Roundtable Q&A Discussion About The Toronto Heschel School (2021)
The Toronto Heschel School alumni, current students, and parents shared their insights on the school’s culture, values, strengths, and weaknesses. Hear what Seth, Jessica, Paige had to say about the school.
- 4:14 - Why did you choose the Toronto Heschel school originally? In which ways was the school what you expected? And in which ways was it not?
- 10:51 - How would you describe the values of the school and the values of the families in the school community?
- 14:21 - What to the best of your knowledge, most differentiates the school from other schools?
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Highlights from the Q&A discussion
Seth — current parent
Seth has two children, one daughter who graduated from The Toronto Heschel School in 2019, and a son who is in his last year there. His daughter is now at a high school that offers enriched programming in math, computer technology, and science. Seth is the president of a marketing and communications company, and sat on the school's Marketing Committee for several years.
- “[The Toronto Heschel School] is all about thinking, teaching [students] to think. Creative problem-solving and thinking. Those two things combined mean they can accomplish anything in the world. Learning to show up every day and achieve is something [The Toronto Heschel School] is designed for.”
- “If you show up every day to [The Toronto Heschel School] from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 8, what you can learn is unbelievable. You can write essays in Hebrew, you can draw, you can paint, you can do drama. It doesn't matter if you have one of those strengths when you started at the school. Obviously, every kid is different. Some kids are wonderful at math, some kids are amazing in science, and some kids are physically active. Every kid gets all those opportunities to repeatedly practice all of those things in the most cutting edge methods available at [The Toronto Heschel School].”
- “We've learned over the 10 years that my kids were in [The Toronto Heschel School] ... that it wasn't the same as when they started. ... If there's a better way to do something, they implement it, and they don't just implement it randomly, they implement it with research and professional development.”
- “Families are really close. … I think it's because we all share the same values. ... [The Toronto Heschel School] is not a closed community. It's part of a greater community, the community of Toronto, and the community of the world. There's an environment of inclusivity. It doesn't matter what level of practice you do in Judaism, if you are Orthodox or secular or whatever. Everyone's included and everyone's considered equal. Equality as well as diversity of thought.”
- “[The Toronto Heschel School families] are invited to participate, to volunteer, to contribute to see their kids. There's always multiple events throughout the year where the families come in to see their kids, and what they've done. The kids are so proud to present all their work to the families.”
- “The integrated curriculum means that each subject at [The Toronto Heschel School] is treated equally… . [Gym class] is just as important as art and music.”
- “The idea of Judaism in theory, is that it happened in the past. You're just learning about the past. You're just learning history. [The Toronto Heschel School] brings Judaism to life, and makes it more [modern]. ... [Students] obviously learn about the past, but they debate it, and ask questions... All of those things make it really exciting and really different. I think that all subjects are treated as equal ... which allows kids over the course of the time to find what they're passionate about.”
- “If [students] don't want to do drama, and it's not something [they're] interested in, at [The Heschel School] they have no choice. They have to try. It really works because they discover so much about themselves, what they're capable of, even if they never anticipated that they could do that.”
- “My daughter was afraid of the Hanukkah concert. She could not go on stage, period. She would cry, she'd walk off, but the teachers would support her every year... By the end of [her time at The Toronto Heschel School]... She would speak in front of the school. She's confident to present. She writes presentations for organizations now, and she's happy to present. She does all kinds of things… [The school] kept giving her the opportunities, and kept supporting her… They give her the tools to give her the practice. The key is that practice.”
- “Words [to describe The Toronto Heschel School are] curious, caring, and confident. … [The Toronto Heschel School] creates curiosity from the moment [students] walk in the doors, to the moment they leave. They're curious about the world. They're curious about why things happen. ... They're curious about everything, and they discover so many things, and [the students] feed off of each other because everything is project-based at [The Toronto Heschel School]. ... [They teach that] it’s okay to fail. It's not about success or failure, but it's based on trying.”
