Narberth’s Yeshiva Lab School announced on March 1 that it will open a middle school in time for the 2017- 2018 academic year.
In a move that exemplifies the rapidly changing nature of Jewish day school education in the region, Narberth’s Yeshiva Lab School announced on March 1 that it will open a middle school in time for the 2017- 2018 academic year. Funding for the new school comes courtesy of a $25 million donation from the Kohelet Foundation.
Billed on its website as “The first philosophically Modern Orthodox elementary school in Philadelphia,” YLS is currently comprised of a kindergarten class, but will expand to first grade in the fall. In the years to come, subsequent grades will be added.
The school prides itself on pedagogy, guided by one question: “What do we know about how children learn?” Students are engaged to think critically, work collaboratively and, most importantly, to take a pre-assessment on the material. This gives the teachers a blueprint on how and what to teach.
“We’re not doing our job as teachers if we’re teaching them all the same thing,” said Rabbi Gil Perl, head of Kohelet Yeshiva High School in Merion Station and chief academic officer of the Kohelet Foundation.
Perl, who is heading the school design team, spoke to the Exponent about the challenges of creating a school from the ground up.
“What could education look like if we thought outside of the box?” Perl asked rhetorically during the interview. “I’m trying to create the vision, but the vision comes from what’s happening across the country.”
He is working with YLS Principal Becky Troodler and other educators who have experience designing curricula as he helps shape the new school. Additionally, he has been soliciting input from parents, which, he said, has all been positive.
There will be challenges along the way, but Perl is confident he and his colleagues will be successful in establishing a thriving progressive Jewish learning environment.
“We have a very special mission with this school,” Perl said. “So much of what is at the core of Yeshiva Lab School is the idea that the world ahead of our children is different than the world that we came from.”
Troodler, who is finishing up her first year at YLS, will be the principal of both schools.
“It’s been an opportunity of a lifetime,” she said, referring to working at YLS. “Our focus right now is to build a school with the same level of excellence as our kindergarten had this year.”
Troodler feels that not only will the middle school impact the Philadelphia Jewish community, but the Modern Orthodox community nationwide. She noted how parents from as far as Brooklyn have called her recently, divulging their plans to relocate to Lower Merion in a few years so their children can attend the school.
“These are parents who truly believe in what we’re trying to create,” she said. “They’re so behind us — they’re so excited that we’re trying to do this.”
The school does not yet have a designated location for construction, but it has submitted a zoning petition to the Lower Merion Zoning Board to build the facility on the Kohelet Yeshiva Campus.
“We’re committed to making this happen,” Perl said.
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