8.19.16 Issue

Annette van de Kamp-Wright, Editor of the Jewish Press

It’s late August, and for the Friedel Jewish Academy students that means: the beginning of a new school year. For the staff, it’s hardly a beginning; they have been busy preparing for the arrival of their students. Time to catch up with Head of School Beth Cohen and find out what this year has in store.

What are the three most exciting new things/people/improvements at Friedel this year?

I would have had a much quieter summer if there were only three things! So much has gone on this summer, in order to get ready for the school year. In our General Studies classrooms, we have installed SMART boards, giving our teachers the tools to promote collaborative and interactive learning, helping to make learning a visual, engaging experience for students. We’ve made a huge behind-the-scenes improvement to the software used on our iPads so we can better integrate the use of the classroom iPads in instructional time. Second, in the area of curriculum, we have charted a course for excellence and innovation. We are in a process of evaluating each curricular piece we use, and are making the investment in resources as we see a need. We are also very excited to announce a new Innovation Learning program that will be in place this year. A strong innovative learning curriculum capitalizes on the challenges of discovery and gives students the opportunity to think deeply to become innovators, researchers and leaders. Critical thinking skills and design thinking skills are cultivated through an innovative curriculum with a focus on STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – to prepare students to be adaptive and nimble problem-solvers. Interestingly, innovation learning takes many forms. Our students will engage in both the use of new technology and in learning “un-plugged.”

I really can’t say enough about how amazing Friedel teachers are! In addition to our four returning general studies teachers, we are welcoming two new Jewish Studies teachers from Israel. Both of our new Jewish Studies teachers are experienced educators and have master’s degrees – one in educational counseling and one in Israeli culture and heritage, and they have participated in extensive training in the TalAM curriculum, the internationally-renowned program we use for immersion Hebrew and Jewish studies.

Does having your own children as Friedel alums make this job more personal?

I was a parent of Friedel students long before I was a Friedel employee, and my husband Harry Berman was a board member and past president of the school. For me, Friedel was this truly remarkable place that my children so loved to be a part of each day. This is where my children grew up, and so, of course, it was very personal. Now, it is so interesting that the personal nature of it is just as deep a feeling but for different reasons. Because we are a small school, we connect with students in ways that are just not possible in a classroom of 23 children. We are flexible to give our students experiences outside of the classroom that build on their knowledge base. I work closely with the board to make data-driven decisions as we strive to be the best elementary school in Omaha. Period. The pride that I feel in the work that we do with students is very personal.

What is the most common question you get from parents who are considering Friedel?

So interesting! You would think the most common question would be how do our students do academically. We are, after all, an educational institution. How well do we do our job? When asked, I would tell parents that on the Terra Nova Standardized Test, we see a direct comparison of 6th graders at Friedel scoring ten points higher in reading than Millard Public School students. Or, I could tell them that in the 2014-2015 school year, of the eight Friedel graduates attending Beveridge Middle School, seven of them were in honors classes. But, the most common question is how do Friedel students adjust socially when they leave this warm, nurturing, family-like environment and move on to middle school and high school? I’ll change hats from my “Head of School” hat to my “Mom” hat when I say that this was a question I asked when I enrolled my children at Friedel years ago. I was assured by both alumni and by their parents that I should not worry, and it was wonderful to see that for myself when my daughter graduated and moved on to public school. We do so much at Friedel to give our students the opportunity to interact with community members, to learn how to work with others and to build their self-confidence that they are ready to face the challenges of transitioning.

Imagine my child is not at Friedel, and I’d like to change that. What are my road blocks, and how can you help? What should parents do?

Call me! Not sure how a student in third grade could come to Friedel if he/she doesn’t speak Hebrew? Not sure how to navigate the tuition assistance process? Want to know more about how we challenge students academically? Have questions about how we graduate students who are fluent in a second language? Worried about how you could help your child with Hebrew homework when you don’t speak the language? Wondering how Friedel meets the needs of Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Unaffiliated Jewish families in Omaha? Call me!

Friedel consistently produces the highest test scores in the state. What’s the secret?

The secret is NOT teaching to the test! Some schools get so hung up on the outcome of standardized testing that they lose sight of the end goal – to provide a stellar education and to equip children to be thoughtful, inquisitive adults. As we see Omaha area public schools cutting student experiences – art, music, second language learning – Friedel is continuing to add. We offer a weekly art class, swimming instruction as part of our physical education program, special events and field trips for all classes, plus daily instruction in immersion language.

Isn’t learning Hebrew when you’re five really hard?

On the contrary, there is a lot of research that shows that learning a second language – any language – at a young age helps to wire your brain for future learning. Five years old is arguably the best time to learn Hebrew! We teach using an immersion language program which means our students hear Hebrew for 90 minutes a day as they develop an appreciation for and mastery of the Hebrew language as the voice of the Jewish people. Once children learn a second language, research tells us that they not only have an easier time acquiring additional languages, but they also outperform control groups in core subject areas on standardized tests and they have superior problem solving skills.

For more information, and to schedule a tour, contact Beth Cohen at bcohen@fjaomaha.org or call 402.334.0517