What do the Kansas City Chiefs have in common with the Koala Bear Hospital in Australia?
The answer is HBHA's 3rd grade class.
Since the beginning of the school year, our third grade students have been immersed in Chiefs-based learning: They have tracked the scores and statistic from each game. They have charted the geography and distance of each away game. They have watched game synopses on Monday mornings. And they have discussed the issues of cultural approbation in do the “Tomahawk Chop.“ In short, the Chiefs have been a vehicle for learning all over the curriculum.
When the bush fires swept through Australia, killing about a third of the world’s koala population, the third grade knew they had to do something. They sprang into action, using their love and passion for the Chiefs to raise money. They created art, which was turned into stickers, which were then sold to students and faculty all week. This morning they sold coffee and collected additional donations in the morning. After raising $1,000 this week, plus obtaining a matching grant for up to another $1,000, these students are very excited to send a check for $2000 to support the only Koala hospital in Australia.
Please check out these videos, one from our 3rd grade class, and one from an Australian friend who is helping facilitate the giving of the gift.
Our students have embodied the words of Anne Frank when she said, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
Shabbat Shalom and Go Chiefs!
Overland Park is said to have excellent public schools, in case you hadn’t heard.
So clearly, you are looking for more than high test scores.
The students at HBHA get high test scores too, but they achieve them through a different educational process. We teach our kids to be critical thinkers and lovers of learning. We get them there by hiring inspiring teachers and supporting students as they master their disciplines.
On top of that we teach our kids the skills, content and mindset of being Jewish.
We know that life is better in a community. We know what it means to feel connected to a people through time and space. We know how it feels to share a common destiny. It gives our life continuity, meaning, and purpose.
I could be wrong, but I’m guessing that this is why you choose to send your kids to Jewish day school. High test scores are nice, but they aren’t destiny, purpose, or peoplehood. This is the gift you give your children every day.
I know your kids might not appreciate the gift you give them. But someday they will realize that you turned the obligation of going to school into the privilege of going to a Jewish day school. On their behalf, we want to thank you.
What’s the perfect size for a school?
I want a school that is small enough for teacher to know students personally and keep a close eye on their academic and social life, but big enough that kids have a diversity of teachers to learn from.
I want a school that is big enough to have a variety of sports, but small enough that every kid gets real playing time.
I want a school that is big enough for kids to keep meeting new kids, and have a rich social life, but small enough that they know and feel comfortable with kids older and younger than them.
I want a school that feels vibrant and exciting, but at the same time, safe and intimate.
On Wednesday I experienced my first HBHA pep rally. The kids cheered for each other, did relay races together, and laughed together as I (and several high school students) got pies in the face. It was a joyous experience and really cool to see full grown seniors and tiny Kindergartners working together in partnership. I was blown away by both the diversity and the unity; by the vibrancy and the warmth.
HBHA is small but mighty. It’s the Goldilocks school. Not too big and not too small. Juuuust right.
In the 3rd Century BCE, the brilliant Greek mathematician and inventor Archimedes was perplexed by a riddle. Two crowns were forged, one with all gold and one with some silver mixed into it. They looked and felt the same. How could one tell the difference between the two and discover which one was pure gold?
As he sat down in his bath and watched the water rise, Archimedes realized that every object has its own specific weight per volume. At this moment, he discovered the principle of density, and as legend has it, was so excited by this original idea, he ran through the streets screaming “Eureka, eureka!” meaning “I have found it!” still naked from his bath.
That is the power and excitement of having an original idea. The enthusiasm and emotion make us want to run and scream “Eureka!” (Keep your clothes on though!)
Several years ago, a friend of mine told me that scientists were trying to understand what happens to the brain when one has an original thought. The problem - he explained to me - was that they wired their subjects up with sensors, and then didn’t know how to get them to have an original thought.
“Easy!” I told him, “Just get them to study Torah!”
My friend, who also happens to be a religious atheist, bristled at the idea. “Are you saying studying Torah is the only way to have an original idea?”
“No,” I explained. “But studying Torah is an essentially creative act in which one has many original ideas. One reads an ancient text and thinks about how it reflects on modern life, or one’s own personal experiences. One looks for connection to other texts, or tries to think about how a mis-spelled word might be hinting at a greater spiritual truth. Every time I read Torah I have original thoughts, because I am the one making the connections. No one can think like me.”
This is one of the powers of a Jewish Day School. We have a ready-made tool for generating original thoughts. While most kids can spend days, weeks, or even months learning facts, practicing mathematical equations, and writing 4-paragraph essays, our students have another dimension to their education: Torah. Every week, they are asked to understand our ancient text; but more so, they are asked to reflect on it, relate to it and use their creative intelligence to make Torah new again. Torah adds a level of creativity, complexity, and originality that enriches the mind in deep and profound ways.
If you are looking for a great school…
What is a partnership?
A partnership is two parties that are working together for a common purpose.
A partnership means both parties work hard to achieve their purpose, but often fulfill different responsibilities to get the job done.
