[by Shiela Steinman Wallace]
As a result of the Jewish Community of Louisville Program Review Committee’s report and a generous challenge grant from David Klein, the JCL is in the process of hiring a middle school director to develop and implement programming specifically for 6th-8th graders.
The future of the Jewish community is in our children. We must nurture them and provide positive Jewish experiences in our families and in the community to help them develop strong Jewish identities.
For our youngest children, JCL has Shalom Baby and The PJ Library as well as a variety of early childhood enrichment classes, programs and camps at the Jewish Community Center. When they begin school, there are the Louisville Hebrew School, The Temple Hebrew School and the Louisville Jewish Day School. High schoolers can supplement the formal Jewish education at the High School of Jewish Studies with engaging social and social action programs through BBYO and synagogue youth groups. JCC camp, Jewish overnight camps and Israel experiences add tremendously to building Jewish identity.
With all these opportunities, we are missing an important link. The Jewish Community of Louisville is not adequately serving the middle school population.
Middle school is a time of transition between childhood and the teen years. They attend their own schools and are expected to begin assuming more responsibility for managing their schoolwork and extracurricular activities. The nature of their interaction with their peers changes with the onset of puberty. They’re stretching their wings and beginning to become more independent, but are not yet ready to take flight.
The synagogues recognize the importance of this transition. That is why middle schoolers engage in intensive study and become b’nai mitzvah. Their social lives are expanding as they attend the parties associated with these coming of age ceremonies. The Pledge 13 and B’nai Tzedek programs offer the chance to begin to work toward tikkun olam – the repair of the world, but more is needed.
When the JCL’s Program Review Committee made its report, it identified quality programming for middle school students as the most crucial need.
“The Teen Subcommittee programming report was adamant about the need for a separate middle school director,” said Program Review Committee Co-Chair Karen Abrams. “Children from the 6th-8th grades are quite different from high schoolers, and they need their own programs.”
When the JCL Board accepted the Program Review Committee’s report, they took the next step, forming a Strategic Planning Committee to look at the report in context of finances and facilities to enable the community to move forward.
But the need for a middle school director is so critical that David Klein stepped forward and issued a challenge grant that, with the addition of matching funds from the community, will enable the JCL to hire a middle school director now to begin special programming for this group.
The JCL Board agreed to the match, guaranteeing the needed funding through the Foundation for Planned Giving, and the search for the right person has begun.
The middle school director must be able to build relationships with the teens and their parents, work with a committee, and plan, implement and evaluate programs and special events that will engage and excite the middle schoolers.
“Middle school is a crucial time to engage our young teens in quality Jewish programming so they will want to continue being involved in the Jewish community through their high school years,” Abrams explained. “B’nai Tzedek programming needs to be restarted and reenergized, and the Teen Connection can be a steppingstone to BBYO. Middle schoolers also need community service projects that will enable them to earn their Beta Club hours.
“If we miss engaging this age group,” she continued, “we’ve missed a tremendous opportunity. That’s why the Program Review Committee is insistent that we need a dedicated staff person working with a lay committee for each stage of life. With this person in place, people will know exactly who to contact to get involved, to give feedback or to share ideas.”
“The energy coming from the Program Review committee really made the middle school director position a priority,” said JCL vice president and Campaign director Sara Wagner. “It’s exciting to know that more than 200 6th-8th graders and their families will have a designated professional to connect these preteens to the Jewish community and motivate them to stay involved in their high school years.”
“David Klein is a champion for Jewish teens, and we are very excited to move forward on new initiatives in middle school programming,” said Robin K. Stratton, JCL vice president and JCC chief operating officer. “With David’s challenge grant and the financial commitment of the JCL Board of Directors, we’re upping the possibilities by creating a dedicated Middle School program professional with a designated operating budget to ensure programmatic excellence for our community.”
Stratton also noted that programming for this age group has already begun with the help of a dedicated group of parents involved in the Louisville Jewish Teen Initiative and as a result of the Program Review Teen Sub-Committee. “We grabbed hold of this enthusiasm and positive momentum to drive program development, volunteer involvement and teen excitement,” Stratton said. “The results are tremendous, with Teen Connection participation climbing to 50 new teens, exciting social activities and sold-out field trips.”
With the addition of a middle school director, the JCL is taking the next steps toward reaching our goals of programmatic excellence.