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PJA Blog

Here we have combined the blogs from Rabbi Chaiton, Merrill Hendin, and Betsy Bailey.

PJA Principal, Merrill Hendin has the best view of PJA from her office. Here in this blog, she'll share with us what she's seeing at PJA, what she's been thinking about, and, in general, share her thoughts.

Rabbi Chaiton's smile greets us each morning - a great way to start the day! So we are thrilled to share some of his thoughts and ponderings here with you.

PJA Director of General Studies and School Counselor, Betsy Bailey, is a tremendous resource for the school regarding children's education, interpersonal issues, and learning among other things.

PJA Blog

As Rabbi C. Sees it: Rodef Shalom

Presented by Deirdre O'Brien PJA Support Services Educator, to Grade 5- 8 students at a Middle School cluster Kabbalat Shabbat on 1/27/17

When I originally volunteered to give a drash I was supposed to speak in early December. I was super excited about the Mishpachot at the time - how awesome was it going to be to get our whole school into family groups to get to know each other and do fun learning activities together. I reveled a little in my good fortune to be working with such brilliant teachers who were making this happen.

When, the middle school got together in Kabbalat Shabbat to choose their tree to represent their Mishpachot, more elation! A tree, a beautiful thing from nature, to represent our families. And then...as the trees were being listed...I heard Willow

What? Willow, as in the Willow Joan Armatrading tells her beloved she will be in one of my favorite songs.

As in the majestic tree depicted in countless poems and artwork, particularly Monet’s lily pad works - the Willow that I actually got to see when I went to Monet’s garden in Giverny, France.

To me the beauty of the willow is that it’s Strength comes from its flexibility

That had to be the tree of my Mishpachah. I quickly approached my group and planted the willow seed and walked away. And we got it! I think I literally jumped for joy. I got what I wanted - you all can relate to the feeling of getting what you wanted, like you’ve won.

But that elation quickly faded. I felt a little uncomfortable, a little icky. Was it okay for me to exert my influence in the way I had? Did I take advantage of my role as teacher? Teachers have a responsibility to their students to act as role models and I had to wonder: Was that the right place, at the right time, with the right people to exert influence. Was my intention good?

I did a lot of thinking about whether that was a big deal or a little deal. Did I need to worry so much about that particular incident? So I knew I wanted to talk to you about recognizing moments when you could be influential and taking advantage of those moments to be a positive influence.

But then it snowed, and I didn’t get a chance to give my original drash. And so much more has happened that I want to talk about.

I know you’ve been working a lot with Mr. Blumberg understanding what it means to be a Rodef Shalom, a pursuer of peace. And that’s what I think most of your teachers would like to be able to model to you. That’s what I hope to model

And in your Mishpachot, you have the opportunity to model for each other and for our younger students here at PJA what it means to be a Rodef Shalom. I hope you take advantage of that opportunity and give yourselves time to reflect on the role you play in your Mishpachot.

Because remembering what it means to be a Rodef Shalom is very important to all of us right now. I’m not going to pretend like you all don’t know there is a lot of conflict going on right now in our community, in our country - about so many different things.

And if you haven’t already, you will soon be working with Mr. Blumberg on constructive conflict - Machloket L’shem Shamaim. Because there will always be conflict - differing opinions come with differing perspectives. And there are as many perspectives as there are people in this world. The key to constructive conflict is understanding whether an argument is for the sake of a higher purpose, or just to win. Your role as a Rodef Shalom is to put your ego aside in order to get to a more clear understanding of the other point of view.

Now, Not all argument is Machloket L’shem Shamaim - some are misunderstandings or misinterpretation of facts. You will be learning more about what makes a conflict a Machloket L’shem Shamaim. Keep in mind what I am told Shimon Peres said about being a Rodef Shalom: It is facing hard issues with optimism.

I will leave you with this week’s Torah portion

The flax and the barley were destroyed, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud. But the wheat and the spelt were not struck, for they were still pliant (Shemot 9:31–32)

This refers to the hailstorm plague that destroyed the barley and flax because they were sturdy and unbending, but the wheat and spelt survived because they were still green and flexible and able to bend.

The Talmud says
A person should always be pliant like a reed, and let him never be unyielding like the cedar.

(Talmud, Taanit 20b)

As a Rodef Shalom you will need to be flexible and bend; like a reed. Or if I may say, like a Willow

As Rabbi C. Sees it: Pesach

Pesach is a holiday filled with a variety of practices, opportunities for deep reflection, and rich in family tradition. There is so much to do, say and experience during Pesach and especially at the seder. During the evening we meet the “four children”. The Talmud tells that in four different places we are instructed to “tell” our children about Pesach and each time it tells us something different to say. The Talmud concludes that we must be discussing four different types of children. Namely the Chacham – wise, rasha – wicked, tam – simple and the eino yodai’ah lishol - the one who does not know how to ask

By providing a different explanation for each of the four types of children, the Torah is demonstrating critical lessons in how we should answer each child and really how to tailor to the educational needs of each questioner. To reach students and affect them, teachers and adults must tailor their words and methods to each individual student. Our duty is to educate and help our children transcend their “Egypts” – their limits.

By providing different answers for each of the four children, the Torah enables and inspires us to find the right approach with which to engage every individual and successfully ignite their G‑dly spark.

In truth we all possess the “four children” within ourselves and the Torah addresses a message that is applicable to the elements of the wise, wicked, simple, and “the one who is unable to ask” that exist within every one of us.

The chacham – wise child, knows that there are “laws”, structure and order and there is also Pesach – passing over, the abstract, the academic, and the ideal. There are times in our lives when we feel a disconnect between what we know and what we do. Conceptually we may know that certain behaviors and actions are inappropriate and yet our behavior does not reflect it. The academic remains abstract and separated from our real world. Our job is to help this student bridge the gap between lofty ideals and abstract concepts and internalize them into their daily behavior.

The rasha - “wicked” child is told very boldly “if you had been there you would not have been redeemed.” That may have been true in Mitzrayim, before we received the Torah. However G‑d spoke to you at Mt. Sinai, and said: ‘I am the L‑rd Your G‑d.’ At Sinai, G‑d was engraved into the depths of your soul. And so despite your distance, the Torah considers you connected. As the Talmud states; a Jew cannot lose his Jewishness. Regardless of the degree of disengagement from Judaism, the Jewish spark lives on within. Children are not beyond the place where they can learn and actively participate.

