Sunday, May 8, 2011

The 8th Grade Dilemma—Solved for the Moment

I had a wonderful experience this morning. We are preparing for our 8th grade graduation ceremony, and asked the students to write a speech about their Hebrew School experiences and how they see themselves as members of the Jewish community in the next 4 years. They came back with the idea of writing a group speech that would include all the above, but they each would read a paragraph.  I told them to go to work figuring it could be something different.
What I found at the end of the day was very different than I expected (not that I really knew what to expect). This class had gone through the second major rite of Jewish Education—attrition. We lost 5 students to “my Bar/Bat Mitzvah is over and so is Hebrew School.” The remaining students attended sporadically, each having a unique excuse for each week. With the exception of field trips and special activities, it was hard getting everyone to show up at the same time. Added to that, the 8th grade mantra, this is boring.
Then the moment came. They read their “speech.” They brainstormed different moments in their years here on Sundays or Tuesdays, and Shabbat mornings. They remembered incidents that I had either forgotten about, or even never knew. They related lessons learned from the myriad of teachers they had. They even wrote about some specific lessons from the Midrash (they actually used this word that was introduced in third grade) and their current connection to Israel. These seemingly uninterested kids expounded on one teacher’s demand that they read the weekly Torah portion; and strongly suggested in their speech to students in the upper grades that they really should try it—“it’s not that bad, after all.”
I spent some time with them and just talked about Hebrew School. Of course they offered lots of suggestions, many of which are pretty good. But more important to me, they were excited about their time here. All of them have already signed up to be Madrichim (teacher aides) for next year. Sometimes when you think nothing is working, all of a sudden a moment pops up when you can sit back and realize that all of this that we do—does work. The rewards are many, just not immediate. Whatever you’re doing, I suggest you take a minute, because it does work.