The “From the Desk Of” series is my regular email to the Valley Torah High School community.
As you hopefully know by now, I believe strongly in a student-centered or learner-centered model of education versus the more traditional teacher-centered model. If you are not sure what that is click here for a comparison. However, if there was ever a recent example of a student-centered learning environment at VTHS it would have been the 2015 Purim Chagiga. Let me explain and I hope we all learn from it.
The party began on campus at 10pm. It was was wonderfully organized by Rabbi Semmel and the many students and staff who helped. Rabbi Samuels rocked the ivories and the students and staff danced the night away with full costumes, laughter and joyful energy. At the midpoint of the evening something became very clear. This entire night, while a celebration of the miracle of our escaping annihilation at the hands of Haman year ago, was focused on the student experience, as should everything at school.
At around 11pm, our very own Junior, Mr. Yishai Anatian, or as he is affectionately known as “The Purim Rav”, took the mike and became the MC for the rest of the evenings festivities. These included a highly clever set of Gramin (funny purim poetry) made up by the students that Yishai performed, a skit put on by a couple of the Rebbeim making fun of themselves for the joy of the students and student produced purim videos that pretty much had me crying with laughter long past the evening ended. Throughout the creative student and staff displays, the response to it all by the students could only be described as deep pride in being a Valley Torah student and an even deeper understanding of what it means to celebrate Purim. The night came to a conclusion with awards for the best videos and costumes followed by a final dance and extremely happy students who experienced the simcha of Purim in the best possible place to learn it; their school.
There was nothing about the evening that was not about the students and there was very little that was not produced and created by the students. As one 9th grader told me the next day, it was the best Purim he had ever had. I am convinced that was because it was a student-centered Purim and the more we shift our teaching focus on the individual learners the more it will be the best Purim, davening, science class, elective, english class, gemmar class and so on and so forth that they will remember and apply for years to come.