An Update from the Head of School
Our team has spent the latter half of last year and the summer planning and instituting some exciting innovations and improvements, while at the same time exploring new ways to encourage creativity and reinforce fundamental, crucial skills.
We are excited to share some of the projects and programs that are already positively benefiting our children's education. Whether the new initiative is related to technology, play spaces, the reading program or any of the other exciting pieces we have put in place, we are preparing our students for the future even while we continue the warm, caring and stimulating atmosphere our parents and students treasure.
Here are some of the new initiatives:
Last year, we introduced Project-Based Learning (PBL) as part of some of the projects done through our initiative “We Teach Kids 2.0”, and it will be a continued school-wide focus for this year.
One of many examples in the Lower School is the planned new playground. We are working with Kaboom, a cutting-edge non-profit organization that encourages play, to engage students and their families in the design and build of the new playground. This is the perfect project to engage the students actively, provide occasions to demonstrate understanding, weave different learning activities together, and create opportunities for differentiation. We look forward to sharing more about the plans for this spring project and how you can get involved.
Technology and its responsible use continues to be a focus, and this year we are advancing its use throughout the school. To support and enhance the project-based learning in the lower school—and to encourage our students to learn about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) through hands-on activities—we are excited to announce our new STEM playground, to be guided by our new STEM coordinator, Rachel Gargulinski.* This new space will allow students to develop their curiosity using low-tech and hi-tech materials, including LEGO machines and robots, computer coding and design activities, circuits, and engineering challenges. Ms. Gargulinski will also help teachers integrate technology and engineering seamlessly into other Lower School projects as well as updating our STEM curriculum to include natural sciences through fourth grade and engineering/technology in our fifth grade.
Throughout the school, we have made significant enhancements to our Wi-Fi system to allow many hundreds of devices to be connected at once at much greater speeds. In addition to enabling students throughout the school to use the Chromebooks and iPads in each division, this enhancement also allows each of our students in the Upper School to connect with their own Chromebook or laptop. Our teachers have been working with Miriam Zaghi and Rabbi Jeff Kuperman, our Educational Technologists, to take full advantage of online capabilities to make their teaching more interactive, to encourage more seamless sharing among students and teachers, and to give immediate access to resources that previously required special arrangements and accommodations. The teachers are rapidly developing their own ideas about how best to use these devices and are visibly excited to work together with their students to get the most out of the wifi and device capabilities in a safe and responsible manner.
At the same time, we are not forgetting about the fundamentals. A new Lower School reading program, the Scott Foresman Reading Street program, will integrate all our language arts into one program, provide greatly enhanced opportunities for home-school partnership, and will allow all readers to join together around common themes and idea.
Among the most important 21st century skills is the ability to present, speak and communicate. Drawing on the success of the Model UN program in both Middle and Upper Schools, the Middle School is introducing a Communications special that will help students develop these critical skills that cut across all disciplines.
Giving teachers a bigger toolbox to bring out the best in our students has helped shaped plans in the Middle School. The Growth Mindset Initiative is propelling all Middle School teachers to re-think their approach in one of three key areas: authentic assessments, interdisciplinary projects and engaging students in meaningful learning.
The Preschool staff will continue training in Social Emotional Foundations of Early Learning (SEFEL) which allows us to help optimize each child's social and emotional development. We will also continue our participation in Maryland EXCELS, a tiered quality rating system that ensures our Preschool meets best practices in early childhood education.
The Upper School is also piloting three other new initiatives: a) the Learning Center, for those students who want additional academic/organizational support one day per week during the elective slot, b) a Berman-specific radio station, funded by proceeds from the Burger Dinner last year and run entirely by students during carpool hours, and c) an auto shop elective that will supplement the scholastic skills taught in the classroom with some very practical and important hands-on learning about automobiles for the 19 students who are taking this elective.
And we haven’t forgotten about how improving our physical spaces can also enhance learning. The Media Center/Library has an entirely new look. From new carpeting to new furniture to new layout, the Media Center is not only brighter and more welcoming but it is also designed to facilitate the kind of collaborative learning that all of our divisions will be expanding next year.
The first of three expected bathroom renovations is taking place this summer. The women’s bathroom near the security desk is getting a complete overhaul and looks amazing. Next up—the men’s bathroom, also near the security desk.
Outside, in addition to the playground, more enhancements to the track will make Berman an even more significant destination for local events. In addition to more seating and a concession stand, a new, decorative fence will change the atmosphere outside to a more serene and peaceful space.
Thanks to our wonderful new volunteer gardening coordinator, Mrs. Sara Logan, the Preschool looks forward to an expansion of the Vera Lieber garden, including indoor and outdoor gardening activities. The children may even get to care for new animals for a few weeks.
And, on that same “green note” Berman was just named a member of the 2016 Green Power Leadership Club by the Environmental Protection Agency for its exemplary purchase of green power (24th of all K-12 schools-and the only Jewish day school- in the nation!).
Please send your feedback about any of the above and how you feel it is working. We look forward to sharing your children’s successes with you!
With best wishes for a great school year,
Josh Levisohn, PhD
Head of School
*We are very grateful to many generous donors who provided the resources necessary for these projects. Special thanks to Brian and Dafna Berman and Denny and Debra Berman for providing the additional funding necessary for the Wi-Fi project and the STEM playground, the State of Maryland for the resources to renovate the playground, the PTO for the resources to renovate the bathrooms, the Bender Family Foundation for the track project and an anonymous donor for enhancing our Media Center.