By Gilad G., Seventh Grade, Krieger Schechter Day School of Chizuk Amuno Congregation

In February, middle school students at the Krieger Schechter Day School participated in the annual Gitomer Learning Festival. The Learning Festival is an immersive experience in which the students of KSDS pause their regular classes for three days and begin to learn in depth about a special theme. In those three days, there are workshops, seminars, assemblies, large scale projects, and sometimes field trips. The theme could be anything from the brain to the 1980s. These three days are packed with trips, activities, and presentations. This year’s theme was the Four Elements of Nature: Earth, Wind, Fire and Water.

Typically, administrators ask students for theme suggestions, then, the administrators ask the teachers. After narrowing down the list, the administrators give the teachers a final list from which to vote. Special years, like the 36th anniversary of the school, are chosen by administration. That year, 2017, the theme was the1980s as the school opened in 1981.

For the Four Elements of Nature, the school invited representatives from the Baltimore Aquarium to do a squid dissection, NASA to discuss space flight, and a glassblower to explain the role of fire in this art form. In addition, the school planned a field trip to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia where the middle schoolers experienced a flight simulator and saw an IMAX movie about volcanoes. The theme was chosen because it was a good way to teach about global warming and its effects.

According to Daniel S., a KSDS seventh grader, the Learning Festival is important because it serves as a break from regular classes, and students can learn about topics that they otherwise would not necessarily study. The highlight of this year’s Learning Festival for Daniel was a field trip to the Franklin Institute. He particularly enjoyed the hands-on activities. 

The Learning Festival is clearly a program that offers students the opportunity to study a new topic in creative and unique ways. Lea G., also a seventh grader at KSDS, considers the 2018 theme of the 80s her favorite. Like Daniel, she enjoys the break from regular classes and the opportunity to learn in a different way. For presentations, middle schoolers are paired randomly. This means that a student could be paired with others with whom they have never interacted. Another of Lea’s favorite aspects is that the theme is announced through clues. Some clues from this year were pictures of a man sweating (symbolizing water) and a dragon (for fire). Another fun aspect of guessing correctly are theme-related prizes. Like Daniel, she really enjoyed the field trip to the Franklin Institute because it was good for hands-on learning.

Every year during the Learning Festival, the kids are organized into project groups to focus on specific topics within the theme. This year, projects included cooking with the elements and creating rooms that had items based off of each element. That specific group made a water room, a fire room and a room for wind and earth.

The programs and activities offered as part of the Learning Festival require advanced planning. Kristen Wavle, middle school counselor at KSDS, is the coordinator behind the Learning Festival. Despite the challenges of coordinating, Wavle leads this effort simply because she wants students to have fun while learning. Her reward is when a student enjoys a session or the field trip, and all in all she wants the students to have a great experience.

Wavle is looking forward to many more years of continued collaboration between the community and KSDS to make the Learning Festival better. She would love to have the Lower School students see the final projects so that they can learn more about the Learning Festival and look forward to that in the future. To improve the Learning Festival, she would like to include even more exciting presentations and hands-on activities for students.

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