Over the summer, Cary Reichardt, head of the history department at the Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck, and Rebecca Lopkin, the director of the school’s performing arts department, were in California for the Legacy Heritage’s Teacher Institute for the Arts. They were invited to participate in the weeklong program for their unique project-based learning curriculum in TABC’s Holocaust studies senior elective course. The institute’s goal is to encourage teachers to take Jewish values, texts, and history and give them fresh and creative expression.
As part of their work at the program, the teachers had the opportunity to learn from several renowned artists and instructors of visual arts from many day schools throughout the nation, and to collaborate with them. They gathered to begin the process of implementing new arts-based activities and initiatives with students and faculty in their schools. Infusing the arts into academics is nothing new for the TABC teachers, who began their collaboration four years ago when they initiated the Bare Witness theater project in TABC. (“Bare Witness” is not a typo, but itself bears witness to the originality and seriousness of the project.) Surrounded by professionals all grounded in the visual arts, TABC’s teachers were faced with a huge challenge: How would they convince the participants that using theater would be effective? From the very first hands-on session, where Mrs. Reichardt and Mrs. Lopkin had 25 minutes to explore and express the hidden meanings of a Jewish text through an art form, TABC’s dynamic duo had everyone convinced.
Their week in California is only a small part of the yearlong mentorship program to which they committed themselves as they help create a culture of learning, belonging, and personal growth for TABC students. They already have used techniques from the institute’s creative tool kit as part of TABC’s professional development sessions in at this year’s opening faculty meetings, and in an ice-breaker activity for freshmen at their orientation. They plan to use the diversity and differences among TABC’s students to spark creative collaboration in their project. The students and their two teachers will work together in all aspects: design, implementation, and presentation of their finished project. It is their hope to create new witnesses for future generations, so that no one can deny what happened. For more information, go to www.tabc.org.