For all students in fifth through eighth grades, the adolescent years are a time of discovery — not just the discovery of new knowledge, but discovering how they relate to the core values shared by our Kehillah, discovering how to communicate and navigate relationships, discovering the importance of other people’s perspectives to build empathy, and discovering their voice and and inner strength to become changemakers. Students at this age are on the cusp of learning what their interests and passions are, and as 5-8 grade educators we believe it is our sacred duty to ensure that our students remain open minded and curious to new experiences and knowledge, because of the infinite possibilities lying ahead of them. In addition to academic excellence, we believe that at Schechter explicitly teaching essential skills such as self-management, reflection, communication and collaboration are paramount in a world that is ever changing, and which requires the 4C’s of the 21st century (critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, communication) to navigate.
Our 7-8 Kehillah focuses on building critical thinkers who feel empowered to change their world. Students elect to participate in clubs, intramural sports and the arts as they take leadership roles in the Knesset Ha’Talmidim (student council). They join together in building school ruach (spirit) as they lead their peers through events like Lag B’OmerMaccabiah. Because the social-emotional well-being of our students is paramount, especially as they transition into their teenage years, we provide supportive resources through a robust advisory curriculum to develop essential executive functioning skills and a Health, Digital and Global Citizenship curriculum, to give students the foundational knowledge and room to explore their overall well-being. As students embark on the next step of their journey, they leave our campus with a strong sense of self and the courage and passion to forge their own path.
As they step into seventh and eighth grade, students learn what it means to be full, contributing members of the Kehillah, serving in a variety of ways as role models for others. Their study of Judaics leads them through their B’nai Mitzvah year to the culminating, unforgettable Israel Encounter where their learning from the past ten years comes to life.
During their studies of our sacred texts, students continue to uncover the richness and relevance of various biblical and rabbinic teachings. In Rabbinics, Humash and Navi, they learn to become independent, astute, literary students of the Tanakh, Mishnah and Gemara; all with the purpose of making deep meaning of the units studied and grappling with those parts of the text that challenge us theologically.
Students are encouraged to ask big questions about the teachings and to find their answers within the verses or, better yet, to keep asking and appreciating varied interpretations and perspectives. Using a project-based learning framework, students in the seventh grade build a Mishkan (Tabernacle) according to the Torah’s detailed descriptions, utilizing math concepts for their calculations and design techniques for the construction. While building, they focus on the enduring understanding that we are commanded to create a sacred space for God and on trying to understand what it means to create a sacred space.
Proficiency in Hebrew language is built using conversational and experiential practices, like simulating a shuk (market) in Israel, with a goal of cementing their foundational knowledge in writing, reading, conversation and comprehension. Our students are excited to use all of the knowledge they have accumulated during their Eighth-Grade Israel Encounter.
In Israel, students trace the footsteps of our ancestors and visit the places they have learned about since early childhood. They dance at the Kotel, share Shabbat with their peers, lead services for each other and eat food they have purchased using their Hebrew language skills at the shuk. They visit Yad Vashem and climb Masada. They meet with Druze representatives and speak to Bedouin guides. They hike the land and gain a true appreciation for the complexity and beauty of the tapestry that is Israel. Our students appreciate that Israel is the home of the Jewish people, and that they have an important role and place in the continuity of Am Yisrael.
As students develop stronger skills in various writing styles, public speaking and active listening, they learn to read text with a critical eye. They comprehend important research, form opinions, create counter arguments and hypothesize. They analyze connections and relationships between characters and compare and contrast texts of similar themes. Using a Writer’s Workshop model, students learn how to write narrative, argumentative and expository essays.
Our social studies and language arts classes continuously integrate literacy with an exploration of human existence and interaction. In seventh grade, while students learn about the creation of government in their social studies classes, they read the anchor text The Giver by Lois Lowry and contemplate the parameters of freedom. They learn important speaking and listening strategies and debate topics in small and large groups. Eighth-grade students examine themes of perseverance, inequality and activism through multiple means including memoir text, I am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousefzai.
In both of their social studies and language arts courses, students are challenged with material that develops analytical skills and deepens an orientation towards Tikkun Olam (making the world a better place). Our Humanities (social studies and language arts) program integrates literacy with an exploration of American history and civics. Students utilize their written and oral communication skills to regularly draw connections between historical events and contemporary issues, cultivating civic leadership skills so that they can ultimately make their own impact on history. The ability to research, use primary sources, and find text evidence, in addition to analytical and creative writing skills, are highly emphasized. You’ll see these skills on display as you watch our students balance the budget as the “Mayor of Schechterville,” perform a Revolutionary Rap a la Hamilton, or facilitate a weekly current events discussion with peers. The Humanities program favors multidisciplinary work, such as an integrated Math-English project that has students design a constellation based on slope and write an accompanying myth, or a project alongside Design where students create
or a project alongside Design where students develop research skills on topics like the Underground Railroad or the history of the piano, and then create iPhone apps to bring their research to life.
Continuing to broaden their math skills, our seventh- and eighth- grade students engage with critical math concepts. Classes are differentiated to meet the needs of our students which allows them to achieve their highest level of success, building confidence along the way.
By honing their problem-solving and abstract thinking skills, students learn to identify and apply their knowledge to real world situations. As students prepare to leave the halls of Schechter, they are well-versed in the operations and applications of Algebra, which allows many of our students the ability to place out of Algebra 1 in High School.
The science curriculum continues to focus on inquiry-based learning and building our students’ ability to think critically through application of the scientific method. In seventh grade, students do a deep dive into Life Science, with a particular focus on cellular biology. Students are fascinated each year as they visualize their own cells after taking a sample from the inside of their cheeks. They compare their cells to those of other living things and extract DNA from a strawberry. Students round out their seventh grade year learning about vertebrate and invertebrate biology, and even get a chance to perform dissections.
In eighth grade, students study Physical Science, which allows them the opportunity to get a rich foundation of atoms as the building blocks to our universe, as well as the physics behind many natural phenomena in our lives. Our new chemistry lab is equipped with a fume hood, Bunsen burners, sinks, and portable lab stations allowing students to conduct a wide-range of problem-based lab experiments and develop important chemistry skills. In their physics unit, students are excited to design their own roller coasters, and see the laws of physics in action during a field trip to Six Flags Great Adventure.
The annual Science Fair provides one of our many authentic learning opportunities where students continue to grow and refine problem-solving, project management, public speaking and research skills. They learn resilience and the ability to pivot as they follow the scientific process and try, fail, iterate, and then try again before presenting to expert judges, peers, teachers and parents. Recent experiments include building heart valve models with our 3D printers and studying the piezoelectric effect in compounds.
Integrating with their science curriculum, students learn how to prototype and then design digital models of a cell structure that are then 3D printed and analyzed as part of a larger system. In 8th grade, students learn how to prototype, design and engineer roller coaster models, as well as how to program a circuit board (Circuit Playground Express) using Python to measure and analyze the accelerometer data of their simulations.
“The 7-8 Kehillah sets our oldest students up for success in high school and beyond by offering dynamic opportunities for personal growth, as well as key life-skills such as critical thinking and communication.”