Tag Archives: high school

Ethical Issue: When Teens Cheat

St Paul Talmud Torah Nursery School graduation

 What are the obligations of a Jewish supplementary high school in raising the ethical level of its students? How do we hold our students to a higher standard while trying to explain all the cheating going on by education professionals? How do we prepare the next generation to succeed in college and beyond? 

With these questions in mind, what happens when a teacher notices that a student may have plagiarized material, or copied from a friend?

The first time a teacher came to me with this I struggled with the questions above, adding a few more: can we confirm evidence of cheating? How can this transform into a learning experience? How can I make sure the parent(s) is(are) on board? In what ways can I work to ensure that this student really changes? How can I create an accepting environment for the student but not the behavior?

I am actually grateful that these issues arise in a Jewish context, because it gives me a unique opportunity.  Working with teens on ethical conduct is exactly what we should be doing.  For me, it is part of the ‘value added‘ of the supplementary school experience.  Our response to cheating is a test for us, and students will remember what we do. We can reference Jewish texts to support advice when we help students navigate through this.  Those texts should also inform our behavior. We can give them skills to self-adjust and offer moral support along the way.  Plagiarism is a serious offense, especially in college, and we can give them a foundation of Jewish ethics to lean on.

This is tough stuff, but doing any less in today’s times creates more moral murkiness.  I believe we are preparing the next generation to become leaders which requires us to respond quickly and appropriately especially when the road ahead will be even more challenging.


Teens and the Road to College

Finding your path

This year, thousands of high schoolers will be entering college. Sometimes I think they have things way too figured out, and am not sure whether that’s good or bad in the grand scheme of things.  

For example, I was interviewing an internship candidate who just completed her junior year in high school. I asked her what she thought she’d enjoy taking in college. Her response was not a version of:

 “I’m not sure yet” or

 “I haven’t given that much thought” or

 “I have no clue, just feeling good about finishing out the year” or

“I’m waiting until I get to college to work that out”

She proceeded to tick off two to three very specific careers she was thinking of pursuing: pediatric dietician work, or pediatric emergency medicine, and a third which I can’t remember because I was still in awe after hearing the first two.

Although she hasn’t yet selected a college, she’s pretty sure of what her path will be once she gets there.  What is wrong with that? Don’t we want our youth to be focused and thinking ahead? I doubt this bright young junior is the only one who has these things all worked out, yet it seems to me that the time of exploration and wonder has been way too condensed.  

College used to be the place that you could spend a year or two sampling courses, musing about majors, optimizing degree outcomes, and generally taking some time to work things out.  It was like experiencing an all-inclusive educational buffet and sampling a range of offerings.  Now it seems that the pressure is on to have a career path in mind before you arrive. 

There are all sorts of reasons why this has occurred, many of them economically driven.   Many colleges, complicit in this, pressure students to declare an early major.  The risk of not doing so may mean thousands of extra dollars spent on courses that may not ‘count’ toward the final destination. 

Overall however, we might be pushing our teens too hard and not letting them swim in the soup of indecision long enough.


Talented Teens and Performance Highs

America’s into talent of all types, and we seem eager to watch, based on show ratings and tallies of millions calling in to vote for their favorites. This past Sunday we had a school talent show.  In what was a thoroughly enjoyable display of amateur ability we had singing, dancing, a fencing demonstration, quick sketching, a song parody, comedy, and dramatic readings.  What made this display of skill so energizing and exciting?   I think part of it was giving teens the opportunity and freedom to express themselves in ways besides the academic.

We say that in our environment teachers should share more of “who they are” with their students, as these role-modeling opportunities are built into the fabric of Jewish educational programming. This works both ways. Students also need to share their talents with teachers, and not in ways that are limited to annual classroom ice breakers.

At the show, we were able to see these students at their best, doing what they love while being generous enough to share it with others.  It’s interesting that as much as we think they might be afraid to be judged by their peers, they were incredibly open about performing in front of them.  I hope that we will continue to give our teenagers opportunities to shine and get applause.


Jewish Teen Engagement: Don’t ask me for a tissue

Why is the Jewish community crying? I’ve worked with teens in the Jewish  community for many years, and feel privileged to work with such a talented group who are in the minority among their peers.  In study after study I’ve read about how the ‘younger generation’ is not connecting to the Jewish community. Since silence assumes agreement  (Shtika kehodaya dami) I’ve decided to speak—actually write.  I’ll define ‘younger generation’ here as those high school junior and seniors who are not enrolled in day school.  It is a time in their lives when they’re making decisions about their identity. I’ve gotten to know them and a little bit about their lives.

Let’s pretend you’re one of them.

Your bar/bat mitzvah was several years ago.  Against all odds, you decided to ‘stay the course’ after that and remain in your synagogue’s Confirmation program, though 50% of your friends dropped out.  So, let’s say that makes it down to 10. After that, you decided to go for more learning, and enroll in a community Hebrew high school for 11th and 12th grade.  About 75% of  the 10 decided not to.  Now you’re down to about 3. You’re clearly in the minority, swimming upstream as they say.  The good news is that by being a part of a larger community school, you now have a whole new peer group, and no longer feel that you’re one of a few, relatively speaking.

