The Kaplan JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly isn’t interested in renting out space, its CEO, Jordan Shenker, said.
But it is interested in “finding a partner,” he said.
He believes that he has found such a partner in the Ideas School, the high school set to open for its first class of ninth- graders in the fall.
The Idea School’s head of school, Tikvah Wiener of Teaneck, is thrilled with the partnership that will provide her new institution not only with a physical space, but with a community into which she and the school will fit seamlessly.
“It is a wonderful opportunity for us,” she said. For one thing, the educational philosophy of its preschool, based on the Reggio Emilia model, which emphasizes “cultivating creativity and independence,” is exactly what she wants to stress in the Orthodox high school she’s creating. Beyond that, beyond the young children, she sees the other interest and age groups that find a home in the JCC, and because she “wants to interact with the community in a way that blurs the line between the school and the community. And what better place is there to do that then at the JCC?”
The Idea Schools will take advantage of the JCC’s physical plant. “The track, the tennis courts, the pool, the art studio, with the kiln, the music school, the dance school — all of these give the kids the opportunity to pursue their passions, and passion-based learning is one of the key features of our school.
“And the grounds are a natural place to explore the environment scientifically,” she continued. “It is easy to do that there. The mind kind of boggles at the possibilities.
“The kids won’t be siloed off,” she added. “They will be interacting with all the different communities.”
Not only is the Idea School not simply renting space as it figures out where to move next, it is planning actively to weave itself into the JCC community. “We want to be able to mesh naturally and organically with the programs the JCC has,” Ms. Wiener said.
Her students will be able to take advantage of the speakers the JCC brings in during the day; in return, when the school brings in its own speakers — for, say, a unit on civil rights — that favor will be returned. “The kids are creating authentic learning experiences, and here is a community of authentic learners,” she said. “It is an amazing match.”
One thing that is essential to the school’s character is the maker space, which it will be able to create at the JCC. (A maker space, sometimes spelled as one word, makerspace, is “a community center with tools,” according to the internet. “Makerspaces combine manufacturing equipment, community, and education for the purposes of enabling community members to design, prototype and create manufactured works that wouldn’t be possible to create with the resources available to individuals working alone.” At the JCC, the Idea School’s maker space will include many high-tech tools, including a 3-D printer and a laser cutter, as well as lower-tech craft supplies.)
After school hours, and on Sundays, the maker space can be open to other parts of the community. “Not many JCCs have maker spaces,” Ms. Wiener said. “I think it’s a natural next step for a JCC, and I like that we’ll be in the forefront with that. And when you think about the programming that a maker space allows — a place for design and entrepreneurships — it widens the possibilities for the community. I think of it as a kind of partnership where we can create an innovation hub in our community for anyone who wants to take advantage of it.”
As important as science is to the Idea School, its Jewish underpinning is vital. “Our whole curriculum is rooted in Torah, in the sense that we are approaching the world through Torah values, through Jewish values,” Ms. Wiener said. “Our first units are centered around personal and religious growth. The second is how do we understand tzedakah and mishpat” — charity and legal obligation. “Does that obligate us to pursue justice in the world? What are the meanings of those words?
“Someone gave us the idea of thinking about what it would mean to do the 39 things you are not allowed to do on Shabbat — weaving and planting and grinding, for example. We are thinking about that philosophically. What does it mean to create? And what does it mean to create rest?
“Everything we do is seen through a Jewish lens. We don’t have to keep talking about it because the whole day is Jewish education.”
Mr. Shenker is equally excited about joining forces with the Idea School. “Why do we do it? It’s easy. The JCC exists to create meaningful experiences and to create Jewish community. The school will be perfect in partnership with us to realize this vision.
“This is mission alignment. We share the same values. We have the same shared desire to support Jewish teens, to respond to unmet or undermet needs in the Jewish community, to use our resources to support the community.
“When you put these needs together — when you put us together — you get perfect synergy.”