Shtiebel Wonder Garden academy

A different model of jewish education

At Shtiebel, we believe that Jewish learning should be engaging, deep, and fun. To that end, instead of dividing kids up by age group, we divide kids up into pathways according to their interests and learning styles. Learning groups learn how to teach themselves, solve challenges and present creative exhibitions on their knowledge under the supervision of their Guides. The focus of our group learning is Jewish ethics, culture, and philosophy.  Those learners who want more intensive Hebrew and liturgy learning can opt in to tutoring and online learning. 

Learning Goals:

1. Basic understanding of Torah stories, ethics, and philosophy

The Jews have been called “the people of the Book” by many through history. The Torah and its tales are our book, our tales. We will teach not only these stories, but creative interpretations of the stories called midrash that have been in our culture for years. These stories will be used to convey Jewish ethics and philosophy. We will encourage students to make up their own midrashim so that they take ownership of these stories and concepts as their inheritance. These stories will be taught through our 2X/month  sessions, through weekly supports to facilitate home learning/dinner table learning, and at our monthly gatherings.

2. Basic understanding of Jewish history

We are an ancient people with a colorful and evolving story that spans many millennia. We divide up the Jewish story into 5 eras or “civilizations”-- biblical, rabbinic, medieval, modern, and contemporary. We will also look at different Jewish cultures throughout Jewish history, Ahskenazic, Sefardic, and Mizrachi. Students will be able to have a basic knowledge of these 5 civilizations, and their relationship to the Jewish present. This basic understanding will be taught in our bi-weekly 90 minute gatherings and Shtiebel community events. 

3. Tikkun Olam, history, value, practice

Changing the world for the better is a core Jewish value. We will teach about the history of this idea throughout Jewish history -how it has evolved in some ways and stayed the same on others. Part of learning about tikkun olam is action, so part of our time will be spent communally performing acts of tikkun olam. This will be conveyed in our full school gatherings as well as service field trips.

4. Personal connections to Judaism

We believe that each person in each new generation of Jews is called upon to develop their own relationship to our ever evolving ancient civilization. To that end, we will encourage students to encounter their Judaism from a position of ownership, allowing them to experiment with their tradition and their relationship to it in order to find their voice in our ancient chorus. This will be conveyed through all of the modalities listed here including personal sessions with the rabbi.


5. Fluency in  liturgical Hebrew

[note: goals #5 and 6 will be done through personal tutoring and online learning. these goals are not a requirement for bnei mitzvah.]

Specifically, by “fluency”, we mean an ability to read Hebrew letters and a basic knowledge of at least 200 words in liturgical Hebrew so that learners can participate in a service and understand the meaning of the main prayers. We believe that a basic knowledge of Hebrew is an important part of cultural literacy for Jewish children. Hebrew is one of the fundamental building blocks of Jewish culture. We are a people who believe in the mystical power and holiness of language to change the world, and Hebrew has been the language we have used in this endeavor for millennia. The richness and beauty of Hebrew will be conveyed to students through online learning, tutoring, and shirah (singing) sessions which will be part of our bi-weekly 90 minute gatherings. 

6. Knowledge of 7 central prayers

Jewish lituurgy is an important part of Jewish culture and spirituality. We have whittled down the prayers to the 7 prayers we feel it is important for a Jew to know in order to be considered “culturally literate”. These will also be taught through online learning, tutoring, shirah sessions, and our monthly Shtiebel Havdalah gatherings. These prayers will be taught throughout a student’s time in the school, but students will be expected to have performed an exhibition of their knowledge of all 7 of these prayers by the time they reach bar mitzvah. 

All of the essential prayers will be covered every year throughout the year. Our goal is that by Bnei Mitvah each child has done some sort of exhibition of knowledge related to each of them. The seven central prayers are:

The Shma- arguably the most important of all Jewish prayers, said by Jews for millenia. This prayer is meant to inspire feelings of unity, oneness and love.
Blessings- whenever Jews convene for a meal, we begin with blessings over our food. These blessings are meant to inspire gratitude. Blessings will include the blessings over food as well as blessings over several other situations, e.g.- the Shehecheyanu which expresses gratitude for auspicious events.
The Barechu- our communal call to prayer. 
The Amidah- the standing prayer-- perhaps of equal importance to the Shma. This prayer is meant to connect us to our ancestors, to Jews around the world,  and to the divine however we understand it.
Mi Chamocha- the prayer that the Israelites said as they crossed the sea fleeing Egypt. It is meant to inspire a feeling of hope for redemption from whatever narrow places we experience in our lives.
Aleynu- usually one of the last prayers of a Jewish service. This prayer is meant to bring to inspire hope for the ultimate repair of the world, a time when there will be no more war, or hatred, or violence, or suffering.
Kaddish- the Jewish memorial prayer, said at most Jewish gatherings.

