New Jewish studies curriculum for special-needs students; family history project through PELIE; Shalem Center to become liberal arts college.
Hidden Sparks Grows
Hidden Sparks recently unveiled the first part of a new Judaic studies curriculum at its sixth annual retreat, attended by 40 educators from 30 day schools in New York, New Jersey and Baltimore.
The group, which addresses the needs of diverse learners, works to help Jewish educators discover, understand and support all the students in their classrooms, including those with learning difficulties.
Aviva Stern, a teacher at Yeshiva Har Torah and a Hidden Sparks coach, said that “doing Hidden Sparks work has impacted me tremendously as a teacher to my students and in all of my relationships. Being trained to be attuned to individual’s strengths and weaknesses will continue to affect even my parenting style and how I relate to my extended family.”
Hidden Sparks aims to identify students whose potential has not yet been reached in school and in life. Founded in New York six years ago with a pilot program in seven schools, the program currently serves almost 40 schools in New York, including Ramaz in Manhattan, Bnos Pupa of Williamsburg and The Hebrew Academy of Nassau County. Through a Covenant Foundation grant, Hidden Sparks has also partnered with SHEMESH in Baltimore and REACH in Chicago, and has trained educators in Nashville, New Orleans, Tampa, Fla., and Hollywood, Fla., to bring their programs and curriculum to those cities.
A three-time recipient of the Slingshot Award, which recognizes the 50 most innovative Jewish organizations each year, Hidden Sparks is currently working with 281 teachers. Since its inception, Hidden Sparks has trained more than 1,000 teachers and has reached an estimated 10,000 students.
Debbie Niderberg, executive director of Hidden Sparks, said, “Our core curriculum and approach introduces the skills, strategies and sensitivities of special education into mainstream classes. We believe this enhanced understanding positions both teachers and students for greater success. By using a mentoring and school-based delivery model and by training ‘Internal Coaches’ in diverse learning, we believe that the program will have the greatest and most sustained impact over time on the students, teachers, and school culture.”
Hidden Sparks has also spurred additional programs, like Hidden Sparks Without Walls (HSWOW), which brings free audio and online hour-long classes to educators to enhance their knowledge of the field of diverse learning. To date, 1000 participants from 95 schools in 21 states have participated in the 45 webinars offered. In an effort to share its expertise with parents Hidden Sparks launched HSWOW Parent Connection, a free webinar series. Additionally, the group offers School Change Administrative Leadership Endeavor, or SCALE, for principals. Hidden Sparks funding comes from individuals, foundations, government and Jewish charities, including UJA-Federation of New York.
Like most recent broad-scale surveys of the Jewish population in local communities, the recently released Jewish Community Study of New York explores the impact of childhood Jewish education, including “supplemental schooling,” on adult Jewish identity.
The conclusion of the report: The old model of Jewish education in which parents dropped children off in a classroom for a few hours of instruction, in isolation from Jewish family engagement and Jewish communal life, yields little to nothing in the life of a child. Who could disagree with the findings of the study?
We knew our daughter’s Jewish identity was going to play an important role in our lives when she named her imaginary friend “Rivka.” Isabella would point her out to me in public places as she passed, directing me to a mocha-skinned girl with curly dark hair who inevitably would look almost identical to our own sweet multiracial child.