The “From the Desk Of” series is my regular email to the Valley Torah High School community.
This week was the first official VTHS “Winterim.” What is Winterim you ask? It might be the greatest thing since a student started selling hot churros at the VTHS breakfast cafe. Yet, I was asked many times before the Winterim started why we have school if we are not “learning.” I find this problematic. First let me explain what Winterim is and then I can get into the issue.
Winterim is a term used by many schools to describe a special set of days dedicated to special programming. For those interested in the etymology of the word it is the combining of “Winter” and “Interim” to describe a temporary period during the winter. Will this be on the vocab quiz this week? Maybe. In my experience Winterim is generally at the end of the first semester or at the start of second semester and can last up to a week or even two. This being the first year of Winterim at VTHS, we ran it for two days although special programming this week is not new to VTHS and many Jewish day schools.
Many Jewish day schools have school on December 25th. Why? Well, our students could likely answer that question as they were treated to a shiur by Rabbi Biron on that very topic as part of the Winterim schedule. For those who missed it, in short, Jewish schools do not give off on Christmas as it is a religious non-Jewish holiday and it should not look like we are celebrating a religious holiday of another religion. Rabbi Biron explained this based on a psak (ruling of Jewish law) by Rav Moshe Feinstein and did a wonderful job going into the details, history and philosophical reasons for this decision. Lightheartedly, he did start the shiur with the caveat that he himself did not make the rule for the school, but that he did believe in it. The students seemed satisfied, but the decision still leaves the school with some logistical issues as many of our General Studies staff are not available on the 25th and the afternoon of the 24th. Thus, Winterim was born!
Winterim is an opportunity to focus on special learning opportunities and student bonding activities. This is something we are very good at in general, but these days afford a deeper dive into them. The 24th and 25th of this week began with the usual meaningful davening and amazing Torah classes that lead into the Winterim programming. Each grade had a Principal Project workshop where they were teamed up with partners to explore, depending on which grade they are in, professions, colleges and social entrepreneurship projects they are interested in. They brainstormed about their various projects, developed questions they need to answer and left with a suggested list of further questions to help frame their research for the next phase of the project. The 9th-11th grades had individual college guidance workshops and the 12th grade had an Israel Yeshiva guidance workshop. Students were also treated to special pizza and sushi lunches based on various competitions they had won. The 9th and 10th grade spent time designing a new logo for the school, which led to some very creative ideas. There was a student council led dodgeball tournament and arcade and, finally, the entire school had the opportunity to hear from our guest speaker, Mr. Baruch Cohen, Esq. All in all, it was a wonderful two days filled with enjoyable Torah learning, inspiring presentations, exciting passion based workshops, helpful guidance and fun activities. Yet, there were still some students that questioned the wisdom in having full days if we did not have General Studies classes.
The question is certainly a good one, but illustrates to me a myopic view of learning that many students today have been indoctrinated into years before they reached high school. This view is that learning only happens in a classroom, sitting in rows, listening to a lecture, while ferociously taking notes and taking tests to illustrate retention of what is in those notes. When the educational plan or model shifts even ever so slightly it is common to hear the rebell yell defending the sanctity of “learning.” One, at VTHS we do not believe that learning should or does only happen in this myopic framework. Two, the idea that learning did not occur during these two days is truly without merit.
In these two days, besides the morning Torah classes, our students learned in so many ways.
- Through the Principal Project Workshops our students continued to build their collaborative skills by working in teams. They developed and focused on their personal interests, designed a plan of inquiry into those passions and laid the groundwork for further research.
- Through the College Guidance and Israel Yeshiva Workshops they learned about what they need to think about, research and accomplish in and out of high school to get into the colleges of their choice and had a thoughtful and in-depth discussion about life in Yeshiva in Israel.
- Through the logo design “challenge” our students learned art skills, collaborative creativity and school pride.
- With Rabbi Biron’s shiur our students learned why we have school on Christmas and, possibly more importantly, what it means to be proud as a Jew while respecting others who hold different beliefs.
- With Mr. Cohen’s presentation our students learned how David (of David and Goliath fame) was far from an underdog and that each and every single one at VTHS has unique and powerful talents.
- Finally, through the fun student council activities, our students saw models of leadership in our student council members, had a great time and practiced healthy competition.
Was there “learning” during Winterim? You better believe it. Do I think we should have more learning like this? You better believe it.