Back-to-Back Education

0818_KIDDISH_PennStanding on the bimah, sharing an aliyah, celebrating the Bat Mitzvah of Heather Klarin, a student who began her Jewish education at University Synagogue Pre-School and continued through the Religious School, Heidi Kahn and Sue Penn are firm in their commitment to “Back-To-Back Jewish Education.” Not only do they share a friendship that spans 25 years, they have a similar philosophy of education, are both committed to building an inclusive, egalitarian Jewish community with no place for discrimination, and both love Israel. They both start their days outside the education wing of the synagogue, welcoming their students with huge smiles, engaging them in meaningful conversation, and building community. The two work closely together alongside Rabbi Arnold Rachlis and Cantor Ruti Braier as a cohesive, supportive Senior Staff. This is clearly evidenced by the caliber of the educational programs they offer.

University Synagogue’s Pre-School is known for the warmth and creativity of their staff. The majority of the staff have been with the Pre-School since its inception over 10 years ago. From the moment one walks into the halls of the Pre-School wing, you feel the warm welcome, witness the extraordinary art that covers the walls, and notice the multicultural, all-inclusive environment. Beyond anything else, the students are happy. They are smiling as they walk, skip, run and dance down the corridors. The Pre-School parents appreciate the level of communication and are constantly dropping in to join the Jewish holiday and Shabbat celebrations, or watch their children participate in one of the many enrichment opportunities that the school offers. The rich program offers learning ranging from music to science, art to gardening. After school enrichments include dance, ceramics, sports, yoga, and many others. The Pre-School has earned its well deserved reputation for truly preparing their students for elementary school and beyond.
Last year, University Synagogue’s Religious School launched its Living Judaism Program. It is an experiential project-based learning model of Jewish education that engages students from Pre-K through 12th grade. “The focus is on being, doing, and living Judaism —we threw out the textbooks and our students are now engaged in carefully constructed Judaic experiences. Nobody wants to get up on a Sunday morning and come to another day of school after spending five days behind a desk. Our students need to fall in love with being Jewish, understand the richness of our tradition and heritage, and incorporate their Jewish identity and knowledge into their lives and community,” Penn said. The Hebrew is woven into the program and every student learns at his/her own level—kindergartners are beginning to decode and some of their top students are reading “Harry Potter” in Hebrew. Every student’s learning and abilities are accommodated and the program sets the students up for personalized success.

This program has been very well received by the community and families. As word of mouth spread, they continued enrolling students throughout the year. All Hebrew and Judaic instruction takes place within the three hour session on Sunday mornings. They are committed to personalizing every child’s Jewish education and offer a multi- talented staff of professionals including an educational therapist, social worker, occupational therapist, speech therapist,   inclusion specialist, and music, art, science, cooking, dance, and drama teachers. This rich tapestry of Jewish education is carefully formulated to provide convenience for the modern family life tyle and engagement and learning for the student while building a community of Jewish people committed to loving and respecting all humanity

Both schools are currently near capacity but have a few spots left. Please contact either Hkahn@universitysynagogue.org for Pre-School information or Spenn@universitysynagogue.org for the Religious School’s Living Judaism information.

Sue Penn, the Director of Congregational Learning at University Synagogue, is known for being an innovative and creative educator. Sue sits on the Board of Directors for JFFSOC and Someone Cares Soup Kitchen. Sue is committed to providing opportunities which allow every individual to learn and engage in community.

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