In what ways have you been involved in the larger Jewish community?

You may have been invited by the Jewish Federation to participate in the equivalent of a “Super Sunday”: spending a  few hours of cold calling to the most disengaged members of the Jewish community and trying to convince them to donate money.  It was not a great experience, but hey, you got to be with some of your friends and eat a bagel.  You may have even gotten a T-shirt out of it.

You may or may not have been involved in some youth group activities.  That could have been iffy. Some chapters good, some not so much. It would have depended on where you live. If you ‘moved up’ in the organization, your leadership would have been focused on the particular movement. 

You may or may not have gone to a Jewish camp.  It’s doubtful that when you returned from camp, enriched by all the amazing  Jewish experiences, that you would’ve been called upon to take on any leadership roles in the community, but hey it’s your friends at the camp that matter the most to you right now.  Thank goodness you’ll see them at the camp reunion. Maybe you can even work there as a counselor when you’re in college.

You may or may not have gone on an Israel trip, though you know that if you did go while in high school, you’d be disqualified from going on a birthright trip in college, while most of your friends who didn’t already go will be entitled to. 

The above is what has been called “engagement”.  And here you are, the ‘cream of the crop’  (among non-day school kids).  What experiences have you had (beyond the discrete denominational connections) with the larger Jewish community? In what ways have you been reached out to? In what ways have you been made aware of Jewish communal needs? Interests? Leadership opportunities? Internships? Jobs?

You probably will be among the future leaders, simply because the education and involvement you’ve had puts you there.  All of the activities you’ve had provided you with wonderful ways of connecting you in some ways with your Jewish heritage. Participating in all of those things are truly beneficial to building Jewish identity. 

Back to now. Is this all thatwe can do?  Are these all the resources we can muster? Is this how we’re modelling engagement? By denomination? Through fundraising?

If things were substantially different, we wouldn’t be lamenting and crying so much.  The Jewish community will need leaders for the future, no question about it.  It’s been called a crisis.

I just don’t think we’ve done our part.  So, no tissues from me.


Can our students just show us some love?

credit: Mike D'Angelo

 

How can we get our own students to love us the way their friends do?

This past Purim, students were asked to bring friends to school to share in the festivities.  Out of over 200 students, only one brought his friends because he wanted them to experience a fun holiday like Purim. As it happened, his friends weren’t Jewish. As it also happened, they had a great time.  They loved being in a ‘unique, challenging, fun and educational place’ !

In a recent small focus group at the school, we were trying to get to know students a bit better, and what makes them decide to attend.  We asked them why, if they enjoy attending so much (satisfaction rates are above 90%), they don’t bring their friends. They basically said that ‘unless cookies were falling from the sky’ they wouldn’t ask their friends to come.  Oh, and they also asked if we were kidding: didn’t we realize that since they were attending on a Sunday morning their friends already think they’re crazy and that they wouldn’t be caught dead asking their friends to wake up early to join them?

So, I’m trying to put this together with a recent news item by Rabbi Justus N. Baird in the Religion section of the Huffington Post . He reports on several studies (one of which was a decade’s worth by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life), which show these same results: that American attitudes toward Jews are as positive — or even a few degrees warmer — as attitudes toward Catholics, and significantly higher than toward any other religious group (the Pew data does not ask about attitudes toward Protestants).

Even the Anti-Defamation League had similar responses to the surveys they conducted. So, this should make us feel very good, very secure, and surely steady enough on our feet to hear the term Pro-Semitism without falling over.   

Love from our students? I think we get that, it’s just that they won’t tell anyone else about that….except maybe their non-Jewish friends.


Safe Haven

Sometimes I can’t believe what our kids have to deal with yet they just seem to accept it. Probably none of  the following will be news to you.  It’s just that hearing about how our students’ lives have changed (in the few short years since my own kids were in high school) had an impact on me today. It is a horrible fact of life that a safe place for learning in secular schools only seems to occur with a great deal of effort.  It’s more amazing that these procedures are taken in stride. 

Today I visited an Introduction to Talmud class, and the conversation was about personal responsibility.  The following incidents that students mentioned were not meant to be the ‘meat’ of the discussion, but were casually inserted like a side order of fries. When I seemed surprised to hear some of the stuff, the response was “it’s no big deal” and “it’s just what happens”.

One student who attends a large high school told me that when kids come to school late, she thinks that they may be carrying a knife or a gun since they missed the screening in the beginning of the day. There was a killing that occurred when she was in middle school (MIDDLE SCHOOL) and from time to time she thinks about it.  This is not an inner city school. Two students at two other schools mentioned that there were fights in the cafeteria just last week.  A student mentioned that whatever you carry in the hallway has to be made of clear plastic because there was a gun problem. Another student said that entering school is not unlike checking into an airport: body scans and bags on the conveyor belt.  This was at a school with a ‘solid’ reputation.

I write this not so  much for you, because as I said, these things may not be news.  But for me, it is a stark reminder of how much harder we need to work to make sure that every single space we create for our students in the time they’re with us needs to be a safe haven from the commotion outside.


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