Scholars Forum Launches!
August 31, 2017 by
The Scholar’s Forum program launched this week with a visit from two guest speakers, a study of Jewish texts in which students connected sacred writings to their own lives, and a warm and open discussion led by students who shared stories and memories about the indelible moments of friendship and learning they experienced together at our school. It was an inspiring and meaningful launch to this signature middle school program. Scholars Forum is a weekly multi-disciplinary course in which students examine contemporary issues and themes with guest speakers who share real world knowledge and perspectives with them. Students, guest speakers, and faculty connect the learning to relevant Jewish text and values, and to other areas of study.
This year, we are exploring aspects of leadership, collective memory and institutional change, and the qualities and circumstances that make it possible to turn a vision into a reality. These interrelated themes are timely –we just opened the doors to the Moses Family Middle School, and next year, our school will celebrate its 30th anniversary. As part of the Scholars Forum program, the sixth graders will create a documentary film about our school’s history and its impact on the Jewish community of Washington DC. We have been working with Dr. Erica Brown and Aliza Sperling, experts in Jewish education and leadership on the Judaic Studies aspect of our curriculum, and we are working with documentary filmmaker Abigail Sharon who will serve as the film’s Executive Producer. Throughout, our middle school students will cultivate skills in research, writing, project management, interviewing and storytelling, collaboration and creative expression. The project will enable students to connect Jewish text and study to their own experience, and to contribute meaningfully to the DC Jewish community by producing a historical record of the only Jewish day school in the nation’s capital.
On Wednesday, sixth graders welcomed Susan Koss, our founding Head of School, and Naomi Reem, the current Head of School. Susan Koss spoke about our school’s earliest years, recalling moves to various locations as she emphasized the enduring qualities that have distinguished our school throughout its history: our dedication to cultivating each student’s identity and voice, as well as our commitment to fostering connections between students and their learning, their peers, and their teachers. Naomi Reem spoke about aspects of our history that connect us to the evolving history of Jewish life in Washington, DC. Both G’veret Koss and G’veret Reem conveyed the value of memory and documentation. They talked about the importance of the research and filmmaking work that the students will be doing. The conversation led us to examine the values that drove and shaped our collective past and continue to define who we are as a school community today. We also contemplated the value of hakarat hatov (appreciation) – to those who established JPDS-NC, those who helped build and sustain our school, and those who continue to help realize our vision for Milton as the only Jewish day school in Washington DC.
After the visit with our guest speakers, the students engaged in a study of Jewish texts related to memory and memory-making, including the section of Zichronot, Memories, from the Amidah in the Musaf service on Rosh Hashanah, and the Rambam’s Mishne Torah to explore the value of memory and the role of words in helping to share memories and sanctify moments. The students shared memories that they wished to always keep, including many at school: the joy and excitement of creating a business in kindergarten, friends who helped carry one child after he fell on the playground, friends who were inclusive at recess, and early memories of first coming to our school and feeling at once like they belonged thanks to a teacher who reached out and continued being there for them. As the students shared personal memories, they highlighted the values that these memories helped them remember and to reinforce in their own lives – values like friendship, joyful learning, gratitude, and belonging. We discussed how we can help underscore the values of who we are as a community through our memory-telling and memory-making in our documentary. When the students delve into boxes and boxes of artifacts, they will find evidence of what defines us.
As our students seek out the past with this documentary, they will also leave their imprint on the future. They are a part of the narrative. As the inaugural class of the Moses Family Middle School, it is altogether fitting that they are taking on this exciting and ambitious effort for our school and for the DC Jewish community. This group of students and families evoke so much of what first made our school a reality. They are charting a course together with our teachers and school leaders to create something new, emboldened by the vision of what a middle school can be and what the middle school years should be.