U.S. Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman talked about what she called “Lessons of Struggle and Grit” with Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County students last week. Acknowledging her innate fear of heights and her coach’s playful ribbing, when he called her “the most uncoordinated Olympic athlete he’d ever known,” three-time gold medalist Aly Raisman challenged students during her visit to the New Milford school last week to work hard in pursuit of their dreams and never to give in to failure.
“When I was 7 years old, I was the worst gymnast in my class,” Ms. Raisman told a group of more than 300 first- through eighth-grade students. “Everything took me longer to learn than my other teammates…. When you are playing sports, when you are at school, when you get your math or English test back, don’t look at your classmates and compare your grades; just focus on how you are doing. I learned that valuable lesson throughout my life. It’s not about competing with someone else; it’s about doing the best you can. If you do that, that’s all you can ask of yourself.” Ms. Raisman’s visit coincided with the launch of her book, “Fierce: How Competing for Myself Changed Everything.”
Students learned firsthand from the 23-year-old champion about rebounding from failure, the power of positive thinking, and the value of manhigut (leadership), concepts that align with Schechter’s school-wide Midat HaHodesh (value of the month) program. Each month, the school focuses on key values whose roots are found in the field of positive psychology, which researchers have found to promote positive well-being.
As a school rooted in inquiry-based student-centered education and a holistic approach to instruction, SSDS continues to develop new and innovative programs to further its mission of creating independent, creative, and worldly thinkers dedicated to Jewish values, traditions, and Israel. Bringing what the school calls “experts, eyewitnesses, and role models” into the classroom provides more structure and support to its educational philosophy.
Schechter regularly welcomes scientists, politicians, philanthropists, and volunteers who use their professional or personal experiences to give students a first-hand look at a topic of study.
They include New Jersey Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, internationally known soccer coach Avram Grant (Ghana, Chelsea, and Portsmouth, United Kingdom), and Canadian rap artist and First Nation Broadcaster Wab Kinew.
As a member and captain of the winning 2012 “Fierce Five” and 2016 “Final Five” U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics team in London and Rio de Janeiro, Ms. Raisman has racked up many successes. She won gold medals in both team and floor competitions in London in 2012, as well as a bronze medal on the balance beam; this made her the most decorated American gymnast at the Olympic Games. During the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, she won a gold medal in the team event, becoming, along with teammate Gabby Douglas, the only Americans to garner back-to-back team gold medals.