- “The teachers care about their jobs. They care about the students, and it shows every day. … Your kid is at school [a large] percent of the day. [School] is their family as well, especially when they're younger. [The Toronto Heschel School is] such a safe environment because the [teachers and staff] care so much, and they know the [students] really well. They don't forget you. The kid leaves, and they want to know how the kid is doing.”
- “[The Toronto Heschel School] doesn't just care about the students, they care about the environment. They show every day that they care about the community. They put that into practice all the time. [They ask] ‘how can we contribute to the community? How can we be a part of the community? How can I build up that community of people?’ … [The Toronto Heschel School] has been doing their approach to education for 25 years. I think they build an inner confidence that this is the right way to teach kids. I think it's really important to be confident.”
- “My daughter also started her own baking business. [She has] the confidence. It's almost like they're ready to grow up too quickly. I guess it's almost what happens after [The Toronto Heschel School]. They're ready to start their lives. I know they're only graduating eighth grade, and they want to learn and everything, but they feel ready. They're very prepared.”
- “[My kids] say there's a lot of Hebrew at [The Toronto Heschel School]. ... I'd say that it's challenging. I think it's a positive challenge, and they're challenged by the school. I think the big thing is that [my kids] don't feel bored. [The Toronto Heschel School] isn’t boring. It's not boring because there's always something happening. There is always something to strive for, and something new to learn. I think they would also speak the same words [about The Toronto Heschel School], saying it helped them with their confidence.”
- “[My kids] think the teachers really care about them. They would have great stories to tell about their interactions with [other] students, and their different experiences at [The Toronto Heschel School], like from the class trips, class events, and different projects.”
- “[The Toronto Heschel School] teaches [students] how to build up an argument, not over one course, but over the course of the entire 10 years. Then that's how [students have been] prepared. It’s why they're ready [for high school], because they've been practicing, not for one week, but for their entire time [at The Toronto Heschel School].”
- “We definitely made lifelong friends [from The Toronto Heschel School]. … Because of the fact that [The Toronto Heschel School] has so many different kinds of events to participate in… You're often seeing the other families, obviously in the hallways picking up kids every day. You constantly have an opportunity to explore to build these relationships. It's not once a year, when you see them at the end of the year. Picking up your kids from the school building, you've seen them almost every day in the school year. … Then you can get together, collaborate, and enjoy each other's company?”
- “We need more kids who've gone through the [The Toronto Heschel School] way of education, so that they're a whole person. ... Mental and social well being, all of it matters. All of it comes to fruition, [students have] the confidence to stand up and say no, or say yes, whatever it is, and to be their own people. I'd say that [The Toronto Heschel School] gives [students] that opportunity.”
Jessica — current parent
Jessica has two daughters and a son that attended The Toronto Heschel School. One of her daughters is studying psychology at York University, and her son is studying Kinesiology at Queen’s University. Her youngest daughter is in her last year of high school and is looking forward to furthering her education after graduation.
- “I think what we were really quite impressed with was this whole concept of an integrated curriculum at [The Toronto Heschel School]. My husband had gone through a traditional day school system, and both of us really felt that change was long overdue. I also liked the way that they talked about subjects with arts-based integration, which was something that we were seeing in the post-secondary educational world. ... A movement away from only rote learning and starting to integrate critical thinking into how students were taught.”
- “We both felt that [The Toronto Heschel School] was the right place for us to start. ... So for me, all of our academic expectations were absolutely met by [The Toronto Heschel School]. I think our kids came out with an incredible education on so many levels.”
- “I think that the curriculum, the integration, the art space, the way that they teach critical thinking has stayed with [my kids]. ... I would say it really has met our expectations.”
- “I really felt that [my kids] came out [of The Toronto Heschel School] with exactly what I had hoped they would come out with, as learners, as social beings, and as people.”
- “The way that [The Toronto Heschel School] integrates the families and the way that that builds the community, is still so strong. … Inclusivity is such a huge value at [The Toronto Heschel School]. I think it is woven into everything that the school does. … [The Toronto Heschel School] has a very strong value of its relationship to Judaism, and that is really woven into the curriculum.”
