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!
The first step in any relationship is communication. There is no one that will tell you that you can create, maintain or advance a relationship without communication. This is true for spouses, parents with their children and teachers and Rebbeim with their students. I would like to spend the next few weeks elaborating on these three different types of relationships and to highlight how vital communication is for each of them in the development of your children.
Communication between spouses is critical but what has that got to do with the development of our children? Well, the first place children look to for guidance is their parents. Significant theories of human development such as the socialization theory (Oetting & Donnermeyer, 1998), biopsychosocial theory (Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) and Vygotsky’s (1978) social development theory that base their entire premise on the idea that our children acquire their values and even religious beliefs by observing, learning from and being influenced by their parent’s behaviors, whether explicitly or implicitly.
This translates to us as parents, making sure we are on the same page as our spouse. It also means that we spend the time discussing with our spouse how to handle different situations that may arise. Being aware that what we say and what we do can have a long term impact on our children and it is not only a component of our children’s development but it is also part of our own personal development.
This is achieved through effective communication, which is more than just exchanging information; it’s also about understanding the emotion behind the information. Moshe Rabbeinu berated Yehosua for not being able to detect the sound that Bnei Yisroel was making while serving the golden calf. The Possuk says שומע אני ענות קול – I hear the sound of those who sing. Why did Yehosua need to discern the difference in sounds coming from the “camp”? My Rebbi explained that a leader needs to be able discern the difference in the voices of every individual – In order to lead, one needs to have the level of sensitivity that allows you to hear the emotion behind the voice. That is the hallmark of a true leader and if we want to be leaders in our lives, we need to acquire this trait.
Do you know what time your son is going to sleep? Yes, sure bedtime is 10:00 or 10:30 with lights out definitely by 11:00. But wait, is that when your son is actually going to sleep? With a smartphone that connects him to his friends, and to the world at large, how accurate is the bedtime we agree upon? A good idea is to have a charging station in the kitchen or a room away from the bedrooms and everyone including us leave our phones there to charge for the night maybe then we can be assured that our sons are charged for the next day at school..
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: “Blinded by Our Agenda.”
The Valley Torah Girls Division chesed program is off to a great start! This past Sunday, September 14, the Valley Torah girls had their first opportunity to volunteer at a Los Angeles community-wide chesed event. Bracing for the heat, the girls ran booths, and walked, to raise money for The Friendship Circle. Thank you to all those who participated!
Valley Torah Boys Division student council for 2014-2015.
Last week I wrote about the trilogy consisting of school, parents and students and what each contribute towards the development of our children. We also spoke about the need for synergy between these three components. There is, another aspect that overarches above all three and that is Tefillah – Prayer.
Chazal have taught us that even if one is in the direst of straits and the outlook appears bleak- Prayer can always turn things around. If prayer can have an impact when things are at their worst, it can certainly have an impact when things are going well (a time that needs less divine intervention).
During a Haskafah class this past Sunday a student turned to the class and sincerely expressed that he isn’t motivated to Daven as B”H things are doing well in his life – sure there are things he would like but he doesn’t have any serious problems. Another student shared that he finds it difficult to Daven because “why am I only communicating with HKB”H when I need something”. I used this opportunity to share with the boys a fundamental concept one of my Rebbeim taught me when I was still single. He said the best time to Daven is when you don’t need what you are praying for. He explained, that what you are doing, is building up credit in your bank account with HKB”H. He then told me, Daven for the right spouse, the greatest kids and a good living to support them now! while you are young and single. Baruch Hashem he was correct and when the time was right my Tefillas were answered with a wonderful spouse, amazing children and the best job I could imagine.
So let us take this time of prayer, the month of Elul as the Possuk tells us. דרשו ד’ בהמצאו קראהו בהיותו קרוב to “Seek out Hashem when He is nearby, call out to Him when He is near” (YeShaya 55:6). Hashem is closer to us during the month of Elul than any other time of the year [It is no coincidence that the school year begins in the month of Elul] and Daven for ourselves and more importantly for our children. We want them to be successful in all their endeavors and develop into frum healthy members of Klal Yisroel. This is a special time to be Davening. We get an especially high return now on banking some of our Tefillos for a future withdrawal like Davening for a successful life for our children. We can always find something to Daven for and find meaning with. In fact, if we do find ourselves struggling to connect our Tefillas to something in our lives, think of others. There is no end to what and who we can Daven for.
At Valley Torah we took all of this and went one step further. We wanted to get our students more involved with Davening. As we saw from our students, teenagers have difficulty with Davening; so we wanted to help them find something meaningful to Daven for. We all want to be connected to Eretz Yisroel and we are all sometimes guilty of getting caught up in the daily routine of our lives and unless things are really serious we tend to neglect what is happening to our brethren in Eretz Yisroel.
So here at Valley Torah we initiated a program whereby each student was assigned a different soldier who was wounded in operation Protective Edge. B”H, the list is diminishing however there are still numerous soldiers that need our prayers. It is our hope, that not only will the boys find meaning in their davening but they will also merit in the Chazal that assures us – that he who Davens for his friend will be answered first. May we all be Zoceh to have the power of tefillah help us achieve “אני לדודי ודודי לי” I am to my Beloved [Hashem] and my beloved [Hashem] is to me (Shir Hashirim 6:3).