The tam – the simple child. We talk about the strong hand G-d used to take us out of Mitzrayim. Sometimes a child is faced with challenges that appear to be insurmountable. Yet we must use a firm approach, one of perseverance and determination, to use every tool on hand and seek out more if needed, to meet the needs of this child.

The sh’eino yodai’ah lishol – the child that does not know how to ask. This child has no questions because he does not think of himself as being in exile. The child claims that it is not relevant and thus excuses lifeless Jewish practice. To this child we talk about what G-d did for us in Egypt. We demonstrate the relevance and the joy of Judaism in our lives.

Today we must include the Fifth Child, the child who is conspicuous by their absence from the Seder Service; the one who has no interest whatsoever in Torah and G‑d's commandments... who is not even aware of the Seder, of the Exodus from Egypt and the subsequent revelation at Sinai. Long before the Seder begins, we must seek this child and make them aware of the beauty of their Judaism. It is our obligation to make sure that no Jewish child is forgotten or abandoned. We must make every effort to save also that “lost” child, and bring the absentee to the “Seder table”.

This Pesach I wish you the blessings of celebrating Pesach with all of your children and getting in touch with your inner child.

Happy and Kosher Pesach

As Rabbi C. Sees it: Chanukah


When discussing the instituting of the Chanukah menorah the Talmud says: Our Rabbis taught: The mitzvah of Chanukah is to kindle one light for a household; the mehadrin- diligent kindle a light for each member of the household.

The extremely diligent, mehadrin min hamehadrin — Beth Shammai maintain: On the first day eight lights are lit and thereafter they are gradually reduced; Beth Hillel say: On the first day one is lit and thereafter they are progressively increased. - Talmud - Mas. Shabbath 21b

It is the common practice for everyone to observe this mitzvah on the level of mehadrin min hamehadrin. - Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 671:2.

The message of Chanukah is very clear. If we did one good deed yesterday, let us try to increase and do more today. Like the Chanukah candles, we are meant to add light every day. We should always aspire to increase our level of Torah and Mitzvot. Realizing that yesterday when we did our best and reached our potential that was perfect by yesterday’s standard. Today we have to do our best, a new best all over again.

As Rabbi C. Sees it: Sukkot


One might look at the month of Tishrei and wonder why it is filled with important but random holy days. On the contrary, the four chagim - holy days of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah, represent a continuum of our developing relationship with God and with one another.

On Rosh Hashanah, through the blowing of the shofar, we coronate God as the Sovereign of the Universe - a force that empowers us and provides us with the tools to accomplish our purpose in this world and specifically in this new year.

Yom Kippur teaches us that regardless of what we did or did not do last year, we have the opportunity to make a fresh start through teshuvah - returning or “righting the wrongs” between an individual and God and also between two individuals. On Yom Kippur we refrain from eating and drinking so that we can fully focus on the spiritual - our spiritual connection to God and the deep soulful connections we have with other people.

This brings us to Sukkot. On this holiday we rejoice in our strengthened connection with God and each other. The mitzvah of the Sukkah represents this bond. The sukkah encompasses everyone in one sheltering embrace. And the mitzvah of the lulav and etrog demonstrates that no individual can attain fulfillment without the help of others. The lulav which is made up of a date palm frond, myrtle and willow and the etrog - citron (together referred to as the arbah minim – four species) represent the wide community of Jews. All four species must be used together to complete the mitzvah on Sukkot. Similarly, no matter how much we develop ourselves as individuals, we cannot reach our true potential without the help of others. The unity of our people as a whole is an indispensable ingredient in the growth and progress of every individual.

While Sukkot teaches us that even as individuals we stand together as a unified people, Simchat Torah takes us beyond our individual identities. On Simchat Torah we dance in a circle with no beginning and no end. We forget who is a “head” and who is a “tail.” We transcend our individuality and rejoice together. We experience this level of closeness after nearly a month of working on our relationships and ourselves, strengthening our bond with God and with each other.

As Rabbi C. Sees it: Yom Kippur + Rosh Hashanah


The ten day period from the beginning of Rosh Hashanah to the end of Yom Kippur is called the Aseret Yemei Teshuvah - the Ten Days of Teshuvah. The conventional translation for teshuvah is repentance. The literal and real translation is “return.”

Repentance is one aspect of teshuvah. Repentance relates to error, to sins of omission or commission. It is the rectification and erasure of the past. On a deeper level, teshuvah is “coming home,” a reunion.

Teshuvah removes a burdensome past and opens the door to a new future. It means renewal and rebirth. Classically, teshuvah is comprised of three ingredients: regret of misdeed, decision to change, and verbal expression of one’s misdeeds.

Teshuvah can be accompanied by tremendous joy. Even if one has clearly transgressed gravely, a prolonged or excessive degree of sadness is not healthy for the soul. Teshuvah can be done with great simcha - enthusiastically and with joy and feeling.

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, sweet, and peaceful new year. Shana Tova U’metukah!

As Rabbi C. Sees it: Pesach Question and Answer


I am always puzzled by the beginning of the Haggadah, where we declare, “All who are hungry, come and eat; all who are needy come and celebrate Passover.” Being that this is said while sitting at the dinner table, the only people hearing it are those who are already there. What is the point of making grand invitations when the truly needy can’t hear it?

That invitation is not intended for outsiders. We are inviting ourselves and the people around us to really be present at the Seder. While we may be sitting at the table, our minds can be miles away. We may miss out on the most powerful spiritual journey - the Seder.

Each one of us is hungry, and we are all needy. We have a soul that hungers for nourishment and inspiration, and we all feel a profound need for our inner self to be freely expressed. Our soul yearns to love, to give, to contribute to the world and to connect to G-d. Our soul is sometimes trapped, surrounded by obstacles to its being free - scars from the past that cripple us; fears that prevent us from opening our hearts; bad habits that waste our time and divert our energy; toxic relationships that we have become dependent on; negative attitudes that darken our vision; egotism and complacency that stunt our growth.

We are stuck in our own inner Egypt, with these internal slave-masters holding us back from becoming who we are supposed to be. Like Pharaoh of old, our ego doesn’t want to let us go. Even as we sit down to the Seder to read the story of the Israelite Exodus from slavery, we are still slaves.

