Bi-Cultural Day School News

Bi-Cultural Day School Receives National Blue Ribbon Award

Posted on: October 3rd, 2017 by admin

(left to right) Bi-Cultural Head of School Jackie Herman, Associate Principal Rachel Haron, Director of Admissions Denise Rafailov and Dean Rabbi Tzvi Bernstein gather in Mrs. Herman’s office to watch Secretary Betsy DeVos deliver an online address announcing the 2017 Blue Ribbon Schools.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Bi-Cultural Day School of Stamford has been selected a 2017 National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education, it was announced today by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

In winning the prestigious award, Bi-Cultural becomes one of 342 schools nationwide — only 50 of which are private schools — and one of five schools in the state of Connecticut, to be so honored. The pre-k though grade 8 school has also earned the distinction of being the only Jewish day school in the country to receive the award.

“National Blue Ribbon Schools are active demonstrations of preparing every child for a bright future,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in an online address to honorees. “You are visionaries, innovators and leaders. You have much to teach us: some of you personalize student learning, others engage parents and communities in the work and life of your local schools and still others develop strong and forward-thinking leaders from among your teaching staff.”

According to the Department of Education, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors public and private elementary, middle and high schools where students achieve very high learning standards or are making notable improvements in closing the achievement gap. Bi-Cultural was recognized for its overall academic excellence which has placed it among the nation’s top-performing schools.

Upon hearing the news, Head of School Jacqueline Herman was thrilled but not surprised.

“This coveted award affirms what we here at Bi-Cultural have long known — that the commitment and expertise of our talented faculty and staff and the dedication and support of our families and communities have worked together to create a safe a nurturing environment in which our students continue to grow intellectually, spiritually and emotionally,” she said.

David Pitkoff, chairman of Bi-Cultural’s Board of Trustees, echoed Mrs. Herman’s sentiment.

The Blue Ribbon designation, he noted, is recognition that Bi-Cultural “is not only one of the finest Jewish day schools in the metropolitan area, but one of the finest schools, both private and public, in the entire United States of America.”

Those responsible for the achievement, he said, include Bi-Cultural’s “incomparable” Head of School Jackie Herman, as well as the school’s group of administrators, associate principals, faculty and staff, “whose commitment, dedication and talent has enabled our school to stand out as a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.”

On Nov. 6-7, Mrs. Herman and Associate Principal Rachel Haron will travel to Washington D.C. to join other school honorees at an awards ceremony hosted by Secretary DeVos and the Department of Education.

A Year Later, Makerspace Is Changing the Face of Education at Bi-Cultural

Posted on: March 27th, 2017 by admin

Wouldn’t it be great if someone designed a speaker capable of amplifying the sound on an iPhone so that you could actually, well, hear it?

Wishful thinking? Maybe. Still, a group of middle-schoolers at Bi-Cultural Day School has its sights set on making this very wish come true.

The budding inventors are just a sampling of the students bringing their bright ideas to life in Bi-Cultural’s unique Makerspace lab. Since it was unveiled a year ago, the big, bustling, colorful space has become a hub of student activity and creativity. On any given day, students throughout the grades wander in and out of the lab, working—sometimes individually, often collaboratively, as part of a class or on their own—to transform a laundry list of innovative concepts into tangible products.

“It’s a constructive approach to learning that is really changing the face of education,” said Adrienne Robinson of Makerspace, a nationally renowned STEAM-based (science, technology , engineering, art and math) initiative that focuses on design, invention, creativity and critical thinking by melding DIY (do-it-yourself) methods with modern technology.

Robinson, a Bi-Cultural middle school teacher, and Beth Fritz, who teaches third grade, teamed up to bring Makerspace to Bi-Cultural in February 2016. Today, the Stamford day school is one of only a handful of Connecticut schools to foster student creativity through the Makespace program.

Simply put, said Robinson, “The idea is to use things to create things. When you go into a library you are inspired to read; when you go into Makerspace you are inspired to create.”

The space wasn’t always so inspirational. Once an oversized, unadorned storage room, Robinson and Fritz took four months to cleverly reconfigure the space into a series of engaging work areas, each one devoted to a distinct method of tinkering—from a full-scale Lego wall to a pegboard equipped with traditional tools such as hammers and screwdrivers to a corner for woodworking to a bank of sewing machines and quilting supplies. In addition to tools and building materials, the lab features a 3D printer attached to a stand-alone PC loaded with the most current 3D software.

