Temple Emanuel Holds ‘Teen Takeover’ Day

Campbell Weiss and Adam Dincin teach kindergarten students about inclusion at Temple Emanuel. Photo courtesy of Temple Emanuel

Temple Emanuel in Kensington held an exciting program at its religious school with a “Teen Takeover” day for the teenage madrichim (leaders) to present a fun, personalized lesson about a wide variety of topics to students at every grade level in the religious school.

The event, which was held on April 28, received a lot of positive feedback from parents, administrators and the children themselves, as it allowed the younger kids to get a fun lesson from their older peers and gave the madrichim an important experience within their program.

“These teens came up with everything [for the lessons] that you could think of — holiday-related, tour-related and personal interest-related … Everything about it worked well and they were able to express themselves and what was important to them,” said Laura Naide, director of congregational education at Temple Emanuel.

This event was created with the idea to give the teens in the madrichim program, which is comprised of students from ninth to twelfth grade, some skills that they could use outside of the synagogue religious school that they could carry with them after graduation.

Having them teach a lesson to the students ended up becoming a great way for the synagogue leaders to impart to the teens various leadership and classroom management skills, which have plenty of outside applications, while also focusing on Jewish education and values.

Many of the teens are able to get some of these leadership skills if they work for summer camps, according to Snir, Temple Emanuel’s director of youth engagement, who is identified by first name only for privacy reasons, but the synagogue wanted to provide a year-round opportunity to teach them these things and give them a bigger role.

“Last year [while planning this program], we met with the teachers and put up front that, for years, not just at our synagogue, I feel like at every synagogue in the United States, the teens can sometimes just be there to sharpen the pencils and take a kid out of class, and they can do so much more and a lot of them want to do so much more. And this is an experience that they get throughout the year,” Snir said.

With that in mind, Snir began crafting this program and preparing the curriculum to be taught over the course of several months, with the idea initially being pitched to the madrichim in the summer of 2023.

During that time, the students spent hours getting training in these classroom and leadership skills, while taking time to brainstorm what they wanted to teach about and how to properly execute the lesson plan.

And these lessons also benefited from the positive relationships that the madrichim have with the religious school students, as Snir said the madrichim are looked up to as role models by the younger students.

“The students love them [the madrichim], the students really enjoy their company and really enjoy spending time with them. And they just love sitting and chatting with them,” Snir said.

He added that it’s good for the younger students to get perspective from older students who went through the program before them and get advice and knowledge from these madrichim.

And that bond between the older and younger students can create amazing dialogue and relationships that can transcend beyond the confines of religious discussion and get more personal.

“We have this specific kid that had this amazing connection with two of his madrichim last year. And they talked about stuff that was not necessarily Judaism and they bonded better; this bond was on a very personal level.”

And while there was significant input by the staff in making sure that this program ran smoothly and that the madrichim were prepared, Snir said that the students deserve a lot of credit for how professionally and seriously they handled everything.

“We treated them like the adults they are, and they really did a great job. We handled the logistics, but they took care of everything else. We put the things in the classroom, and they had to take it from there,” Snir said.

The program was such a success that Naide said the synagogue was hoping to expand the “Teen Takeover” day program and do it more frequently than once a year, an exciting piece of news for all those in the religious school.

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