At the beginning of the Seder we invite ourselves to really come to the Seder and experience freedom. Don’t let yourself be enslaved to your Egypt any longer. “Whoever is hungry, come and eat. Whoever is needy, come and celebrate Passover.” If you hunger for inspiration, come and absorb the Haggadah’s message of liberty. Enter into the Passover experience with your entire being. Read the story of the Exodus, taste the Matzah, the food of faith, and drink in the wine of freedom.

The Seder night is more than just a commemoration of miracles of the past; it is a personal experience, the exodus of the soul. The same spiritual energies that brought about the miracles long ago are reawakened. Freedom is in the air. On Passover long ago we left Egypt; this Passover we can free ourselves from our own slavery.

We can rush through the Haggadah to get to the main course. Then our souls remain trapped. Rather let’s take our time, allowing the eternal story of freedom sink in and become a part of us. Let yourself go - free your soul.

Sam Blumberg: 8th Graders Go to Israel


The first time I approached the Kotel, I wept. The combination of the cold stone, the sounds, the history, and the jet lag overtook me as I prayed the Amidah to myself through tears. Since that first visit with Birthright in 2004, I have spent more than three years living in Israel. While the excitement and awe of living in the land of our ancestors never really disappeared, I never saw the Kotel quite the same way as I first had on that rainy January day. That is, until I made my way there through the winding paths of the Old City with my 8th grade students this past March.

I wasn’t blessed with the opportunity to attend a Jewish day school. It wasn’t until my college years that I really began to explore and understand the history and sacred texts of our people. For the last three years, I have had the merit of learning with my current 8th grade students about our people - from the first Jew, Abraham, through the horrors of the Holocaust. Throughout these educational endeavors, I have attempted to supplement the words that my students have read with pictures and videos showing them our history and the development of our revered texts. We have not only read about King Herod’s brilliant building techniques but also looked at them both through film and Google Maps. But nothing beats being there in person.

Arriving at the base of Mount Masada on a bright and beautiful Monday morning, we ascended the Roman Ramp and my mind took me back to the spirited debate that had taken place in class just last year: Should the Israeli army swear in its soldiers on Masada, the place where the Jewish Zealots are purported to have taken their own lives instead of falling at the hands of the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago? And here we were, walking over the crags and feeling the earth of Masada beneath our feet, undertaking the most kinesthetic experience possible. Upon our arrival at the flat top of the mountain, our tour guide brought us a Torah scroll and we prayed the Shaharit service together, our students who recently became Bar and Bat Mitzvah leading the service from start to finish, including Torah reading. The blend of antiquity, prayer, and our Jewish future made me realize that this is what Jewish education is all about.

Only a few days after our visit to Masada, we toured Yad VaShem, Israel’s Holocaust museum. Our students were engaged, attentive, and knowledgeable throughout our long and intense visit, answering our guide’s questions with ease and pointing out images and documents we had seen together in class. Their ears perked up as they heard the names of characters they had portrayed in our Jewish Court of All Time simulation, from Janusz Korczak to Marc Chagall to Ilan Ramon. It was then that I realized that the 8th grade trip to Israel is not a learning experience. Rather, the trip is an authentic assessment and reinforcement of the learning and exploration that our students encounter throughout their time at PJA. With the help of the trip, our students are able to comprehend that Judaism is not a compartmentalized entity, but rather a beautiful amalgamation of history, text, tradition, and ritual. And after accompanying my students through the very paths our ancestors took to the Temple in ancient times, I was able to regain a perspective that had left me for many years.

As Rabbi C. Sees it: Shavuot - A Final Word


We celebrate Shavuot as the “Season of the Giving of the Torah.” Another holiday that celebrates the Torah is Simchat Torah - “The Joy of the Torah”. Why are there two festivals to remember the same event? On Simchat Torah we conclude our annual reading of the Torah. We end the Book of Devarim – Deuteronomy and immediately begin Bereishit - the Book of Genesis. We rejoice at the achievement. We celebrate by dancing with the Torah. Simchat Torah reminds us that there is a deep-rooted, innate connection to the Torah for all Jews, even those for whom the Torah has remained a closed book all year “The Torah that Moses commanded us is the heritage of the entire Congregation of Jacob.” Each and every single Jew, the entire congregation, has an intrinsic relationship with Torah. The Torah is not the
private property of the intellectual elite. Scholars or simple folk, academics or the unlettered, Torah belongs to one and all.

Like that lengthy biography that sits on your bookshelf for many years, there does comes a time when you have to open the book. We have to open, read, study, ask, learn and become more familiar with our heritage. We need to get to know Torah from the inside, to understand the Torah as a guide. Shavuot reminds us that the Torah is not only a beautiful, cherished ceremonial ornament to revere and dance with on Simchat Torah, it is the source of all our wisdom, knowledge and understanding about life and how we are to live it. It is a book of wisdom, a moral code, an ethical system, and a guiding light in our lives.

Practically speaking, Shavuot is the chag (holiday) on which to commit oneself to a regular time for Torah study. At Portland Jewish Academy, through Limmud 2.0, there are many opportunities for adult learning. Likewise, within the community there are also many options to choose. We should have fixed times for learning Torah and those times should be non-negotiable. Wherever we are in our Jewish education, learning must be an ongoing life-long pursuit.

Merrill's Musings: Saving the Best for Last!


Hello everyone,

So sorry to be getting this email to you so late in the day. As I said in the subject line, I saved the best for last today. It is truly my pleasure to keep you up to date on my calls with the group.

Today’s call was especially wonderful. The class called in this morning and did the morning opening. They added Hatikvah which we all felt was most appropriate considering where they were phoning from. Ms Brewer was in the office and spoke to a number of students who were all llined up to speak with her!

It was 6 PM Wednesday night, their time, when we spoke. They were in Jerusalem and had just spent a full and intense day at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum, and Mt. Herzl. For those of you who have not been to Yad Vashem, it is a magnificent and awesome campus which includes gardens, a beautifully designed museum, memorial statues, and a stand-alone memorial to children lost in the Holocaust. I will let your children share their experiences with you when they return as I am sure that they will have a great deal to reflect upon after this kind of an emotional day. The students I spoke to said that while it was intense and upsetting, it was important and worthwhile to be there. Mr. Blumberg said that the students all asked excellent questions and it was amazing to realize what they had retained from their learning here at PJA.

