By CAITLIN IRLA
While other city schools were in session, students and teachers at Maimonides took the day off Monday to celebrate Passover.
Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew, is a major spring festival lasting about seven or eight days in the Jewish year that remembers the freeing of Israelites from Egyptian slavery. To prepare for this celebration, first graders at the Partridge Street school made their own Passover pillows for when they lean on their seder table during the holiday.
For more than 35 years, Maimonides has been providing children with a blend of Jewish and general education. One of 25 nationally, this Hebrew Day School in the Pine Hills neighborhood is recognized and chartered by the New York State Board of Regents and is a beneficiary of the United Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York.
Artwork decorates the hallways in the small brick building and Hebrew words are written on the walls of the classrooms that are mostly filled with smiling children.
The dual curriculum is what makes Maimonides different, according to Rochel Rubin, who has been principal for 10 years.
“What kids learn in a public school in seven hours, we do in three and a half hours and we have a full Hebrew curriculum,” Rubin said. “By having a dual curriculum, often times it can be stressful or intense, so much learning.” The students learn the Hebrew language as well as the Torah, the prophets, and Mishnah, the Jewish law.
“Judaism is alive at our school. It is not an archaic religion that happened several thousands of years ago,” said Rubin. “These kids are doing things we did 3,000 years ago in a more modern environment.”
In terms of general studies, Maimonides follows New York State standards, developing students’ potential in algebra, geometry, chemistry, earth science, physics, biology and global history to prepare them for their regents exams.
“The general studies teachers need not know a lot about Judaism, but the teachers also enjoy the culture,” Rubin said. “But it’s not a big requirement, we don’t ask for Jewish teachers for general studies because we want to cover all of the subjects. We feel our kids will have a much more colorful view of life if they’re exposed to everything.” The school employs 17 workers.
The children have a commitment when it comes to learning and enjoying their time at the school. “It’s not just another school. It’s small so we don’t have cliques and there’s not too much peer pressure,” said 16-year-old Sara Rubin, who is in ninth grade. “We have one-on-one interactions with our teachers. It’s not like you’re just another student.”
Maimonides is different than most private religious schools, said Rachael Crawford, the only English teacher at Maimonides. “A lot of the other schools in the country that are religious like this don’t include nearly as much English education,” said Crawford. “There’s a reason their parents choose this school; they get this education that prepares them for a wider world as well as their eventual religious world.”
One way to prepare the students for a “wider world” is to have a variety of classes and programs that will help further the student’s understandings in all subject areas. Other than the curriculum, the students also need resources to get the most out of what they are learning. That is one reason Maimonides is launching its major project to upgrade the science lab and create a “STEAM” Center to strengthen the student’s interests in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math.
The present science lab is small and lacks the materials needed for science activities. “Our current science lab doesn’t have the ability to do upper level chemistry and things like that. We don’t have Bunsen burners and some labs we can’t do because we don’t have the safety equipment.” Crawford said. “Right now our science program is very limited and we really want to change that, we really want to give the kids an opportunity to really learn real science.”
The school’s fundraising goal is $360,000 and they have received a matching grant, which means that every donation will be matched to double every dollar. They did reach their $150,000 matching goal, but are still working on the $60,000 to extend the pre-school nursery area. The school applied for the building permit and are now waiting on a response at the end of April. They anticipate construction to start in May or June of this year.
The school also participates in a national program called Better Together, which helps keep their students involved in the community. That program brings the students together with senior citizens living at B’Nai B’Rith and Ohav Shalom in Albany, bridging the age gap while sharing traditions, skills and life experience.
The students have a Better Together class where they study a subject usually related to Judaism connected with the time of year and then ride together in the school van to the senior apartments to interact with seniors as a way to connect and apply what they have learned.
“I like going to visit the seniors because we learn how to deal with different situations and a lot about life,” said Nechama Krimmer, 15, another ninth grade student.
Around holidays, students will work with the seniors to make crafts and do activities that relate to that specific holiday. Last year for Hanukkah, the kids learned Hanukkah songs and sang them for the seniors and brought them little gifts that they made. In January, the students visited the Daughters of Sara Senior Community in Albany with a collection of large illustrated books about Passover and other Jewish topics to read with the residents.
Crawford has been with the school for three years and believes the kids get a lot out of the Better Together program. “This is a way for them to connect what they learn in school to the real world,” she said.
She finds her job fulfilling because of the students. “I really love our kids. They are very motivated,” said Crawford. The classes she teaches are small which allows her to get creative and have fun. “I can have conversations with them and I can introduce them to new ideas because they have a different life in this community.”