Calgary Jewish Academy: Around the world while standing still – a 2020 conundrum

Travelling around the world while standing still at Calgary Jewish Academy. (Photo supplied).

by Lesley Machon

(AJNews) – While the global community and school is disinfecting hands and surfaces, our learning at the Calgary Jewish Academy will not be sanitized. We are committed to engaging lesson plans and travelling in our minds despite postponed school trips, transporting our imaginations beyond the faint scent of cleaning products and plexiglass desk pods. 


In English Language Arts, students are travelling to the far reaches of a dystopian Africa in the fantasy novel Children of Blood and Bone, which is a beautiful and brutal tale exploring ancestry, revolution, and love. The text lends well to learning all literary devices, and invites us to engage with themes of race, class, and authority. Students will be listening to the novel as narrated by Bahni Turpin, which means exposure to a Black protagonist, a Black narrator and the creative genius of a Black author. Broadening our minds and perspectives by ensuring diverse voices line our shelves, is an important part of developing empathy and connection with people who are both similar and different than we are.     


In social studies, students will be travelling to medieval Japan to study the historical importance of the reigning samurai and the nation-defining attacks by invading Mongols. The invasions are the earliest events for which the word kamikaze (“divine wind”) is widely used, which references the typhoons faced by Mongol fleets. The students will be learning unique angles on this piece of world history, and learning to write Japanese characters relevant to these times. They will also be going outside to learn the art of samurai swordplay, and creating life-sized replicas of these members of the military caste in feudal Japan. From there, we will head to the East Coast of Canada with the first Indigenous groups. We will be playing the game of lacrosse like the First Peoples did, using the game to settle disputes and prepare for war. Students will also be creating and beading their own wampum belts. 


In Judaic Studies we headed to Washington DC to debate the funeral arrangements for Ruth Bader Ginsburg (a woman of state, but also a Jewish woman). After that we will transport ourselves back in time to explore medical experiments done on victims during WWII, to debate whether the knowledge gained from these experiments should be used in present day. We will be basing our knowledge of rabbis in the Talmud, and using compassionate inquiry and discernment to engage with difficult ethical issues. We will also take walks outside the school surrounded by the changing leaves, to discuss questions such as i) What do/can humans mean by the word, ‘G-d?’ and ii) What does it mean for something to be ‘holy’ or ‘sacred?’


On the whole, our mission for this year is to keep students engaged in a world beyond pandemics and travel bans. Our plan is to activate their imaginations, encourage them to move their bodies and breathe fresh air, introduce them to diverse figures both real and fictional, and time travel to distant lands together. Thank you for journeying with us! 


Ms. Lesley Machon teaches Junior High Humanities, Language Arts & Social Studies at the CJA.

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