- “[The Toronto Heschel School], through their programs, walks the walk. … Our kids are taught that on any level, no matter how big or how small you are, you can make a difference in the world. I think that that creates confidence in [students] as people. It creates confidence in themselves as learners, and in their ability to be the best people that they can be.”
- “I think that the integrated curriculum is really what differentiates [The Toronto Heschel School]. Where you see this coming alive is that the teachers, the educators, and the administrators within the school, they buy into it, and they feel passionate about it, and they enjoy teaching. They want to be there to impart this curriculum to their students. I think when you have a group of very committed professionals who are there teaching your students, teaching your children, the reception of the learning, of the education and the information, is so different.”
- “ I will also say that [The Toronto Heschel School] has found that beautiful balance between being a very highly academic institution, and also a very nurturing place, so that kids can work to their own levels, whether they're really excelling in certain areas or if they require a little bit of extra help.”
- “No [student] feels that they're being compared. Everybody feels that they're working towards the best, that they can be. I think that's where the nurturing comes in. ... I feel like [The Toronto Heschel School] is definitely different from other institutions.”
- “When [students are] given the opportunity to try something … they actually can develop a skill that they didn't think they had, and it stays with them. It goes with them through the rest of their life. They actually are more well-rounded beings at the end of it.”
- “Three words to describe [The Toronto Heschel School] as a person would be intelligent, collaborative, and kind. … [The Toronto Heschel School] is a highly academic institution. It's intelligent in its approach to education. There's absolutely nothing that's brought forward to the students that's not very well researched, documented, and thought through. … There have been studies that show that this is the way to impart education and knowledge for children… I would say [The Toronto Heschel School] is collaborative, because when you have an integrated curriculum, collaboration is something that just happens. It's organic. There needs to be collaboration with the teachers.”
- “The parents are always welcome, that there's always a place for parents to come in, to talk, to collaborate, to provide insights and input, and the teachers are always receptive.”
- “I really do feel that there's just such kindness. There's such kindness as soon as you walk into [The Toronto Heschel School]. There's such kindness that's mirrored and that's shown to the kids, and that they show to each other. [Students] leave [The Toronto Heschel School] understanding what it means to be treated kindly and what it means to treat others kindly.”
- “I think the biggest impact [of The Toronto Heschel School on my kids] is their confidence. I think they're confident learners. There's always this talk of critical thinking. ... I think critical thinking is knowing the right questions to ask, knowing how to learn in a way that's going to work for you. I think that they leave [The Toronto Heschel School] with this confidence that their questions are good questions, and that their ability to learn is very strong, and that they know how to go in there and advocate for themselves as learners.”
- “I think [The Toronto Heschel School] allows [students] to grow in that way that when they get to the stage where they actually have to stand up and be who they are, they're confident doing it. I would say that really the biggest impact that had on my kids was just this confidence, this all around confidence.”
- “If you ask [my children] were they happy that they went to [The Toronto Heschel School], they [would say they] are so happy. They would not have wanted to go anywhere else. I think that what that really speaks to, is that they're looking back on a hugely positive experience. There was so much good that was a part of their school. So much good was a part of their education.”
- “I would say that the biggest impact is that whoever you are as a person, [The Toronto Heschel School] appreciates and cherishes the individual person. … I asked my son, who is on a trip in Israel, ‘Can you tell me what you would say about [The Toronto Heschel School]?’... He said, ‘I would say that [The Toronto Heschel School] teaches the ability to connect seemingly unrelated issues in a beautiful way.’ What that really says to me is they can see that everything is connected to their bigger world.”
- “[Community is] one of the most beautiful things that [The Toronto Heschel School] is able to offer. I think that it starts by allowing the parents to come together in a formal way, through all different events that they might hold. ... There's just so many different events that bring the families together.”
- “What I really remember, and really enjoyed, was each year each grade has something special that they do, and it's kind of like a rite of passage. … There's different things within the year, and I think [students] certainly feel this immense pride. … As an adult, and as a parent, when you go and you start to see things like their human rights speeches, and their projects that they do, you see the integration of everything that they've learned [at The Toronto Heschel School].
