Local day schools stress STEM



STEM and science coordinator Alexis Soffler shows students how to operate a small robot and tablets at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville. (Photo courtesy of Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School)

STEM is the word — or acronym — of the year at area Jewish day schools. As the school year begins, they are launching or furthering science, technology, engineering and math initiatives and integrating technology into the classroom.

The Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, for example, is in the middle of a three-year partnership with the George Washington University School of Education in which university faculty offer teachers graduate-level sessions in STEM topics. At the end of the three years, the day school’s participating faculty members will have a STEM certification from the university.

“It’s really exciting,” said Rabbi Mitchel Malkus, the head of the school. “We were in the starting phase last year, but this is the first year it’s really impacting the school. We have an outstanding STEM program at this school, but we’re really trying to take it to a new level.”

Gesher Jewish Day School in Fairfax has also upped the ante in its STEM offerings. The K-8 school just finished a yearlong technology overhaul and now has a one-to-one ratio of students and Chromebook laptops beginning in the fourth grade. Younger grades offer Chromebook and iPad carts in the classrooms.


“We’re really in a totally new place with tech,” said Gesher’s head of school, Dan Finkel, who is starting his third year with the school.

To help integrate technology into its curriculum, Gesher has hired an educational technologist who will help teachers use technology in class projects, assignments and other areas.

“Tech used to be one class here at Gesher,” Finkel said. “So, we did away with that, and it’s really integrated [technology] into all the classes.”

Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of the Nation’s Capital, formerly the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital, is also integrating new technologies, including new projectors. But school head Naomi Reem said the big project at Milton is building construction and expansion to include a middle school.

“That’s really the big news this year,” she said. “The most exciting thing [this year] is the beginning of the middle school and the initiatives surrounding that.”

Milton and Gesher will start a partnership this year to bring together their middle school students — sixth graders this year. In two years, according to plan, the students will take a joint trip to Israel.

“We are very excited about the partnership,” Reem said. “It’s a good way to kind of grow the sandbox for the kids.”

This is the first year of a three-year STEM curriculum revamp for Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville, according to Head of School Joshua Levisohn in an email about all the school’s “exciting initiatives.”

The school has also added more hands-on science units across their middle and upper schools, Levisohn said, and is expanding project-based learning in the lower and middle schools.

Yeshiva of Greater Washington in Silver Spring has hired a math consultant who will work with teachers to integrate STEM into the classroom and “continue the tradition of academic excellence,” said Rabbi Yitzhok Merkin, the school’s headmaster.

One of the most exciting things for Yeshiva this year, however, is its growth, Merkin said.

“We’re up nearly 25 percent this year,” he said. “We’re in a growth spurt and we’re excited about that.”

Enrollment also grew at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School — the school had waiting lists this year for seventh and ninth grades — and held steady at Milton and Gesher.

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