Submitted by Edmonton Talmud Torah teachers
We, the teachers, are so very proud of the learning that happened, both before COVID-19 and after, even with all the strange and new developments that this year threw at us.
So, what exactly were some of the highlights from this past school year, 2019-2020?
Ms. Jennifer Kovacs, the Kindergarten teacher, remembers the excitement around some of the cross-graded activities; the annual Kindergarten – Grade 6 Buddy Program, baking Chanukah cookies with the Grade 5 class, making latkes with the Gr. 3 class. She and her students also loved the whole-school activities. Ms. Kovacs is very excited to meet the next group of Kinders and to, hopefully, get back into the school!
For Ben Ragosin, who teaches Music, Science and Hebrew Language Arts, there was great excitement around the establishment of the Gr. 6 Guitar Program in Music, where 14 guitars were purchased with the help of the Edmonton Jewish Community Charitable Foundation.
“We are so fortunate to have a full, Hebrew bilingual Music program at the school, led by the very talented Music teacher, Ben Ragosin,” states Robin Marcus. “The children learn (at different ages), ukulele, guitar, percussion (including darbuka drums, xylophones, glockenspiels, assorted hand-held instruments) and recorders.”
Ben also was very proud of the fact that we were able to host Holocaust survivor and speaker, Mrs. Eva Olsson, at the school. She spoke to the students, answered some of their excellent questions, and was an honoured guest at the Grades 4 – 6 Kabbalat Shabbat Celebration. Post-COVID, Ben loved putting together, with the participation of staff, students and parents, a virtual Ma Nishtana video for Pesach. A true testament to the power of community!
For Miss Jessica Holtzman and her Grade 2 class, a memory highlight was The Maccabee Market. This was a hands-on, cross-curricular project brought to life through a collaboration between the Gr. 2 students, Miss Jessica, teacher Bianna Kuksin and the Gr. 4 students. During this Chanukah activity, the students budgeted for, planned, advertised, and brought to life, a market stand selling crafts, drinks, food and Judaica. Best of all, the students donated all of their earnings to the local food bank. Once the school moved to online learning, Miss Jessica designed a cross-curricular project based on that famous song: The Lukshion Kugel Eater. Students were asked to design a trap (that does not hurt or injure the Lukshion Kugel Eater in any way!), name the trap, draw a picture of their family during Shabbat dinner, and then write a descriptive paragraph detailing how the trap works. They were also asked to label their family members and objects, in their picture, in Hebrew. Students thoroughly enjoyed working on this project! Miss Jessica also loved participating in Moreh Ari’s school-wide virtual Kabbalat Shabbat Celebrations.
Robin Marcus’s memory highlights from this past year include giving each child a Breathing Buddy (stuffy) and teaching the Grade ones some Mindfulness techniques which were used throughout the year – even once online learning took place. Brain Breaks was another terrific, virtually daily, activity. Brain Breaks could involve dancing or moving along to a video on the SmartBoard, doing fun movement activities in the classroom or going to the Gym for an extra few minutes of “burning off energy.” Other highlights are the Math and Guided Reading Station times, where students are able to move, in small groups, through a variety of Math-related or Literacy related activities.
Robin says: “I love having the chance to introduce the children to new books and reading or math strategies and to see their learning up close, while they work in small groups or individually. Grade One is a magical time when reading, writing and math abilities take off!”
Once the school moved to online teaching and learning, a highlight for Robin was growing her own technological learning curve and watching parents and students get the hang of these platforms and really rolling with it all.
Moreh Ari Sniderman reflects on the year and states that in addition to memorable classroom activities, there is delight in the way that the community is strengthened by the work done by students and teachers at Talmud Torah. He feels the community sensibility, of TT, when his classmates of the 90’s come to watch their kids perform Chanukah songs, as they did back in their day; when he meets up in the halls with three of his old classmates as they pick up their kids from daycare, down the hall from his own classroom; when his now university-aged students come in to talk to his classes about Jewish life after TT or to teach Israeli dance.
“We call Talmud Torah the Community School and seeing it live up to its name keeps it all meaningful,” says Moreh Ari.
A highlight for Ms. Caroline Borgen, and for her Gr. 4/5 and 6 classes, were the kindness challenges undertaken. Both the “Kindness Challenge” for the month of February, which was done along with the grade 2 class, and the weekly “Spread the Love” activity were two memories that made a lasting impact on both students and teachers. Recognizing and spreading kindness and positivity carried on in a variety of ways outside of these projects.
“When the pandemic hit and we made the shift to online learning, the adaptability and resilience that students demonstrated is something that sticks out in my mind,” states Ms. Borgen. “In such a challenging time, students rose to the occasion and did their absolute best to navigate a new learning environment. I will always remember singing Happy Birthday to students through Google Meets video chats, (it sounded as lovely as you are imagining!), and watching student confidence grow as they led their classmates in their own planned Google Meets morning meetings.” Ms. Borgen is certain that, at this point, while the future remains unknown, she has no doubt that TT students have the resilience and grit to shine no matter what their school situation looks like.
For teachers, parents and students, the COVID lockdown brought a whole host of changes and challenges: parents having to become teachers of their own children; students having to learn how to use Google Meets and Google Classroom, as well as creating videos and having to work more independently; teachers having to learn a whole host of technological platforms and techniques and finding ways to keep young students engaged and learning. Then, of course, we had teachers who were doing all of these things at once: teaching their own children, learning an incredible amount of new technology and teaching their classroom students in a brand new way. What a year it was!
The TT Staff want to wish all community members a wonderful and restful summer – it is much needed and well-deserved!