At Hillel, the transition to middle school is known as Gesher (bridge), and our 5-6 community goes by this same name. Students move into a space that encourages their growing maturity, with learning studios that spill out into common spaces allowing for cooperative and collaborative work.
As students move into the 5-6 community, attention to social-emotional growth is as important as academic progress. Students form micro-communities through Advisory, where they can safely discuss what’s on their mind with a faculty member who acts as mentor and confidant. Health becomes a topic of conversation both through the sciences and physical education, where students internalize the importance of making responsible choices guided by their Jewish values.
Students move to a modified block schedule, and keep track of assignments through the use of technology, as every fifth through eighth grader is given a personal tablet, adhering to a code of conduct that governs acceptable and responsible use.
Gesher students are at an age when their thought process is more involved and they are better able to take in and analyze more complex information. The curriculum is designed to challenge and interest them as they move into adolescence. As such, in addition to Ivrit and Tanakh, students learn Rabbinics, the texts of our oral tradition. These sources help our students understand the basis for our values and practice, and how Judaism has adapted to and remains essential in the modern world.
In fifth grade, students learn selections from Shemot (Book of Exodus), and they learn how to layn (read) Torah, thus viewing it as a lifelong skill in synagogue life. A fashion show or restaurant scene conducted entirely in Hebrew showcases proficiency, and strengthens connection to Israel as the students immerse themselves in news events and culture.
In Language Arts, comparative essays and poetry abound, annotating texts is de rigueur, and editing and peer review are integral to the writing process. Technology is a powerful tool as the students use the Internet for research, often working in pairs or groups to fine-tune skills in communication and collaboration. In social studies, they explore how American history affects their lives today.
Sixth graders cast their eyes beyond our borders, learning how circumstance and location affect how one lives in their study of Canada and Latin America. They discover economics and innovation through an integrated Shark Tank unit, which employs the design process to guide students towards developing a product that can improve the lives of others. Throughout the unit, students are prototyping in our Maker Space, writing a persuasive speech for their product pitch, and practicing public speaking skills. It is truly a highlight of the year!
Another highlight of the Gesher years are class Shabbatonim, with the fifth grade spending Shabbat together at school, and the sixth grade enjoying Shabbat in nature at Tamarack Camps. Additionally, a yearlong partnership with Jewish Senior Life allows students to interact with older members of the Jewish community, increasing their empathy and giving them a perspective on life that can be engendered by a unique intergenerational friendship.