- “Sending your kids to [The Toronto Heschel School]l is a gift. It's something that they will have with them forever. They will take it with them. We can hear through [alumni] just how much [The Toronto Heschel School] is still weaving its way, and showing its colours. I think that's what I see in my own children. I think that that should really be a guiding force for a lot of parents when they decide where their kids are going to go to school.”
Paige — alum
Paige attended The Toronto Heschel School from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 8. She then went to Greenwood College for high school and completed her undergraduate degree in Arts and Sciences at McMaster University. She is now in her second year at the University of Toronto working towards her Master’s degree in Museum Studies, while working as an education coordinator at the Bowlborn Museum in Ottawa.
- “I think what I appreciated most about my time at [The Toronto Heschel School] was the opportunity to be really creative in all things. Whether it was inventing a new number system … or a dramatic retelling of the biblical stories of Roman myths, there was always room for imagination and wonder in my learning. Looking back on that experience, that was a really kind of joyful way to go about my education.”
- “[The Toronto Heschel School’s] approach really places knowledge in a constellation with each other, so that all things are connected. … Art is never far away from science, and science is never far away from historical moments in which they arose. ... What's so unique about [The Toronto Heschel School’s] interdisciplinary approach, in that no one piece of knowledge is at the center, or elevated above the others; rather you learn things as part of a network, as a whole.”
- “Looking back on my time at [The Toronto Heschel School], I loved the opportunities for creativity, and to explore different ways of learning, and different ways of knowing. … So much of [The Toronto Heschel School’s] curriculum is about exploring your individuality and deciding how you want to be as a whole person.”
- “[If The Toronto Heschel School were a person] they would be outgoing, someone who's willing to try new things, take a leap of faith, and experiment, as well as work with others creatively. Definitely someone who's really trying to express themselves in all ways. I would describe [The Toronto Heschel School] as critical, and I don't mean that in the sense of negative or harsh. I mean inquisitive and curious, and constantly kind of asking why, almost poking and prodding a little bit, always trying to push a little bit further.”
- “What was most surprising about [The Toronto Heschel School] is how many of the lessons learned aren't actually curriculum content. So much of what I learned at [The Toronto Heschel School] were different ways of thinking and knowing. Ways of just being, and interacting with the world and my peers. Even ways of interpreting my own beliefs, my own faith system, and Judaism. Being able to place myself among different actors, and different systems among a broader network of the world. It was really the biggest lesson that I took away, and that's perhaps surprising for a middle school education.”
- “[The Toronto Heschel School] really allows you to bring your whole self to your education, because it does ask you to make connections between subject matter through time as you explore this interdisciplinary curriculum. It really allows [students] to bring their own perspective as they learn and grow. Being open to all those opportunities is, I think, the most valuable piece of advice to get the most out of this wonderful education.”
- “I definitely felt prepared [for high school]. [The Toronto Heschel School] gives you a lot of opportunity to explore different ways of learning, and different ways of showcasing your learning. I had really developed a broad range of analytical skills that allowed me to come to my high school education able to do critical analysis, that you're asked to do as you move through a higher level education. Those skills have honestly carried me through all the way up to a grad school, where I am now.”
- “I think the interdisciplinary curriculum at [The Toronto Heschel School] really did teach me a malleability in the way that I can think. I'm able to adjust different expectations, different styles of learning, different methodologies, and different epistemologies, which really allowed me to excel throughout high school and throughout university.”
- “[The Toronto Heschel School] really encouraged me to be a highly empathetic person. That malleability really requires you to take yourself out of yourself, and to try and empathize with others beyond just sympathy, to really try and feel it yourself and to think through other people's positionalities from your own eyes. I think that empathy and that valuability has really stuck with me.”
- “I remember in Junior Kindergarten, in the art room at [The Toronto Heschel School], I was always told that I could never have any sneaky white spaces on my paper. Every inch of my art had to be covered with pattern, or shape, or collaging, or something. I really do think that that's the way I was taught to look at life as well. Every bit is filled with colour in life.”