The Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County (SSDS) is not the first to achieve International Baccalaureate (IB) status, but it is the first to integrate IB-style learning into its Judaic studies curriculum in the crowded academic space of the New York region. SSDS is now one of three Jewish schools in North America and one of six public and private secular schools in the State of New Jersey to have achieved this accreditation. Nationally, there are more than 5,000 IB World schools with authorized primary, middle, high-school or career-related programs throughout the Americas, Europe, and the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.
Of these, Schechter is the first Jewish day school to take the IB Middle Years Programme one step further. It has tailored this “gold-standard” educational framework to its Judaic Studies curriculum, creating a unique experience for students to connect their Jewish learning and values to the world around them and to turn their learning into action. The school sought out the IB because it offers a powerful lens through which students can learn. SSDS belives that it will enhance their education process, as it gets integrated across their general studies, Jewish studies and Hebrew language courses.
To announce it internally, middle schoolers at SSDS had just finished morning prayers when faculty dressed as clowns and characters from The Greatest Showman burst into the room causing a “disruption” in the day. They tied it into the IB, explaining that circus arts embody many of the 11 attributes of an IB learner, such as being a risk-taker, open-minded, and reflective.
Circus skills workshops were scattered throughout the day, which included low tightrope, diablos juggling, and plate-spinning. The program culminated in an interactive performance by students.
As the first Jewish day school in the tri-state area to be officially authorized as an IB World School for the Middle Years Programme, a program that challenges students to make authentic, real-world connections in every subject with trained faculty who incorporate higher-level concepts in each unit of study they plan. It also provides consistent and robust methods for teachers to track student progress from year to year and across subjects and grade levels so they may better guide an individual’s academic journey.
To SSDS, the integration into Jewish studies was natural. Teachers wanted a dynamic framework to support Schechter’s inquiry-based approach, and through which to teach students to embrace international mindedness, to think creatively and act collaboratively, and to become Or LaGoyim – a light among the nations. This model should inspire students to internalize their Jewish values, encourage teachers to create an atmosphere of global learning, and make the study of ancient Jewish texts more relevant. They see it as Jewish values for a rapidly changing world.
Schechter’s new IB status comes with their additional directional move with the expansion of its STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) and Design Thinking curriculum, and the September 2018 opening of a fabrication lab featuring emerging technology and traditional hands-on tools, is intended to empower students to develop into globally-minded Jewish leaders and life-long learners.