Portland Jewish Academy is a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland and is proud of our partnership with them in strengthening our local Jewish community as well as the global community.

Middle School Curriculum

Middle school is a time of tremendous intellectual and social growth, as students develop their critical thinking skills and ability to learn independently and work collaboratively. In middle school, PJA students learn by doing, asking, and thinking for themselves, and are supported as they become intellectual risk takers and agents of change who have the ability to turn their beliefs into action.

Middle school classrooms are places of active learning as students engage in discussions and debate, problem solve, design, and create. Students apply critical thinking skills as they consider ethical questions, and develop solid, grounded views about morals, community, and culture.

The middle school curriculum includes classes in humanities, math, science, Hebrew, Jewish studies, and Spanish. The weekly schedule also includes PE, tefillah, health and wellness, and elective exploratories in the arts, service learning, cooking, technology and making. Students learn in a combination of single grade and multi-grade classrooms.


PJA’s middle school humanities program integrates the themes and content of social studies within a strong language arts curriculum. The block period allows for the meaningful exploration of topics and supports the goals of developing active learners and informed citizens who think critically, read analytically, engage effectively in classroom discussion, and write with clarity and understanding of purpose. Students read a wide variety of literature across genres and, through book club discussions and individual writing assignments, develop their identity as engaged and independent readers.

Sixth Grade

Sixth Grade topics include world geography, human origins, and the development of culture and civilization through the study of Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, and ancient China. Literature includes autobiography and memoirs, poetry, Inherit the Wind, The Giver, and Ties That Bind, Ties That Break.

Seventh Grade

Seventh Grade curriculum focuses on the cultures, religions, traditions and political institutions of ancient Greece and Rome and medieval Europe. Literary studies include an examination of ancient mythology, modern drama, and a close reading of one or more of Shakespeare’s plays. The year culminates in a visit to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.

Eighth Grade

Eighth grade curriculum explores United States history and civics through the dichotomy of “revolution” and “renaissance.” Students participate in a mock senate and constitutional debates, visit local courts and see the state government in action, and engage in a “banned book club.” Readings include primary source material, a short story study, and Fahrenheit 451, Animal Farm, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Crucible, A Raisin in the Sun, and Lord of the Flies.


PJA’s middle school math program seeks to develop students who are problem solvers, able to effectively communicate their mathematical thinking both orally and through written work and apply their math knowledge and skills in other areas of learning (including science, humanities, the arts, and social sciences) as well as in their everyday lives. All middle school math classes include basic skill and problem solving warm-ups, in-class exploration and discussion, and special projects throughout the year. Technology is integrated throughout the math program, with the use of graphing calculators, the computer lab or class lap-top set, and a variety of other tools. The math curriculum is designed to support students with varied learning styles and to offer challenges to students who are ready to move beyond the scope of the middle school curriculum.

Sixth Grade

Topics in sixth grade math include number sense and algebraic thinking, measurement and statistics, geometry and measurement, and probability. 

Seventh Grade

Seventh grade students are placed in either seventh grade math (which builds on skills and concepts studied in sixth grade) or, for those who have mastered operations with rational numbers, basic geometry, measurement and probability, in pre- algebra. The pre-algebra course provides students with a strong foundation in algebra while laying the ground work for advanced study in geometry, probability, and data analysis. 

Eighth Grade

Students who complete pre-algebra in seventh grade move on to algebra in eighth grade; other students take pre-algebra in eighth grade. In algebra, students study functions and learn to represent them in multiple ways. Students who successfully complete algebra receive one year of high school math credit.


In an Ivrit b'Ivrit (Hebrew immersion) environment, students experience Hebrew as a living language. Students develop listening, speaking, reading and writing skills, and knowledge of and appreciation for Israeli culture and literature. In daily Hebrew classes, students engage in conversation, read from a variety of sources, write about their experiences, and attend closely to grammatical structures and patterns as they consider the best ways to communicate increasingly complex ideas and information. Students have opportunities to work individually with their teachers, cooperatively in small groups and as a full class. 

Sixth Grade

In sixth grade, students focus on mastering the present tense. They practice and demonstrate these skills by answering questions about their life experiences and interests both in written and oral form. Units of study include family history, an Israel restaurant adventure, and Israel’s national parks.

Seventh Grade

The seventh grade curriculum focuses on mastering the past tense. Students develop language skills by writing short stories and giving oral presentations. Students do short research projects and read from a variety of literary genres. In an interdisciplinary project that combines research, geography, written expression, the arts and technology, students create an Israeli tour company.

