Why is this school different from all other schools?
Can we talk parent-to-parent for a minute? Choosing a school for our children is a serious responsibility. And when we are choosing our child’s very first school, the decision is tougher yet. This is a complex, competitive and sometimes confusing world, and we want to prepare our children by exposing them to a rigorous and challenging curriculum. But when our child leaves home on their first day of school, academic achievement is the farthest thing from our mind. Of course we want our children to develop critical academic talents, but we also want them to be cared for; we want them to learn how to interact with children and adults, to form friendships, to be part of a group, to lead; we want their special talents to be recognized, and, if their talents are hidden, we want someone to care enough to dig deeper and find them; we want our children to feel safe, so that they can be completely fearless in the pursuit of knowledge—math, science, language, history, art or music—knowing that they are surrounded by people who believe in them; and we want them to know the difference between right and wrong, and to feel that they can make a difference. If you think this sounds a lot like your job as a parent, you’re right. A great school is your partner. After all, your child spends almost as much time at school as they do awake at home—don’t you think that your dreams for your child should be shared by their teachers? No school does this any better than Solomon Schechter Academy—if you find that hard to believe, come in and visit. You’ll feel the difference the instant you step through the door.
To understand how Solomon Schechter Academy can be that different, let’s look at the three things that distinguish SSA from all other schools—the curriculum, the staff and the culture.
First, the facts. Solomon Schechter Academy provides a complete, rigorous secular education, enriched with high-quality exposure to art, music, physical education and technology. We are accredited by NAIS (The National Association of Independent Schools) and provide an elementary school education that is the equal of any in the area. How do we know? We could parade our test scores, but we prefer to parade our students. SSA graduates consistently excel at middle schools across the area, including East Lyme, Waterford and Mystic public schools as well as NFA and The Williams School. And, while we cannot take complete credit, our college matriculation list is impressive as well, including The University of Pennsylvania, Yale, Brown, Haverford, Tufts, and other highly competitive schools.
We also teach a rich Judaic curriculum, which includes the study of Jewish holidays and culture, the history of the Middle East and the State of Israel, Hebrew language and Jewish religious observance. If your child is Jewish, they will be grounded in their faith in a way that simply cannot be attained by after-school classes. They will be completely comfortable with daily Jewish observance and study, and well prepared for their Bar or Bat Mitvah.
The benefits of Judaic study, however, are not confined to our Jewish students. Jewish observance is rooted in study and based on critical reading, questioning and debate, all skills with broad application to academic pursuits. Most SSA students arrive with almost no knowledge of Hebrew as a language. Yet they leave seven years later reading, writing and speaking. Language is an integral part of the SSA experience, and the training is far more rigorous than at a typical elementary school. The performance of SSA graduates has made it very clear that the skills developed while learning Hebrew are readily transferable to other languages. Far from lagging behind other students who may have studied French or Spanish, Schechter students almost universally excel at language studies in middle and high school.
SSA is not, however, just another academic factory. As a Jewish day school, Schechter fully embraces the basic Jewish ideals, which are shared by all of the world’s great religions. These basic ethical tenets; honesty, loyalty, respect for others, empathy for others less fortunate than yourself, environmental stewardship—are woven into every facet of the SSA experience. If you visit the school, you will see this values-based education expressed in hundreds of ways large and small every day—older students helping younger ones; students working cooperatively; service programs; charitable fundraising; the year’s ethical theme. These are not special events—they are part of every day SSA life.
In short, Solomon Schechter Academy nurtures the whole child—their mind, body, heart and soul.
