Changing seasons at Calgary’s Halpern Akiva Academy

Students at Halpern Akiva Academy in Calgary are excitedly participating in Kevutzot Ratzon activities where they are combining STEAM activities with Jewish values and some friendly competition. (Photo supplied).

(Calgary) – “It has always been enjoyable working at Halpern Akiva Academy (HAA), but I was very excited to be asked for my input in the new school initiative called ‘Kevutzot Ratzon’,” said Ms. Kelsey Lovell, Director of Inclusive Education.

“The program has already helped students of each grade connect with each other. It has given the older students the opportunity to role model and develop leadership skills,” reflected Morah Nechama Rassin, the school’s program director, and the main organizer behind the initiative. “Under Rabbi Nachum Aaron Kutnowski’s guidance, we’ve planned fun and educational opportunities for students to work together through play-based learning. These programs implement both STEAM components and relevant values from the Torah, while including a bit of healthy competition.”

Through these monthly assemblies that are scheduled around Rosh Chodesh – the Jewish new month, the school hopes to foster greater school spirit. One of the students excitedly shared, “We really look forward to these assemblies and are excited when we are together in our teams.”

The first Kevutzot Ratzon assembly began with a teaching from a Mishna in Pirkei Avot which focused on the attributes given to four animals; each corresponding to the four groups that make up the Kevutzot Ratzon teams. The Mishna speaks about being bold as a tiger, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and strong as a lion. Kevutzot Ratzon was formed to help students “embody” one of these animals. The students were divided into their team houses by a talking “Sorting Hat”. After being sorted, the students experienced their first Kevutzot Ratzon program, with a Rosh Hashanah-themed Jeopardy. The kids were able to exhibit all the amazing Torah learning in a fun and engaging way.

In the second Kevutzot Ratzon assembly, students had a blast fulfilling the verse in the Torah which states: “This is my G-d, and I will beautify Him” – which the Rabbis explain means striving to perform Mitzvot in a beautiful way (Menachot 27a). The students did a great job making beautiful decorations for the HAA school Sukkah. The youngest students worked together with their teachers to make colourful paper chains, while older students collaborated to create innovative decorations from recycled materials.

These decorations were made with the assistance of Ms. Filewich, grade 1,3, and 4 general studies teacher; supplying the recycled materials. These Sukkah decorations were quite the example of ingenuity, implementing both Judaic and General studies learning, as a cross-curricular program. Students were tasked in working as a cohesive group, being creative in making something both functional and beautiful, as well as utilizing a theme of the holiday in the decoration itself.

Rabbi Kutnowski remarked, “We were all incredibly impressed at the innovation and skill each participant used, and the HAA Sukkah looked amazing.”

The most recent Kevutzot Ratzon assembly for Rosh Chodesh Marcheshvan focused on the seasonal changes and mental health awareness, centered around the prayers for the rain for Eretz Yisrael, while implementing a  focus on being a “bucket-filler”. Ultimately, this encouraged students to act positively, reaffirming the importance of extending kindness to yourself and others. Students raced to be a bucket-filler, and help provide raindrops for the land to grow its special Shivat HaMinim – the seven special grains and fruits of the land of Israel.

“The Kevutzot Ratzon initiative has been such a wonderful opportunity for our students and staff to work together towards a common goal. Our Judaic and General Studies staff have done an amazing job working together to build a well-rounded, and very fun, program. I can’t wait to see what amazing things they come up with next.” said Mrs. Cameron, Principal of HAA.

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