Source: Hebrew Academy (RASG)
Over the past decade, due to a confluence of factors, there has been extensive interest and investment across the K-12 education landscape about teaching non-academic skills and dispositions. These non-academic skills have been labeled in multiple ways, including social and emotional learning, soft skills, grit, character, empathy, etc.
What all of them have in common is that these skills, traits and dispositions are more important to employers today than ever before, and that they are critical to the future of every industry. Dispositions and character traits such as resiliency, empathy, creativity, collaboration, positivity, etc., have all taken on a greater role in the job market than in the past. Additionally, strengthening social and emotional learning programs has been demonstrated to show improvements in mental health, social skills, and academic achievement in the short run. Additionally, research has demonstrated that students who have benefited from such programs benefit years later as they “do better than their peers on a number of indicators: positive social behaviors and attitudes, skills such as empathy and teamwork, and academics".
From the day the Hebrew Academy (RASG) opened its doors seventy years ago, the mission of the school has been to graduate students with exemplary character (Middot) reflecting the eternal values of the Torah. Character education has primarily been cultivated in two ways. First, explicit instruction around Middot has been a part of the Judaic Studies curriculum. This includes learning from our ancestors (particularly the Avot and Imahot) who serve as paradigmatic ethical heroes, as well as, studying areas of Jewish law that legislate certain behaviors that speak to character. Second, the adults at school including faculty, staff, and administrators, have served as living exemplars of Torah values that inform their actions and interactions.
Since 2013, Hebrew Academy has invested heavily into expanding its character education curriculum and programming spearheaded by the School Psychologists. At the Elementary level, thanks to a prior Day School enhancement grant, Hebrew Academy launched and implemented Project Gevurah, a Positive Behavioral Support program explicitly teaching students what behaviors in different school settings demonstrate respect, responsibility, and safety. Additionally, in 2016, Hebrew Academy initiated the cloud9world program introducing students in Kindergarten through Fifth Grade to different character traits throughout the year including gratitude, compassion, courage, kindness, amongst others. In the Middle School, in 2016, Hebrew Academy introduced the Social Emotional Learning Foundations SELF program which is a weekly class designed around the Character Lab led by Angela Duckworth.
Through the Character 21 initiative, Hebrew Academy aims to further streamline and strengthen school-wide integration of character education. The first aim is to gauge the efficacy of the various character education programs in place at the school by introducing student surveys around various Social Emotional Learning (SEL) measures. The surveys, developed by Panorama Education, target measures including grit, growth mindset, emotion-regulation, and self-efficacy. The second aim is to pilot the “Fierce in the School FITS” program targeting communication and relationships.