Maimonides Jewish Day School prepares students for future
By Deborah Moon Seldner
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Parents and administrators at Maimonides Jewish Day School report that they see graduates well prepared with the life skills and study habits needed to succeed as they move on to other private schools, public schools and yeshivas.
"I really believe our kids come out well-rounded with good academics, good Judaica and good life skills," said director Devora Wilhelm.
Judaic studies director Rabbi Yossi Chaiton said that he believes the strong life skills are essential in today's world.
"Without the ability to work with others, strong math skills alone are not enough to succeed," said Chaiton.
Both Wilhelm and Chaiton, who are also parents of Maimonides graduates who have gone on to do well at yeshivas, attribute much of the social skills developed at Maimonides to the multi-age classrooms at the school.
"When you're in a small class setting of 10 to 12 kids of multi-ages, you have to learn to get along and negotiate," said Wilhelm. "When you have a pool of 30 potential friends, you can ignore those you don't get along with."
"Our students see and feel the intrinsic value of conflict resolution," said Chaiton. "They learn to create win-win situations."
Jo Sigmund, one of the founders and the teaching and curriculum coordinator at the public charter school The Emerson School, agrees that multi-age classrooms have many benefits. Emerson School serves children in kindergarten through fifth-grade in blended-age classrooms.
"I would not ever want to go back to teaching just one grade," said Sigmund. "The students benefit in so many different ways. The social part is huge."
Multi-age classrooms support kids at both ends of the spectrum both academically and socially, said Sigmund. It allows teachers to adjust groups to blend kids at different levels in different topics.
Socially, she said, it allows older children to be mentors and role models, but it also allows them to avoid the pressure to grow up too fast. With younger friends, they get to "stay young and not have to put on airs of being older," she said.
The built-in bonus of multi-age classrooms is augmented by Maimonides' middot (character traits) program, said Wilhelm. She said there isn't a good canned middot program, so the school draws from some established character curricula and then builds on aspects they want to emphasize.
"This is the most challenging part of our curriculum," said Chaiton. "There's no assembly line with good little kids coming off."
In fact, an assembly line using a uniform approach to cranking out a finished product is exactly the opposite of Maimonides' approach. With small class sizes, Maimonides teachers are able to individualize the curriculum to each student's needs, said Wilhelm.
"We build a well-rounded student academically, Judaically and socially so ultimately they become positive contributors to our society and are nice people to be around," said Chaiton.
Both Chaiton and Wilhelm said that their children have done well in the yeshivas they have attended after Maimonides even though the day school does not offer the rigorous Judaic study that yeshiva students begin at an early age.
"Yeshiva students have six hours a day of Judaica beginning in the early grades," said Wilhelm. "We don't. We are a day school, not a yeshiva. But we give kids the skills to move on to the yeshiva program."
Chaiton said his two sons both did well when they moved on to the yeshiva because they had learned a good work ethic and good study skills. Additionally, he said, they had learned to be good advocates for their own education.
Those same skills have helped other Maimonides graduates succeed at both public and private schools. Wilhelm said parents of past students frequently tell her how well prepared their children were for their next school.
Kathy Pearson said Maimonides did a good job preparing her two children—Jacob Smith, 14, and Hannah Smith, 12—for Robert Gray Middle School. This fall, Hannah will be in seventh grade at Robert Gray and Jacob will be a freshman at Wilson High School.
"I thought they got a really good education at Maimonides," she said. "Jacob was placed in the most advanced math class at Robert Gray."
In addition to preparing the students academically, Pearson said the teachers had also given them the tools for planning their work. She said Maimonides teachers encouraged the students to use daily planners and taught them how to break larger projects into smaller steps.
The communication skills and conflict resolution skills they gained at Maimonides are skills Pearson said she believes her children will benefit from throughout their life.
"Hannah especially is very good at saying, 'Let's sit down and work this out,'" said Pearson. "My kids actually came home and introduced some of the skills from school into our home. I liked that they (the teachers) were reinforcing skills I was trying to teach at home such as talking about problems."
Maimonides Jewish Day School, located at 6612 S.W. Capitol Highway in Southwest Portland, is accepting enrollment for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. For more information, call 503-977-7850.