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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Tikvah Wiener

Educators at a PBL session at the Prizmah Conference.

Tikvah Wiener is reinventing the traditional model of education with the introduction of a new Modern Orthodox co-ed high school in Bergen County called the Idea School. Idea is an acronym for innovation, design, entrepreneurship and the arts.

In recent years it has become apparent that there are not enough seats in the existing schools for the growing number of students across our communities. Therefore, the time is right to introduce a new co-ed yeshiva high school representing a different model of
education. “Our schools are modeled on a factory system from the last century,” Wiener said. “We have an opportunity to create a new type of high school for our kids, and Bergen County is the perfect place to do so. We have so many innovative schools here, and educators who are recognized as leaders in the field of Jewish education. This is an exciting time for our community.”

Wiener, who lives in Teaneck, is a former head of the English department at the Frisch School. She is currently completing her third year as chief academic officer at the Magen David High School in Brooklyn. An educator for more than 20 years, Wiener believes students should be passionate about learning. While the approach of the past many decades of education has served us well, Wiener believes there are certain areas that need adjusting. “In the past, students’ creativity and passions were recognized marginally within the academic curriculum,” explained Wiener. The objective at The Idea School is to bring those inspirations to the center of the curriculum as well.

How can this model be achieved? Wiener believes the answer lies with project-based learning. Project-based learning (PBL) is an innovative teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time investigating complex questions and challenges. PBL encourages students to question actively, think critically and draw connections between their studies and the real world. School at times can seem boring, however, with PBL, students are actively engaged and encouraged to use their creativity. It reignites the joy of learning that so often is lost in the more traditional classroom environments.

Richard Langer, a board member of The Idea School, is committed to a non-traditional classroom model. He believes there is greater benefit to teachers spending significant time with fewer students with a mentor-like approach rather than lecturing for an hour to a room of 25 students. “The goal is not to make memorization skills better; the goal is when you complete your education you become a thoughtful, analytical, productive person,” articulated Langer. There is tremendous value in “developing skills as opposed to memorizing text,” he added.

The Idea School hopes to nurture students to take ideas and turn them into creative opportunities to enhance the world. At The Idea School, the student is in the driver’s seat. Wiener believes when students themselves work hard toward a goal, the results are more gratifying. While the school will certainly incorporate traditional types of text acquisition, the structure of The Idea School will offer a very personalized and meaningful way of learning.

The Idea School is based on four core values: passion, inquiry, readiness for the world and meaning. If you have a passion or a goal, the idea is to utilize educational components to make it a reality. Additionally, learning the importance of asking good questions is an art in and of itself. The idea of analytical questioning is a prominent part of Talmudic learning, noted Wiener. The program is designed to foster students’ ability to ask questions that are important to them and to the world. Finally, students will be prepared to enter the world both secularly and as honorable Jews. These values create a meaningful and authentic life, which is essentially the ambition of The Idea School.

Wiener is excited to include the Inquiry Beit Midrash as part of the school’s core curriculum. Wiener, along with nine other designers, participated in a program called Hakaveret. Hakaveret, JEIC Team Challenge, brings together an innovation design team for a year-long process to develop innovative and engaging models for Jewish education. The Inquiry Beit Midrash is their brainchild and will be a place where students can learn and create a meaningful product for the world.

At most yeshiva high schools, the curriculum is often separated into two categories, Judaic studies and general studies. But in many cases, there could be a real overlap between the two. Integrating different areas of learning with Judaism is an integral part of the school’s mission. “Judaism always has an answer, even for things that are not in the Torah,” explained Wiener. The objective is to infuse the students with the necessary knowledge and skills for success, but it should be done from an integrated Jewish perspective that will allow students to connect to their Judaism more deeply.

The ultimate goal is for students to emerge from The Idea School with a clear understanding on the importance of living a Torah life while at the same time having developed the skills to be successful in their college and professional lives.

There will be an engaging event for eighth graders at the end of August that will introduce students to The Idea School and its model of education. Wiener plans to open enrollment for the 2018 academic year. The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey is currently taking donations for The Idea School and there are many sponsorship opportunities available. Additionally, the position for Judaic studies principal is available. Those interested should email [email protected] For more information, please visit Theideaschool.org.

By Andrea Nissel