Now, said computer teacher Sarah Hochman, “Students love learning in MakerSpace. They delve into the activity which is based on curricular activities from the classroom. Their problem solving skills really come through. They don’t even realize how much they’re learning about the subject matter and all the skills covered in STEAM.”

Other Bi-Cultural faculty give Makerspace an A+ as well—and not only because of its effectiveness in developing STEAM skills.

“Students are given a problem to solve using materials in the Makerspace. However, first they are learning to plan a design before they create,” noted Fritz. “The students are learning an important lesson when they have to improve on their original design. These higher- level thinking and reasoning skills are an important lifelong skill.”

The development of critical life skills is central to the Makerspace experience for younger students as well, says second grade teacher Kathryn Danner.

“The Makerspace is not just about STEAM and encouraging my class to be creative. It is a safe environment where my students learn important life skills. They have been learning how to listen to each other’s ideas and opinions, how to cooperate and collaborate with each other, and how to persevere when faced with a challenge,” she said, acknowledging her own enthusiasm. “My students love working in the Makerspace—and just as much as they love being in there to work on ‘cool’ projects, I love bringing them!”

This spring, students will have the opportunity to showcase the fruits of their creative labor at Bi-Cultural’s first-ever Makerspace Fair. Open to students, parents and invited guests, the May 18 fair will include an exhibit by the students of the Jewish High School of Connecticut. Several Connecticut organizations will also participate in the fair, including Bridgeport’s Discovery Museum, the University of Connecticut, Home Depot and STEMfems, a program of the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame that encourages young girls to pursue studies in science, engineering and medicine. Inspired by their forward-thinking children, Bi-Cultural parents are also planning a side competition featuring their own ‘grown-up’ inventions.

Perhaps, though, the real proof of Makerspace’s success lies not in the accolades of teachers, but in the actions of students.

“You can see it in the way they approach problem-solving. They’re not afraid; they don’t run away. You can even see it in the way they interact at recess. It’s a whole different culture,” said Robinson.

“There are even a few students who have now built mini Makerspaces in their homes,” she added.

Enough said.

Bi-Cultural Son and Mom Co-Author Two Children’s Books

Posted on: December 22nd, 2016 by admin

Author Aaron Liebskind (writing under the nom de plume of Aaron Seth) and his book The Yellow Star, a children’s book based on his grandfather’s experience surviving in Nazi Germany as a young child. (Photo by Alison Mandel)

Aaron Liebskind, a 7th grader at Bi-Cultural Day School, and his mother Illana Barran, have taken the adage like mother, like son to a new and literary level as they have recently teamed together to publish two children’s books, each with a unique focus, meaning and audience.

Aaron’s book,  The Yellow Star is a fictionalized account of his grandfather’s struggle and perseverance during the Holocaust. Paul Liebskind, Aaron’s grandfather who passed away seven years ago, was a young child in Nazi Germany who later escaped with his family to Belgium, where he lived in hiding until the end of the war, inspired Aaron to write this short story.

“I was always interested in my grandfather’s story — my parents began to explain his life to me at a young age,” said Aaron. “As I got older, they would add more details about what really had happened, until I had a full picture of everything that he had been through,” said Aaron. “The older I got, the more questions that I asked.”

Aaron’s questions and the depth of his grandfather’s journey inspired him to write his book, pulled from his grandfather’s actual life events; a story which he crafted on his own over a period of a two years.

Aaron worked with the editors of FriesenPress for editorial revision and collaborated with his mother, who provided the illustrations for the 40-page paperback. “The illustrations were challenging because we wanted to make sure that they added meaning to the story, and there was so much detail; my mom worked with me and drew the pictures based on my own vision,” he added. Barran concurred with her son, “The illustrations were so specific to the story. Aaron identified the number of people in each illustration and what the scene and illustration should entail. He also wanted a light on each page to signify hope.  He wanted the illustrations to be black and white, and it was a challenge to make them childlike enough to fit the story theme, but we were all so pleased with the end result.”

Aaron hopes that The Yellow Star, which includes a series of provocative discussion questions, will eventually be used throughout elementary and high schools as a teaching tool for not only Holocaust education, but also kindness and tolerance.

Like Aaron, Barran also drew inspiration for her book, The Survival of the Gingerbread Girl: a Lullaby from a family member — her own daughter Isabelle, a kindergartner at Bi-Cultural. ”I used to sing nursery rhymes to Isabelle when she was a baby.  I took the classic Gingerbread Man story and changed it to relate to a little girl, developed a tune to go along with the story, and went with it.”

