A school should never rest on its laurels. If a school isn’t improving, it is declining. Innovation isn’t a choice; it’s a necessity.

It is for that reason that we regularly seek ways to enhance the value of a TanenbaumCHAT education.  We ask ourselves: Where are opportunities to innovate? How do we better prepare students for our rapidly changing world?

One of these areas is in engineering and robotics. Thanks to a nearly $1.5 million gift,  we have launched a robotics program this year and are establishing “The Anita & Daniel Chai Engineering Academy” which will open in the 2016-2017 school year.  Both TCK and TCW will house these two initiatives.

We are investing in STEM education–education that integrates science, technology, engineering, and mathematics–because these disciplines are what is driving innovation.  STEM education seeks problems that need solving.  It teaches students how to transform ideas into realities.  It teaches students how to approach messy problems that have no clear solutions.  We are part of this innovative spirit.

This year we have done a soft launch of the engineering program by introducing robotics on both campuses.  We hired two University of Waterloo Engineering interns, Bjorn Hanks and Chris Thorogood, who have already attracted nearly 100 students to their robotics clubs. Mr. Hanks and Mr. Thorogood are smart, conscientious, student friendly mensches. Neither is a stranger to student groups, as both were leaders in their own robotics teams in high school.  They are sharing their passion for programming, system design, manufacturing and electronics.

This November, we are taking a group of interested students to Israel to deepen their exposure to engineering and robotics. This 9-day mini-mester is designed for students interested in the sciences in general, medicine and biology in particular, as well as for those interested in mathematics, engineering, and technology. The program will take place in three cities: Haifa (The Technion’s Centre for Robotics and Digital Technology Education), Beer Sheva (Ben Gurion University’s Department of Robotics and Beit Yatziv Educational Centre), and Eilat (Goldwater High School, the first place international champions of the First Robotics Competition).  It will include hands-on workshops, visits to companies that utilize robotics in their industry, and guest lectures.

Students will learn engineering concepts through the interaction with robots.  They will apply this knowledge and their background knowledge in mathematics and science to create, program, operate and evaluate different robotic models of technological and biological systems.  (To apply, go to http://tinyurl.com/minimester.)

I spoke a few students last week about our robotics program. They are beyond excited. One Grade 12 student couldn’t express enough how fortunate he felt that this program started before he graduated. Another said how she likes the spirit of innovation that fills the robotics club.  Indeed, innovation is not a choice; it is a necessity.

 

 

Throughout my career as Head of School, three core beliefs have guided my commitment to teaching, learning, and school leadership.

#1  Intelligence and ability aren’t fixed.

I believe that students become what they believe they can be.  I reject the notion that a student’s academic capacity is innate and fixed, that intellectual and emotional skills are static and unchangeable.  People get better, stronger, and smarter through effective effort.  When we work at something, we strengthen their capacity to do it.

At TanenbaumCHAT, courses are challenging, and teachers are demanding.  However, our teachers also stand ready to push students to recognize that they possess more potential than they give themselves credit for.  If students have confidence in their ability and apply themselves to the task, they can master even the most challenging academic work.

 

#2  Students learn best when they feel a sense of belonging.

When students feel safe, they open themselves up to learn.  They take intellectual risks, ask questions, share an opinion or expose a belief.  The result is deeper learning.

TanenbaumCHAT teachers understand this:  When kids feel that they belong, they learn better, do better, and are more likely to achieve the goals that they set for themselves.  That’s why our teachers invest so much time in building healthy relationships with and among students in the classroom, on stage, and on the ball field.

 

#3  The best schools address the whole child.

Most schools nurture students’ academic, athletic, and artistic self.  The beauty of a school like TanenbaumCHAT is that we cultivate those three aspects of our students’ identity and do more:  We nurture every child’s Jewish self.  We do so on shabbatonim, at holiday celebrations and ceremonies, and in Israel.  We do so in informal conversations with teachers. We do so, most regularly, through Jewish Studies classes, which are a seamless part of what students do every day.  Students learn Bible with the same level of depth as they do Biology. They learn the laws of tsedakah as naturally as they learn the laws of physics.  They learn to be knowledgeable and responsible members of the Jewish community and loyal and knowledgeable members of Canadian society.  A TanenbaumCHAT education is not only preparation for university, it is preparation for life.

I’ve worked in three schools in my career.  I founded a high school similar to TanenbaumCHAT in a suburb of Detroit in 1999.  I helped revitalize an elementary school in Atlanta a decade later.  Now, I am here at a large, stable flagship Jewish high school.  Students of all sizes and in all places proved that they can accomplish anything they work hard to accomplish.  They will learn even more to the extent that they feel a sense of belonging; and they will be the ones to stand up for the Jewish people, the State of Israel, and Jewish tradition even when it’s uncomfortable or unpopular because we have educated them to do so.

Dear Students,

The beginning of the year is a good time to set goals.  But don’t be tempted to set a goal only about the marks you want to earn. Think bigger because TanenbaumCHAT is about much more. It’s about curiosity, connection, community, character, and contribution.

Curiosity:  A lot of students think school is all about marks and building a resume so that you can get into university.  All that’s important, but school should be about expanding your intellect, exploring new ideas, asking questions that advance your knowledge and others’.  So, set a goal, something that keeps you curious.  Commit to reading a book or a daily newspaper or following up on one thing everyday that you learned in class–even if it has nothing to do with marks. You’ll be smarter for it.

Connection:  TanenbaumCHAT isn’t the only place to get a quality education but it is the only co-ed Jewish high school of its kind that delivers a first-rate education.  Your parents sent you here so that you would deepen your connection to your Jewish roots.  Set a goal. Pick a mitzvah.  Commit to studying a book of the Tanach this year on your own or Pirkei Avot.  Make it a priority.  Track your progress.  Be part of a new generation of Jews who defies all the concerns about assimilation.

Community:  You’re part of many communities.  One of them is the Jewish community.  We want you to feel a responsibility to the Jewish community and to the State of Israel.  Israel in particular needs you.  Israel needs all of us.  Set a goal of doing something everyday or every week for Israel.  Learn more.  Read more. Do more for Israel.  Make it doable and meaningful.  Devise a system to see if you fulfill your commitment.  Israel will be better off because of you.

Character:  So many books today are written about how to enhance your own self-esteem and how to be happy.  Mensches don’t focus just on their own self-esteem.  They’re more interested in ensuring others’ happiness.  It’s the start of the year and there are a lot of new students in the building. In fact, this year’s grade 9 is bigger than last year’s.  There are a lot of lonely or unsure people walking the halls.  Introduce yourself.  Set a goal of meeting one new person each day.  We’ll be a better school because of you.

Contribution:  You’re in a high pressure school in a high pressure society.  There’s a lot of pressure to focus on your own success and your own achievement.  But at TanenbaumCHAT we want you to think beyond yourself.  This year, take up a cause that benefits someone else other than yourself.  Blog about it.  Tweet about it.  Stand up for it.  Start a club that supports it.  Help someone else achieve his or her goals.  Track how well you do on this. You have something unique to offer, and the world needs what you can give.

In the spirit of Rosh Hashana, let me wish you a Shana Tova which I’m going to translate as “May you set high but realistic goals, create a system to track your progress, find the stamina to work on those goals; and may you achieve every one of them.”  Shana tova.