||Arvut — Hebrew for mutual responsibility — “is something broad enough that it’s a wonderful guiding principle in all of our social interactions,” said Benji Hain, Middle School director of student life, who leads experiential learning schoolwide. “If experienced properly at grade level, it has a lifelong impact.”
After three months, this schoolwide theme-of-the-year program is going very well, said Mr. Hain, who is coordinating the framework and special events and activities. “There has been a lot of excitement from the kids, particularly about working together with all divisions of the school. These interactions bring the school together and make it feel very much unified.”
“Learning about a middah or a critical piece of Jewish life can make an impression. But not in the same way a theme which permeates all the parts of the students' experiences throughout the year can,” observed Rabbi Dov Huff, Middle and Upper School Judaic studies principal. Mr. Hain agreed: “There has been a lot of good feedback and the kids, I think, have been feeling empowered.”
Mr. Hain, who practiced law in Israel for several years, served as an experiential learning volunteer in Ra’anana schools before joining the middle school administration at Salanter Academy Riverdale (SAR) in the Bronx to oversee major events. He directed several theme-of-the-year campaigns, including one on shemittah that had a strong environmental component.
At an introductory Maimonides schoolwide assembly in the fall, the theme of arvut was divided into four parts. “At different points of the year, different grades are the ambassadors for different elements of the theme of the year,” Mr. Hain explained. “For each one of these subunits, there will be a couple of elements — a dramatic element and the ambassadorship element. The students will brand it and go from grade to grade explaining about their subtheme and what they’ve learned. They also will be doing a particular project.”
The youngest cohort, early education through second grade, has been addressing arvut in the school. “We weren’t sure about the youngest, but they turned out to be amazing. They really stepped up and they enjoyed ‘teaching’ the idea of arvut in the school. It ended up as Power of Words Day, where they had special roles,” Mr. Hain said.
Next to take up the mantle of arvut ambassadorship were Grades 3-5, addressing arvut in the kehillah. “Students know and talk about arvut,” said Rabbi David Saltzman, Elementary School principal. “They are familiar with the concept and have enjoyed the programs and the learning — especially the videos and song.”
The next category will be kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh — arvut among the Jewish people — to be presented by the Upper School. The final phase will be mutual responsibility worldwide, the Middle School’s specialty.
Mr. Hain said the overall goal of the theme-of-the-year program is “to provide schoolwide experiential learning. The best way to learn middot is through modeling and intense Torah study, and another effective way is experiential. You do it with as much student ownership as possible, and a sense of unity.”
“This kind of consistent programming throughout the year ensures that all of our students receive a consistent message about an important middah that they can put into action in and out of school,” commented Scott Mattoon, Middle and Upper School general studies principal. “Whether through the compelling storytelling of a speaker, the simple illustrations of what arvut looks and sounds like every day, or a light-hearted skit, students come away with timeless and timely precepts for how to live meaningfully.”
Other special events connected to the theme included a presentation by the founder of Israel’s national food bank.
The program also increases school spirit, Mr. Hain added. “Even though the ECC and the 12th grade are far apart, they are unified with this. It makes everyone feel a part of something big.” Brian Cohen, associate principal, Middle School, agreed. “The theme of the year has allowed a single concept to weave through the school and bind us all together in thought, spirit, and activity.”
“I think the things that we accomplish through this should recur in some form,” Mr. Hain commented. “The theme-of-the-year presents opportunities for memorable teaching moments, and brings to light something that is often abstract, like the idea of arvut. I think it’s worth all the effort.”