthy new year filled with nachas and success.
לשנה טובה תכתב ותחתם
I made a special edition of my EJ’s Cafe Podcast, which is part of my personal blog EJsCafe.com, for this week’s “From The Desk Of” post. This is a Rosh HaShana message for all my students and their families. Shana Tova and I am looking forward to a continued amazing year with all of you!
Please watch Rabbi Stulberger’s Rosh Hashana message – “Connecting with Hashem.”
On Thursday, September 18th, Valley Torah Girls Division students dazzled us with their student-inspired Rosh Hashana exposition. The girls produced a wonderful event infused with meaning, creativity, inspiration, and fun! From the smallest detail of decorated shiny apples, the creative event favors, and all the meaningful commentaries about Rosh Hashana, the girls propelled us into the Rosh Hashana spirit. We heard about the Tefilos, Simanim, and Minhagim of Rosh Hashana and watched a skit about the deeper meaning of the Shofar.
The Roshei Yeshiva of RSA/Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim – Rabbi Dovid Harris and Rabbi Akiva Grunblatt – joined us for selichos and shacharis today. Valley Torah is an affiliate of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim and we were very honored to have the Roshei Yeshiva visit our community for this special weekend.
If Simon and Garfunkel were hanging around VTHS this week they may have changed their despondent 60’s anthem to the “sounds of learning” from….well if you don’t know what song I am talking about this reference was clearly a mistake. Unfortunately, Simon and Garfunkel were not with us and so the students only had the sweet jams that Rabbi Samuels and I (ok, really just Rabbi Samuels) were making from my office during breaks.
However, it was these sounds of learning that have started to resonate throughout the school.
This was the third week of school and things were moving and shaking. Students were getting into their groove, the add/drop period ended and it seemed like there was a certain electricity and excitement for this wonderful year. For me though, this seemed like the noisiest week. I don’t mean that the students were running through the halls yelling and I am not referring to the howling that was coming from the new VTHS improv troupe as they warmed up for class. I am talking about the noise you have to take a step back to truly notice because it is a purposeful noise. It is the noise of learning and something I have been paying attention to this week. Here were some examples.
The sound of VTHS
Each day we start our VTHS day with Tefilla. It is a sound to savor. It is silent when respectful quiet is warranted and filled with the boom of unified Amens, Shema and words of psalms when needed. I can’t think of a better way to start my day than Davening at VTHS.
My office wall
Ok. This is not really the sounds of learning, but I can assure you when I finally got this quote up on my wall I heard the sound of a choir of angels go “Hawwwwwwwwwww.” This was no easy task. It involved masking tape, razors and a hair dryer. If you are not sure why that quote is on my wall you can read my post from a previous week by clicking here. As I was putting it up, I overheard a couple of students talking about it. One asked the other, “what is that?” Then the other one said, “Come on! Dr. Jones has said that like ten times!” Glad someone is listening.
The sound of CIJE-Tech
I had walked into Mr. Joseph’s science lab to ask him a question which was at the end of our CIJE-Tech elective. While I intended to go straight to Mr. Joseph I was immediately struck by what I saw on the lab table. It was a cardboard robotic arm! If you know anything about me, you should know that when I see something made out of cardboard I go nuts! Mr. Zisblatt was kind enough to show me how it works and the video above is exactly that. I did take some liberties with the sound effects. However, while the sound effects were loud, the creativity here was deafening. It may seem like a simple cardboard construction, but if you look at it closely you can see some real detail to the design. Bravo!
The sound of history
I began doing classroom observations this week and my first one was of a history class taught by the wonderful Mr. Safi. I chose him because I wanted to know what all the hype was about as students seem to rave about him. Well, I was not disappointed. It was not that the classroom was silent by any means. In fact, there was a lot going on. The students happened to be working on preparing for an exam, but they were asking questions, helping each other out and Mr. Safi was managing multiple discussions and questions from different students with ease. There was a buzz in the class, which at first glance may have sounded disruptive. However, if you paid attention, as I did, the noise were discussions and work related to the class at the various levels the students were at. It was music to my ears.
The sounds of silence
I had walked into Mr. Hoffman’s AP English Language class to give him a message when I suddenly realized I walked into something special. There was no classroom buzz per se. In fact, it was pretty quiet except for one student speaking. However, the words that were coming out of his mouth were anything but quiet. They had feeling, depth and meaning. The class was engaged in a discussion about the scarlet letter written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The student was telling Mr. Hoffman what he felt Hester Prynne was conflicted about in the story and the critical thinking displayed by this student was like listening to a symphony. Then another student jumped in giving over his thoughts and there was an intellectual exchange in the room between Mr. Hoffman and the students that was palpable. The room was far from noisy and the students who were not speaking were quiet. Yet, the silence in the room was loud as was the learning.
I am looking forward for the school to get louder and louder with the noise of learning!