What was most inspiring and significant to me was how much Mr. Blumberg talked about our students’ knowledge of, appreciation for, and understanding and excitement about all of the things that they are seeing and doing on the trip. He and Ms. Rogers said that everywhere they go people are amazed and impressed by their depth of knowledge and the connections they are making to the people and places.

Mr. Blumberg told me a sweet story about their opening circle on the beach in Tel Aviv which I am sure you will appreciate. Their guide, Philip, held up a picture of an ‘old Jewish guy’ and asked the students if they knew who it was. Karly was able to identify the person as Martin Buber and talked about what she knows about him (Martin Buber is ‘her character’ in the JCAT curriculum). Our students have been able to identify Jewish leaders, educators, historians, significant biblical and historic landmarks, that they have studied over the years here.

The learning they have done here at PJA, is truly coming to life for them in Israel. As Mr. Blumberg said, this is the ‘most authentic assessment’ there is and affirms for all of us, how relevant and important the education at our Jewish day school is. We are all very proud of your children.

Let’s not get lost in all of this intensity as this morning they are waking up to PURIM celebrations. They are staying very close to Ben Yehuda street which will be filled with festivities and Purim Joy. It will be very freilach (happy) and fun for them, a Purim unlike any they have ever celebrated.

I look forward to hearing more about their experiences and sharing more with you. Don’t forget to check the blog. Have a wonderful Purim! Chag Purim Samayach!


Betsy's Blog: The Things We Carry


Last month, at the wedding of a family friend, in between toasts and dancing, a group of us talked books and bags. The groom, a high school English teacher, mentioned he was re-reading Tim O’Brien’s collection of short stories The Things They Carried, a book he knows I love and often used in the high school English classes I taught. “I’m going to steal your assignment,” he said referring to one of my favorite writing activities. Referencing O’Brien’s use of the physical loads his Vietnam platoon members carried as the starting point for telling stories of their memories and dreams, I’d ask my students to dump out their backpacks, review the contents, and write a story about themselves and “the things they carry.”

The conversation at the wedding included the groom, a few of his friends, and some of the “the fella moms” as my son and his buddies call us – dear friends who met when our sons were in pre-school. The best man, who runs his own business and is the father of a toddler, admitted to more than once pulling out a half-eaten banana or packet of baby wipes when attempting to hand his business card to a potential client. That intersection of the different parts of our beings, we recognized, lives inside all of our bags. The mother of the groom, an economist, never travels without a stack of professional journals, but now that she is “almost retired,” those publications share space in her carry-on bag with heirloom vegetable catalogs and a bicycle repair manual. A friend of the groom’s, a journalist who has worked for 4 newspapers in as many cities since graduating from college, pulled out his wallet to reveal health club membership and library cards from each of those cities and a 1989 Jim Abbott baseball card. The card, from the one-handed pitcher’s rookie year, is way too worn to hold any monetary value. It has never left its owner’s possession since he was 9 years old and is, he will tell you, the beginning of the story of how he became the sports writer he is today.

In the days after of our conversation, I thought of a story written by one of my students, a high school sophomore who always wore a Nirvana t-shirt. “I don’t smoke,” his story began, “but I always carry matches.” He wrote about the time he spent with his grandfather, on weekends and school vacation days, when his mom was at work. Several times a year, the two went to the barber shop where the boy sat on a stack of phonebooks and got his hair cut while his grandfather and the barber talked about horse racing and politics. Sometimes he and his grandfather took the subway to “the old neighborhood.” Other times they rummaged through bins of spare parts at an old hardware store or walked up a long hill to a quiet section of the park where his grandfather made up names for the birds they saw near a pond. Wherever they went, his grandfather, who passed away when the boy was 11, would find a diner, proclaim it “one of the best in the city,” and the two would sit side by side at the counter, eating grilled cheese sandwiches and sharing an order of fries. And as they were leaving, the boy noted that his grandfather always took a match book with the name of the diner from a bowl by the cash register. With the matches he carries, the boy wrote, he carries the man who taught him to observe closely, care deeply, and live deliberately.

Which brings me to what our children will carry with them on the first day of school. Often those monogrammed backpacks and animal-face lunch boxes introduce teachers to a student’s favorite color, game, or character. As a repository for shells collected on the beach during family vacation or a home away from home for a small stuffed animal, a backpack can be a way to ease the transition from home to school. As the school year continues, a backpack stuffed with completed class work, newly-chosen library books, a drawing from a friend, and the first fallen leaves opens a window for parents into their child’s day, developing friendships and interests. For many children, the backpack serves as a movable collage of self-expression. It’s a place to hang a collection of key-chains, attach souvenir pins, or carry trading cards, a favorite set of colored pencils, or small collection of found trinkets. Like Tim O’Brien’s platoon members’ knapsacks, our students’ backpacks can tell a story well worth reading.

Merrill's Musings: 2014 Graduation


Mazal tov 8th graders, parents, grandparents, friends of PJA grads, PJA board members, teachers and community leaders.

After many years of walking these halls, tonight you will be graduating and saying L’hitraot to your beloved school. You are graduating from a school that has given you opportunities to learn deeply and to work passionately.

Here you have learned to read and write, not only in English, but in Hebrew, and Spanish.

Here you have learned the tremendous importance of Jewish text, simple stories when you were young that turned into deep lessons as you got older and were able to ask important questions about their meaning.

Here you learned that science and Torah have connections, that math is seen in everything that we touch, that celebrating Jewish holidays is more than just eating apples and honey or blintzes.

Here you have become not just cooks, but chefs, not just singers but composers, not just people who love to draw and paint, but true artists. As you grow you will choose to become athletes, rabbis, doctors, writers, teachers, mechanics, librarians, technologists, engineers, cantors, actors, social workers, politicians, and maybe even school principals. The possibilities are endless. You have learned that a computer is not just used to write an essay, but a device that has endless possibilities for research, creation, and conversation. You have grown up in homes that honor and value education, and you have had the great fortune of having extraordinary teachers to guide and teach you.

You have learned from each other, and you have had opportunities to learn from experiences outside these four walls.

As 8th graders you have been able to take much of your learning and find a passion that spoke to you. You have viewed this passion thru a Jewish lens, have researched and reported on the important work you have done, and have taken steps to making the world a better place through action. The lessons of these many years and this culminating project are deep and lasting.

You have performed mitzvot daily at PJA from the time you were very young until the very last moment of your locker clean up as you were able to contribute to a school supply drive straight from your very own lockers.

