December 18, 2014   26 Kislev 5775
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Instilling a Culture of Social Action in Religious School
Mar. 14, 2011
Comprehensive social action curriculum in religious school classrooms culminating in a Social Action Day on the last day of school.

Community Contact Information:
Temple Adath B’nai Israel
Evansville, IN
www.templeabi.org

 

Goals:

  • To give the synagogue’s religious school students an age-appropriate understanding of the Jewish views of social action
  • To give students the knowledge and skills to determine what is important to them and help repair the world on an individual and community basis
  • To give them an opportunity to apply what they learn and put social action “into action” through commitments of time, talent and Tzedakah

Overview:
Temple Adath B’nai Israel implemented a comprehensive social action curriculum in its religious school for students ages 3 to 16 and their families. The curriculum teaches the students at an early age about social justice from a Jewish viewpoint and how to engage in social justice, cumulating in a large Social Action Day program on the last day of school.

Preparation:
This initiative was integrated into the religious curriculum and the principal did the primary program coordination. In addition, the rabbi assisted with the Jewish educational aspects of the program, teachers play an integral part of the classroom learning experiences and parents volunteered as needed.  

Preparation tasks include:

  • Conducting research for curriculum and gathering supplementary information for teachers.
  • Formal educating and trainining for teachers. Lesson plans were provided but teachers found formal training beneficial. 
  • Lesson plan development focused on teaching students how to choose a cause and organization to sponsor.
  • Organizing school-wide celebrations. 
  • Planning the end-of the-year Social Action Day, when sponsored organizations are invited to accept a “check” from the class and talk to the students about the organization.

Planning the end-of-the-year Social Action Day requires a great deal of coordination with the external partners. “Time and Talent” booths were set up to allow families the opportunity to participate in hands-on social action activities such as making blankets for local animal shelters or packing food in backpacks for a weekend food program. 

Project Implementation: 
In every class, teachers cover the Jewish concepts of justice, tikkun olam and tzedakah in an age-appropriate manner. The rabbi supplements this classroom instruction during all-school assemblies.

The classroom lessons ask students to vote on which “cause” (environment, elderly, animals, etc.) they wish to focus on this year. The teachers in the younger classes provide the students with options, while the older students conduct Internet research to find organizations. The classes then select one organization to sponsor for the year.

Throughout the year, the students learn more about their causes and organizations. Each class prepares a presentation to share with other classes and teach students about their cause.

The last day of school is celebrated with a Social Action Day.  The sponsored organizations are invited to accept a check from the class and talk about the organization. After the presentations, hands-on “Time and Talent” booths are set up where students learn that helping others involves more than simply donating money. Sample booth projects include: put together hygiene kits for women and children’s shelters and crafting Dolls for Darfur to sell to congregants.

Hands-on activities are also offered to teach the children more about the organization/cause. For example, the children learned how to give shots to stuffed animals to better understand Juvenile Diabetes and worked with an assist dog to learn more about people with disabilities.

In 2010, each family was encouraged to choose a cause and develop a Social Action Day booth for that cause. In 2011, Temple Adath B’nai Israel plans to reinstitute a Social Action Day event at one of the sponsored organizations, such asa  local food bank.

Results:
Since the program’s inception in 2006, Temple Adath B’nai Israel has donated tzedakah to more than 20 organizations and supplied time and talent to several more, including: the Tri-State Food Bank, Ronald McDonald House, the Juvenile Diabetes Association, Dolls for Darfur and Tri-State Rescue Dogs.

Each year, the students gain a deeper understanding of how one individual can make a difference and how a community can make an even bigger difference when its members work together. In addition, with families engaged in the process, social action becomes a family discussion. 

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