Unique School “Kindles Child’s Flame of Imagination and Desire….”
By Daniel Koren--As I sat in the lobby at Montessori Jewish Day School (MJDS), waiting to be accompanied on a personalized tour by Head of School Regina Lulka, I was not quite sure what to expect from a school that abandons the traditional classroom experience for an egalitarian platform that fosters self-discipline, love of learning and an affection for Israel through arts and culture. Entering a classroom for students Grades 1-3, I was taken aback at first by what I saw.
Scanning the room, I found scattered groups of children and adults, immersed in various activities from handwriting to arts and crafts. Some children were supervised, some were not, but surprisingly, that did not seem to affect their work ethic. It became quickly apparent that the teachers at MJDS act not as authoritative figures, but as guides on a spiritual and educational journey.
MJDS is an inclusive, pluralistic institution that teaches the fundamentals of Jewish practice, integrates Hebrew and promotes a respectful environment focused on cooperation as opposed to competition. It also houses a middle school and pre-school.
“At MJDS we live the values that we promote. Most schools integrate Judaic studies by having one three-hour class a day. Here, there is always a native Hebrew speaker in every classroom, teaching Jewish studies the Montessori way, through joyful learning, advanced academics, and kindling the child’s flame of imagination and desire to learn,” said Lulka.
As it happened to be the third day of Chanukah, there was cause for much celebration and activity. In the Grades 4-6 classroom, Cantor Eyal Bitton, equipped with his guitar, taught the story of Chanukah through song. Later, in French class, the students constructed origami dreidels and sang the same songs, in French.
“Tell me that’s not post-modern integration,”Lulka proclaimed with a smile. Outside, I saw the Star-of-David shaped garden, where the students learn to grow their own vegetables and herbs, quite handy during Sukkot. I was also given an early screening of the students’ design for next year’s Sukkahville competition.
Affiliated with UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s Centre for Jewish Education, MJDS is the only Montessori Jewish school in Canada, providing members of Jewish Toronto with an alternative to traditional Jewish schools.
“With the philosophy of Montessori we follow the child, their interests and needs, very much like the teachings of the Torah. We constantly learn through our three foci: Tanach (Torah studies), Ivrit (Hebrew), and Judaic studies,” said Catherine O’Keeffe, who teaches the Grades 4-6 class.
Later, in the Grades 7-8 classroom, it became visible the kind of positive influence learning in a peaceful and loving environment has on students. A banner reading “What is important to us?” hung on the back wall.
Underneath it, the students had listed six fundamentals of living that happen to be synonymous with what Jewish Toronto represents: Respect, Learning, Kindness, Peace, Hard Work, and Community.
If these are the future leaders of our community, than it seems we are heading in the right direction.