How a Committed Public School Family Chose Rashi

My name is Michele Markley. My daughter Mia is a third grader and my son Adam is in first grade. Full disclosure, my husband is a rabbi. So most people might look at me and say, well OBVIOUSLY you were going to send your kids to Rashi. But if you ask anyone in admissions here, you will quickly learn that this was not at all the case.

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We had heard AMAZING things about Rashi and thought it was a terrific school, but we pay taxes in Needham, a wonderful school district. My husband and I both grew up in public schools. His mother was a public school teacher. I am a public school special education teacher. There are so many amazing things about public school so why would we PAY to send our children to Rashi?

I had pretty much decided that we were going to send our children to our local school when we attended Rashi’s annual dinner with friends. The theme of the night was the social justice focus at Rashi. We watched a video and learned all about the different ways that social justice is embodied at Rashi. When we left, my husband Todd and I turned to each other and realized, maybe we needed to give this place another chance. The idea that our children would be going to school each day where social justice, community, and other crucial values in our minds were being taught each and every moment was something we might not having given enough attention to. Of course there are important values taught in public school, TO BE SURE. But the other reality in public school is that we are under different pressures.

By the time children reach third grade in public schools in Massachusetts, they need to take the PARCC or MCAS standardized tests. Therefore, there has become this sense that we need to start teaching certain skills earlier. This leads to a lot of pressure for kids to master certain skills, even if they aren’t quite developmentally ready to do so. This rush to squeeze in everything we need to teach does not leave a lot of room for in-depth exploration much of the time.

At Rashi, my children have been exposed to programming robots, weaving, hearing from a number of different social justice organizations, partnering with NewBridge for multigenerational programs and so much more. And these are not one-shot deals- they are part of an integrated curriculum, being touched upon in a number of the different curricular areas. Even more importantly for me, though, these experiences teach critical thinking skills, problem solving, teamwork, compassion, and perseverance. I hear many stories from both Mia and Adam about needing to work out challenging issues through testing different solutions and working together with peers. These are the skills I want them to be developing.

My daughter’s amazing second grade teacher (just one of the many gifted teachers we have had here thus far) dedicated a significant amount of time teaching about multiple intelligences and the importance of making mistakes and putting forth effort in order to grow our brains. That year, Mia had gotten the idea that she wasn’t good at math. The social emotional learning she was doing in class, paired with the extra reminders from her teacher, allowed Mia to realize that she was in control of her success. She left second grade a much more confident mathematician. Each and every day, there is something new that happens here which reminds me that we could not have made a better decision for our children’s education, for their emotional well-being, and for their development as quality human beings on this earth.

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A Multigenerational Partnership

By Lynda Bussgang

Multigenerational Program Coordinator for the partnership between The Rashi School and Hebrew Senior Life’s NewBridge on the Charles

“A test of a people is how it behaves toward the old…. The affection and care for the old, the incurable, the helpless are the true gold mines of a culture.”

This quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel was included by Rashi student Danny Shleifer in his eighth-grade graduation speech last spring. Danny and his classmates took part in a new program that brings together Rashi students and the senior residents of NewBridge on the Charles, the Hebrew SeniorLife community with which The Rashi School shares a campus. As the program’s coordinator, I have seen how the program has touched young and old alike and I have witnessed Heschel’s words come to life. I would like to share some stories.

While visiting his great-grandmother at NewBridge, fourth grader Jacob F. became friends with another resident, David Goldberg. At least once a week after school Jacob and his mother, Rebecca, walked across the street to visit Mr. Goldberg. “He became Jacob’s real-life textbook,” Rebecca said. “Jacob would read something about World War II, and Mr. Goldberg would say, ‘Let me tell you how it really was’.”

Over several months, they shared conversation, games and many hugs. In the spring, Mr. Goldberg died at the age of 98. As Rebecca cried with me and sought comfort for her grieving child, she celebrated the relationship and how it had made Jacob a better person.

Rebecca has since joined the Rashi/NewBridge Multigenerational Committee that oversees the partnership. Jacob still visits Mrs. Goldberg and sees her when he comes to NewBridge for “Get Fit Stay Fit” – a shared fitness program for Rashi fifth and sixth graders and NewBridge residents. And when Jacob sleeps outdoors, he looks for Mr. Goldberg among the stars.

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Roz Holt, a NewBridge resident, has been a devoted reading tutor at Rashi. Last year Roz had a wonderful experience working with Kayla, a Rashi fifth grader. She recalled that when she first met Kayla: “I didn’t know what I was supposed to do and what I was supposed to say to her. We were working on reading skills, comprehension and speed reading, and I just kept telling her how well she was doing and how good it made me feel to be with her.”

Roz felt that the breakthrough came when she told Kayla that her son had had a learning disability that held him back, but he worked hard and eventually achieved great success as the president of their family business. Over time, trust grew between the two. They felt comfortable enough together that Roz could correct Kayla’s pronunciation and help her become a better reader. But more than words brought them together. I could see that every time they parted, it was with a hug.

This year, Roz comes weekly to Rashi to support the learning needs of students in the Lower School.

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Finally, there’s my daughter’s story. Jackie, who graduated from Rashi in 2011, has had many wonderful opportunities to be with seniors. She regularly visits her grandparents, who are residents in the independent living community at NewBridge. She participated in the Rashi Middle School program that connects students with residents who struggle with Alzheimer’s and dementia. She helped to support my father throughout his battle with ALS, which robbed him of the ability to speak and walk, and which, last December, took his life. These experiences all transformed my once reticent girl.

One Sunday afternoon last spring, my children and several other Rashi families volunteered to help out at a community building event at NewBridge. To my surprise, Jackie approached an elderly man who was sitting in a wheelchair. He was barely able to speak, but she sat down with him and chatted for more than 20 minutes. When she was finished, I asked her what they talked about all that time. “I don’t know, Mom,” she replied. “I couldn’t really understand him. But I just talked about myself and asked him questions. I think he liked that.” He did. When I spoke with him later that day and he learned that Jackie was my daughter, he told me that she had made his day.

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Danny Shleifer helped me figure out how to describe the magic I see each day between the Rashi kids and the NewBridge seniors. Yes, Heschel captures some of it. But Danny’s own words from his graduation speech tell it all: “What brought us together, and gave us so much joy this year, was our neighbors.”