In the Lower Elementary years of kindergarten, first grade, and second grade, each class is staffed with two teachers, allowing for individual attention to each child. Children spend much of their day working in small groups; classrooms buzz with active learning. Co-teachers also serve as adult models for menschlich interactions that are mirrored in the expectations for the way our children collaborate. All teachers in the Lower Elementary grades are bilingual in Hebrew and English, and work together to plan and teach all areas of the curriculum, creating an environment rich in connections among teachers, students, and subject matter.
Upper Elementary students at Schechter Manhattan actively dive into study as they continue to acquire the skills of independent learners. Close relationships form among students, as well as between students and the two co-teachers who – as in the Lower Elementary grades – work together to plan and teach all the core aspects of the curriculum, in Judaic Studies and in General Studies. Teachers and students work together to create an active and engaging classroom community.
The atmosphere in class is full of dialogue and conversation around tasks and inquiries that ask students to think deeply, and the physical space in the room is set up in ways that make it easy for students to use materials and resources independently, to do their work, and to facilitate their own learning. Often students work in pairs or small groups, eventually bringing their problem solving back to the whole group. Work in each subject area is often organized around large projects that simulate real life scenarios, such as the elaborate bake sale planned in math class or a writing process that is modeled on the ways adult writers express and communicate their ideas in the real world. Similarly, in the co-curricular areas of studio art, music, and physical education, students don’t merely learn about their subject; they are immersed in making art, playing an instrument, and participating in team sports. Throughout these grades, students increasingly become aware of and participate in the extended school and surrounding communities. They continue to be asked to apply what they see in class to what they see in the world around them: their physical world, their social world, their Jewish and ethical world.
Teachers and students work together to build a supportive learning community founded on positive relationships, respectful discourse, reflective practice, and collaboration. Each school day begins with a morning meeting that allows students to greet and engage each other and sustain community before formal learning begins; it works to establish a positive tone for the day. This is also one of the formal forums in which students can offer their voice in classroom-related issues. Other opportunities for student input and choice are found throughout the academic program. Morning t’filah (prayer) also reinforces the sense of community and highlights the spiritual and ethical tenor that defines the classroom culture and guides interactions and learning throughout the day.