Spotlight on the Jewish Kids Groups

By: Dr. Zachary Lasker

The Jewish Kids Groups in Atlanta, GA is one new model that appears to follow an experiential approach to Jewish “after-school” education.  In a recent blog post on eJewishPhilanthropy JKG leaders Ana Fuchs and Becca Holohan share their program with great pride, highlighting dimensions that reflect attributes of experiential Jewish education.  In his article “What is Experiential Jewish Education” Dr. Jeff Kress identifies a list of attributes for experiential Jewish education, and some of which pop out in the JKG model.  For example, at JKG there is a focus on building relationships and a sense of community, and the educators provide multiple entry points and opportunities for co-creation.

Through the ReFrame initiative we are trying to understand how congregation schools (also termed “supplemental schools, Hebrew schools, after-schools”) can be strengthened through an experiential approach to education that is similar to the approach effectively used in settings such as summer camp.  One set of outcomes for these new models can be the cultivation of a positive Jewish identity and the establishment of Jewish social networks.  This is one level of success.  Through our ReFrame, we also want to ensure that learners develop the skills and values for a lifetime of living as literate Jewish adults.  Achieving this goal is a second, and equally important, sign of success.  Accordingly, the ReFrame initiative is guided by four questions (a familiar formula as we transition out of Pesach):

  1. What opportunities and challenges are presented by an experiential approach to Jewish education?
  2. How can skills, practices, and attitudes by advanced through experiential Jewish education?
  3. What systems of support are required to help professional educators and education leaders succeed as experiential educators?
  4. How can we ensure that efforts of innovation are measurable and sustainable?

The Jewish Kids Groups is an emerging model on how to reframe our approach to congregational schools.  As we share models such as the JKG it will be important to understand how they reflect the full combination of attributes suggested by Dr. Kress.  For example, Kress calls for the “authentic integration of Jewish content.”  What is the Jewish content of programs like JKG, and how does it impact skills, practices, and attitudes of the learner?  Additionally, how are educators in these programs prepared and supported for their work?  How are we measuring impact?

Our team at ReFrame is excited to bring more examples like the JKG into the conversation as we learn from each other and work together to produce new models for experiential Jewish education in congregational school settings that will meet our goals.

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Responses to “Spotlight on the Jewish Kids Groups”

  1. I wanted to add that JKG is part of a growing list of programs that are using the regular afterschool hours for experiential Jewish education. With help from the Covenant Foundation, some of these programs formed the Nitzan Network to facilitate collaboration. You can learn more about the participating programs at: http://www.nitzan.org/

    Since this is a JTS blog, I’ll note that several of the Nitzan programs, including the one I helped found (MoEd in the D.C. area) have strong connections and collaborations with Conservative synagogues, but the Conservative movement is still more of an observer rather than a participant.
    All of these programs are still experimenting with what curricular and social elements work best. I can’t speak for everyone, but, I’d love to talk about whether researchers at the Davidson school are interested in more actively observing, evaluating, and improving these programs.

    • This is great! And we’re always interested in “more actively observing, evaluating, and improving these programs.” In fact, the action research sites we’ll be implementing (see http://blog.jtsa.edu/reframe/about/) will be our vehicle for doing just that. Unfortunately though, these things take a little time. Please stay tuned for ReFrame’s beta cohort to begin taking applications for 2014.

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