Passion for Learning Comes Alive at Chicago Jewish Day School

Inquiry-based learning and Judaic studies are a perfect match for student success. One school leader shares why.

Experiential learning has always been at the core of Chicago Jewish Day School’s philosophy, but last year school leaders decided they wanted to create even more opportunities to ignite students’ passions through enhanced inquiry-based learning.

“We wanted to empower students to develop ownership in their learning and become active, creative, and critical thinkers. This inspires them to take action and be the change-makers of the world,” says Assistant Head of School Jill Kushnir LeVee.

Thanks to a grant funding professional development, the faculty are implementing research-based best practice to add more opportunities for students to build on their passions and collaborate with each other and their teachers in order to enrich their learning experiences.

“What the research shows is that when students are engaged in the learning process, it increases their attention and their focus, and it motivates them to dig deeper and to think at a higher level,” she says.

Kushnir LeVee shares some of the ways Chicago Jewish Day School is doing that.

Expanded lessons for all

Chicago Jewish Day School has always believed that children learn best through active and hands-on experiences. Consequently, the Early Childhood classrooms have historically focused on student-led learning as a play-based program. In more recent years, the school integrated its approach with a Reggio Emilia-inspired model. At the core of this approach is the understanding that students are innately curious and capable. Consequently, students are honored as we embrace the knowledge and wonder that children bring to the learning experience. This inquiry approach is now expanding into all the elementary and middle grades.

Dual Jewish and general studies

Inquiry-based learning also is a natural fit with the school’s Judaic studies and the values built into the Jewish faith, Kushnir LeVee says. This inquiry is happening in all areas of study and especially integrates so well with Judaic Studies because both extend the learning and values beyond the classroom.

The final step in the inquiry process is to use the newly acquired knowledge to take action and demonstrate the value of social justice. The importance of having a sense of community and responsibility for oneself and others is also an important Jewish value. “We want to instill those values and give the students the skills and knowledge that they need to make a difference in the world,” Kushnir LeVee says.

An integrated, dual curriculum of Judaic Studies/Hebrew and general studies enhances learning in all subject areas, she says. In each content area, they are learning how to dissect text, analyze information, look for evidence and deeper meaning and form their opinions. The dual curriculum creates richer, more diverse opportunities for learning.

Going beyond the classroom

At Chicago Jewish Day School, which educates Jewish students across a range of Jewish denominations, respecting diversity is taught in a very intentional way, she says. Students are exposed to the diversity of their community through their peers and educators. Their friends come from different socio-economic backgrounds, different family structures, different gender identities, and different races and ethnicities. “Students learn to look at differences as something to honor and respect,” she says.

Additionally, educators at Chicago Jewish Day School understand the importance of focusing on the whole child. Students are more than simply academic beings. A cornerstone of that understanding is the school’s focus on students’ social-emotional health where teachers show that they really care about and take the time to get to know the students. This intentional focus on the social-emotional growth of students leads to confident students who have the skills to advocate for themselves and others as people and learners. These enhanced social and emotional skills also help lead to stronger academic success by giving students the confidence to take risks and try new things and also giving them the resiliency to learn from their mistakes and try again.

Focusing on social-emotional growth also helps to build a strong sense of community at the school where students learn what it means to listen to one another, speak with confidence, act as an upstander, and resolve conflicts effectively. Students learn the power of their words and actions and how they can help hurt or heal.

Ultimately, at Chicago Jewish Day School, the goal is to raise good human beings who care about others, know the power of their words and actions, and understand that they have a responsibility that goes beyond themselves, she says. “We try to educate people who are going to go out into the world and have the education, skills, and confidence to be able to make a difference in the world,”

Chicago Jewish Day School is a progressive JK-8 Jewish day school. Experience what it has to offer Jewish families through an in-person or virtual tour. Contact Cortney Stark Cope, Director of Admissions, to find a time to see the school.


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