The foundation of any great school is a great staff. If you look at area schools, you will find pockets of excellence surrounding particularly gifted teachers. At SSA, however, there are no pockets of excellence—there is simply excellence from K through 6. Our teachers are not at SSA for the money—they could all make more elsewhere. They are not at SSA because they have tenure—we don’t offer it. They are not at SSA for the benefit plan, summers off, or even for the love of teaching in itself. They came to SSA and stayed because they are passionate about being a part of a special teaching and cultural experience. This is an environment that fully nurtures real education—teachers are given a curriculum framework that clearly defines course content, and are then set free to fully apply their skills and creativity to the growth of their students. It is, perhaps, not surprising that many of our non-Jewish teachers are very observant members of their own faiths. These teachers do not feel that there is any conflict between honoring Jewish traditions and rituals during the day, and their own faith’s traditions outside of school. Rather, they have a powerful commitment to faith in all of its forms, and feel fortunate to work in a school that cares as much about your child’s values as about their GPA.
So, yes, your child will be taught by great teachers, in small groups of 5 to 10 students, in a safe, nurturing, stimulating environment. But this does not begin to explain the magic that takes place in SSA classrooms. Your child’s teachers will know him/her almost as well as you do—their strengths and weaknesses, their favorite and least favorite subjects, their sense of humor, their friends and foes, whether they are sad or happy, frustrated or triumphant. Solomon Schechter Academy teachers are personally invested in ensuring that every child succeeds in his or her own way. For one child, this might mean demonstrating academic brilliance. For another, overcoming their shyness and performing in front of their school mates. At SSA at least, no child is left behind. And, while your child will have a classroom and a primary teacher, he/she will interact with every teacher on a very tight and cohesive staff. Every teacher, every aid and every administrator in the school will know your child by the end of his/her first year at the school. When your child moves on to the next grade, there is no anxiety and no lost time—the teacher will already know your child, from both personal interaction and detailed briefing, and your child will already have a relationship with his/her new teacher.
For a parent, there is simply nothing more important than knowing that your child is understood and cared for. SSA teachers take this responsibility just as seriously as you do.
Let’s put all of the educational catchwords and statistics aside for a moment and consider the one school trait that will have more to do with your child’s happiness than any other—school culture. When you walk in the door, how does it feel? Is it institutional, or warm and cozy? Is it alien and a little threatening, or familiar and welcoming? Do you smile, or look for the office? SSA feels a little like walking into your cousin’s house for a gathering of the extended family. The energy and joy is palpable—you can’t miss it. How is this possible when there are so many kids to organize and educate? It all starts with the people. SSA has assembled a team of tremendously talented and warm people. They have created a safe space. It is not judgmental or competitive and it is not focused on success and failure. It is about relationships—with peers and with teachers; it is about trust, friendship, tolerance, respect, and togetherness. This sense of safety, of being surrounded by people who truly believe in you, allows children to take the personal and educational risks that are needed for real growth. The program is challenging, but the children revel in the challenge. The process is amazing to experience.
Every child is different. Everyone contributes so every child has something to teach and something to learn from every other. We admit children of every Jewish denomination, we admit children of other faiths too, we admit children of every race and every economic background. We are aggressively egalitarian, with girls and boys treated equally. At the core of the SSA culture is a belief that we learn as much from each other as we do from our textbooks. So the more different we are, the more we learn. Later in your child’s life, you may send them abroad to study. You may be anxious with them so far away, but you are not likely to fear them becoming French, Brazilian or Chinese. The experience will likely be a watershed event for your child, for there is something special that happens when we fully experience a culture that is different than our own. SSA provides a similar experience right down the block. Your child will meet others whose life experiences and family backgrounds are different than theirs. They won’t become like them, but they will learn from them. They will become more accepting of our differences and more attuned to our similarities—they will become better global citizens. Children instinctively realize that values matter far more than race, sex or religion when it comes to relationships. SSA provides an opportunity to make this instinctive understanding part of your child’s world view.
All of this is driven by the school’s mission, to prepare your child for a lifetime of learning. Most elementary schools prepare your child for seventh grade. At Solomon Schechter Academy, we set our sights somewhat higher. We believe that it is our job to prepare your child for the rest of their life.
We look forward to meeting with you and your child.