The middot of Achrayut-responsibility, hoda'yah-gratitude, kavod-respect, limmud-learning, kehillah- community, and perhaps most importantly as you walk out these doors, zehut- identity, were learned and reinforced here and in your homes.

As you graduate I think of the very important directive we all have from Pirkei Avot, Ethics of our Fathers, lo alecha hamlacha ligmor, v'lo ata ben chorin l'hibatel mimenah, you are not obligated to complete the work, nor are you free to desist from it. Go out, dear graduates, and continue to do the good and important work you have done here at PJA over all of these years. Be the extraordinary mensches we know you are and continue to use your learning to guide you to do good.

Mazal tov to you all. We will miss each and every one of you.

Betsy's Blog: About Mother's Day


When my son Matt called to say his wife Shelly’s water had broken, I got on the next plane to New York. Emily was born while I was over North Dakota. I spent most of the next four hours in the air staring at the delivery room picture Matt e-mailed me with the subject line “your granddaughter is here.” In between deep gazes at that perfect crinkled face, I thought about my own two sons, their births, and all the bedtime stories I read, scraped knees I kissed, squished chocolates they handed me. I thought of their little voices singing to stuffed animals and the smell of sunscreen, ocean water and sand on their skin at the end of a day at the beach. I thought of this new life I’d be meeting and all the joy ahead for Matt and Shelly, and all of us who are her family.

When Emily was three months old, Baba, Shelly’s mother, came from Israel to live with them and take of Emily while Shelly and Matt are at work. A few months later, Baba’s mother, Mamushka, who had taken care of Shelly when she was a baby, moved in too. Matt and Shelly speak English to Emily. Baba and Mamushka speak to her in Russian. And everyone makes sure she hears some words of Hebrew every day too. One very little girl. Four generations. Three languages. And so much love.

My husband’s son, Jason, is a single dad, raising his two sons, Cougar and Cruz, in the house he shares with his mother and step-father. The boys’ extended family consists of aunts and uncles, cousins too many to count, grandparents and great-grandparents, each of whom see their own faces – Korean, Native American, Caucasian – mirrored in the boys. Two little boys. Puzzled faces when a stranger asks if they look like their mother. And so much love.

Growing up, my two sons were like big brothers to the neighbor we called Little Marc. Little Marc’s mom’s Alice’s large Irish catholic family never visited. Nor did the members of Little Mark’s mom’s Kathy’s family. So when Marc’s class made father’s day’s cards, Marc addressed his to “the big boys” in the apartment across the hall. Then three moms and three boys would take the subway to the stadium and buys lots of peanuts and cracker jacks. We’d by pass the box of promotional items for “all fathers in attendance.” And when a Yankee hit a home run, we’d be very quiet so we could hear Alice scream “Joseph, Mary and Jesus! That one is gone!!” One little boy. Lots of family he may never know. And so much love.

Today is the day they call Mother’s Day. I am blessed with a wonderful family. A family of birth, marriage, and friendship. A family that knows some families live four generations together. A family that knows there isn’t always a way for two brothers to answer the question “do you look like your mother?” A family that celebrates the day they call Father’s Day with three moms and way too many peanuts and cracker jacks.

This morning I had a FaceTime visit with Emily. Jason and the boys called with a silly song. One son sent flowers; the other balloons. And, as he does every time a Yankee hits a home run on Mother’s Day, a very tall man I still call Little Marc, texted me.

Merrill's Musings: Dive in and Learn!


An edited version of this piece was written as a reflection on my experiences at the RAVSAK conference in January and can be found at: http://upstartbayarea.org/blog/245-guestblog1

Earlier this week I came upon some of our middle school students posting sticky notes on one of the walls in the school lobby. They were excited, engaged, and interactive. Where was their teacher? He was present, standing off to the side, watching them work and giving them space. I watched for a while and noted the three distinct categories they were working on: show ideas, things we need, and roles to fill. Sticky notes were going up like wild fire as ideas were flowing and excitement was rising. From their teacher I learned that they were working together to decide on what their radio show was going to be. This was the first week of our 3rd quarter and these students are all participating in a cross grade media exploratory. The focus of this class: to produce a radio show. We are thrilled that we are going to have a first ever radio show produced on campus; the level of energy and engagement with the process was palpable and contagious!

Why did this all seem familiar to me, like something I had JUST participated in? THIS WAS DESIGN THINKING IN ACTION and I had just returned from participating in the day long Deep Dive at the RAVSAK/PARDES conference in LA on Design Thinking and Adaptive Leadership. I must admit I was a skeptic going into the Deep Dive. There were other seemingly more relevant offerings for Deep Dives which my colleagues at PJA were participating in. Our middle school Jewish Studies teacher Mr. Blumberg, was spending the day diving into Tefillah, our Hebrew and Jewish Studies director, Rabbi Chaiton, would be attending Effective Technology, our General Studies Director and School Counselor, Betsy Bailey, was ‘diving’ into Special Needs and the Diverse Classroom- a topic we were very grateful to see on the conference agenda as we continue our own strategic planning in this area in our school; and of course the Board Leadership Institute which four of our board members attended.

Back to my ambivalence about Design Thinking and Adaptive Leadership. I had used Design Thinking at school when, under the leadership of Sarah Blattner of Tamritz (former Technology Integration Specialist at PJA), a team of faculty participated in Social Media Bootcamp through Darim Online. I understood the ideas and liked what they could offer us as a school. We embrace collaborative work, are not afraid to take risks, and have as one of our goals to be more project based and student centered, but an entire day? Was this the best use of my time? Was this going to be yet another layer of new learning to tuck away into our file cabinets and never really have the time to implement? I knew that I did not want to be engaged in anything that would just be more work, another program, something new to learn but not really use. Our faculty is already creative, risk taking, and hands on. Could we ask more of them?

I walked into the first session with resolve and an open mind. There were crafts and colorful materials in the middle of all of the tables. It looked playful and fun and I was ready to engage. After all, conferences are usually about serious learning and here we were being given an opportunity to create, to work together, to do something colorful. What could be better? We were asked to redesign each other’s wallets. What did we keep in them, what style, color, and shape did we prefer? Our wallets say a lot about who we are. The activity gave us opportunity to inquire and communicate. It was already easy to see all of the applications of Design Thinking for schools.

