Friday, September 22, 2017

L to R: Kelly Sterman, Ma’ayanot student Lily Paige Sausen, Linda Fargo, Rebecca Moses, Ma’ayanot student Timmy Teplow and Davida Goldstein. (Credit: Lily Sausen)

Ma’ayanot student Naima Hirsch. (Credit: Dr. Julie Goldstein)



Over the course of this past school year, Ma’ayanot High School’s senior class participated in the inaugural offering of an innovative new program called “Encounter,” a year-long research program that culminated in an internship or project related to their research. The initiative was designed to provide students with the opportunity to explore an individual area of interest outside the formal academic setting, to learn through real-world experiences, to develop specialized skills and to establish professional relationships.

Launched this past year by Jewish History Chair Dr. Julie Goldstein, the program has been hugely successful and popular. “Some of the students conducted major experiments and came to groundbreaking conclusions,” said Goldstein. “It’s evolved into one of those experiences that will make Ma’ayanot even more exceptional, and will give the students the chance to put the knowledge, skills and values acquired at Ma’ayanot into dialogue with the world outside of school.”

Whether the student’s particular interest was sparked inside a classroom or developed from longstanding personal passions, the program provided her with the resources and time to investigate and discover its various dimensions. The students were excited by the opportunity to study their personal interests so comprehensively and with academic oversight. Starting with the identification of a core question or problem, each student conducted research in her chosen field. Along the way, she recorded data, observations and ideas that were helpful towards the preparation of a final presentation that took place before a panel of Ma’ayanot faculty at the close of the second semester. Students were encouraged to put their findings in context with Jewish thought, halacha or culture. In May, they each undertook a 60-hour internship or project that elucidated the facets of the problem and facilitated reflection about it.

The students explored a wide variety of fields, ranging from investigative journalism to art, law, education, pest control, medicine, government and fashion blogging. Students Lily Sausen and Timmy Teplow started a fashion blog that caught the attention of department store Lord & Taylor, who hired them to create an in-store fashion show. Several students plunged into the world of politics, interning for the likes of Governor Chris Christie, the Republican State Committee, the Borough of Bergenfield, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Sen. Cory Booker and State Sen. Bob Gordon.

One student surveyed female teachers in day schools to conclude that they know little about financial planning and created an information packet for them; one produced a mock magazine; one created an art exhibit applying the various theories and techniques she learned in an advanced art class she took at the 92nd street Y. Student Naima Hirsch wrote a novella as her project. “These were truly amazing feats for them to have accomplished during their senior year,” said Goldstein.

Student Ahuva Shafier, who pursued an interest in fashion design, developed her sewing skills by apprenticing with a seamstress and designing and creating her own gown for her brother’s wedding. She said: “It was so exciting to tell interested people about my projects! I love looking for inspiration in historical fashion and costume design. When I was researching I noticed that a recent design of Valentino actually had details from 19th-century corsets!”

Shira Goldsmith, who interned in culinary arts, said: “Encounter is a program that enables high school seniors to truly immerse themselves in a field they are interested in. Through self study and application of personal strengths that was complemented by guided research and reflection, I was primed to find new insights and perspectives in a field I had previous experience in. Encounter was an exciting opportunity to learn outside the classroom and I believe I benefited deeply from it.”

Miriam Blum who interned in education said: “The Encounter program gave me a valuable opportunity to work in a professional environment of my choosing. It gave me the chance to experience what having a job is really like. The program’s beginning steps enabled me to research and learn about what job I would be doing. Many of us with the program’s connections had the opportunity to work for senators, lawyers, doctors and schools throughout New Jersey. The four weeks I spent working as an early childhood teacher were a lot of fun and worthwhile. The program’s goal and message is extremely clear: to give high school seniors valuable experience in any workforce in the hopes of preparing them for the near future.”

Other internships were conducted at the Fair Lawn Volunteer Ambulance Corps, the Halachic Organ Donor Project, Lenox Hill and Columbia University Medical Centers, E-Commerce Jewelry and Black Box Studios. All of the students discovered new interests and new things about themselves and produced incredible results. Added Goldstein: “Some students were offered jobs and continue to work at the places where they interned. All the students chose and approached their internships with an eye towards answering a question they had raised at the beginning of the school year and researched throughout. They really rose to the occasion, learned a ton and I was so proud of them!”

Ma’ayanot has helped to launch successful careers in areas including medicine, law, finance, marketing, the arts, public service, education, psychology, communications and politics. Ma’ayanot graduates from the class of 2015 were accepted to the following Ivy and Honors-level programs: Barnard, Columbia, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Macauley Honors College at CUNY, Maryland Honors, MIT, Penn, Princeton, Rutgers Honors and Stern Honors.

By Lisa Matkowsky