Partnership doesn’t mean agreeing on everything. It does mean that both parties agree to disagree - after all, their disagreements pale in comparison to their agreements.
Partnership means you know someone has your back.
At HBHA, we are proud to partner with you in raising your children to be thoughtful, kind, hardworking, knowledgeable, innovative, resourceful, resilient, creative, curious, ambitious young adults and Jews.
Today is the beginning of our first parent-teacher conferences for the school year. We hope that you will see how committed we are to giving your children the same love, guidance and support you give them at home. If you should have any doubts, we hope you will communicate with us - in the spirit of partnership. We aim to provide nothing short of the best education to our students and support to our families. If we fall short of that goal, we want to work harder. We know you would do anything for your kids, and we will too.
I went to public school. It was one of the finest public schools in the country at the time and I was surrounded by brilliant students and caring fantastic teachers. I received a great education and came to be passionate about Judaism in college. It was then that I began to really learn Hebrew and become more observant - eventually moving to Israel, studying in Yeshiva, etc.
Yesterday I was privileged to observe my first HBHA Bat Mitzvah. It was incredibly impressive - moving in fact - to see our students leading the service and reading Torah in a way that seemed so natural to them. I had trouble imagining my own children standing at the Bima in the coming years, proudly leading the school in prayer. But then last night my boys broke into song, singing the Birkat HaMazon from start to finish, which to be frank, they didn’t learn from me.
I’ve worked hard to become a knowledgeable and skillful Jew, but despite (or perhaps because of) my excellent public school education, I’ve never felt comfortable doing what HBHA teenagers are nonchalantly practicing every day. I am proud be to be able to offer something to my children that I didn’t have myself: The skills of living a Jewish life. The sound of Hebrew language, song, and prayer. A community of diverse thinkers sharing a common history and destiny.
Thank you for creating this special community and school which my family benefits from every day, and for trusting me to ensure your children continue to receive the gift of a Jewish education at HBHA.
Sukkot is my favorite holiday. It is the only Jewish holiday where we are commanded to build something. It is a whole brain and body experience, putting together our temporary huts. When we are finished, we have created something delicate, beautiful, and useful. A shelter from the wind and sun; a joyous environment in which to spend time with family and friends, fully engaging in the joy of the season.
In a sense, HBHA is a sukkah as well. It is a shelter for our children, allowing them the time and space to learn and grow in a safe and loving environment. It gives them a chance to learn who they are and focus on the values, traditions and customs of our people. All too soon it is over, and our kids are out in the world. But those memories of HBHA stay with them, guide them, and give them joy for the rest of their lives.
And like that sukkah, HBHA is a joy to build. I want to invite you all to experience the joy of building this school. Whether by volunteering for one of the amazing PTO projects, donating to HBHA, writing a google review, or joining us for a calling session to help raise money: Building this beautiful shelter for our children is good work that feels good. Don’t miss it!
On Sukkot, we are commanded “V’samachta B’chagecha”—“You will be happy on your holiday…” How can we be commanded to feel something? Do something, sure. Think something, maybe. But feel something?
Yes, I believe we can feel on demand. We all feel stress, anger, anxiety, regret sometimes, yet we can still focus on the good and find our happy place.
The next step of the commandment is, “Ata, uvincha, uviteacha” – “You, your son, and your daughter…” This is even crazier. G-d not only expects us to feel on demand, but to make our kids feel something too?
As we enter a long, 4-day weekend, my wish for all of us it that we can fulfill this commandment. We should all be happy, and make our sons and daughters happy as well. They may be needy or whine; they may even be nudges when they are bored. But on this holiday in particular, we should try to find the patience, intention and focus to be happy and make our families happy.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!
The school is totally a-buzz with holiday preparations. It is an underappreciated fact of life in a Jewish day school that we live according to the Jewish calendar. Our rhythms are different that the rhythms of the average American life: We live by the moon, not by the sun. Our periods of reflecting and rejoicing are mandated by a different set of laws - laws laid out millennia ago, but carefully repeated in a slightly different way, every year since.
While nations have come and gone, and our people have spread across the globe - with different climates, time zones, and governments - we all share a similar connection to time. Simply by taking different days off, we connect to our ancestors, our texts, nature and to G-d in a profound way.
I hope you enjoyed this short week of school, just as our ancestors appreciated their short weeks, so many centuries before us. It is a good thing.
After last week’s reflections, you might think we’ve got it made in the shade at HBHA. With high MAP and ACT scores, and a robust Jewish Studies program, maybe we’ve done our job and all we have to do is keep the ship pointing straight. However, as we approach the High Holidays, the time is ripe for reflection about what we can do better. Yes, HBHA is an amazing school, but there are areas where we can become even stronger. Here are some of the questions I am asking myself that will guide our community’s work over the coming year and decades:
- How might we develop our educational vision and product to attract families that never considered Jewish day school a priority for their children?
- How might we build a financial foundation that will support the richness of our program while remaining affordable to families of all income brackets?