After spending the first half of the day with Maya Bernstein, educator and facilitator of the Design Thinking Deep Dive, I was eager to return after lunch to dig further, understand more, and try to imagine how we could bring more design thinking models into the school. Spending the day like this, engaged in hands on learning with other deeply committed Jewish educators from around the country, felt like education at its best. It helped me see educators as facilitators, students as active learners and collaborators, innovators, decision makers-this was exciting! Fast forward a few days and here I was watching our students engage in Design Thinking with excitement and passion for their learning.

The ‘buzz’ at the end of the day of Deep Dives was palpable. I believe that each of us in our own way had gained a great deal of knowledge, done a lot of networking with people in various areas of school life, and were eager to work together to bring back that energy and information to our schools.

As we continue to plan as a faculty for the coming school year, we will use Design Thinking to help us plan and make decisions. We are already planning for our year’s essential question of defining ‘pluralism’. We will use much of the learning from the RAVSAK conference, sessions on Design Thinking, knowledge gained from sessions given by Susie Tanchel, Yechiel Hoffman, Noam Silverman, Jonathan Cannon, and many others, all of whom facilitated inspiring sessions on pluralism, creating community, and knowing and believing in one’s mission, to help inform our planning. In addition, the SULAM alumni Shabbaton which I was honored to attend with Rabbi Shai Held as the scholar in residence, helped prepare me mentally and emotionally for the full conference. Engaging in thought provoking philosophical and practical conversations about living our lives with intention and chesed will be at the center of our important work at school. In addition to working with faculty it is my hope to engage the board in deeper conversations about community and mission and what it means to be a pluralistic school. My hope is that this will create a strong community amongst faculty and board as we work together towards our goals.

All of the sessions my colleagues and I attended help us think about the intentional community we build at PJA. Jonathan Cannon spoke about knowing our schools, believing in and speaking our mission, and truly building a cohesive culture. I reflected on Jonathan’s words, and on much of the learning we did at the RAVSAK/PARDES conference in LA, while sitting in a strategic planning committee meeting on admission. while reviewing some of the strategic work we did leading into this admission season, we spoke of some of our successes and how to continue to do the challenging work we have ahead to maintain our strong presence as a community Jewish Day School in Portland, Oregon. One of the more gratifying reflections was from one of the parents on the committee. She expressed the belief that, more than ever, we know ourselves, we believe in our mission, and we communicate it well. I felt so grateful at that moment for all of the continued hard work we do at PJA with all of our constituents, and have confidence in our continued strength and perseverance to do the work of a pluralistic, thoughtful Jewish Day School in 2014.

Thank you RAVSAK for giving us this opportunity to learn together. We were very fortunate this year to have had a team of 8 people, both professional and lay leadership, at this conference. Never before have we had so many from PJA attend any school conference. It was energizing and invaluable to all of us to learn, network, and come back together to check in about our sessions and review what we had learned and how it would impact our strategic and tactical planning at PJA. We are truly a community of learners, an example to all, and PJA is our kehillah kedosha.

Merrill's Musings: Happy Reading!


Happy Reading! This year I decide to commit myself to reading more young adult novels. I love to read but have always felt like I wanted my reading time to be ‘for me’. I love fiction and because of my work I am also reading many articles, journals, blogs, and books on education. Professional reading is important and interesting but in my down time (hmmm), I want ‘my’ books! I have always known young adult novels to be great, after all I did swallow them up as a young adolescent, but not since then have I read them (except for the books that I read to my own children when they were younger).

Lucky for me, our fabulous school librarian, Safranit Molly, started a Newbery Club this year for any 5-8th graders interested in participating. I decided to jump on this opportunity as I was eager to read these books, and to find a set time to be with students. Perfect!!

Wednesdays at noon are sacred on my calendar and since committing to do this I have not missed a session. As a matter of fact I am already regretting that I will miss this week as I will be en route to visit our daughter in Israel.

So what is the Newbery Club? For those of you who are not familiar with Newbery I have included a short description and history of what the Newbery medal is. Newbery is one of the most prestigious literary awards for young adult literature.

How the Newbery Medal Came to Be

The Newbery Medal is awarded annually by the American Library Association for the most distinguished American children's book published the previous year. On June 22, 1921, Frederic G. Melcher proposed the award to the American Library Association meeting of the Children's Librarians' Section and suggested that it be named for the eighteenth-century English bookseller John Newbery. The idea was enthusiastically accepted by the children's librarians, and Melcher's official proposal was approved by the ALA Executive Board in 1922. In Melcher's formal agreement with the board, the purpose of the Newbery Medal was stated as follows: "To encourage original creative work in the field of books for children. To emphasize to the public that contributions to the literature for children deserve similar recognition to poetry, plays, or novels. To give those librarians, who make it their life work to serve children's reading interests, an opportunity to encourage good writing in this field."

The Newbery Award thus became the first children's book award in the world. Its terms, as well as its long history, continue to make it the best known and most discussed children's book award in this country.

From the beginning of the awarding of the Newbery and Caldecott Medals, committees could, and usually did, cite other books as worthy of attention. Such books were referred to as Newbery or Caldecott "runners-up." In 1971 the term "runners-up" was changed to "honor books." The new terminology was made retroactive so that all former runners-up are now referred to as Newbery or Caldecott Honor Books.

I have now read about 5 young adult books with the club, all contenders for this year’s medal. They are all varied and interesting in their own way. Some of them are absolutely distinguished novels, while others have a good story to tell but would definitely not get my vote! My great joy in participating in this ‘club’ is not just about reading these wonderful books, but more importantly, about spending the time with the students, listening to their insightful comments and seeing their commitment and passion to reading. The depth and sensitivity our students show towards literature is phenomenal to me, and although I loved reading as a child, I am not sure my passion or insights could ever have matched theirs.

Who will the winner and honors go to? We will all find out at the end of January after the Newbery committee, who have spent countless hours reading every young adult novel published in this calendar year, makes their decision. I know which book I would choose from our school selection….but it’s a secret only to be shared amongst club members when we return in January!

Happy Reading PJA. We will be sure to keep you posted on the winner of the Newbery Medal this year and OUR Newbery Club choice for the medal.

Merrill's Musings: Gratitude, Light, and PEW


As we all prepare for Thanksgiving and Chanukah (ok I will say it, Thanksgivukah) this week, and look at all of the light in our lives and the treasures for which/whom, we are grateful I thought it an appropriate time to talk a bit about some of the things that have been floating through my mind over the last month or more. We have had more than our share of wonder here at PJA and have much to celebrate and much gratitude to give. Classrooms have been filled with rich and engaging learning and we have been witness to much of that through performances, blogs, wiki pages, newsletters, classroom visits, facebook and more.