7. Bnei Mitzvah prep -- (including how to lead a Torah service)

[bnei mitzvah who want a more traditional service leading and torah reading experience will aquire this knowledge through private tutoring and online learning. bnei mitzvah who do not need this form of learning will craft their own unique bnei mitzvah journey based on their own pathway]

We believe that bnei mitzvah should be more than just about leading a service or reading from Torah. To wit, each child designs their own bnei mitzvah learning journey which culminates in a final exhibition of knowledge and skill on the part of the student in their own pathway/interest area. Students will also be given the opportunity to co-lead a Havdalah, Friday night or Saturday morning gathering. There will be special meetings of this 11-12 year old cohort which will include field trips to various synagogues to see how they perform services. They will also have several private meetings with the rabbi(s) to design their unique bnei mitzvah format.

Methods through which students will achieve their learning goals:

1. Online Learning/Personal tutoring/Homework

[These methods are optional for learners who want more intensive hebrew and traditional learning]

In this modern age, we have great technological tools for teaching certain areas of knowledge such as languages. Learning these sorts of topics in an individualized setting is often more productive than a classroom group setting, especially for children. For this reason, the majority of students intensive Hebrew learning will be done with a combination of online learning, personal tutoring, and homework (10-15 minutes per day).

2. Tracking and Recognition of Learning

Throughout their time at our school, childrens’ progress toward their learning goals will be tracked and recognized. At the beginning of their school year each student will develop a list of these learning goals in conjunction with the rabbi, their parents, and their group leader/teacher. They will be invited to perform periodic exhibitions which will show a demonstration of mastery. Students will receive medals as an extrinsic reward when certain goals are achieved- e.g.- when one of the 7 central prayers are mastered.

3. 2x Month / 90 min Full School Gatherings

These gatherings will be the foundation of our school community. They will occur roughly 2X’s a month for 90 minutes. Our time will begin with a 30 minute school wide gathering (or circle) where we will sing songs (shirah), tell stories, and generally introduce students to the theme of the week. During the next 60 minutes students will split up into pathways where they will come up with their answer to the challenge/essential question of the week under the guidance of their mashpi’a (coach/teacher). Groups will then be invited to share their solutions either at the end of the session or at the next session’s opening circle depending on timing.

Through their creative answers to these challenges, learning group members will ultimately learn how to teach themselves, solve challenges and develop creative exhibitions of their knowledge under the supervision of a mashpi’a.

These groups will be:
Bards/Leviim: music, movement and drama (performing arts)
Makers/Bonim: explore, art, making
Geeks/Chnunim: text, technology and media
For example: The topic for one week will be the attribute of hachnasat orechim (hospitality). Students will learn about the idea of hospitality in the first half hour full group session. This will include the patriarch Abraham who was known for his hospitality as well as several examples of rabbinic stories about the importance of hospitality. We will also learn about the possible limits of hospitality. We will ask the questions: “Is there a time when we should not be expected to welcome guests into our home? What are the responsibilities of a guest? What are the responsibilities of a host?”

Their “challenge” will be to create something that addresses at least one of these questions, presents the idea of hospitality, and includes either Abraham or one of the characters in the stories.

Then the learners will break up into their groups.

Possible “solutions” to the challenge might include:

Bards: Repurpose, create, or use a song and dance that represents hospitality; a welcoming, inviting, shared communal physical activity, call to unity, prayer, etc.

Makers: Make hand crafts that encourage hospitality. For example, the making of a challa bread basket, table napkins, Shabbat candles, or some other Judaic craft associated with hosting, eating, communal gatherings, etc.