- How might we use the melting pot of HBHA to build community all across Jewish Kansas City in order to make a tighter, more supportive and inclusive Jewish community?
- How might we use our position in the community to support our community partners - the synagogues, The J, JFS, and so on?
- How might we provide our students opportunities for creativity, curiosity and social/emotional growth while maintaining our rigorous expectations in General and Jewish studies?
- How might we build our capacity and resources to provide meaningful social interactions with students who don’t currently attend HBHA?
- How might we leverage our talented and experienced staff, our strong community partnerships, and the resources of Kansas City to create a program that is a paradigm for 21st Century education?
- How might we continue to shift the perception of value at HBHA to further enhance a culture of philanthropy?
- How might we continue to attract and retain the best new teachers to provide an exceptional education to our students?
- How might we streamline our communications so parents and community members are always ‘in-the-know’ but never overwhelmed by emails?
We, the faculty, staff, and administration will do everything in our power to strengthen and grow the capacity of HBHA this year. We hope that you will join us in making 5780 the best year ever for HBHA. We wish you a happy holiday, full of meaning, reflection, and joy.
Shannah Tova U’metuka,
Head of School
This week I was able to review the data from our MAP test, which is a standardized test used across the United States. It confirmed what we already know: HBHA has students FAR above the national average in English Language Arts and Math. For example, I just opened the results of an elementary school class which showed 80% of the students were either in the high-average to high scale, whereas 20% of the students are in the low to average range. This is quite remarkable considering:
- We don’t “teach for the test,”
- Our students’ days are split between General and Jewish Studies,
- We still have recess, music, art, gym, computers, and other specials, and
- We are teaching a second language, culture, history, holidays and prayers.
How is this even possible?
Well it would be unfair for HBHA to take all the credit. Certainly some of the success our students achieve is coming from good genes and good parenting. It is clear that parents/guardians are the first and most important teachers in children’s lives. It is also known that children who grow up surrounded by books are more likely to become passionate readers, and students who are exposed to a large vocabulary are more likely to have a large vocabulary themselves. It just so happens that we have a very literate, well-educated community, so we start off ahead in the game.
That said, HBHA deserves some of the credit: Our teachers make the most of every moment with students, teaching content and skills quickly and efficiently, and then giving students ample opportunity to work and think.
Moreover, while Jewish Studies absorbs a good deal of time each day, one could be excused for thinking that this time might dilute our ability to delve into the basics. However, I believe these Jewish Studies support and facilitate student learning in ALL subject areas - and the proof is in the standardized test results. Our children are learning a second language with a different alphabet and grammatical structure, which is proven to increase brain plasticity and academic growth. They are learning to read texts carefully, looking for linguistic nuance, examining grammatical errors, and thinking deeply about how small changes affect meaning. They are understanding history through a Jewish lens; observing the inter-connectedness of seemingly disparate events. They are finding time for mindfulness in prayer. They are thinking about character and morality through the prism of our Jewish values. Jewish studies enables our students to grow in leaps and bounds in areas we cannot see on standardized tests. However, this holistic growth also lifts our standardized test scores.
I want to leave you with a bit of wisdom I learned from a sign in my childhood barber shop: “If you like your haircut, tell others. If not, tell me!” If you have any concerns about your children's education, please know we are eager to hear about it and put supports in place. If you love HBHA, please consider writing a Google review and/or a Facebook recommendation about your experience. The community needs to hear about your positive experiences.
Head of School
It’s been a great week! Every morning we have been reminded to “stay woke” by the call of our shofar. We are, as a community, continually called to be Rodephei Shalom, or “Pursuers of Peace.” As such, HBHA instituted a new Hakarat HaTov (Recognizing the Good) program this week, where students can recognize one another for acts of kindness or generosity they have witnessed. There were more than 20 different students recognized this morning, in our first week of the new program. We are proud of the menschlichkeit of our students!
But that’s not all we are proud of: Our middle school soccer team won their first two games of the season, against Barstow and Pembroke, and our Cross Country and Varsity soccer teams are also working hard. We are a school of scholars, mensches, and athletes!
Finally, we had our first PTO 2.0 event last night. Twenty two participants came for almost three hours of conversation, creative thinking and building, and laughs. In the process, some profound discoveries were made last night. One of the common themes: people often feel isolated, alone, or simply on the outside of community. We realized we need to do more as a community to bridge the gaps between families of different ages, between religious denominations, and between people born in Kansas City and those who have moved here. The work of building community is real - and important - work.
In our Design Thinking process last night we generated many brilliant community-building ideas which I will share with you as we progress. This work of identifying our opportunities for growth and brainstorming solutions is still in its infancy; but for now, I can tell you our community is already tighter and stronger than it was. Our needs and values are being recognized, a vision is coming into shape, friendships are being created and strengthened, and our batteries be being recharged. I am very excited to develop next steps and see where this leads us. I hope you will join us in the work.
As always, I am grateful for your partnership.
Head of School