In addition to all of the good, we have also had to grapple with difficult and painful news about natural disasters, nuclear weapons in the Middle East, and of course, the future of the Jewish community in America. We have all heard more than our share about the Pew Research Study on American Jewish Communities.

http://www.pewforum.org/2013/10/01/jewish-american-beliefs-attitudes-culture-survey/. Like other Jewish educators and community leaders, my email and Facebook continue to be full of much ado about PEW. The data reports tremendous assimilation in the Jewish community at large, struggling institutions, and a changing face of Judaism as we know it. Everyone is talking about it, so with some apologies for raising concerns, I thought I would too. What I hope is that together we will see the tremendous importance of the choice we have all made to educate our children in a Jewish day school and that that will give us hope that together with our children we can and will strengthen our Jewish community and the world.

Every day here at PJA we are doing our part to ensure that there will be engaged, interested, knowledgeable and thoughtful young leaders emerging from these halls.

Teachers and faculty members who work with your children every day are making a difference by instilling in them a love of learning and a sense of who they are as members of the PJA community, the greater Portland Jewish community, and the world.
Parents and grandparents are making a difference by providing their children with an excellent education at PJA.
Your children, our students, are making a difference as they learn to ask questions, take action, and do what is right and just.
Boards and community members are making a difference by supporting Jewish education.
All of us who have made the choice to send our children to Jewish day school, are working for our Jewish future. Yes, we are making sacrifices. And it is well worth it.

As a mother of three and a day school educator I know that our children will all express their identity in different ways as they go out into the world. Some will work for Jewish organizations in their local communities, lead youth groups, take trips to Israel, go on Aliyah, teach in a synagogue schools while in college, teach in a day school when out of college, become Rabbis, Cantors, Jewish institutional executives, will work for the world by doing good and helping others, will heal, defend, sing, write.

There are so many ways of expressing who we are and here at PJA we work to give our students the ability to understand the world that we live and work in through a Jewish lens. Just in the last two weeks our students participated in a communal tefillah service where all of the 3rd-8th graders davened (prayed) together. Our 5th-8th graders were able to see the performance of the Story of Lillian Wald, performed by the Jewish Theatre Collaborative. Through the generosity of the OJM we had the privilege of meeting Sam Silberberg, holocaust survivor and author of an autobiography for young adults. This past week our sweet kitah alef (first grade) students visited the Rose Schnitzer Manor to bring cheer to the residents and hear their stories. These are just a few of the things that our students participated in giving them an opportunity to question, reflect, learn, and experience Judaism from different perspectives.

As Thanksgiving and Chanukah converge I stand back and am so very grateful for all that I have personally in my life and all that I know we are giving to our children every day here. The middot (values) that we stand on: Limmud, Kavod, Achrayut, Zehut, Kehillah, Hoda’ah, (study, respect, responsibility, identity, community, gratitude) and the deep learning and action that we do to support these middot help us to be the people who will keep Judaism going for the next and the next, and hopefully the next many generations to come.

Wishing you all a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving and a Happy Chanukah filled with light, latkes, and much love.

Betsy's Blog: Ruby Bridges, Indian Mascots, and Defaced Lockers


When I turned on my computer this morning and opened my e-mail, I was greeted, as I am most days, with several mass mailings directed to school counselors advertising “anti-bullying” materials. Today’s offerings included the “Five Minute Bully Prevention” video and “New Save Time Anti-Bullying Worksheets.” The message behind these materials seems to suggest that while bullying is bad, it can be stopped by adding a very short video, worksheet or other quick activity to a school’s ”regular” curriculum.

At PJA, we don’t use the word bully very much, and we rarely turn to mass-produced “add on” curricular pieces. But we do spend a great deal of time helping students think about how to live by the middot – the values – that are at the core of our school culture. We know that students understand and assimilate into their lives important ideas and values when learning and applying them is an on-going part of their day in school. Thus lessons about considerate, responsible and caring behavior are integrated throughout the curriculum.

Each year, our first grade students learn about Ruby Bridges, who as a first grader became the first African American child to attend what had been an all-white Southern school. As part of a unit called Kindness and Justice, first grade teachers read Ruby’s autobiography to the class. Students see that at that time, adults in Ruby’s community engaged in the ugliest form of bullying towards her. In class discussions, our students confront the bullying and consider the source of Ruby’s courage. As they discuss what they learn from her experience, many students recognize the hurt caused by that those who did nothing to support Ruby. In the letters each student writes to the adult Ruby Bridges, many promise her that they will never be passive bystanders, but will instead stand up to discrimination and bullying.

As part of their United States history curriculum, eighth grade Humanities students are currently examining white privilege and considering the impact that “Indian” sports mascots have on the emotional development of their Native American peers. In class discussions and postings on their class website on My Big Campus, students have looked at rap lyrics and college admissions policies. They have articulated an understanding of the nuances and pervasiveness of white privilege and have engaged in meaningful conversation about their role in responding to it.

The kind of deep understanding of injustice and social responsibility that lessons like these cultivate lead to meaningful acts of kindness and thoughtful consideration about how to address wrongs, whether those wrongs occur in the past, in the greater community, or in our own playground. We are proud of the commitment to stand up to bullying that our first graders make in their letters to Ruby Bridges. We are equally proud of our eighth graders who re-examine their previously held ideas about popular culture and recognize that unintended insults are just as damaging as those deliberately inflicted. Our students know that the recognition of wrong comes with a commitment to stand up to it.

This doesn’t mean that PJA students are always kind and considerate to one another. We still see our share of jockeying for position in line when it’s time to go out to recess. Feelings are still hurt when a friend ignores another or talks behind her back. And at times, the adults in our community, parents and teachers alike, can have a knee-jerk reaction to those behaviors, leading us to call them “bullying.” But we also know it is much more effective to identify the behavior by what it is: simple thoughtlessness or instances of forgetting how another might perceive one’s behavior. As adults, our response is a conversation that may well be shorter than the five minute bully prevention video or take less time to complete than an anti-bullying worksheet, but is much more effective because it is specific to the instance and seamlessly connected to on-going classroom learning and discussion.

