Brooklyn, NY – Students at five Chasidic yeshivos in Borough Park had their moment in the spotlight yesterday, displaying both their creativity and their knowledge of science and social studies at an end of year education fair.
Yesterday’s event, held at PS 180 in Borough Park, is the first of many to come, said Rabbi Avrohom Greenstein, executive director of the recently created Yeshiva Principals Association, which has been working with Chasidic boys schools in Brooklyn to ensure that students receive a well rounded education. Participating principals have been having meetings throughout the year, sharing resources and ideas to improve the quality of their secular curriculums.
“We have big plans,” Rabbi Greenstein told VIN News. “We will be bringing in experts on curriculum, testing and other areas, all in the spirit of making improvements, so that the time that we have available in our schools for English is being used properly.”
Rabbi Greenstein said that the group currently has seven member schools in Borough Park but that he has been approached by principals from others parts of Brooklyn, with a possible expansion to Rockland County also in the works. The Yeshiva Principals Association is developing a new secular studies curriculum to be instituted at member schools in the future.
“We have been working collectively with educational experts and there is going to be a big rollout for our yeshivos,” said Rabbi Greenstein. “The yeshivos are really catching on to these ideas in a big way and are encouraging students to learn secular subjects in a way that is in keeping with our philosophies.”
Sunday’s education fair included students in fourth through eighth grades representing Yeshiva Imrei Yosef Spinka, Yeshiva Beth Hillel Krasna, Yeshiva Ohr Moshe, Yeshiva Yesodei Hatorah and Yeshiva Mevakshei Hashem. The event included separate men’s and women’s viewing hours, with parents, rabbonim, school principals and administrators from many other yeshivos enjoying an opportunity to speak with the boys about their projects.
Rabbi Yochanan Zehnwirth, principal of the Klauszenberg yeshiva, spoke briefly about the importance of Chasidic yeshivos providing a well rounded secular education and introduced the Kossover Rebbe, Rabbi Shraga Feivish Hager, who discussed the importance of allocating sufficient time for a general studies curriculum. Other speakers included both faculty and student representatives of each school.
“Each one of those kids spoke better than most politicians I have heard,” said Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who also attended yesterday’s event, which included an awards presentation to all participating schools and students.
12 year old Yitzchok Drew, an eighth grader at Yeshiva Beth Hillel Krasna, was excited to share his three dimensional project which involved painted rivers, streams and mountains, fluffy white cotton ball clouds, a Lego fisherman and a model of a water tower.
“It is a simple but interesting cycle,” said Drew, who gave a detailed description of how the heat of the sun causes oceans to emit vapors which condense into clouds. Electrical currents produced in the clouds cause thunder, lightning and the rain which ultimately fills the water sources that supply our home faucets.
Drew said that he had spent approximately three weeks constructing his display. The educational component was part of his daily routine, noted Drew, who said he is always studying.
Among the highlights of the education fair for Hikind was seeing proud parents enjoying their children’s accomplishments and the passion and enthusiasm evident throughout the room.
“I am a guy who reads a lot but I learned so much yesterday from these kids,” said Hikind. “Some of them sounded like future Albert Einsteins and the way they explained things and were so excited I had to tell some of them to slow down just so I could follow what they were saying. It was gratifying to see that while there is no doubt that Torah is the most important thing that our children are learning, these kids are learning so many other things as well.”
This year’s event is the first of many planned by the Yeshiva Principals Association and Rabbi Greenstein said that they hope to bring the expo to both Brooklyn and Albany next year in an effort to demonstrate the schools’ commitment to a secular education.
Rabbi Mendy Balkany, principal of Yeshiva Bais Hillel Krasna, described the expo as an impressive achievement on several levels.
“We have broken ground on a new wave of collaboration amongst school principals,” said Rabbi Balkany. “Up until recently, every school was an isolated learning center but this has fostered a sense of greater purpose. From the preparatory stages through the actual event there was a spirit of unity, with principals working together to ensure the event’s success and I think this is going to carry forward to benefit the students, the schools and the community.”
Allowing students to see the work of their peers in other institutions was a tremendous motivator, observed Rabbi Balkany, who said the boys were impressed to see both rabbeim and secular studies staff coming to admire their handiwork. With so much interest generated by yesterday’s event and increasing requests from parents to broaden the secular curriculum in Chasidic schools, the Yeshiva Principals Association expects to see many more schools coming on board within the next few months.
“On the whole the Chasidic community has always been business driven, but we have seen a growing interest in professional careers with people becoming PAs, therapists, accountants and lawyers,” said Rabbi Balkany. “We wanted people to get a glimpse of our program, to see that we are serious and always looking to improve. The quality of secular education in Chasidic schools is being raised dramatically and the priority placed on general studies is going to be elevated as well.”