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Azrieli Students Visit California Schools

A Three-Day Exploration of West Coast Progressive Schools

From January 7-10, students from the Azrieli Graduate School of Education and Administration’s PELE program embarked on a three-day trip to California to learn more about progressive schooling models and about Jewish educational opportunities and experiences across the country.

PELE (Progressive Educational Laboratory Experience) is a one-year fully funded program that leads to a master’s degree in Constructivist Approaches to Jewish Education. This exclusive fellowship, a collaboration between Azrieli and the Kohelet Foundation, accepts up to 10 students annually. In addition to coursework and student teaching, the PELE full-time program includes a variety of rich educational experiences that prepare Jewish educators to be student-centered educational innovators, including monthly visits to progressive schools across the country.

Dr. Laya Salomon, associate professor at Azrieli and director of PELE, organized the trip with Suzanne Brooks, Azrieli doctoral fellow and field experiences coordinator for PELE, and Aviva Wasser, Azrieli doctoral fellow and student teaching coordinator for PELE. The 10 PELE Fellows for the 2018-2019 academic year who went on the trip are Dovi Levinson, Micky Kopelowitz, Shira Herbert-Lisker, Marjorie Rasinovsky, Mushka Gopin, Arianne Pinchot, Dina Kritz, Rachel Kluger, Kelley Nitzani and Dassi Katzenstein.

On the first evening of the trip, the PELE participants ate dinner at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Jeremy and Hilda Cohen, active members in San Diego’s Orthodox Jewish community. Joining them for dinner were other important stakeholders—administrators, funders and board members—in San Diego’s Orthodox Jewish day schools and high schools. Conversations over dinner centered around educators’ opportunities and experiences in small Jewish communities and the educational needs of smaller Jewish communities as well as broader conversations about visions for progressive models in Jewish education.

On January 8, PELE students spent the day in two progressive public schools in San Diego: Innovations Academy, a K-8 public charter school, and High Tech High, a project-based high school. Students had the opportunity to tour the schools, observe classes and meet with teachers, students, principals and support staff. Micky Kopelwitz was impressed by the culture he saw at Innovations Academy. “The school culture there is not to quell or ignore issues but to work through them using focused conversation,” he noted. “Students are encouraged to talk through their conflicts with others and to practice developing an awareness of their own emotional states…. The goal of any intervention is to facilitate forgiveness and a sense of community among students. And that is one of the most beautiful philosophies I have ever encountered.”

On January 9, PELE students visited two Jewish high schools in Los Angeles: YULA for Boys and Shalhevet High School. At YULA, Rabbi Arye Sufrin, Head of School and an Azrieli alumnus, and Principal Rabbi Joseph Schreiber prepared a thoughtfully crafted schedule. Rabbi Sufrin spent a lot of time with the students, highlighting YULA’s mission and vision, sharing their historical background, answering questions and giving a guided tour of the campus. Students learned about YULA’s award-winning STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) department from Rabbi Michael Cohen, renowned teacher, internationally recognized speaker and author, known as “The Tech Rabbi,” and had the opportunity to sit in on Judaic studies classes. Dovi Levinson was thrilled to meet “experienced educators and school leaders who are so passionate and dedicated to their schools and students.”

At Shalhevet, a comprehensive itinerary was prepared by Rabbi David Stein, Director of Curriculum and Instruction and a current Azrieli doctoral student. PELE participants met with numerous faculty and administrators, including Rabbi Ari Segal (Head of School) and Rabbi David Block (Assistant Principal and an Azrieli alumnus). They sat in on one of Shalhevet’s famed student-led Town Hall meetings, observed classroom lessons and participated in Q&A sessions with students and staff. Kelley Nitzani was impressed by the way the program at Shalhevet “emphasized in each classroom and program that every student has an individual opinion and learning style, making every Shalhevet student more well rounded and open minded. It was an exciting approach to education that I hope to implement in my own classroom in the future.”

Mushka Gopin summed up the feelings of everyone who went on the trip by saying that “traveling to California had been very much worth it, in every way! I am grateful to everyone who enabled the experience and am thankful to have had it.”

Dr. Rona Novick, dean of Azrieli, is understandably proud of the PELE program. “Azrieli has always emphasized student-centered, constructivist approaches, but the PELE fellowship, with the significant support of the Kohelet Foundation, allows an intense one-year experience for highly motivated and qualified students,” she observed. “The ability to include trips like this one further advances students’ learning while building a network of like-minded Jewish educators across the nation.”

Azrieli PELE students in California group photo Standing (l-r): Dov Levinson, Rachel Kluger, Dassi Katzenstein, Mrs. Aviva Wasser, Arianne Pinchot, Mrs. Suzanne Brooks, Shira Herbert-Lisker, Dr. Laya Salomon Kneeling (l-r): Mushka Gopin, Dina Kritz, Kelley Nitzani, Marjorie Rasinovsky, Micky Kopelowitz

For more information on the PELE Fellowship or to apply, please click here or call the Azrieli office at 212-960-0186.