It’s not easy to capture the attention of middle school students, says Daniel Jaye, director of academic affairs at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County. But Jaye has no doubt that his school’s new initiative will do the trick.
“With a program like this, it’s easy,” he said.
On Feb. 1, the New Milford Schechter will unveil The After School Academy for Advanced Studies in Mathematics, Science, Arts, and Technology @ Schechter, open to fifth- through eighth-graders not only from Schechter but from schools throughout Bergen County.
Ruth Gafni, SSDS head of school, joked that in some ways the program will have the school competing against itself, since it already offers so many after-school programs. Still, she said, this one is different.
|Daniel Jaye, left, and Ruth Gafni|
“We’re always asked, as educators, what more can we do for our children to give them an edge in the competitive world,” said Jaye. “Parents are always faced with difficult choices about what to do with their kids after school. Since we couldn’t fit anything else into our school day and we had more that we wanted to offer, we came upon the notion that instead of parents scrambling to get their kids involved in programs for motivated and gifted children, we would offer it here in one program.”
Jaye said the most important aspects of a successful educational program are “the types of role models and instructors you can bring to a program.”
Therefore, in conceptualizing the program, planners “worked backwards,” starting not with the courses but with the experts they could identify in the community, whether teaching in universities or working in their fields. The nine courses include Unlocking the Mysteries of Stem Cells and Genomes, Video Game Design, and Public Speaking and How to Win Arguments.
For example, to supplement a course on non-routine problem-solving that will be taught by a Schechter faculty member, the academy will bring in the head coach of the New York City Math Team to deliver a lecture.
“We look to eyewitnesses, outside experts, people who are making a difference,” said Jaye, adding that since students today are immersed in the digital world, offerings will include subjects such as video production and editing, computer architecture, web page design, and video game design.
He noted that a good deal of excitement was generated this school year when he arranged for a class to Skype with an astronaut.
When you bring in outside experts, he said, “you create a dynamic where student interest is magnified by interaction with people they look up to.” With the academy, he said, “we are engaging eyewitnesses and people involved in change to make magic in the classroom.”
Instructors will include five Schechter faculty members together with people Jaye has met through his own work experience, “all cherry-picked for the way they relate to kids and present engaging lessons.”
“Our universe of middle-school students is limited,” said Gafni, pointing out that the SSDS middle school embraces about 150 students. “To bring all these course offerings, we needed a [larger] core group. We felt it was so valuable that Schechter should take the lead role in the community,” she added, pointing out that “everything we teach is based on ethics and the values of the Jewish world.”
The response, she said, has been very exciting, with Fairleigh Dickinson and Montclair State Universities expressing interest in having their students participate. Some 15 percent of Schechter students have already expressed interest.
The eight-week program will cost $250 for non-yeshiva students, $225 for yeshiva students. Each course will meet for 16 hours.
Jaye said the academy program will benefit from “the enhanced equipment we already purchased to prepare students for the 21st century.”
Jaye said that Schechter may be the only middle school to own a PCR, or thermal cycler. Describing the device as a DNA amplifier, he said people should realize that “Solomon Schechter, right here in New Milford, is pioneering programs for very young adults, positioning them to be the next generation of Jewish leaders and scientists.”
Classes will be offered Tuesdays (4:30 to 6:30 p.m.) or Thursdays (4:30 to 5:30 p.m. or 5 to 7 p.m.), at the school, 275 McKinley Ave., New Milford. For more information, visit www.ssdsbergen.org/asa/ or call (201) 262-9898, ext. 201.