A new Jewish day school will open in York Region north of Toronto in fall 2022, betting that its Torah-based curriculum and child-centred approach can help it survive in an area where so many other Jewish day schools have recently closed. Bialik Hebrew Day School is the lone remaining Jewish day school that is not limited to Orthodox students.
Tamim Academy plans to change that.
The opening of is spearheaded by two preschool teachers in the region, Toby Bernstein of Chabad Romano’s Gan Shalom and Goldie Plotkin of Chabad Markham’s Torah Tots. The two educators identified a need for their departing students for a Jewish day school with a Torah-based curriculum that was open to students of all denominations.
Bernstein said opening up such an institution has been her dream since Associated Hebrew Schools closed their northern branch a few years ago. She and Plotkin believed that creating a new campus for Tamim Academy, which currently has six campuses in the United States, would represent an ideal match with their educational goals.
“The philosophy of the school is to provide for the whole child, to help the child grow on every level: in the spiritual, in the physical, in the emotional and their academics. But it all has to work in sync. The child has to feel emotionally healthy in order to be able to open up to learn. A child has to have any learning issues resolved so that he can grow,” Bernstein said.
“So everything is interconnected, especially the Torah, and the spirituality is interconnected with all the things that we’re learning, whether it’s the secular subject, whether it’s emotional health. It has to be Torah-based from all angles.”
The teacher may begin a class the same way, with a group lesson for everyone, but every other step is calibrated to the individual student. Different goals are prepared for each one, and then the teacher facilitates by going between the children and making sure that everybody is working on theirs.
The goals aren’t exclusively academic, but cover a wide range of domains, including working together as a team, learning how to think independently and come to conclusions, and learning how to be proud of an accomplishment on your own.
“The emotional is very much a part of it because they’re integrating a lot of the emotional skills that they’re learning into their daily life.
“If a child gets frustrated, how do they deal with the frustration? We go back and look at the paper again and see what we did wrong, and how can we get it right? So the teachers are there to help facilitate that growth mindset, to learn how to learn how to handle frustration or setbacks and how to celebrate achievements, all in a healthy manner.”
Emotional and interpersonal lessons are not considered separate from the academic component of the school, but deeply integrated with them; for that matter, academic subjects that are traditionally considered separate will also be integrated.
“If they’re learning about Adam and Eve, they may take the time to learn about the body and science because that’s connected to Adam and Eve. From that they’ll learn some related math, they’ll learn some emotional skills related to that. How Adam and Eve are all by themselves makes you think, what happens if it’s just two people together by themselves? How would they react? How do they have to work together to survive?”
The school will be located at the Chabad Romano Centre in Richmond Hill for its inaugural year, although Bernstein and Plotkin are looking to find a location further south, around Rutherford Road. At the moment, the school will only be offering two classes, with 15 to 18 students each: senior kindergarten and a combined Grade 1 and 2 class.
The goal is to keep tuition affordable, and donors are helping out with the costs. For students who are currently enrolled in Bernstein or Plotkin’s preschools, the cost is $13,000, and for new students it is $17,000. But Bernstein stressed that there are tuition subsidies available, and programs for first-year students. Before- and after-school care will also be available for a small fee, and the school will provide free snacks and lunches.
Although the school hasn’t even opened yet, Bernstein said the response has so far been very encouraging.
“We’ve gotten a really positive response, like unexpectedly positive, with lots of interests. There are lots of people saying, ‘yes, we’d love to speak about doing an authentic Torah education based on modern values and a modern system’… But there’s also been a lot of positive responses like, ‘let’s see what happens the first year and hopefully we’ll come the second year for sure.’ We’re still in the place where we’re instilling trust.”