A Look Back at Nadiv – What Have We Learned for the Future?

Photo courtesy AVI CHAI Foundation
Photo courtesy AVI CHAI Foundation

By Ramie Arian, Leah Nadich Meir, and Steven Green

Five years ago, the Nadiv program was launched as an innovative pilot program involving six camp-school partnerships whose primary objective was enhancing and deepening the quality of Jewish education at the camps and enriching experiential education at the schools while building a mutually beneficial and sustainable camp-school model. The Nadiv model created six new full-time positions for experiential Jewish educators, each shared by a camp and a school in geographic proximity to each other. The educators, whose responsibilities were defined by each camp and school based on its needs, toggled their responsibilities between them. In most cases, this meant spending four days in the school during the academic year with one day devoted to planning the camp program for the coming summer, with the entire camp season being spent in camp. The hope was to create a career path for select, talented educators. The program began with a preparatory year in 2011 and is concluding its active four-year phase this month.

You could say that the theme song of this pilot was “partnership,” since it involved not only camp-school partnerships but also a $3.3 million funding partnership of the Jim Joseph and AVI CHAI Foundations, which remained actively involved throughout the five years. In addition, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), which operates three of the six participating camps and with which three of the schools are associated, was represented in the inception of the project. The entire project was directed by Ramie Arian under the auspices of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, with intensive involvement of two veteran experiential educators in the role of mentors. From the outset, Nadiv was an enterprise with “many moving parts.”

Each camp-school partnership was unique in character, structure, expectations and possibilities. Four of the schools were Jewish day schools and two were Reform congregational schools. In addition to the three URJ partnerships (Camp Coleman and Davis Academy in Georgia; Crane Lake Camp in Massachusetts and Temple Shaarey Tefila in New York; Camp Kalsman and Temple De Hirsch Sinai in Washington), there were two independent camp-school partnerships (Herzl Camp in Wisconsin and Heilicher Minneapolis Day School; Camp Mountain Chai and San Diego Jewish Academy in California) and a Young Judaea-Solomon Schechter partnership (Camp Young Judaea Sprout Lake in New York and Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County, New Jersey).

Each Nadiv educator was mentored by a veteran experiential educator. In addition, the group had periodic conference calls with the Nadiv director and the two mentors, and a yearly two-day seminar.

The Nadiv model was compelling in its potential for:

  • Improving the quality and consistency of experiential Jewish education in the camps and schools
  • Nurturing collaboration between two major approaches to Jewish education in North America: the formal and the experiential
  • Being an innovative experiment on behalf of engaging Jewish children through the intellect, the senses and the emotions.

On the other hand, it faced some daunting challenges such as:

  • Creating camp/school partnerships built on shared goals and visions rather than only on the relationship with the shared educator
  • Retaining Nadiv educators in the face of the heavy time demands of working in both school and camp settings
  • Juggling the sometimes conflicting expectations of two sets of supervisors
  • Handling the upheavals imposed by leadership changes in the schools and camps.

Nadiv was closely followed and its progress evaluated through its mid-point in December 2014 by the strategic consulting firm Informing Change. The executive summary of its report found gradual progress in improving Jewish education at the camps. A positive relationship of the Nadiv educator with camp staff influenced the extent to which change occurred in the camp’s Jewish program.

In the schools, the report found variance in the nature and scope of improvements in Jewish experiential education due to the differences in the roles of the Nadiv educators and in the schools’ priorities. In terms of the Nadiv camp-school partnerships, Informing Change reported communication between each partner camp and school, but little evidence of the kind of shared vision and mutual need that are characteristic of genuine collaborations. This last observation isn’t surprising, given that the original Nadiv vision was of a shared employee, not necessarily of a full collaboration.

In the final year of the Nadiv grant ending in June 2016, the three URJ partnerships remain intact. Of the three other partnerships, one of the schools appointed its Nadiv fellow as Judaic Studies Department Chair and Director of Jewish Life, and his new responsibilities made it impossible to continue in his camp position. The two other Nadiv fellows were dissatisfied with their school positions and took positions at other schools, which made continuation of the original camp-school partnership impossible.

What lessons can we share from Nadiv now that it’s approaching the end of its four-year active phase?

