Our Stories

How MILTON Supports Students, Family, and Staff

October 23, 2023 by Lindsey Jacobson (Faculty and Staff)

After I first heard of the devastating terrorist attacks on Israel earlier this month, I moved through the rest of the day in a daze. In some ways, we still feel like we’re walking in a fog. We’re experiencing emotional peaks and valleys that give us whiplash. While we have been on a roller coaster over the last two weeks, I ground myself in the optimism and hope I see every day in the eyes of our students and in the dedication of my colleagues. 

As we returned to campus on the Monday following the attacks, we activated a three pronged response: support for students, for staff, and for our families. In support of our students, we discussed the tragedy in developmentally appropriate ways across divisions. In our typically differentiated style, we met students where they were and had counselors and student support specialists at the ready to step in for both our students and our teachers. In Early Elementary (PK-1st), teachers answered individual questions from students when asked, but didn’t prompt discussion. In Elementary and Middle School (Grades 2-8), in each grade’s tefilah, (prayer service), we explained that due to the war in Israel, we would be adding some special prayers. These included Oseh Shalom, a Prayer for Peace, the Prayer for the State of Israel, and the song Acheinu, which emphasizes unity and hope. 

In whole-grade sessions during Hebrew classes, our students engaged in a lesson on the history and meaning of Israel’s National Anthem, HaTikvah. The students wrote moving letters to school children in Israel and notes of prayer, connecting these notes to the tradition of writing small notes to place inside the Kotel, (the Western Wall). We hope that  our eighth graders will be able to go to Israel later this year and personally deliver these notes of prayer. 

We started and ended that first Monday by bringing our faculty and staff together to be in community. Colleagues stepped in for each other offering to cover extra classes to ensure that our Israeli teachers could come to school to be in community, but without the pressure of having to teach their typical schedules. In an amazing testament to their strength, our teachers showed up. Many staff members  said that it was lifesaving to be in school in those days, to channel their grief into something productive and meaningful. At the end of the day, teachers reflected on the points of light that their students brought to the day during a dark time. Our students continue to be the light that leads the way forward.

As we moved through the week, our art and music classrooms became spaces for healing and reflection. Rabbi Mat Tonti set up a sound bath in the music room and opened the space to faculty during breaks. Art Teacher Lili Whitaker immediately offered the art room and her store of supplies as a resource for colleagues needing to pivot lessons or offer reflective time for students. In art classes, she created two new projects to meet the moment. Second graders made a large Israeli flag with fire beads and paint to show support for Israel. Students across grades engaged in a “Build a Habitat” station with sculpture materials for students to use to create a small, safe, comfortable home. The art room is now playing host to many different tiny artistic homes. Lili shared that giving students choice in the art room was more important now than ever, in order to give students a sense of control in a challenging time. 

In an extraordinary act of care, our parent community came together to provide shabbat meals for every Israeli and Hebrew teacher. They stepped up so generously that there were additional funds to provide lunch for the entire faculty on both campuses and as well as baked goods and wine to enhance our shabbat meals at home.

These are just a few ways in which our community is coming together to hold each other in extraordinary ways. It may seem surprising to some, but to me it’s just another manifestation of the beautiful ways in which our community works proactively to strengthen our bond during times of hardship and celebration.  The beautiful moments when a student checks in on their teacher, just to see if they’re ok. The extraordinary acts of chesed (kindness) when our faculty show up to bake challah for each other. It is hard to be just about anywhere in the world right now, but it is good to be at MILTON.