The entire publishing process for her book, including the development and illustration phase, took about a year. Barran hopes that the book, through its story and accompanying recipes, will appeal to both children and adults and is currently working on three other children’s books.

Bi-Cultural Parents Crack the Code in Computing Class

Posted on: December 21st, 2016 by admin

Bi-Cultural’s Director of Technology (standing) helps parents Monica Becker and Marilyn Terr build their own web sites using coding commands. (Photo by Dora Salm)

At Bi-Cultural Day School, computer coding  is an integral part of the digital literacy curriculum throughout the entire year and this year for Computer Science Education Week and Hour of Code, which took place during the week of December 5th-10th, Director of Technology Sarah Hochman wanted to try something different — teach coding to the parents.

“I planned a course for the parents because I really wanted to make sure that parents got a glimpse into the exciting world of coding for Computer Science Education Week. Our students learn coding in various formats all year long and parents often ask me questions about what their children are learning in coding. This year I thought the adults might want to get a taste of what their kids are learning and how to do some basic coding,” explained Hochman. “As it turns out, I was right — they wanted to learn even more that I ever imagined.”

A group of parents met in the school computer lab during the week to learn the basics of coding and programming with the task of making their own website using basic HTML and CSS (cascading style sheets) commands. Exclamations of “I can’t believe it worked,” “this is truly amazing,” “I feel so empowered” continually popped up throughout the lesson as parents quickly picked up the concepts of coding, creating their own homegrown web sites.

Hochman, who teaches more than 40 computer and digital literacy-related classes throughout the week to all students, from Pre-K to 8th grade, indicated that teaching adults is somewhat different than teaching young learners in that “parents are willing to try things and make mistakes, and students are sometimes more cautious and want to get everything right the first time.” “Part of coding is debugging, which is a hard concept for students to learn. On the other hand, students have grown up with computers and are not afraid to click; parents need to be shown where to click,” Hochman said.

Enhancing the coding curriculum, during the week of Computer Science Education Week, Hochman integrated lessons on digital citizenship, successful online searching strategies, and Internet safety and etiquette into her computer classes for her students.

For the parents, the introduction to coding proved to be eye-opening. “It was so exciting getting a chance to learn what the kids are learning in their classes,” said parent Marilyn Terr. “The whole session was so astonishing and empowering to me, and I learned so much in such a short timeframe — I programmed my own web site in two languages and am so excited to learn more.”

Hochman believed that her first foray into teaching coding to parents was a success and hopes to offer more classes for adults. “A sure sign that the class really hit home was by the end of the class, all the parents took out their calendars and started planning our next session.”

Bi-Cultural Hosts First-Ever Hanukkah Hullabaloo

Posted on: December 14th, 2016 by admin

Sesame Street character Elmo made a surprise visit to Bi-Cultural’s recent Hanukkah Hullabaloo, an open house event for families with young children.

On Sunday, December 4th, more than 200 people attended Bi-Cultural Day School’s first-ever Sesame Street Hanukkah Hullabaloo, a program for families with young children from birth to 6 years old. The two-hour, free-of-charge event included a line-up of child-friendly activities and holiday-themed entertainment, including food, crafts, balloon and face-painting artistry and a Hanukkah-themed treasure hunt. In addition, Temple Sholom’s Cantor Asa Fradkin performed holiday songs, Connecticut author Tracy Newman signed books providing each family with a complimentary copy of her book Hanukkah is Coming, and Sesame Street character Elmo led children in a sing-along and parade

Bi-Cultural Integrates Technology into Language Instruction

Posted on: November 1st, 2016 by admin
Samantha Schnelwar and Shira Kohl (foreground) work together on a Hebrew language activity using the iTalAM program. (Photo by Kathryn Danner)

Samantha Schnelwar and Shira Kohl (foreground) work together on a Hebrew language activity using the iTalAM program. (Photo by Kathryn Danner)

Bi-Cultural Day School recently rolled out an innovative approach to language-instruction for the entire 2nd grade class, blending technology with an interactive and engaging program.

The digital program of iTaLAM is a complete multi-media and sensory model, building on the strengths of the current TaLAM curriculum to provide an Internet-based curriculum with content appealing to the digital generation.

