July 4th, 2017

Dear Akiva Family,

It is hard to believe that we are halfway through our summer.  Currently, my family is spending time at Camp Yavneh, a Jewish pluralistic summer camp in New Hampshire.  Some of the most important thinking and visioning at Akiva happens in the summer.  All year, we collect questions that we hope to explore in the summer.  If we are lucky, we get through a handful of them. This year, one of the main questions I have pondered is the nature of ruach (spirit) and the role it plays in education at Akiva.  In any setting, spirit is difficult to pin down.  Sometimes we walk into a room and the ruach is palpable, for example Purim  or the Akiva 6th grade graduation.  Camp is one of those unusual places where spirit seems to be unending.  While there is no specific recipe, there are elements of spirit at camps that I believe we support and continue to work to enrich at Akiva.   


While walking around camp, I watched the children sing and dance together in the lunchroom, go fishing on the dock, pray with kavod (respect) and kavannah (intention) and support every act in a very long talent show…and I thought about the elements that make spirit come to life so readily in an ideal camp setting.


  1.  Environment.  Camp is a place where the impossible seems possible.  Dessert at every dinner.  Slip and slide before lunch.  Trip day every Wednesday. There is a balance between the expected and unexpected that makes the day both comforting and exciting.  The woods are beautiful.  The air is clean.  What do we do in schools to consider how our schedules and our physical environments remain holy and clean?  At Akiva, we are updating our front offices to feel more colorful, calming, and welcoming so that they reflect the experience in our halls.  This year, in professional development, we will be thinking even more intentionally about how to involve our children in envisioning and caring for the Akiva community such that they feel not only like they own the school but like they are responsible for it.


  1. A Place for Experimentation: Campers often experience their firsts at camp: the first time I learned how to sail, the first time I made my bed every day, the first time I could walk around a 5 mile radius ALONE, without parents.  Because of the freedom children experience at camp, there is an unparalleled confidence and empowerment that many children feel.  At Akiva, children have multiple opportunities every year to develop their independence.  As our STEAM program evolves, Akiva students experiment with choice, tenacity, and reflection.  This year, we are also working on our club selection to ensure that Akiva is a place where learning and discovery happens even beyond the classroom day.  


  1. A sense of TEAM: Counselors at camp are seniors in high-school.  They do not have the experience nor the education to take care of 10 year olds alone…but they figure it out as a team.  They model this team to their campers and camp becomes a place where children feel accepted and socially involved.  The Akiva faculty models this sense of team.  Classrooms are open for others to learn from and veteran teachers guide new teachers through the culture and high-standards at Akiva.  Our children welcome in new students with excitement and genuine interest.  Our PTFA works to make families feel more connected to each other and the school.  We are still working to ensure that every child and parent feels socially included every day. With Tammy Parish, our school counselor as our guide, this year our teachers will be trained using mindfulness and the Social Thinking approach.  This approach is centered on helping children develop their understanding of how others are feeling and what they are experiencing such that all of our children will strengthen their muscles of empathy, sensitivity and understanding.


  1. Optimism and Trust: While every camper and counselor (and the parents at home) feel alone or homesick or tired over the course of their time at camp, overall, there is a sense of optimism and excitement that everything will work itself out.  Parents trust this system.  Counselors trust this system. Campers trust this system. This trust and willingness to believe that our future is bright is something that I have seen grow tremendously in my last few years at Akiva.  Parents, teachers, and children come to Akiva and believe in the system.  There is a greater sense of excitement and buzz and it is all of our responsibility to begin thinking through the steps to build this optimism and trust.  Our commitment to you this year, based on research, parent meetings and feedback from the accreditation process is to more consistently provide feedback about your child’s academic experience so that you feel more connected to the classroom.  


As the entire Akiva faculty and staff works to prepare for the children this summer, we look forward with ruach, excitement, optimism to the year ahead.  As I think about this week’s Torah portion, Balak, I pray that Akiva is always a place where others can proudly and confidently say, Mah Tovu Ohalecha?!  How great are your tents?!