Bar Mitzvah Prep Program: Raising the BAR

By: Rabbi Michael Berkowitz, Rabbi Doniel Cohen, Rabbi Avi Feder, Rabbi Elchanan Ciment
from Talmudical Academy of Baltimore

Category:
Real-World Learning

Subject(s) of entry:
Art, Music, Philosophy/ Values/ Ethics/ Hashkafa, Social and Emotional Learning

Pedagogy:
Blended Learning, Design-Thinking Model, Experiential Education, PBL - project based learning, Social and Emotional Learning

Grade(s) to which this was taught:
7, Middle school

Grade(s) for which this will be useful:
6, 7, 8

As part of our mission to promote real world learning and student ownership, in line with our 3R’s initiative, we teamed up to create an engaging program to educate our students on the “how to’s” of participating at an adult oriented event in the public sphere via experiential learning.

Entry Narrative

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” (Benjamin Franklin)

Today, more than ever the prophetic words of the great inventor ring true.  The middle school classroom is now the front lines of raising the future leaders of our nation.

How do we involve the students in their own educational process? How do we encourage them to take ownership of their education? How do we enable them to succeed?

“Part of the challenge of middle school is the breathtaking range of student ability, more pronounced than in elementary schools, where one can only fall so far behind, or high schools, which generally offer tracked classes”. (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/17/education/17middle.html)

Talmudical Academy of Baltimore Middle School set out to devise a system in which all students will feel successful, happy and ready to learn. We wanted to put the power of learning in the hands of the students.

We created a three step process called the 3 R’s to empower the students. Respect, Responsibility and Readiness. See the link below to view how these three words gave students the power to make appropriate decisions on their own, to better their education and school life.

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/19k5TRf0n00Of2QbeGjZkuabGKsPq4I7f

Watch this video as well to illustrate the point.

But it didn’t stop there.

The staff at TA middle school decided to create videos, where the actors were our very own middle school students. These videos were a great medium of letting the students teach themselves appropriate responsibility in life.  

To quote C.J. Brame

“Video has become an important part of higher education. It is integrated as part of traditional courses, serves as a cornerstone of many blended courses, and is often the main information delivery mechanism in MOOCs. Several meta-analyses have shown that technology can enhance learning (e.g., Schmid et al., 2014), and multiple studies have shown that video, specifically, can be a highly effective educational tool” (e.g., Kay, 2012; Allen and Smith, 2012; Lloyd and Robertson, 2012; Rackaway, 2012; Hsin and Cigas, 2013).

Click here to see the full article: https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/effective-educational-videos/

One of our greatest projects has been empowering the students to make proper decisions at adult functions.

Many Middle School educators and parents have the same fear.  “How will my middle schooler behave in the public spectrum.”

Cynthia Tobias in “Middle School: The Inside Story” explains: “For Middle Schoolers along with more adult type bodies comes the perception of themselves as being more like adults.  In order to figure out how grownups (editor comment: meaning themselves) should behave, middle schoolers are watching the adults around them, and are quick to judge…”  

We want our students to learn before they come to an adult event the proper way to comport themselves.  

The Bar Mitzvah Prep Program: Raising the BAR was created to address the real problem of middle school students attending their classmates’ celebrations without the knowledge and tools that would enable them to conduct themselves appropriately.

The Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration is a most significant event in a young adult’s life.  All too often, a dream affair dissolves into a disappointing or even disastrous event for both the person of honor and his/her parents.  The combination of long speeches and lack of structure and supervision, poses a great challenge for 12-13-year-old energetic and restless middle school kids who may be debuting for the first time in the public arena. Problems ranged from talking during speeches, disrupting the decorum with rowdiness to finer nuances such as engaging in exclusionary behavior and displaying lack of sensitivity towards fellow classmates, guests, and hosts.  

We teamed up to address these issues using a two pronged approach:

  • An engaging program to educate students on the “how to’s” of participating in a classmate’s celebration.
  • Reaching out to parents to provide guidance in structuring their event in a way that would set up young adolescent guests for success.