Geeks: A presentation of a text study from the rabbis where the rabbis addressed these questions in the form of an original video.

4. Shtiebel Havdalah Gatherings

The first Saturday of every month will be our community wide gatherings. Students are encouraged to attend and participate with their families. Monthly gatherings will also provide some time for children to work with an innovative Jewish educator separate from adults. These gatherings will occur on non-school weeks. Pathways will be invited to co-sponsor one of these gatherings throughout the year.

5. Personal Meetings with Jewish Leaders/ Role Models

Students will be invited to have occasional one on one meetings our community leaders. These meetings will provide an opportunity for students to reflect with a Jewish professional and discuss any lingering issues or questions they may have. These meetings will also be a context in which students can get extra help with learning the 7 central prayers. In bnei mitzvah year, these meetings also will be an opportunity for students to co-design their final exhibition with a Jewish professional (3-6 meetings).

6. Field Trips/Field Learning

Students will be invited on a series of field trips to enhance their learning. There will be 4 history related field trips, such as trips to Ellis Island or the Jewish Museum. There will be 4 tikkun olam related service day field trips where families will be invited to serve the community. In the bnei mitzvah year(s), there will be field trips to see Shabbat services in various settings -- 6-8 different experiences followed by debriefs.

7. Dinner Table Learning with Families

Every school week, parents and students will receive emailed instructions on the topic of the week, which they will be invited to print and discuss either at the dinner table, or wherever the family gathers to talk in an informal setting.

(modified from the Common Principles of the Coalition of Essential Schools):

Part of the focus of SWGA is to help young people learn to teach themselves.
The school’s goal is simple: that each student master a limited number of essential skills and areas of knowledge. The program’s design is shaped by the intellectual and imaginative powers and competencies that the students need, rather than by “subjects” as conventionally defined. The aphorism “less is more” dominates:we are guided by the aim of thorough student mastery and achievement rather than by an effort to merely cover content. 
SWGA’s goals apply to all students- to acquire a love of Yiddishkeit, to learn some Hebrew, some Yiddish, some Jewish history, thought, year-cycle, life-cycle, and literature. While the goals apply to all students, the means to these goals will vary as those students themselves vary. School practice is tailor-made to meet the needs of each pathway of students. See above for essential areas of skill and knowledge that will be acquired by all students.
Learning at SWGA is personalized to the students’ interest area. Students can choose one of the six pathways.
The governing practical metaphor of SWGA is “student-as-worker”, rather than the more familiar metaphor of “teacher as deliverer of instructional services.” Accordingly, a prominent pedagogy is coaching students to learn how to learn and thus to teach themselves.
SWGA is committed to non-discriminatory and inclusive policies, practices, and pedagogies. It seeks to model democratic practices that involve all who are directly affected by the school. The school attempts to honor diversity and build on the strength of its communities, deliberately and explicitly challenging all forms of inequity.
Students will have several opportunities every year to exhibit their expertise before family and community. Bnei Mitzvah culminates in a successful final demonstration of mastery: an “Exhibition.”

SWGA and Shtiebel Community Calendar




Shtiebel Havdalah




Erev Rosh HaShana Gathering




Neilah/Havdalah/Break the fast Gathering




Shtiebel Sukkot and Havdalah




First SWGA Full School Gathering




Judaism and Buddhism Class




SWGA Full School Gathering




Shtiebel Havdalah




SWGA Full School Gathering



Sefer Yetzirah and Mystical Practice Class




SWGA Full School Gathering




Shtiebel Havdalah




SWGA Full School Gathering




Hanukkah and Star Wars- Class and Hanukkah Celebration




Shtiebel Havdalah




Jewish Folklore Class




SWGA Full School Gathering




Shtiebel Havdalah/Tu Bishvat




SWGA Full School Gathering




Shtiebel Havdalah/Purim Carnival




SWGA Full School Gathering




R’ Nachman of Bratslav Class




SWGA Full School Gathering




Sushi Seder




SWGA Full School Gathering




Introduction to the jOS (Jewish Operating System)




SWGA Full School Gathering




Shtiebel Havdalah




SWGA Full School Gathering




Erev Shavuot Mystical Study

(for adults with kids program)




Shtiebel Havdalah/SWGA Closing Gathering

SWGA Calendar: