Jewish day school showcased in Reno

BY DAVID JACOBS • djacobs@rgj.com • November 1, 2009

Grifin.jpg

Griffin Kutler Dodd eats some whole wheat pasta for lunch at Aleph Academy. (Provided to the Reno Gazette-Journal)

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Carey Hall reads a story to, from left, Ruby Snyder, 5, Marley Snyder, 3, and Yonatan Litwin, 2, last month at the Chabad of Northern Nevada’s Jewish day school, Aleph Academy. (Provided to the Reno Gazette-Journal)

 

About Aleph Academy
  • Aleph Academy's curriculum weaves artistic and academic disciplines, along with Jewish values, into everyday activities.
  • Students learn to follow their curiosity, to think creatively and to work both independently and cooperatively with others.
  • Aleph Academy seeks to create a vibrant community of children, teachers and families.
    Source: Aleph Academy
    Fast fact
  • Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew Academy.

The start of the Jewish new year this fall ushered in a new educational era for the Northern Nevada community.

Aleph Academy, a day school, opened its doors in the new Chabad Regional Center off West Moana Lane.

"It is based a lot on respect of the child, it's a community-based philosophy," educational director Sarah Cunin said of the school's mind-set. "Parents are very involved in the way that the school goes, the families are very involved. We just don't work with the child in isolation. There is a give and take between teacher, child, family, which is very special."

The school serves about 20 students ranging in age from preschoolers to some of elementary school age. About half are ages 2 to 5 with the other half in the first through fourth grade.

"The children drive what we do in this school whether it's exploration, the curriculum, they drive it," Cunin said. "That's the beauty of it. It is based on their interests. We cover all the standards. The teachers check off the standards every day. There is a lot of transparency in what we do. It's how we do it that makes it so unique."

Aleph Academy uses natural building materials from the school's floor to its playground equipment, a garden maintained by the youngsters and a healthy, natural menu for the kids.

"It establishes the child's relationship with the natural world, it is a huge focus," Cunin said. "The kids planted their own organic vegetables outside, and they eat it themselves because they planted it. We had a little girl the other day "» she was holding a parsnip. ... When her dad came to pick her up, she said, 'Dad, I have a parsnip!' He had never even tasted a parsnip before."

The school also features the arts, which are integrated into educational efforts.

"We have a movement teacher that comes in and teaches them how to express themselves with their body," Cunin said. "It's not just arts as in the visual. It's all different types of visual arts. We use a lot of photos. We blog every single day what the children do, that is again with the home-school connection. ... Not home-schooling, but the connection between 'home' and 'school.'"

Traci Kutler brings her son, 5-year-old Griffin Kutler-Dodd, from Truckee to the school.

"It provides a couple of unique qualities for the family," she said. "They're not 'locked in' to any specific sort of age requirements. Because he's 5, he doesn't need to be in the first grade. He's a smart kid, and so, he can do whatever level of work he needs to be doing. They cater to whatever academic needs they have. They just allow them to sort of grow, however they need to be. Whether he needs to be doing third-grade math or fifth-grade reading, it doesn't matter."

This is Griffin's third year at the school, which had previously operated down the street before the new Chabad center opening earlier this year.

"He gets the best of both worlds by having a Jewish education, as well as an advanced secular education," Kutler said.

"It's really very quite unique, so, it works great. He's really happy, and a happy kid makes for happy parents."

Josh Snyder, who is not Jewish, has two girls, ages 5 and 3, attending the school.

"It's good for their learning style," he said of Aleph Academy's teaching method. "It's not like we're in a school where they are testing, testing, testing. We really don't like the way that works, and this is more about exploration and self-learning, that sort of thing. It works out great for our kids."

Rabbi Mendel Cunin, who is married to the school's educational director, said Aleph Academy seeks to reach out "help out to the community at large, everyone with our philosophy of love and caring, putting the children first."

"By doing that, the children in preschool getting a proper education, they will take their experience on through life," he said.

"Like a seed, you have to take care of it when it's small, and that affects how strong the tree will be later. It's the same thing with a child."