By Glenda Speyer, Head of Upper School
It is block 5 on Monday; it is block 4 on Friday and something is “shaking up” with the sixth, seventh and eighth grade students in the Rashi Middle School. Students are following their passions, their fascination, and their interests.They re-arrange themselves in different and unusual combinations and eagerly and excitedly head off in these newly-formed, mixed grades, mixed gender groups to a variety of locations across and beyond the school. This “shake-up”’ is all because it is time for electives in the Rashi middle school!
Ask Rashi sixth, seventh, or eighth graders what they love about Middle School, and many will tell you about their electives. Electives provide a change of pace from a day of academic classes by giving students the opportunity to participate in a diverse array of activities – including Israeli dance troupe, rock band, math and word games, animation, set design, sewing pajama pants, listening to the blues and more. Electives enhance kehillah (community) by mixing students across grades, and they encourage students to explore new interests while having fun.
Not all electives take place in the Rashi building. Many students choose to be reading buddies as part of the JCL (Jewish Community Literacy) elective. They travel each Monday to the Curran Early Childhood Education Center in Dedham to help kindergarten students with their reading skills. Our students take their roles as mentors very seriously. Watching them with their buddies at their side, or in their lap, one sees how this close, warm moment of reading together has been modeled for our children at home and is now being shared so naturally with their buddies. It is particularly heartwarming to see Rashi students who struggled with reading in the past share the strategies they have learned with their young buddies.
Another fabulous elective, begun last year, is the multigenerational gardening initiative. Our students work with NewBridge seniors at the campus Community Garden, made possible by Rashi alumni parents Jamie and Harold Kotler. The generations join forces to plant seeds and bulbs, trim and transplant flowers, and learn about fertilizing, mulching, and composting. Our students demonstrate their compassion by working on the plants of NewBridge residents who are unable to come to the garden. When the elective began this fall, it was wonderful to see the expressions on our students’ faces when one of the residents pulled out carrots that they had planted as seeds last spring and gave a carrot to each student for a snack!
These elective offerings reach students of all levels and interests. They enable students to interact with teachers in different ways – playing instruments with your math teacher, or discussing how to work with a five year old with your Hebrew teacher. So, whether it’s The Stock Market Game, examining physics in action with Harvard students, or writing plays and poetry, the shake-up has taken form. The shape is one of rich and valuable experiences and a relaxed environment for the Rashi Middle School students.