PJA students tell us in so many ways that they care about each other and see our school as a safe community, characterized by the values we expound. This perception was expressed loud and clear during a recent 7th grade Health class. Students were working in small groups on a decision making activity in which they were presented with “typical” middle school problems. One scenario described a "popular kid” defacing an "unpopular kid's” locker. One student expressed surprise by the incident. “That would never happen here,” he said. Another student concurred. “We don't have unpopular and popular kids,” she said. “We just like each other."

Betsy's Blog: Big Nick's Last Summer


Last week, on one of the last days of the glorious road trip my husband and I took home following my younger son’s wedding in Santa Monica, I was awaken by the sounds our cell phones simultaneously ringing and announcing the arrival of text and e-mail messages. Like all Jewish mothers, I knew it could only mean bad news. My husband Don grabbed his phone first, looked sadly at me and whispered, “it’s Big Nick.” I shook my head. We had known for some time this would be happening. No one had died or had been hurt. But it was an ending. A few months after reports of an exorbitant rent hike, Big Nick’s Pizza and Burger Joint had closed.

Big Nick’s, with the slogan “serving Westsiders since 1962,” had been a part of the fabric of my New York family’s life for the 51 years it was in business. It’s where I took my children for their first slices of pizza because it’s where I grew up eating pizza. It’s where my older son Matt proudly pulled off his overalls to show the waitress his new “big boy underpants,” and it’s where my younger son Josh lost his first tooth. Perhaps because another of Big Nick’s slogans was “Big Nick is My Friend,” both Big Nick the man and Big Nick’s the “joint” appeared in the boys’ earliest drawings and writings. Big Nick and his staff were frequent answers to the games of “Twenty Questions” we played on road trips. It’s where we always went directly from the bus when the boys returned from 3 weeks away at camp. And, because yet another one of Big Nick’s slogans was “open 23 hours a day,” and because “The Three Stooges” played in an endless loop on an ancient television above the cooler in the corner, it’s where Don suggested we go no matter how late our flight from Portland got in to New York.

This has been an extraordinary year for my family. My granddaughter Emily was born on the last day of Chanukah, and I had the indescribable joy of holding her just hours later, as my son Matt – the beaming, loving father - and my mother- the proud great grandmother - stood beside me. For the first time since I moved to Portland seven years ago, our extended family was together for Passover. And then, two and half weeks ago, my younger son Josh and his beautiful Gabi stood together under the chuppah, tears of love in their eyes.

The phone calls and texts that morning last week were from Josh, just home from his honeymoon, and Matt, who was walking with Emily to the same playground where he once played, right down the street from Big Nick’s. I heard also from old neighbors, moms of the boys’ childhood friends, and some former students. All had wonderful stories that began, “remember when we were at Nicks and….”

I have been so blessed, and not just this year, with an abundance of happy milestone events. I have also been so fortunate to have shared, again and again, conversation and a slice of pizza with people I love in a place that felt like home. Those moments – hugely significant and wonderfully ordinary -- are equally precious in my heart.

As summer winds down, I hope you and your family have been enjoying times – extraordinary and “regular” - that you will find yourself happily recalling in the years to come.

Betsy's Blog: Multiple Intelligences


About twenty years ago, I was fortunate enough to participate in a summer institute led by Harvard professor of education Howard Gardner. Gardner had just published Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences and was leading us, a group of educators, to an examination of what has now become a widespread understanding in educational psychology, that intelligence is not a single general ability. At the time, Gardner sounded radical when he postulated that a child who immediately and concisely answers the question “how are an apple and orange alike?” is not – in general -- more intelligent than a child who fails to articulate that both are fruit . Today, as a result of Gardner’s pioneering work, psychologists and educators ask not “is the child intelligent?” but rather, “which intelligences best characterize the child?”

At the essence of the theory of multiple intelligences is an understanding that there are several different kinds of cognitive ability and that intelligence in one area is not necessarily associated with intelligence in any other. In Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligence, Gardner identified and defined seven intelligences: linguistic (verbal ability and facility learning languages), logical-mathematical (facility with numbers and ability to develop a logical argument), bodily-kinesthetic (physical dexterity and strong memory for movement), spatial (the ability to visualize with the mind's eye and make meaning from images), musical (facility with sounds and rhythms and strong auditory attention and memory), naturalistic (deep understanding and awareness of other living beings and natural surroundings), interpersonal (skillful in interactions with others and sensitivity to their feelings and needs), and intrapersonal (strong ability to reflect).

When I visit PJA classrooms, I always note how well our teachers incorporate an understanding of the different intelligences and corresponding learning styles of their students. Information is never presented in just one way, directed to just one kind of intelligence or learner. Teachers understand that a student with strong musical intelligence is most likely an auditory learner who will remember the information she or he hears, and that a child who has strong bodily-kinesthetic intelligence will learn by manipulating or constructing objects. Working together, those two students might create a song and dance to share what they have learned with others. Similarly, teachers recognize that a student with strong linguistic intelligence will dive right into reading a new book, while a classmate with strong spatial intelligence will more likely begin to make meaning from that book by examining the illustrations or diagrams. Given choices about how to summarize the information in that book, the first child might write a poem, while the second might create a comic strip.

I was struck when reading the recent set of report cards how well PJA teachers know each child and acknowledge his/her particular intelligences. A teacher, writing about a lower school child, noted her linguistic and interpersonal intelligence, “Articulate and possessing an advanced vocabulary, her good communication skills allow her opportunities to mediate between classmates when conflict arises.” A kindergarten teacher described a student who is logically-mathematically gifted. “He seems always to be thinking about numbers and can manipulate them mentally. He brings his great insight to our group work developing problem solving strategies.” Another teacher noted about a student with deep naturalistic intelligence, “She was in her element during our outdoor field school studies. Her keen observations and enthusiasm helped others notice and appreciate even the smallest forms of life.”

Despite over 20 years of research about multiple intelligences, the notion that there is one kind of intelligence persists. This misunderstanding often leads students who are stymied by a particularly challenging academic situation to conclude, “I’m just not smart enough.” In talking with those students and their parents, I often refer to Howard Gardner. I describe the different kinds of intelligences in terms the student can understand and ask which ways they think they have “super intelligence.” Allowing a student to acknowledge his or her areas of strength, and using the word “intelligence” to name those strengths, often helps place the challenge in perspective and can be an important step in finding success.