On Tuesday, September 4, Westchester Torah Academy (WTA), located in New Rochelle, opened the doors to its new middle school for fifth- and sixth-grade students.
“We are continuing with the strong academic philosophies, educational models and core values which we are known for in the lower grades,” explained WTA Principal Deganit Ronen. “WTA has devised a rich and unique curriculum for their incoming middle school students which will instill in the students a love for Torah, maintaining a joyful mindset and developing a commitment to personal excellence; these are just a few of the strong values the school conveys to their students on a daily basis. Creating future Jewish leaders, who embrace WTA’s core values, is the school’s collective and sacred goal.”
This year, WTA welcomed 28 students to the middle school’s signature project-based learning environment. Each day begins with tekes and tefillah, followed by a daily Halacha Yomit (practical Jewish law), which is meant to bestow upon the students practical information that is necessary to live as observant Jews. Topics covered usually relate to tefillah or Jewish festivals.
For Judaic studies, Ronen described, “The classroom is transformed into a beit midrash, intended to simulate the environment and atmosphere of a traditional beit midrash, where students study as chavrutahs (pairs), and sharpen each other’s minds in the process. Teachers work in small group settings, providing individual attention to each student, while other students work with their partners using the tools they learned from their teachers.”
She continued, “In addition to the formal Judaic curriculum of Chumash, Mishna, Gemara, Hebrew language and weekly Parshat HaShavua, students are also taught a weekly class in Jewish life skills, focusing on Jewish values and character traits. Students are given the fundamental tools to become Jewish leaders who are mensches and exemplars of middot tovot.”
Further, as the students enter the bar and bat mitzvah cycle, WTA offers separate programs for girls and boys. Through the MATAN program, girls will learn about the multitude of strong women role models in Jewish history. There will be shared parent-daughter events. Boys will learn about the roles they play in halacha. WTA will also focus on the social/emotional aspects for all bnei mitzvot.
Ronen discussed a unique summer learning program that the school offers. “Unique to our middle school is the Summit Learning Program, a personalized learning program that focuses on building student cognitive and life skills,” she explained. “With Summit Learning, students progress through projects in humanities (English language arts and social studies) and in STEM (math and science) at their own pace with teacher guidance. Students learn how to set long- and short-term goals, meeting regularly with a mentor to evaluate goals and academic progress. They work individually and in groups, and receive real-time feedback on their work while creating a relevant final product for each project. While working on projects, students receive individualized and focused academic lessons that help them acquire the necessary skills needed to complete the project. Through Summit Learning, students become self-directed learners deeply involved in their own achievements.”
Ronen described the school’s planned family history project. “Studying about immigration, choosing and researching an artifact that represents his/her family history including interviewing family members and taking a trip to the Tenement Museum in New York City will allow the students to experience firsthand what it was like to be a Jewish immigrant. The culminating event will be a display of artifacts where students will present the information that they have learned about their artifact and their individual family stories.”
Elective courses are also offered for middle school students. “Through a variety of electives, students can hone in on their specific interests and develop confidence and focus during a crucial developmental time,” commented Ronen. Options include cooking, yoga, sports and science. WTA is also excited to be part of the yeshiva basketball league this year and hopes to join additional sports leagues in the future.
WTA describes itself as a community-based school where the activities of its students are combined with their neighbors, impacting both the local Jewish communities and the students. In the coming months, a Middle School Students’ Shabbaton will further team building and bonding. Chesed is also an important component of WTA’s middle school. The WTA Middle School students have already raised tzedakah to purchase arts and crafts supplies for the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital in nearby Valhalla, New York.
“WTA recognizes that values and lessons instilled in young and developing minds will remain with them long after they leave the hallways of WTA,” summarized Ronen. “The goal of WTA is that its graduates will embody the middot learned and carry the strong academic skills and tools taught to them for years to come.”
For additional information, visit the WTA website at www.westchesterta.org.
By Judy Berger