“The iTalAM’s blended learning model has really taken our rich and robust language instruction in the classroom and added a whole new dimension; it meshes the current print-based curriculum of TaLAM with games, songs, and digital interactive books for a truly multisensory, holistic learning experience,” said 2nd grade Jewish Studies teacher Lauren Hazony.

The lessons available through iTalAM are all specially designed for a young learning audience and feature listening and reading exercises, games, creative writing, art activities and animated stories and songs. All content focuses on general Hebrew language conversation as well as the celebration of holidays and Shabbat, accessed on customized Google Chromebooks.

In addition to the learning aspect for the students, on the instruction side, Hazony can monitor student progress through the back end of iTaLAM’s learning management system, enabling her to monitor student work both in class and at home, as well as to evaluate, report, differentiate, and individualize learning. “This aspect of the program is so helpful to me as the teacher; I can adapt each lesson to each child’s own language skill and monitor their progress to make sure that they’re progressing at their own comfort level. It really allows me to differentiate language instruction in a unique and individualized way,” added Hazony, who completed an intensive professional training course to become proficient in teaching iTalAM. The program also allows students to listen to their own reading and pronunciation and to recognize and correct their own errors.

“Our second graders really love this program and the parents are excited to see technology being used for Hebrew language-learning. All the instructions, typing and even the keyboard are in Hebrew and they’re able to login and complete the work at home also,” said Hazony.

This is not the first time that Hazony has incorporated a progressive method of technology into her teaching method. Hazony, along with many other Bi-Cultural Judaic Studies teachers, have been using VoiceThread, a web-based application that allows participants to have conversations and to make comments using any mix of text, a microphone, a web cam, a telephone, or uploaded audio file. Hazony explained that using these types of technology tools have proven to be invaluable tools to improve the student learning experience. “Reading and speaking Hebrew out loud is crucial to fully grasping the language and these tools are exciting ways to capture the student’s own understanding and customize material specially for them.”

Bi-Cultural Creates Early Childhood Exploratory Science Lab

Posted on: October 31st, 2016 by admin
Kindergartners Elena Kohl and Grant Bradley observe a lesson on the study of vapor and the water cycle in Frank Cronson’s Early Childhood science class. (Photo by Dora Salm)

Kindergartners Elena Kohl and Grant Bradley observe a lesson on the study of vapor and the water cycle in Frank Cronson’s Early Childhood science class. (Photo by Dora Salm)

Bi-Cultural Day School recently created a specially designed science lab in the early childhood wing, establishing a unique place in the school for budding young scientists to learn about everything from motors to magnets and rainbows to rockets.

Frank Cronson has been teaching science to the school’s youngest learners since he joined the school in 1984. Long-beloved for the sense of wonder, awe and scientific thrill he injects into every lesson, Cronson’s teaching explores such topics as light, energy, plant life, the weather and the seasons, nature, animal lifecycles, earth and space science, dinosaurs, fossils and physical science. Supplementary experiments are his forte, teaching science in an experiential, interactive way that is fully hands-on and weaves knowledge and understanding into fun student activities.

“I always try to use precise scientific words and model a researcher’s approach to science when teaching students how to learn about the world around them – not just the ‘what,’ but also the ‘why’ of science,” said Cronson. Before joining Bi-Cultural, Mr. Cronson worked as a research biochemist at Yale University and a researcher at the Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven.

Until now, Cronson had been operating as a mobile scientific unit – as adaptable as a weather unit on the study of wind – bringing his multiple bins of scientific equipment, tools, homemade science kits and customized models to any space in the bustling school that would temporarily accommodate his needs for that day’s lesson. Now in a new, dedicated space, Cronson has established a science hub where his contagious enthusiasm can take root, and like the experiments he shares, cause a chain reaction of fascination for our youngest budding scientists.

The science lab, which took inspiration from several leading children’s science museums and classrooms, incorporates the use of child-friendly microscopes, magnifying glasses and other lab supplies to encourage curiosity, study and experiments. Cronson controls the physical environment of the space, making experiments with light, rainbows and colors more effective and dramatic. He can also now assemble broad-form experiments such as learning about motors through the example of a set of motorized trains.

“This dedicated science lab allows for an environment of true scientific observation and exploration, and really gives our youngest kids a place to experience science and take part in learning in a hands-on way,” said Cronson.