Learn your son’s schedule. Find out when he has breaks. Find out when breakfast and lunch are. If you want to reach him those will be the best time too. He doesn’t want to get a text or a call during class time. He definitely doesn’t want his phone to ring or vibrate while it is in the call phone box on the teachers desk.
“If you are not a better person tomorrow than you are today, what need have you for a tomorrow?” – Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
I have been thinking a lot about character this week, specifically the character of our students and what we expect of them. Much of my thoughts stem from the fact that our entire staff is working together to learn Leader in Me, an innovative, schoolwide model that empowers students to be leaders in the 21st century. I also find myself highly impressed with the character of our boys each morning at Davening and the respect and attention given to their Tefillos. Lastly, as I am getting to know our students more each day, I am just generally impressed with how they treat each other and their teachers. However, it was not until around 6pm this evening that I realized just how special our boys are.
Sitting on my living room ottoman, holding the remote, jaw dropped and teary-eyed as I watched the morning news. That is where I was the morning of September 11th, 2001. Like me, if you are around my age, you know exactly where you were when you heard about American Airlines flight 77 crashing into the World Trade Center and the subsequent terrorist hijacked flights and crashes that followed. However, if you are any of our current VTHS students you have no idea where you were. You can assume you were either in your crib, toddler bed, crawling around your house or getting ready for kindergarten. So, when we ran a special 9/11 program today, I honestly was unsure how our students would react.
The 9/11 program featured a video I had edited together a few months after September 11th, 2001.
The students watched the video followed by an impassioned and personal account of that day by Rabbi Biron. Then all the students were asked as a form of Hakaras Hatov (appreciation) if they wanted to write a personalized thank you card to our local fire department. They all did. This is where I experienced the true character of our students that I could not be more proud of.
As the program was going on I was off-campus running a presentation at the VTHS-Girls school, so I did not get to see how the students experienced the video or speech. I was told they took it very seriously and Rabbi Biron did a great job. I was glad to hear that, but I wanted to know how the card writing went. After school tonight, I had an opportunity to read the cards and what I read was nothing short of beautiful.
I expected to read a few gems and some thoughtful words. What I did not expect was that each and every card I read was written with sensitivity, thoughtfulness, appreciation and caring. There was a deep understanding of what the firefighters do for us each and every day as well as the loss they must be feeling for those heroes who rushed into those buildings to save others. It is not that I do not think highly of our students, but given their age and disconnect from the live experience of that day, I assumed they could not possibly have the understanding of what that day meant.
Here are some excerpts from the cards as well as a poem written in one of the cards:
“Thank you so much for risking your life day in and day out. At Valley Torah High School your inspiring actions certainly don’t go unnoticed.”
“On this dark day I wanted to express my gratitude from the bottom of my heart.”
“Thank you for everything you do and for your willingness to wake up every morning risking your life for other people who you may not know.”
“May G-d protect you
in all of your
May the fire unschathe you
and not burn your skin
May you go back home
and be with your family
after the last time
you think you’ll see them
And may you live a long
healthy, safe and purposeful life”
“I know this day must bring sadness for your brothers lost on 9/11, but I thank them and you for being our guardians. While they were lost on that day, they will never be forgotten.
“P.S. I hope this made your day better as you do ours everyday.”
I know I have been writing a lot about my educational vision for VTHS and how creativity, innovation and meaningful learning are paramount to preparing our students for their future. However, all of that is useless if we are not ensuring that our students are of strong character and moral fiber. We want to send them out in the world with all the right tools to be successful, but they must also know how and when to use these tools appropriately. We are here to help develop our students into strong positive Jewish leaders and it is only upon a solid foundation of Jewish values that learning must take place. At VTHS it clearly does.
As a principal I was very proud of our students today. As parents you should be proud as well. As students, you guys are an impressive bunch and I hope you continue to shine as Jewish leaders in school and out.
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: “Serve Hashem with a Smile.”
This past Thursday, Valley Torah hosted a school-wide 9/11 assembly. A chilling video was shown, recounting the horror that America endured thirteen years ago. After an inspiring talk from Rabbi Biron, the boys took several moments to write expressions of gratitude to the local firemen, who lost so many comrades in their selfless effort to rescue victims of 9/11. The students’ letters were delivered to the local firehouse.
Albert Einstein has been quoted as saying “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” As a General Studies Principal this may be an odd statement to get behind, but I could not agree with it more. In fact, it was the theme of the first day General Studies assemblies as I introduced some exciting new programs, electives and an overall vision for what it means to be a Valley Torah student. You see, while knowledge is very important, what you do with that knowledge is what truly matters. Each student at Valley Torah is unique and should never be reduced to a hard drive that we download information onto. They are more than a test score and can’t be described solely by their transcripts. As Albert Einstein’s continued, “Knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” We are limiting our students if we don’t incubate, nurture and support their imaginations.