Eighth Grade

In eighth grade, students focus on mastering the future tense and develop greater fluency speaking, reading, and writing in Hebrew. Students write stories, participate in conversations, give oral presentations and translate English texts into Hebrew. Students view and discuss Israeli films and TV broadcasts. In preparation for their class trip to Israel trip, students research the places they will visit, study significant historical events, and further increase their knowledge of Israeli culture and of the lives of individuals who had a significant impact on Israel.

Jewish Studies

PJA’s Jewish Studies program integrates study of the rich textual tradition and long history of the Jewish people. In middle school, that study focuses on the question raised by Hillel: If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when? Each grade examines one aspect of this question, as students explore their own identity and consider how they express the middot (Jewish values) in their own lives. Class work emphasizes inquiry and skill development; students identify and cite Jewish texts, read critically, compare and contrast commentaries, and draw connections between text and personal experience. Interdisciplinary learning is emphasized as students draw connections to their work in humanities and use the skills they are developing in technology and the arts.

Sixth Grade

In sixth grade, students consider Hillel’s teaching, If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” and explore the theme of finding one’s own voice. The class examines and reflects on the concepts of personal responsibility, confidence, and identity through the lens of Biblical text. Sixth grade students also begin to take on a leadership role in the school by planning and leading the school-wide Purim carnival.

Seventh Grade

The seventh grade curriculum focuses on Hillel’s teaching, And if I am only for myself, what am I? as students continue to explore their identity while learning to balance the needs of others with their own and learning the value and skills of expressing respectful disagreement. Students study the history and texts of the Talmudic era and the middle ages and plan and lead the school-wide Yom Ha’Atzmaut event.

Eighth Grade

In eighth grade, students focus on the final part of Hillel’s teaching, And if not now, when? Beginning with an examination of the need for change within Biblical society, students learn how individual Jews throughout history have worked to transform their world. Students draw on this study as they each design a service learning project and prepare a drash as part of the interdisciplinary Capstone program. Other units of study explore the Jewish contribution to American culture, the dark period of the Holocaust, and the factors that led up to the establishment of the State of Israel. Eighth grade students plan and lead a school program in commemoration of Yom Hashoah, and travel as a class to Israel for two weeks of exploration and learning.


PJA’s Middle School Science program focuses on student-centered learning, with an emphasis on hands-on lab and field work. Students are encouraged to become creative and critical thinkers as they engage in both guided and open-ended inquiry investigations.

Sixth Grade

The sixth grade science curriculum focuses on the key questions “What is science?” and "How do we do science?” and culminates in individual student-designed science projects. Topics of study include: astronomy, density and buoyancy, microscopy, and earth science. Throughout the year, students take on engineering challenges – building water rockets, hot air balloons, and mousetrap vehicles -- and they participate in a week-long field school at the Oregon coast.

Seventh and Eighth Grade

The seventh and eighth grade science curriculum follows a two-year cycle. In alternating years, all seventh and eighth graders have one year of physical science (chemistry and physics) and one year of life science. Physical science units of study include: matter, the periodic table, solutions, mechanics, electricity, magnetism, and the physics of toys and tricks. Life science units of study include: cells, evolution, genetics, fungi, plants and animals, and ecology.


PJA students are introduced to Spanish language and the culture of Spanish speaking countries as part of the exploratory program in sixth grade. In seventh and eighth Grade, Spanish becomes a core subject. The Spanish program at PJA focuses on listening, reading, speaking, and writing skills. Students engage in authentic learning experiences by following recipes in Spanish, making their own Spanish language videos, and emailing one another in Spanish. They develop an appreciation of the cultures in which Spanish is spoken through the celebration of holidays and exploration of Latin music. PJA graduates earn one year of high school Spanish credit for their work in middle school.


Exploratories are trimester-long elective classes that focus on the arts, technology, and service learning, and give students an opportunity to pursue areas of interest in mixed grade groups. Our exploratories often shift in response to student interest and our changing world. Our current offerings many include:

COFFEEHOUSE: In this exploratory, students have any opportunity to share and give shape to their creative energy and spirit. Students write poetry and songs and develop other pieces to be shared in the venue of the Coffeehouse.

COOKING: In this exploratory, students have the opportunity to explore foods and cooking techniques. Students practice kitchen safety and knife skills while learning a variety of standard cuts and gaining hands-on experience making many different meals from scratch. They use a variety of ingredients, including vegetables and herbs from our school garden, and cook and bake a range of dishes including pasta, salsa, soup, brownies, and more. Students will begin to define their own style and flavor as budding chefs, and of course have plenty of opportunity to taste their culinary creations.

VIDEO PRODUCTION: Going beyond cell phone videos, selfies, and iMovie, students in this exploratory learn how to create a professional polished video that tells a story. Using Final Cut Pro and the Adobe Creative Cloud software suite, students explore the core concepts of what makes a good video and develop skill both behind the camera and in post-production.

