• Rose Jane Reflects on Jewish Day Schools

    Do You Want Jewish Children to Have a Voice in the 21st Century?

    Flourishing Jewish day schools are my dream.  We need them if we want to raise children who understand the treasure of Judaism, feel it in their hearts and minds, and then so greatly value this gift that they want to ensure it is handed down to their children. To accomplish this, I have seeded the David Lear Sulman Computing, Science and Engineering Jewish Day School Fund with a one million dollar gift.

    Having taught in Jewish day schools for over 25 years, I have seen the impact they have on our children: by giving them their emotional and intellectual Jewish identity, they bind our children to the Jewish community. They are the rock on which Jewish continuity can be built. However, today Jewish day schools are in trouble. In the past three years, two schools in Massachusetts, Kehillah Schechter in Norwood and Heritage Academy in Longmeadow, have closed. Why? The truth is that parents today are not interested in Jewish education and find it irrelevant. They don’t see its value for their children.

    The big question is How do we attract parents to Jewish day schools if parents don’t care about Jewish education? For me, the answer is to make the secular curriculum at Jewish day schools so outstanding that parents choose Jewish day schools over other options simply because that is where their children will receive the best education, as well as a strong Jewish identity steeped in Jewish tradition.

    To make our Jewish day schools centers of academic excellence, we need to examine them today with realistic eyes that see where they need to improve and then plan with visionary eyes for the future. From my vantage point, I see schools floundering as they struggle to finance the technology, teacher development and curriculum creation that the computer revolution has necessitated. Understanding how to create with and use technology is the key to learning, jobs and power in the 21st century. If we want our children to be the leaders of the future, our students need to learn to code, compute, and engineer. This is where our schools must excel.

    When my husband David died last year, I decided to invest in education that mattered to both of us: in his memory I am giving a million dollars to three Jewish day schools in Massachusetts to advance their schools’ engineering, computing, and technology and make them the best in the state.  In many ways David and I were two sides of the same coin. While I loved everything liberal arts – poetry, language, art – he was an engineer who loved everything analytical, scientific and logical. What we did both share was an interest in education. Since I began teaching at a Jewish day school in Marblehead in 1991, I have changed from a person who thought Jewish day schools were simply outdated, parochial, and narrow, to someone who loves day schools and wishes every Jewish child had the chance to attend one. Meanwhile, David read and thought a lot about how American children are being educated, or as he believed, inadequately educated in the areas of science and engineering for the 21st century. Reinvigorating Jewish day schools by making them esteemed centers of learning including computing, robotics, coding, and engineering is a dream and goal we both would share.

    In the past year, my donation initiated work at three very different Jewish day schools in Massachusetts: Maimonides, a modern Orthodox school in Brookline; Lander-Grinspoon Academy a pluralistic school in Northampton, and Epstein Hillel School (formerly Cohen Hillel Academy) a pluralistic school in Marblehead. Independently, each school is using the money from my gift to implement significant changes that will improve students’ educational experience and the overall quality of their academic program. Their plans must meet the high standards and criteria criteria of both myself and my advisory council. Under the guidance of Tufts University Professor Marina Bers, Maimonides is developing a coding and engineering curriculum for its early childhood program through fifth grade. At Lander-Grinspoon, with educational technology consultant Michael Mino’s support, all students and teachers have received chromebooks and iPads, and teachers are integrating computing and robotics into their curriculums. Epstein Hillel School, again with Michael Mino’s guidance, has architectural drawings in hand to build an innovation center, a large, open space that combines areas to build and make objects; work spaces for tools such as 3-D printers, laser cutters, and computers; an art room where students can consider the aesthetics of their projects; and, a library for research and learning. As a teacher myself, I realize the essential component for sustained success is professional development so at each school, with their administrators’ support, faculty are being continuously trained and learning how to teach in this new 21st century learning environment.

    My donation is local – my dream is to create a model that will be embraced nationally by Jewish day schools. Living with an engineer for over 45 years convinced me that those who can create with technology will have the strongest voice in our world. In honor of David and who he was, I began this initiative to provide children at three Jewish day schools with the education he believed in so they can become leaders in the 21st century. These schools still need another $1,000,000 to complete what we have already started. As our Jewish tradition teaches, “It is not your responsibility to finish the work {of perfecting the world}, but you are not free to desist from it either” (2:16). It was up to me to begin this work … but with your help we can complete it together.

    Rose Jane Photo
    Rose Jane Sulman