by Carol Starin
Middle schoolers are certainly making the news these days. The New York Times began a series two weeks ago called “The Critical Years*” and teachers throughout the country have entered into a discussion about ways to work with these kids. Years ago, a colleague of mine suggested that 7th graders shouldn’t go to school—they should come back when they’re in 8th grade.
I asked the 5 things Advisory Group for their input, ideas and strategies for working with this age group. So many people responded that we’re going to do two columns.
Peter Stark wrote that “middle school is my favorite age group to teach.” He points out that we first need to understand who we’re dealing with before we can talk about strategies
Words of wisdom and experience from Peter Stark.
One must consider carefully where middle school students are in life: transition is the only constant. As volatile a group as the Terrible Twos, for much the same reason, middle school students are experiencing a burst of independence while learning to fit into new bodies. If we could hear the inner thoughts of a caterpillar during metamorphosis, wondering who will emerge, a moth or a butterfly, we’d have a glimmer of middle school mentality.
Not knowing themselves whom they are becoming, middle school students develop a protective cocoon of attitude. A deep need for attention coincides with a profound uncertainty about the world’s reaction to the individual’s emerging identity and new voice. As my teacher Professor Saul Wachs says that with this age group, one must remember that they do not always ask questions in order to learn the answers. Or as the French statesman Georges Clemenceau replied when a journalist asked him if it was true his son was a socialist: “Messieur! My son is twenty. If at twenty he were not a socialist, I would shoot him! And if at forty he is still a socialist, I WILL shoot him!”
by Laurie Bellet
I have the incredible luxury of being a full time Art Specialist in a Day School.
Over the past 10 years, however, I have worked in a variety of settings—congregational schools, day schools, camps, community centers, public schools—simply to gain as much experience as possible. Through all these many classrooms, the toughest position I have ever held, and the one I disliked the most, was that of ‘itinerant’ specialist. An itinerant specialist is the person, deemed to have a special skill, who visits your classroom every so often, to teach one specific area of curriculum. Generally there are specialists for music, art, and dance. But, there may also be specialists for resource support, Hebrew, Israel studies, drama and computers. In some programs there are so many specialists that the classroom teacher has very little in the way of core curriculum to teach and even a smaller allotment of time in which to teach it. Specialists frequently have no space to call ‘home,’ travel around the building on a tight schedule and carry everything they anticipate needing along with them. Frankly, it is usually no fun; but there are definite measures the classroom teacher can take to ease the way while also teachings students the value of welcoming guests!
by Carol Starin
- Haroset Pyramids. I always make individual seder plates. It saves passing around a lot of stuff. This year, instead of the small scoop of haroset, I’m placing a haroset pyramid on each plate.
To make the mold: You can make a 3 or 4-sided pyramid. I’m doing 3 sides. Cut three identical triangles from a piece of cardboard. I use isosceles triangles—27/8” on the sides, 4 inches on the bottom. Completely wrap each triangle with aluminum foil and tape the three pieces together—to form a cone. Spray the inside of the cone with kosher-for-Pesah non-stick spray. Fill the ‘pyramid’ with a heavy haroset. (Sephardic recipe or the traditional recipe with the addition of some dried fruits.) Refrigerate and unmold when time to serve.
- Questions at the Seder. One of the goals of the seder is to motivate questions. Sometimes people are a bit reluctant to ask.
One way to get started is, in advance of the seder, to make a list of questions. Put each question on a separate card. Set a card under each person’s plate. At any point during the seder invite seder participants to ask “their” question.
- 15 Steps. Use your own foot to create a pattern of a foot. Make 15 “feet.” On each foot write the name of one step of the seder. Place the 15 steps in order on the floor beginning with the first step (kadesh) just as guests come through the door.
I think of this as an organizing set for what is to come. Guests and family will already have “walked through the 15 steps” by the time they open the Haggadah.
- Seder Mad-libs. Check out the Babaganewz website. They have a storehouse of Pesah ideas.
One of my favorites is their Pesah “mad-lib” called BabaMeisa. The madlib can be found here. If writing is part of your seder tradition, begin the seder by creating a group a mad-lib.
- Elijah’s Cup. When it’s time to fill Elijah’s cup, you might try one of the following*:
- Invite guests to pour wine from their own cup into Elijah’s cup and express a personal wish for the future.
- Pass out post-it notes and ask guests to write down the names of those people whom they wish could be present. Place the sticky notes on the plate that holds Elijah’s cup.
- Ask each guest to share something that has given them joy this year.
[*With thanks to Rabbi Phil Warmflash and The Jewish Outreach Partnership]
Have a wonderful holiday.
Hag Pesah kasher v’same’ah.