Yeshivat Kadimah students show off their sports spirit. Writer Bella Adler is third from the left.
Nobody thought we could do it. Nobody expected us to succeed. Nobody understood how close we could become until they witnessed a day in action at Yeshivat Kadimah High School.
A new Orthodox high school opened last year in St. Louis with a total of just 10 students. I am privileged to be among these special 10. As our first year ends, I reflect upon a period of nine months that changed my life and the way I view school and Jewish education, forever.
High school is a formative time in a teenager’s life. I felt strongly about entering Yeshivat Kadimah High School because during these key years of a person’s life I wanted to be in a positive Jewish environment that facilitated involvement in the secular world.
A popular Hebrew expression is kol yisrael areivim zeh bazeh, the people of Israel are responsible for one another, but often it is hard to feel like your opinion is heard. And it’s often hard to feel like your voice matters or that what you do actually makes a difference in a school filled with so many teens and so much competition. There is an average of 1,005 students in a public high school in New York, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In California, the average is 999 students. And in Missouri, where I am from, the average is 537 students. It is easy to feel lost in these large numbers, but that’s not the case in my school.
At Yeshivat Kadimah the students get to run programs, influence their own schedules, courses and staff, and we are very close with one another. The school is a unique learning environment, “utilizing modern technologies and educational tools such as differentiated and blended learning, enriched by real-world experiences outside the classroom,” according to our mission statement.
Each student has a school-provided laptop. Our class work, tests, curriculum and extra support are found on an online learning management system called Haiku Learning. The Haiku manages Judaic and secular learning. Online texts, primary sources, polls, discussion forms and quizzes make education interesting and exciting. We use our Haiku in conjunction with teachers to integrate the use of technology while benefitting from a small class size and interpersonal relationships with our teachers. In my school there are more staff members than students, but ironically this allows me to get to know my teachers, and they really know me; this creates a superb teacher-to-student relationship.
My daily classes probably look just like yours. In our science room, the biology students dissect frogs and rats, and the chemistry students combine compounds to form solids, liquids and gases. We practice math equations on whiteboards hung up next to a flat-screen TV that is connected to the teacher’s computer. My spirals are filled with notes and doodles, similar to any other high school student. However, all of my worksheets, quizzes, study guides and more are online instead of in a plastic folder. I look forward to Fridays when we venture outside of school. We’ve volunteered in a local charity, met a federal judge and visited a bird hospital.
Each of us matters. We bring something unique to our school and if someone is not there on a particular day, the absence is felt. Our school is like one giant family, and I couldn’t be luckier to have nine “brothers” and “sisters” whom I attend school with.
Every student plays multiple roles. We run student life, programming, sports activities, spirit week and everything involved in creating a dynamic high school. Because we are small in number, we have the ability to receive individualized attention for our specific interests. We each have a strong say in the courses offered and sports played.
In April a fellow student and I ran our own ceremonies. The first was in commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day. We lit candles, watched videos on Jewish history and the Rwandan genocide and said prayers together. On Israel’s Memorial Day, Yom HaZikaron, each student in the school was assigned to research an Israeli soldier who was killed in battle; we sat in a circle by the light of a yahrtzeit candle and each student told a story as if he or she was the fallen hero.
The following day, to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day, one of my peers brought in blue and white decorating materials. We spent an hour with our backs hunched over white poster boards with blue markers. Students were out of breath from blowing up blue and white balloons, hanging streamers from the ceiling and taping Israeli flags to the walls. Not only was it lots of fun to create these events for my whole school, but it was also incredibly meaningful that everybody had a chance to participate in every program. Leadership roles in Yeshivat Kadimah can be found everywhere. (Photo: Bella Adler, second from right, and friends celebrate Israel's Independence Day.)
There is also tremendous flexibility regarding the AP courses I want to take. As long as our educational director is given enough notice to hire a teacher, the options are limitless.
A friend and I decided that during our second semester study hall period we wanted to tutor young children. Because Kadimah rents space from a Jewish elementary school, we were easily able to arrange these sessions. We enjoyed reading, solving math problems and drawing with the first graders.
High school students attending a large school see their influence in perhaps only one club, but by going to a small school we see our influence in every aspect of our education. Even more importantly, I have learned that every student is a role model; we are a family and how you treat every person matters. I am so thankful for this opportunity to understand the value of individuality. The 10 of us came from different backgrounds, but united we are role models for each other and for the world.
“Kadimah” is the Hebrew word for “moving forward.” As the founding year of this new Jewish high school comes to a close, I can’t help but imagine what next year will bring. With our school enrollment increasing by at least 50 percent, I know that we will have the exciting responsibility to teach incoming students how to use the Haiku system and how to be dual curriculum — online and traditional — learners. But most important, I can’t wait to instill in the new students the lesson that each one of us matters.
We have the power to influence one another for the better. Each one of us has the opportunity to become leaders and start something new — a club, class or elective. (Keep a look out for a future Kadimah garden, sewing club, basketball team and more!) In our school we are always looking for new ways to present information, different ways of expressing individuality and seeking out various innovations of forward thinking. There’s no school where I’d rather be.