Environmental science and Jewish values-perfect together
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Environmental science and Jewish values-perfect together

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Sam Terdiman and Avi Schlossberg correctly hypothesized that mixing baking soda together with vinegar would release bubbles and inflate the balloon at the top of the cylinder. Courtesy GBDS

On January 12 at 6:30 p.m., the Academies at Gerrard Berman Day School in Oakland will bring together two of its integral program clusters, environmental science and Jewish values, at a rally that is free and open to the community.

Dr. George Amato, director of the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, and Amir Sagie, deputy consul general of Israel in New York, will present “Survival Against All Odds.” Dr. Amato, a frequent speaker at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, will share his experiences in the fields of animal conservation and genetics. Mr. Sagie will discuss ways in which parents and students can combat anti-Semitism. The program underscores the school’s new direction.

“The Gerrard Berman Day School has always provided a nurturing Jewish education,” said Elaine Schlossberg, a school founder. “For 29 years our mission has been clear-cut – to create responsible citizens and future leaders. We achieve that, over and over again. In 2013, the board supported the initiative to broaden and strengthen the sciences.”

To integrate science into all curriculum areas, the board approved the hiring of the Academies’ new coordinator, Sheila Barbach. “We wooed her away from County College of Morris,” the head of school, Bob Smolen, said. That hire, combined with a grant from the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education, led to an emphasis on environmental studies. This year even the school’s nursery students are doing science experiments.

It was a natural shift, Ms. Barbach said. “As Jews, our students are already deeply aware of their obligation to protect the earth. Now we are challenging them to put their knowledge into action.” Together, Mr. Smolen and Ms. Barbach implemented the school’s “Green New Year” initiative, which focuses on ecology. All elementary and middle school students had a hand in creating the oversized collage of a Torah, which is on display. “Every bit of the material was up-cycled,” Ms. Barbach added. “We want our students to realize that ordinary items can serve a higher purpose.”

The school is expanding its scientific footprint. Two Academies at GBDS teachers traveled to Israel to take part in Excellence 2000, a state-of-the-art math and science training program co-sponsored by the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education and the Israel Center for Excellence in Education. The teachers returned with an inquiry-based curriculum that challenges students who excel in math and science.

Academy students also benefit from a dynamic lecture series. Last week Jeremy Slen and Caleb Zedek from Teva, the Jewish Environmental Education Center in Connecticut, spoke to middle school students about the food supply. Other recent guests include Dr. Brian Regal, history of science professor at Kean University, who spoke on the repercussions of pseudoscience; Dr. Mark Siegel of Hackensack University Medical Center, who talked about the history of DNA; Professor Dawn Dirgus, history of science professor at Stevens Institute of Technology, who examined the integration between science and the humanities throughout history; and Dr. Noah Wilson-Rich, who spoke about the behavior of bees.

“My daughter, Sophie, came home all excited about pollination,” parent Jen Seligman said. “As part of tikkun olam, she wants to save the bees. I put the kibosh on putting a beehive in our backyard, but told her she could have her own someday, and that nothing needs to stop her.”

For information on the Academies’ integrated science programming, call (201) 337-1111 or email gbds@ssnj.org.

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