Learning values and flinging chickens, 65 freshmen become oriented to Shalhevet


TEAM-BUILDING: Freshmen bonded over several activities that encouraged teamwork and collaboration, such as Jenga. BP photo by Zoey Botnick.

The class of 2022 was welcomed to Shalhevet last week with everything from deep discussions of school values to tossing plastic chickens at the beach, as welcoming activities were expanded this year from two days to four.

In addition to the usual two required orientation days of learning to read their schedules, meeting teachers and finding out about Shalhevet culture, this year’s incoming freshmen were invited to an optional program called “Summer Bridge,” held Aug. 20 and 21. Out of 65 freshmen, roughly 50 attended at least one out of the voluntary days.

Led by a mixed group of staff and seniors, it focused on balancing students’ work life and social life, organization strategies, how to communicate with teachers and goal-setting, among other topics.  Director of Educational Support staff Ms. Ashley Evins led the program along with Ed. Support staff, guidance counselors, and seniors Honor Fuchs and Nathaniel Sadeghi, who led some of the exercises and shared personal stories of their experiences at Shalhevet.

Student reaction was overwhelmingly positive.

”I was expecting intimate icebreaker games,” said ninth-grader Amanda Wannon. “But, within the first five minutes at the beach, I saw people launching chickens towards targets and pizzas being thrown through hula hoops.

“This gave us the chance to connect without feeling the social pressure of high school,” she added.

Freshman Henry Fried appreciated the student input.

“Being able to hear things from the perspective of students who have been in my shoes helped me feel less anxious about the academic part of high school,” said Henry.

On the following days, Aug. 22 and 23, mandatory orientation was held at Shalhevet, and the beach was involved once again.. The students were introduced to the Shalhevet community as a whole, including the building, lockers, procedures, values and some of the faculty and staff.

On the first day, they gathered in the Beit Midrash, many seeming to sit alongside friends they knew from middle school. The day began with davening at followed by a breakfast on the patio.

After that, they were joined by several staff members and returning students boarded buses and made their way to Santa Monica beach, where they played games for two hours.

INTRODUCE: Rabbi Block was one of many speakers at the freshman orientation who worked to acclimate the freshmen into the Shalhevet culture. BP photo by Zoey Botnick.

“I was really nervous to suddenly be placed in a new environment filled with new kids that I didn’t know,” said freshman Zoe Amzalag. “Although I noticed some familiar faces, it was awkward and and a little bit uncomfortable to walk up to them and start talking to them.”

At the beach, they gathered on the sand where they were divided into eight teams for a game based on Survivor, the famous reality TV show. Each student had the opportunity to meet new people, express team spirit and get to know new classmates and teachers.

They then returned to Shalhevet where they met with their advisors and advisory groups in the gym. They also walked to each class on their schedule, rehearsing what they would experience on the first day of school.  There was also a large game of jenga.

On the second day of orientation the students gathered in the gym, where Rabbi Ari Schwarzberg spoke to them about dress code, the “Shalhevet way,” do’s and don’ts and several key values and messages for which Shalhevet stands. These included Common Good, Dialogue, Joy, Engagement, and the idea of reaching out of your comfort zone and to try things that one wouldn’t otherwise consider.

“Learning is done for the sake of learning and for the sake of growth,” Rabbi Schwarzberg said.

One of the values discussed was the idea of learning for its own sake — in Hebrew, Torah lishmah. Rabbi Schwarzberg said it isn’t just about completing your homework and turning it in,, or memorizing the material and spitting it back in an essay.

Rather, he said, it is about taking concepts, morals and ideas that are taught within the Shalhevet walls and applying them to your day-to-day life, whether through prayer, social interaction, school or elsewhere.

“I’m really happy that we got the chance to get to meet new people, some of our teachers, and get a feel for the school environment,” said Zoe. “I now feel less stressed out and a lot more prepared for high school.”

The Summer Bridge program was run by Educational Support staff Ms. Ashley Evins, Ms. Jen Hurvitz and Ms. Valencia Wilson; Guidance Counselors Ms. Gabriela Marcus and Ms. Esther R’bibo; and seniors Honor Fuchs and Nathaniel Sadeghi, who led some of the exercises and shared personal stories of their experiences at Shalhevet.