Stamford Fire Department Visits Bi-Cultural

Posted on: October 31st, 2016 by admin
Bi-Cultural’s Kindergarten class poses with the Stamford Fire Department Turn of River Station #8. (Photo by Cindy Pitkoff)

Bi-Cultural’s Kindergarten class poses with the Stamford Fire Department Turn of River Station #8. (Photo by Cindy Pitkoff)

On Thursday, October 27th, students from Bi-Cultural Day School’s Early Childhood School received a special visit from members of Stamford’s Fire Department, Turn of River Fire Station #8 in honor of October’s Fire Prevention Month. Firefighters spoke about the importance of fire alarms, how to prevent a fire from occurring and what steps to take in case of a fire. Following the presentation, each student in Pre-K, Kindergarten and 1st grade got a chance to observe a firefighter prepare his gear, look at the inside a fire engine and even got the chance to sit in the fire engine.

Bi-Cultural Welcomes Iris Back to Judaic Studies Department

Posted on: October 31st, 2016 by admin
Iris Back

Iris Back

Bi-Cultural Day School recently welcomed Iris Back as a middle school Judaic Studies teacher and curriculum coordinator. Back is certified in Hebrew Language Teaching from Hebrew College as part of the NETA-CET Hebrew language program, a comprehensive instruction program designed for students in grades 6 through 12 which combines various methods of instruction.

Back has extensive teaching experience and has previously taught Hebrew language at Carmel Academy, Ezra Academy, BEKI Hebrew School and the Gan Hayeled Nursery School. Prior to becoming a teacher, Back worked in sales and customer services management for the telecommunications industry in Israel.

Back studied marketing management, advertising and public relations at the College of Management Academic Studies in Israel and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in social sciences from the Open University of Tel Aviv. In addition, Back studied intensive language course instruction at the Hebrew College in Newton, Mass. Back lives in New Haven with her husband and three children and enjoys reading and cooking.


Bi-Cultural Screens Film and Hosts IDF Commander

Posted on: September 22nd, 2016 by admin

On Tuesday, September 13th, Israel Defense Force (IDF) First Lt. Eden Adler visited Bi-Cultural Day School, sharing his experiences as an Israeli military officer and discussing his involvement

First Lt. Eden Adler answers a question from Bi-Cultural 8th grader Joshua Terr following a discussion about life in the IDF and the documentary, Beneath the Helmet. (Photo by Dora Salm)

First Lt. Eden Adler answers a question from Bi-Cultural 8th grader Joshua Terr following a discussion about life in the IDF and the documentary, Beneath the Helmet. (Photo by Dora Salm)

with a movie detailing a soldier’s life.

Bi-Cultural middle-school students viewed the full-feature length documentary film, Beneath the Helmet: From High School to the Home Front in early September, integrating the screening of the movie with a discussion of current issues in Israel and a conversation about facing personal challenges and responsibility. The 2014 film is a coming-of-age story which follows the journey of five Israeli high school graduates as they are drafted into the IDF to defend their country, presenting unique understanding into the demanding and oftentimes difficult life of an Israeli soldier.

Currently a political science major at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Adler, 24, originally from the Western Galilee town of Kfar Vradim, served as a commander in the 101st Paratrooper Brigade basic training base and was responsible for 42 recruits and three sergeants during his time of service. Adler introduced his talk with a discussion of the concept of Achrayut, a Hebrew word which encompasses not just personal responsibility, but also obligation and accountability for others.

Providing insight into the daily exhaustive training regime and challenging duty assignments, including his involvement with the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, Adler weaved stories of his military experience with universal lessons of personal growth and determination. “The monsters in our head that tell us that we can’t do something are obstacles that we alone create – it’s up to us to face those challenges directly so that we can achieve our goals,” said Adler.

Adler also described the larger issues and questions that members of the IDF face on a daily basis and his role in helping to foster teamwork and collaboration to create a cohesive group. “Each day as a soldier, we ask ourselves, ‘Why are we here and what is our overall purpose?’ Every day, each of us had the same answer: We are here defending Israel not just for the people who live in Israel, but we are ultimately protecting the Jewish people who live all over the world.”

Adler provided time for questions following his presentation with the middle-school audience, who asked Adler questions ranging from the typical training regime, to food in the Army to IDF to Adler’s most difficult moment during his tour of duty to his experience being a subject of a movie. “The movie, Beneath the Helmet was about five different people’s stories, but in the end, it is all our story. We are here to learn about Judaism and Israel and the more knowledge you have, the more powerful you are.”