When my family made Aliyah in August of 2008, we kept hearing the phrase “Acharei Hachagim” or “After the holidays.” For those who are familiar with the Israeli lingo, this phrase has surely been heard over the past few months. Many companies will delay hiring new employees until after the holidays. Similarly, many companies will not start new projects until after the chagim have concluded. The phrase “Acharei Hachagim” can even be heard in the educational setting. Teachers often tell their students that new projects and units will start “Acharei Hachagim.” Placement tests, tutoring, and the real nitty gritty work is often postponed until after the holidays. After all, what would be the point in starting to work before the holidays when there are going to be so many interruptions? This “Acharei Hachagim” mentality may be part of the culture in Israel and throughout the global Jewish communities across the world. Today however, brings us to the “Acharei Hachagim” point. The time has come, when we need to face those challenges and tasks that we have put off for so many months. For students, this time of year is in fact one of the most important times during the school year. In many ways, this is when the school year actually begins.

For most Jewish day school students, both here in Israel and abroad, the school year until now has been what could be called a “soft start.” Sure, there have been some tests and quizzes, with a few homework assignments for good measure. For most students, though, the past month has been about getting to know the teachers, the expectations, and what they can/cannot get away with for the rest of the year. While there may have already been a chapter/unit test or two, the big projects have most likely not yet been assigned. In addition, many schools have not yet allowed students to transfer to other classes or to adjust their schedules. All this is about to change. When school resumes tomorrow, it will, in many ways mark the actual start of the year. We knew this day would eventually arrive, but what have we done to prepare the students for the increased demands and high pressure situations? Both parents and kids can use this time, as an opportunity to plan for what lies ahead. By this point, you know which classes will require the most work, and you know what you need to do to succeed. Knowing what to do though, is only the beginning. Take this opportunity to create a successful future…

  • Know your strengths and weaknesses- Many students want to be in the highest level classes. In the US, many high schools offer several AP courses from which to choose. In Israel, many students have opted to go for 5 yechidot Bagrut classes rather than settling for the easier options. While of course, we always want to encourage our children/students to reach their potential, we as parents/teachers, must also be honest when we see that a student is just in over his head. By this point, especially with advanced classes, students have a good idea of what they will need to do in order to excel in a specific subject. If it is just a matter of adding some additional help, then great. If, however, the student is already feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, it may be time to consider a change. An “A” in an honors chemistry class is going to look a lot better than a “C-“ in AP Chemistry. It is okay not to be great at everything, and sometimes we need to help our students/children to make the best long term academic placement decisions.
  • Ask for help when it is needed- For some students and parents, it is difficult to admit when a bit of extra help is needed. By this point in the year, students often need a bit of extra support to make it through a certain subject. Extra academic support hours are never fun and can sometimes be an unwanted expense for the parents. Often however, these extra hours of support can really make a difference in the long term. Now is the time to start looking for tutoring and other support options. For US students, the SAT/ACT exams are not that far away. AP exams may seem like they are off in the distance, but those exam dates creep up quietly. Don’t make the mistake of waiting until it is too late. If you know that your child could use some extra help, start now. There are a lot of online and peer tutoring options that can be just as effective without breaking the bank. Don’t wait until the week before the final to add that extra help, as it will most likely be too late. There is no shame in getting some extra support.
  • Communication is key- Back when we were in school, parents often had no clue as to how their children were doing in a specific class. Usually, parents had to wait until interims or report cards to find out if their children were performing poorly in a specific class. Now, most schools are using learning managements systems (LMS) for all aspects of the academic process. Teachers in many schools regularly publish assignments, attendance, grades, test dates, comments, and other important academic information. In Israel, most schools use the “Mashov” platform, while in the US, there are several platforms available (Schoology, Google Classroom, PowerSchool, RenWeb, etc.). All of these LMS options basically do the same thing. Everything that you as a parent, need to know about your child’s class should be easily accessible and easy to find. Of course, though, the LMS only works if the parents are actually using the platforms. Even though many schools have implemented LMS options over the past five years, statistics show that less than 50% of parents are accessing the information on a regular basis. We all know that there is a generational gap when it comes to technology, but it is time to get on board and to start taking advantage of the digital information that is at our virtual fingertips. One parent who started checking her son’s LMS every night recently told me that when she asks her son if he has homework, she now knows if he is telling the truth. This information can not only help the students to stay organized, but can also help the parents to know how they can best help their children. If you have not already done so, take the time now to figure out how to access your school’s LMS.

So here we are with the holidays over and a clear two months of school until the next major vacation. This is the time that will decide the future for our children. Now is the time to make sure that our children/students have the tools they need to succeed. Help to make sure that the “Acharei Hachagim” time is used in the best ways possible.