Knocking us off balance

Two Boiling Points of View, By Ari Feuer, Deputy Editor-in-Chief

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Look up from your screen for a second.

Is there a plate of French fries in front of you?  If there is, I’m sure you’ve already asked the owner of those mouthwatering, aromatic potatoes for a sample.   It’s just basic Shalhevet conduct.

Just as we never let free fries pass by, Shalhevet students can’t resist a hearty challenge dangled in front of them.  Through some combination of APs, co-curriculars, honors classes, and out-of-school activities, nearly every student fills his or her workload to the brim.

Case in point: the introduction of the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies (CAJS) last year.  CAJS undoubtedly bumped up Shalhevet’s academic standing and appeals to traditional Jewish high-schooler parents.

The program, however, came with some strings attached.  Consider it the fine print at the bottom of the metaphorical “CAJS contract” that students are now finding out about—the hard way.

The former Judaic program, for better or worse, granted most Shalhevet students a period or two per day that could be dedicated to any or all the following pursuits: a nap, math work, finishing an English essay, or a nap (repeated for emphasis). Of course, not every Judaic period was “free,” but students could reasonably rely on a handful of classes per week to catch up on work or sleep.

With CAJS, replace “catch up on work or sleep” with “must concentrate intently for 47 minutes.”

That’s a fair expectation for a Modern Orthodox Jewish school, but the consequences of the Judaic remodel now manifest in the droopy eyes of students and the missed classes of the stress-ridden who stay home to work or sleep.

The answer can’t be to lay off their thirst for challenge. Losing this attitude would mean the erasure of Shalhevet’s exceedingly vibrant culture. So there’s no return to the old Judaic system or dropping the rigor of classes.

But something must give.  The time that CAJS snatched up time must be balanced out somewhere else.  Certain departments need to cut back on homework, plain and simple.  And whichever departments would feel slighted by forced rollbacks need to understand that the Judaic department had been slighted for years.  Whether certain nights of the week are designated as “off-nights” for certain subjects or overall work is reduced by 20 to 30 percent as school-wide policy, students need some support to regain their footing.

If Shalhevet truly aims to produce well-rounded, religiously inspired, and intellectual students, General Studies must shift to allow Judaic classes their rightful place.  This need not necessitate sacrifice in the quality of secular courses.  Through efficient teaching and communication, General Studies teachers can maintain the quality of learning at Shalhevet with less time.  It might be difficult, but the school’s mission requires it be executed – and quickly.

Students should look forward to ditching those droopy eyes and stressful evenings.  But they shouldn’t feel like they have to drop an elective class or co-curricular to do so.  Instead, students should be empowered to excel in Judaics, General Studies, and extra activities simultaneously.  Between its students and its faculty, Shalhevet definitely has the resources to make it all happen.

Never pass up your free French fries.  By the way – can I get a couple more, please?