As a Jewish educator, Nina Pachino considers herself a doer and a fixer.
“Each moment is a learning experience, part of a learning conversation,” she says. “When our children feel loved, respected and understood, they will find profound meaning in the education we provide.”
In her new role as director of the Posner Jewish Education Magnet religious school and family programs at Owings Mills’ Har Sinai Congregation, Pachino hopes to create a stimulating learning environment that is engaging and relevant to the lives of young congregants and their families.
“I don’t want parents to just drop off their kids and run,” she says. “Parents are intricately tied to the learning experience.”
Pachino, who has a master’s degree in education from Loyola University Maryland, leads Har Sinai’s K-7th grade education and family programming. The JEM program meets every Sunday morning throughout the academic year, with special family programming on holidays and some Shabbatot.
In addition, students in grades 3-7 meet one Tuesday night each month for a 90-minute Hebrew learning lab. Last year’s enrollment in the religious school was approximately 70 students, according to Pachino, who started at the job on July 1 and succeeded Cantor Rhoda J. Harrison in the position.
A Jewish educator in Maryland for the past 13 years, Pachino has deep ties in the local Jewish educational community. Before coming to Har Sinai, she served for five years as religious school principal at Temple Solel in Bowie and assistant director of education at Pikesville’s Temple Oheb Shalom for seven years. She also taught at Temple Emanuel, which is now part of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.
Pachino also serves on the Northwest Area Advisory Council for Baltimore County Public Schools and has worked as a substitute teacher in Baltimore County, where she says she has explored secular teaching techniques.
A Philadelphia area native who lives in Pikesville and belongs to Har Sinai, Pachino, 35, comes from a family of dedicated Jewish learners and educators. She recalls studying Torah with her father, Maurice Swartz, when she was a young child.
Before retiring, Pachino’s mother, Shelly, taught elementary school for 35 years. Meanwhile, Maurice Swartz taught math for five years and pursued a teaching degree while in his 50s after a career in accounting.
“Education is very big with the Swartzes,” she says. “My parents were both the youngest of four children and the first [in their families] to get college educations. … I want to encourage children and adults to enjoy all kinds of learning that enhance Jewish life.”
An example of that is Jewish STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math), a new program Pachino intends to incorporate into the school curriculum at Har Sinai this year.
“My hope is to engage children with tangible learning experiences that interest them,” says Pachino, who has two daughters, Maddie, 6, and Winnie, 3, with her husband, Michael, a deejay. “Although I love traditional Jewish art and music curriculums, this will be my attempt to incorporate fun and thoughtful ways to teach other Jewish topics that will excite and engage all students and their unique interests and strengths.”
In addition to bringing new programming to the school, Pachino plans to build on already existing programs in the temple’s school.
“Har Sinai added a Shabbaton program to their school calendar before I got on board, and I love the concept of incorporating communal prayer and learning into a school community on Shabbat,” she says. “It allows youth to experience their knowledge of Jewish ritual and Hebrew fluency in real time.”
Pachino says she plans to work closely with Rabbi Linda Joseph, Har Sinai’s spiritual leader for the past two years, to “help the community grow together and want to be together — especially our young community. Rabbi Joseph is down-to-earth, open to new ideas, and works to create community by taking people out of the temple and providing learning wherever they are.”
Rabbi Joseph says she is excited to have Pachino on board.
“Nina is the kind of person who will develop cutting edge programs that create values and the infrastructure to introduce meaning into our children’s lives,” says Rabbi Joseph. “She has a vivacious personality and the ingenuity and imagination to hit the ground running and make her mark.”
Pachino says she hopes to be an innovator who makes a difference in families’ lives.
“I like to see things progress. I like to listen, improve, create and innovate, and my aim is to create a holistic learning environment that is also very structured,” she says. “Judaism is who I am and I want my students, and their parents, to be excited about it, too.”
Billy Treger is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.