It is not easy to be a teenager. Navigating the complexities of the 21st century, balancing school work, friendships, family obligations and your own tremendous growth–it can feel like a full-time job. At Ma’ayanot, each student has a mehanekhet to help her through the process.
Mehanekhet is Ma’ayanot’s advisory program. Students meet in small groups once a week to talk about issues that are relevant to their lives as young Jewish women. “The goal of the program is to promote social, emotional and religious growth in our students,” says Nina Bieler, MSW, who has run the mehanekhet program at Ma’ayanot for the last ten years.
Each year, Mrs. Bieler works with her team of mehankhot to develop meaningful sessions and programming that are most relevant to the students. Some session topics are timeless. Each year students discuss friendship, positive self-esteem and coping with stress. The curriculum, however, must also evolve in order to target the ever-changing needs of our students and the complex world they live in.
For example, in recent years, sessions on internet safety, cyber-bullying and social media have become critically important components of the curriculum. It is estimated that students spend 40 hours a week online. Learning how to develop awareness and use good judgement online is essential to adulthood. Mehankhot work with their students to foster the tools they need to have a cyber presence that is kind, respectable and safe.
In Mehanekhet students also spend time unpacking the messages of the media. “The media has a way of subtly telling young women what they should be, how they should look, what they should wear and how they should speak,” explains Mrs Bieler. In ninth and 10th grade, students utilize Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty to initiate discussions on body image and on how the media impacts young women’s self-image.
As the students grow, the curriculum becomes more sophisticated. In twelfth grade, the sessions focus primarily on preparing students for life beyond high school. There are sessions, coordinated by Assistant Principal Elana Flaumenhaft on healthy relationships, life on the college campus and even practical life-skills like how to change a tire.
Beyond the content of the sessions, students appreciate having a non-academic period in the middle of their school week. “We sit in a circle on the floor so that it distinctly doesn’t feel like a class,” says Mrs. Dena Block, Director of Student Programming and ninth grade mehanekhet. “This creates a dynamic where students feel relaxed and safe, which further allows them to reflect and share in an environment that is nurturing and supportive.” Mehankhot also attend school and grade shabbatons throughout the year, to further foster strong bonds between teachers and students.
In summing up the goals for Ma’ayanot’s Mehanekhet program, Mrs. Rivka Kahan, Ma’ayanot’s principal, notes that “the discussions and relationships that are developed through Mehanekhet contribute to a school culture that is reflective, open and focused on the growth of the whole student, while the small group format provides a framework for students to develop their social-emotional awareness and skills as they grow into thoughtful, mature adults and members of society.”