The Jewish Academy of Orlando inspires and motivates its students to change the world. We celebrate our Jewish identity while fostering a passion for learning and high achievement. We achieve this through differentiation, technology integration, critical thinking, a dual language curriculum and values education.
We value the WHOLE student by addressing the academic, as well as the social/emotional development of our students.
At the Jewish Academy, our students have creative specialists leading them in the arts, library and physical education. They also have Hebrew and Judaic studies teachers that round out their education. We practice differentiation in both our general studies and Judaic and Hebrew programs.
We also believe not everything can be taught within the school walls. Field trips for each grade are arranged to enhance the curriculum. Each grade has several learning experiences that enhance the unit they are studying, including math, science, social studies, Judaic studies and music. A popular one is second grade’s trip to Habitat for Humanity, culminating an economics unit. It also is deeply rooted in tikkun olam, which enriches this learning experience. Every year, each grade visits the theater to practice theater decorum and view literature through a visual medium.
How we differentiate
Differentiation can be accurately described as a classroom practice with a balanced emphasis on individual students and course content. Differentiating the questions posed, the expectations for completed assignments, content and much more are some of the ways that learning is adjusted. Our teachers ensure that all of their students master important content and, through differentiation, have to make specific and continually evolving plans to connect each learner with key content. Our teachers are required to understand the nature of each of their students, in addition to the nature of the content they teach. At the Jewish Academy, all subjects are differentiated according to the lessons taught. For example, second through fifth graders are placed in the appropriate math level for them as an individual student. This ensures that we teach to each individual level and maximize each student’s potential. Within each level, there are several small groups that receive instruction and individualized help. In Language Arts, the students are placed in reading circles according to his or her ability. These groupings are dynamic and meet the needs of the individual students where they are at that particular time and subject area.
Technology integration is a key element of the educational philosophy at the Jewish Academy. At the Jewish Academy, technology is integrated within the structure of each class and subject area. Students have access to technology that is appropriate for their grade. We teach Keyboarding without Tears to the younger grades, which allows them to practice and progress at their own pace. Older grades use Keynote and iPevo to build their projects. The students are instructed in information literacy and digital citizenship.
Design and critical thinking skills are also important to us. This is most vividly displayed in our Innovation Lab (iLab). This unique learning space houses our WJAO news studio, our 3D printer, LittleBits electronics modules, Robotics equipment, Laptops, Tablets, Legos, a Smart TV, as well as collaborative tables, a dry erase wall for student brainstorming, a sewing machine and other resources. Each class is scheduled to participate in a design thinking challenge every other week. The intent of the challenges is to take each class through the design thinking cycle. Each challenge incorporates different resources in the iLab. For instance the “design a dream” classroom challenge allowed for teaching third grade how to add media to a document and create a blueprint/map of their dream classroom. In addition to the bi-weekly challenges, teachers can schedule time in the iLab to use the resources for other projects AND there are also daily iLab recesses. These creative recess periods are designed for the students’ developmental level.
Through collaborative learning and the encouragement of our students to take responsibility for their education, the Jewish Academy inspires students to be leaders and strive for excellence.
The Jewish Academy has a task force of faculty and teachers, we call them “faculty teams,” that reviews all of the curricula used each year. When we change to a new curriculum, they meet to discuss teacher support, concerns, expanding the curriculum and teaching techniques (i.e. math writing or games) and technology integration.
Our faculty teams use their professional networks to seek suggestions, opinions and best practices when developing their recommendations for new curricula. Criteria for the review includes differentiation for academic levels, learning styles, interest level and digital integration. This year, we are introducing three new curricula: leadership program, yoga and a values program. We added these to even better enhance our WHOLE student perspective.
Each spring, the Jewish Academy of Orlando administers a standardized achievement test to students in second through fifth grades as one means of monitoring our students' academic progress. The current achievement test is the Iowa Assessments, a norm-referenced test. The Iowa Achievement test was chosen, in part, because it does not require students to be timed. We want to know how much they have learned rather than how fast they can do a test.
The Iowa Assessment is unique, as it offers subtests like word study and listening, that provide useful information for guiding individuals, as well as grade level curriculum plans for the following school year.
We remind our parents that achievement testing is merely a snapshot of a student’s development, not a precise account of a student’s academic growth. At Jewish Academy, we use the results in several ways. One way is to monitor student growth from year to year. Another is to compare a student’s performance on the test and his/her daily classroom capabilities. We look at this comparison and review any discrepancies between the two environments. Further, we use it introspectively, as another way to assess our own curriculum strengths and areas that need attention. A profile narrative (it isn’t a narrative it is data) of the results is sent home each year and a copy of the student’s scores is kept in the student’s cumulative folder.