The Nadiv program resulted in positive results for the camps. Having a master’s level Jewish educator with camp experience (rather than an undergraduate or graduate student) overseeing and devoting time during the year to Jewish programming and education in camp raised the level and professionalism of Jewish programming in all six camps. It resulted in more creative and innovative educational programs and contributed to improving the preparation of teaching faculty in the camps. In addition, the Nadiv educator’s presence in the camp for a number of consecutive summers provided much needed continuity to the Jewish program that had often suffered from a high turnover of seasonal staff.

Depending on the educator’s role, Nadiv also resulted in enhanced experiential education in the schools, to an extent. The educators with responsibilities beyond the classroom, such as tefillah or “Jewish life,” were better positioned to introduce experiential elements into the life of the school than those who were primarily in the classroom.

Despite the heavy demands of switching between school and camp responsibilities, most of the Nadiv educators reported high job satisfaction and professional growth during their years in the program. The supervision provided by the partner organizations together with the intense mentoring and professional seminars provided by Nadiv added up to high-level, concentrated in-service training in both formal and experiential education.

There were nonetheless substantial challenges and obstacles to the goal of continued camp-school partnerships after the end of the philanthropic funding. None of the original partnerships will continue employing the same model after June 2016. The key challenges include:

  1. The difficulty in building true camp-school partnerships and establishing an overarching common goal and vision, along with the lack of conviction on the part of some of the schools that an experiential educator adds real value that would otherwise be absent. In the case of Nadiv, the camps were the primary drivers, searching for a school with which to partner. True collaborations call for each partner to see a compelling need for the partnership, and to spend time and energy on exploring areas of mutual interest. In addition, partnership goals have to be reviewed with an open mind over time and revised or even discarded.
  2. The high cost of the shared salary and of the ongoing mentoring and professional development. The budget limitations of camps and schools pose a serious challenge to an unsubsidized shared educator model accompanied by mentoring and professional development.
  3. This year-round employment model places heavy demands on the educator, especially in the high intensity planning times of late spring (for camps) and late summer (for schools). This raises the question of the price exacted from an educator in terms of having sufficient time to devote to camp and school responsibilities as well as to personal and family life.
  4. Leadership changes in the partnership organizations can, and usually do, have an impact on the work of a shared educator. The transition can disrupt lines of authority, and the new camp or school leader may not have the same buy-in to the model as the previous leader. Half the Nadiv partnerships experienced transitions in a camp or school leader.

Even when the camp-school partnership model does not continue, however, a positive ripple effect can be seen. The Nadiv partner camps value the professional planning and expertise that have raised the bar over the past four years for their Jewish educational programming. They are looking for different ways to maintain that level of professionalism. One camp hired its Nadiv educator as its associate director with the intent of keeping Jewish education high on its leaders’ priority list; another camp arranged for its Nadiv educator to continue during the summer and on a part-time basis during the academic year even after she left the partner school.

Inspired by Nadiv and by the model of the Ramah-URJ Service Corps, URJ is now supporting the creation of employment partnerships between selected congregations and URJ camps. Each congregation-camp partnership hires a full-time staff member, who usually serves as youth director in the congregation and unit head (or other senior staff role) in the camp. The staff members are generally early-career professionals with a bachelor’s degree and extensive camp experience. URJ contributes significantly to their salaries, and it provides a one-year training program that includes a professional development retreat in the fall, and webinars every six weeks throughout the school year. URJ anticipates that 20 such joint positions will be in operation for 2016/17.

A second example is a program supported by the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago. “Springboard Teen Engagement Specialists” has engaged one professional this year in a year-round position to work with Jewish teens and will add one per year over the next four years. During the academic year, they work in the Chicago community providing teen programming for an array of Jewish youth groups, synagogues, and school clubs. During the summer, they will engage in outreach as part of the programming staff at a Jewish summer camp. The summer relationships they forge will help guide the subsequent year’s programming.

We owe thanks to all those whose dedicated efforts made the Nadiv pilot happen and to the talented Nadiv Fellows who pioneered this initiative, bringing their passion for experiential education into Jewish camps and schools. This pilot program enhanced Jewish educational programming in all six camps, brought camps and schools into working partnerships, and led others to consider what else can be accomplished by building bridges of collaboration between our educational organizations. We see Nadiv’s story as unfinished, and will wait and watch patiently to see what new collaborations it will inspire.

Rabbi Ramie Arian is a consultant working with Jewish camps and other programs of experiential education in the Jewish community. He serves as project manager for Nadiv.

Leah Nadich Meir is a Program Officer at The AVI CHAI Foundation.

Steven Green is Director of Grants Management/Program Officer for the Jim Joseph Foundation.