Student Prep:  We designed a mock Bar Mitzvah that takes place during school hours to walk the students through a typical event in order for them to gain a comfort level knowing what to do and expect, as well as empower them to make good choices.  The students come attired formally and a gala meal is prepared for this event. In this total immersion setting the following skills are taught, experienced and practiced:

  • Seating – finding place cards, using “library voices” while conversing at the table
  • Food – navigating food buffet (i.e. allowing adults first, thanking wait staff, offering portions to the elderly or rabbinic figures, portion sizes)
  • Speeches – body language, appropriate applause, listening respectfully
  • Dancing – actual dance steps and routines, inviting others onto the dance floor, dancing in a way that enhances the celebration and the joy of the person of honor.
  • General Middot – thanking the host/hostess, complimenting parents and grandparents of the Bnei Mitzvah about their child, cleaning up after themselves when appropriate, ensuring that the celebrant of the evening feels appreciated and honored.

The videos below are a montage of our Bar Mitzva Training Seminar:

https://vimeo.com/245129062/253da6e988

https://vimeo.com/235641632/ea11411868

Parent Education: In an evening gathering of parents hosted by seventh grade teachers and administrators, we share advice and guidance based on our experience culled from years of attending student Bar Mitzvah celebrations. The points we cover include (but are not limited to):

  • Length and number of speeches to prevent “losing the audience”
  • Seating arrangements –most beneficial classmates placement (i.e. out of the other guests’ line of vision when facing the speaker.)
  • Running and ending events in a timely fashion.
  • Return Car Pool arrangements – should be taken care of before sending your child
  • Creating a culture of sensitivity to different financial capabilities when planning your event

The transformation witnessed after the implementation of this program was remarkable.

 

A side benefit gained from this “out of classroom” programming is the incredible bond created between teacher and student from this shared experience.  “Although many studies focus on the importance of early teacher-student relationships, some studies have found that teacher-student relationships are important in transition years; the years when students transition from elementary to middle school or middle to high school” (Alexander et al., 1997; Cataldi & KewallRamani, 2009; Midgley, Feldlaufer, & Eccles, 1989). (https://steinhardt.nyu.edu/appsych/opus/issues/2013/fall/gallagher)

The feedback received from our students, parents, lay leaders, and Bar Mitzvah guests, has been overwhelmingly positive. The Bar Mitzvah Prep Program: Raising the BAR has clearly demonstrated, that when provided the right tools in an experiential learning environment, our children can navigate real life situations with confidence and dignity.

Avi Oppenheimer, a  board member of a school in Boca Raton, Florida, who attended a Bar Mitzvah of one of our students was quoted as saying: “In my years of going to Bar Mitzvah’s, I have never seen boys so involved in the simcha of another student and truly seem to be happy for him and want to give him a wonderful time.”

 

This program has already been adopted and implemented in many other schools throughout the country.

Entrant Bio(s)

Born and bred in Baltimore, MD, Rabbi Michael Berkowitz has been enjoying educating pre-adolescent young scholars for the past 13 years. He obtained his Bachelors in Talmudic Law at Ner Israel Rabbinical College and is the dynamic Head Counselor of Camp Bonim in Waymart, PA.

Rabbi Elchanan Ciment has been living and teaching in Baltimore for more than a decade. After graduating from his hometown High School in Miami Beach, Florida, Elchanan studied in Yeshivat Shalavim in Israel. He is an IT Professional and combines his passion for technology and learning in the classroom.

Rabbi Daniel Cohen is the newest member of the Middle School team. He spent the last three years as Cantor and Assistant Rabbi in Congregation Shaare Torah of Great Neck, New York. He is the first Rabbi with a Sephardic background in Talmudical Academy. He brings a beautiful new flavor to our mix.

Rabbi Avi Feder, who hails from Queens, New York, holds a masters in Talmudic Law from Ner Israel Rabbinical College, and is the senior member of the 7th grade team. He has mentored all of the current seventh grade Judaic Studies educators. His ability to reach every student through differentiated instruction has earned him the love and respect of parents and students alike. In addition to his Judaic Studies Rebbi position Rabbi Feder currently teaches U.S. and World History at Talmudical Academy High School.