A Response to: Mission Possible: Strengthening Congregational Schools through a “Camp-Like” Approach

JKGby Ana Fuchs and Becca Holohan

In his compelling video, Dr. Lasker describes the different “puzzle pieces” that make camp experiences so meaningful and yet present challenges to traditional supplemental education.

At Jewish Kids Groups (JKG) Afterschool Community, we’re tackling these puzzle pieces and are excited to share the best practices we’ve found for a few of them:

Immersion: Lasker points out that the immersive nature of camp and Israel trips is in sharp contrast to 2-6 hour a week supplemental education programs. At JKG, we provide a 5-day a week Jewish afterschool program, providing up to 18 hours a week for Jewish friends to play to together, learn Hebrew and Judaics, create art, receive homework help, bond with their peers, counselor/teachers, and more. For many of our children JKG Afterschool Community is their primary social community. Students are immersed in a Jewish network of peers – just like at Jewish summer camp, summer trips, Israel experiences, preschools, and day schools.

The Team: One of the joys of summer camp is bonding with amazing counselors and having inspiring Jewish role models campers can relate to and look up to. Jewish educators in supplemental education settings traditionally spend limited hours with the students, inhibiting meaningful bonds from developing. At JKG, our teaching staff are enthusiastic 20-somethings, joined by an incredible team of high school aged counselors. Our teachers play dodgeball, lead songs, read stories, and teach Hebrew – they build strong relationships with our students and their families. Our 1:6 ratio means small classes centered on individual childrens’ learning styles and interests. Hiring teen counselors as our assistant teachers helps re-engage teens in Jewish education and gives our students positive role models.

Teen counselor Jesse Samuel helps a student learn the Four Questions by providing a back beat

Experiential Curriculum: Though we don’t use the language of “cabins,” our small cohorts of students are quite similar. Led by a teacher, these groups explore Hebrew and Judaics through a child-centered, experiential curriculum called Hebrew Wizards. At Hannukah time, students took photographs of the “light” they found in their lives – family, friends, beautiful places, streaming sunlight – and explored the concepts of faith and miracles. For Passover, a pair of students designed and created a unique board game called Path to Freedom and took their peers on a creative journey out of Egypt to Israel. Our curriculum is driven by the interests of our students and teachers with a strong commitment to a creative approach with meaningful content.

How should Jewish education adapt and change?

Lasker frames the question, in terms of current social realities: “advances in technology, incredible stimulation, carefully budgeted time, mixing and changing forms of identity…[etc.] how should Jewish education adapt and change?”

Our new Jewish after school model is rooted in several realities we identified over the course of a series of focus groups in 2012:

  1. Many of today’s Jewish families include two wage earners who want more and better after school care.
  2. Parents want their children to have Jewish friends.
  3. Wide recognition that the traditional Jewish supplemental education system, and even variations of it, are ineffective at providing a meaningful and lasting Jewish experience for youth.

Jewish after schools serve an audience segment that wants premium after school care and a substantial Jewish education.

Jewish after schools coordinate transportation from public schools, provide snack, social and homework times, and daily Teffilah, Hebrew and Jewish content. At a Jewish after schools, you will see children laughing, playing, learning, creating, studying and praying together amongst a community of Jewish peers.

The surge of Jewish after schools indicates that families are enthusiastic about this new model and reframing Jewish education through an experiential and immersive approach.

Please count us in as part of JTS Reframe!

AnaFuchs is Executive Director, and Becca Holohan, Afterschool Community Director at Jewish Kids Groups in Atlanta, GA