FIBER ARTS: In this exploratory, students investigate practices such as weaving on a loom, using a sewing machine, needle and wet felting, knitting, crocheting, fabric dyeing, embroidery, kumihimo, and basket coiling.

GUITAR: In this beginning guitar class, students explore American folk, pop, and contemporary Jewish music. They study the history of the guitar as an instrument for storytelling and learn many strum patterns along with different chord combinations and progressions. This class ends with a performance!

HELP THE HUNGRY: While hunger in Oregon often feels like an overwhelming problem with one in five people in our state facing food insecurity, our community is rich in resources with a multitude of committed individuals and agencies making a difference. The "Help the Hungry" exploratory includes both on-campus and off-campus volunteer opportunities such as preparing food and snack bags for delivery; serving meals; and helping to organize one of Portland’s largest food pantries located less than a mile from PJA.

DRAMA: There is a place for EVERYONE to participate in bringing a play to life! That's what this exploratory is all about. Students have the opportunity to participate both on- and off-stage and will participate in the theater process from audition to performance. After being cast, actors will be required to memorize lines and blocking. Class members will also have opportunities to work behind the scenes by designing and building sets and helping develop audio-visual effects. Participation in this exploratory will require after-school and/or weekend rehearsals.

MAKER WORKSHOP: In this class students will use the Makerspace as an open studio. They will learn about a variety of tools, techniques, and materials through small, skill-building projects. After demonstrating their skills in small projects, students will create at least one long-term project of their own design. Each maker will have an opportunity to go deeply into their work with the teachers as facilitators and guides. Areas for makers to explore include paper engineering, cardboard construction, sewing, robotics, programming, and more. The course will end with a mini maker fair.

MANHIGUT: In Hebrew, manhigut means leadership, and in this exploratory, students become part of a student leadership team. The team will be given the opportunity to serve as leaders and ambassadors both at PJA and in our community as they work with teachers and staff to plan and host school events and lead school spirit activities.

CHOIR: In this exploratory students realize everyone has a song to sing as they explore current pop favorites, folk songs, and contemporary Jewish music. Choir members engage in various vocal techniques along with range, pitch, and harmony singing as they learn all about our voice, the instrument we carry wherever we go! This exploratory includes performance opportunities.

LITERARY JOURNAL: In this writing and publishing workshop, students write, illustrate, design, edit, and publish a middle school literary journal. With opportunities for poets, short-story writers, graphic novelists, and illustrators, this exploratory gives students time and space to create and share their voice. Students examine and evaluate a variety of literary journals and decide together what form their journal will take. Also, students learn about different aspects of producing a journal, including creating guidelines for submissions, selecting, proofreading, designing, and editing.

PRESCHOOL ASSISTANT: In this exploratory students assist teachers in both the Headstart preschool program at the Neighborhood House across the street from our school and at our own PJA Preschool and Kindergarten classes. In addition to helping children on the playground and in classrooms, middle school students are encouraged to help teachers with planning and implementing lessons and activities.

VISUAL ARTS: In this class students work in an open studio and learn about a variety of techniques and materials. After having time to explore the many studio areas of the classroom, students will create at least one long-term work of art in their chosen media. Each artist will have an opportunity to go deeply into their work with the teacher as the facilitator. Throughout the class there will be mini-lessons on artists, along with new materials and ideas to incorporate into students’ work. Areas for artists to explore include clay, drawing, painting, sculpture, print-making, collage, and fiber arts.

YEARBOOK: In this exploratory, students work collaboratively to produce a high-quality yearbook, starting from the ground up. Students select a yearbook theme, photograph the year, sharpen their digital photography and editing skills, learn to write copy and design layouts as they create a publication for the entire school community.


The middle school curriculum culminates in Capstone, a multifaceted, interdisciplinary project. Through their work on Capstone, PJA eighth grade students deepen their understanding of Tikkun Olam (Repairing the world) and further develop the fundamental research skills and academic writing they’ve worked on in humanities classes while integrating key aspects of the Jewish Studies program. Each student designs and engages in a service learning project, selects a related topic to research and present in a formal, thesis-driven research essay, and writes a drash in which they explore the connections between their service project and some key aspect of Jewish life and teachings. Throughout the Capstone process, students record their progress and reflect on their experiences through regular blog entries. For more information about Capstone, click here

Spotlight on ...

6th Grade Jewish Studies

Last week, 6th grade students were introduced to the TaNaKh - the compilation of Torah (also known as the Five Books of Moses),

Read More about 6th Grade Jewish Studies