Middle school is often viewed simply as the time in between elementary and high schools, rather than critical years of uniquely developing middle school minds, bodies and souls. So…what does the ideal middle school look like? When we at Irvine Hebrew Day School (IHDS) started planning the grand opening of our middle school for August 2020, we started with our most intuitive consultants: our first entering middle school class. In a workshop with our students, we asked them to express their hopes and dreams for middle school, including what they envisioned for their grade 6-8 experience. It was not surprising that our students had a very firm grasp on what it would take to flourish and grow: to be academically challenged, socially fulfilled, and have caring, inspiring and exceptional teachers to lead the way. Our students expressed a desire for interactive learning experiences and a vast array of unique electives. Looking through their insightful lens as a starting point, we developed a highly rigorous curriculum through which students will be able to discover just how capable they are, nurture healthy relationships, while developing a sense of self.
The progressive educational approach at the IHDS Middle School is designed to empower students to be seekers of knowledge, to discover their purpose, and explore pathways to impact the world. Our staff appreciates the uniqueness of the middle school years which set the foundation for future academic and personal success. We use evidence-based educational methods to foster cognitive exploration, innovative thinking, emotional wellbeing, creative expression and spiritual growth. Our students learn not to simply be consumers of knowledge; middle school is a time to synthesize information across merging disciplines and grow from experiences ranging from lab dissections to Talmudic debate to poetry writing. Through project-based experiential learning, Torah study and a person-centered approach, our students are inspired to be active participants in their learning. We encourage students to ask complex questions, and our educators, experts in their fields, are exceptional teachers and learners themselves. Through our social-emotional program students develop effective and respectful communication skills, self-esteem, empathy, creativity, organizational skills and social connection, so that they can focus on intellectual discovery and personal growth.
IHDS Middle School combines foundational educational rigor with progressive project-based learning. Students will meet all the national academic requirements which include comprehensive math, science and humanities curriculum. Our middle school electives also provide breadth and depth in learning, and our students will also have an opportunity to enrich their knowledge by exploring nutrition science, creative writing, journalism, woodshop, permaculture, musical theater and drama, instrumental music, fine/audio/visual arts, computer information science/coding, yoga, moot beit din, positive psychology/neuroscience and photography.
Our goal is for our students to be on a lifelong Jewish quest towards spiritual fulfillment, to become compassionate citizens of the world who are deeply connected to their Judaism and to Israel, and to have the tools and knowledge to be collaborative, contributing members of their communities. Our school culture empowers student voices; we believe each student should be both heard and taught to listen to diverse perspectives, including those that are different from one’s own. Our program is designed with the knowledge that our students are the future leaders, role models and innovators of the next generation.
TAMMY KECES, MA is the Head of School, Irvine Hebrew Day School and Positive Discipline in the School and Classroom Lead Trainer and a contributing writer to JLife Magazine.