PJ Goes to Supplementary Schoolby Lisa Litman
PJ Goes to School (PJGtS), a companion program to PJ Library®, works with schools and educators across North America to bring Jewish values to life in your school community. PJGtS offers a holistic approach to family engagement and Jewish education, triggering conversations about Jewish values in schools in the same way PJ Library inspires dialogue in the home. The program began in early childhood settings and in 2014 expanded to include supplementary schools and day schools with children in kindergarten through second grade, aka PJGtS K-2.
PJGtS K-2 was created not to reinvent the wheel, but to add supporting spokes to any curriculum. Many supplementary schools share space, meet infrequently, and can benefit from PJGtS K-2’s easily accessible resource materials to help scaffold learning with staff, students, and families. Teachers in supplementary schools receive a yearly kit of books and materials for the classroom based on an overarching theme that organizes and anchors learning. Educators are given scholarships to participle in a PJGtS track at national conferences such as NewCAJE and in webinars during the school year. The resource materials rely heavily on experiential learning; students and teachers are very enthusiastic about the program.
We know that children learn better when families are involved in the learning, too. Lisa Litman, director of PJ Goes to School and Cyd Weissman, assistant vice president of innovation and impact for Reconstructing Judaism began to imagine how they could use PJ Library books with teachers and encourage learning and the living of Jewish values in the home. The PJ Goes to School Home Library pilot was born. Teachers in the pilot receive books and support materials for each child and family in addition to the classroom materials.
“The project intends to bridge the gap between the richness of what’s taught in the classroom and the power the family has to support that learning and make Jewish values their own,” says Weissman.
How important are Jewish values for families?
The 2016 PJ Library Triennial Family Study*, which collected responses from more than 25,000 PJ Library families, indicates that PJ Library parents are proud to be Jewish and want their children to develop a Jewish identity. More than half of families read PJ library books at least once a week. In a survey of the 90 families participating in the PJGtS Home Library pilot, 47% of families said that PJGtS moved them to discuss Jewish values at home and/or engage in new Jewish experiences.
Lisa Litman, director of PJ Goes to School, and Cyd Weissman, assistant vice president of innovation and impact for Reconstructing Judaism, will share the 2018 B’nai B’rith Educators’ Humanitarian Award for significant contributions to improve the lives and educational experiences of Jewish youth. Litman and Weissman partnered to create the PJ Goes to School Home Library Pilot which is the basis for this year’s award.
“Receiving an award for partnering with Cyd Weissman is a gift,” reports Lisa. “This is a rare opportunity to work with an outstanding educator who is equally committed to Jewish values-based learning. We are proud to be working on a project that allows students to investigate PJ Library books and Jewish concepts in school, and then bring those books home to further explore Jewish ideas with their family.”
*“From Jewish Books to Jewish Life: Results from PJ Library’s 2016 Triennial Family Study.” Prepared by Informing Change.