The educational philosophy at Heritage Academy is based on both rigor, defined as hard work and the transmission of knowledge, and flexibility, defined as meeting the needs of individual students through the use of differentiated instruction. Additionally, higher-level thinking skills are taught and emphasized. This would include: application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Bringing the outside world into the school, and students to the outside world, are routine practices. Field trips and arts and culture initiatives are commonplace. Lastly, affective learning is an important component of the environment and curriculum. The emotions, attitudes and values of our students complete their total education.
The effective faculty at Heritage Academy is made up of teachers strong in subject-matter knowledge, skilled in pedagogy, attuned to the psychological well-being of their students, and interesting and engaging in the classroom. Teachers will exhibit positive energy and humor. Teachers are hired, retained, and dismissed based on these criteria.
Heritage Academy, being a Jewish Community Day School, must include another dimension to its educational philosophy. Heritage Academy is committed to being a pluralistic day school. Families across the spectrum of Jewish observance are welcome at the school, and therefore the curriculum and teacher attitudes must reflect inclusiveness, broadmindedness, compromise, accommodation, patience, and community. Traditional text study, the Hebrew language, and love of Israel and the Jewish people permeate all aspects of the curriculum.
The stakeholders of the Heritage Academy community recognize their attachment to the letter and the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States. We understand our responsibility to include in our teaching the uniqueness of the United States in being a “nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Therefore, we emphasize the historical origins of our nation and its foundation based on the natural rights of man. We adhere to the philosophy of Thomas Jefferson and fostered by Horace Mann, that “schools should give all children the shared intellectual and social capital that would enable them to participate as autonomous citizens in the economy and policy of the nation.” A democratic form of government depends on an educated citizenry.
Heritage Academy curriculum emphasizes cultural literacy. The curriculum is solid, sequential, and knowledge-based. Students need core knowledge in all subject areas, both Judaic and general studies. The goal is to continually build the intellectual capital of our students; it takes knowledge to make knowledge. Relevant background knowledge in all areas enables students to better assimilate and create new ideas. Greater intellectual capacity gives students a greater variety of means for capturing new ideas. This enabling function of relevant prior knowledge is essential at every stage of learning, and this is therefore an integral part of a Heritage Academy education. Excellent communication skills, in both speech and writing are required, as is a broad vocabulary base. With knowledge and skills, academic progress will be achieved by every student, every student that works hard and applies him/herself. Students will be expected to apply themselves to all written, reading, and oral assignments. Heritage Academy teachers offer high expectations, but ladders and scaffolding will be provided so that each student will reach his or her own unique capability.
At Heritage Academy differentiated instruction is one of many practiced instructional techniques. Differentiated instruction is utilized as appropriate and effective. Differentiated instruction includes differentiating content: What the students are learning; process: How activities are designed so that students will learn; and product: What vehicles will the students use to demonstrate what they have learned. Teachers will differentiate instruction based on the readiness (What is the student’s entry point relative to a particular understanding or skill?); learning profile (How does the student learn?); and interests (What is the student’s affinity, curiosity, or passion for a particular topic or skill?). Additionally, teachers will consider both stretching and capitalizing on students’ multiple intelligences (as delineated by Howard Gardiner). These would include: Verbal/Linguistic intelligence; Logical/ Mathematical intelligence; Interpersonal Intelligence; Musical/Rhythmic intelligence; Intra-personal intelligence; Visual/Spatial intelligence; Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligence; and Naturalist intelligence. Although much of differentiated instruction and multiple intelligences theory has little empirical research supporting its impact on the academic achievement levels of students, it is generally recognized as good educational practice. Therefore, Heritage Academy teachers receive professional development in these current educational techniques and understandings, and are expected to use them.
Critical Thinking Skills
At Heritage Academy, critical thinking skills, based on Bloom’s Taxonomy and other specific strategies, are taught within a domain, not just as general strategies for learning and thinking. In other words, students will learn application: The use of previously learned information in new and concrete situations to solve problems that have single or best answers (such as computing, solving, applying, constructing); analysis: The breaking down of informational materials into their component parts, examining and understanding such information to develop divergent conclusions by identifying motives or causes, making inferences, and/or finding evidence to support generalizations (categorizing, comparing, contrasting, distinguishing); synthesis: Creatively or divergently applying prior knowledge and skills to produce a new or original whole (creating, designing, hypothesizing, inventing, developing); and evaluation: Judging the value of material based on personal values/opinions, resulting in an end product, with a given purpose, without real right or wrong answers (using, judging, recommending, critiquing, justifying, predicting) while working in a specific content, subject, or knowledge area. Critical thinking skills are not taught as “exercises” in isolation. This is practiced across the curriculum; in both Judaic and general studies classes. For beginners in reading (English and Hebrew), writing (English and Hebrew), and mathematics, there is not much room in working memory for anything beyond the fundamental elements of the task. But as students acquire more and more knowledge, and strategies and operations become automatic (oftentimes, through practice), more and more room in their working memory is freed up, thereby, improving their comprehension. Then, students can begin to think critically and creatively about problem solving. Higher-level thinking skills are dependent on a broad grounding in specific facts and information. Higher-level skills critically depend upon the automatic mastery of repeated lower-level activities. As the knowledge base of students increases, teachers strategically move students into the newer cognitive domains. With a broad range of factual knowledge, effective thinking both within a subject area and among subject areas develops. The best tool for higher-order thinking is intellectual capital – that is, to know a lot, but not just facts but also the procedures and strategies of critical thinking applied to knowledge.
At Heritage Academy we practice experiential learning through our extensive field trips programming. The surrounding New England (and even further) area has a lot to offer our students to assist in broadening their educational experiences. The area is rich in museums, concert halls, libraries, historic sites, and cultural attractions; touching, tasting, smelling, feeling, and hearing these places enhances the students’ total learning process.. Field trips are designed to augment the curriculum. Some grade specific field trips include: Fire House (Fire Safety Unit); Apple-Picking (The Fall); Little Red School House (Colonial America); Eric Carle Museum (Books and Illustration); Mashantucket Pequot Museum (Native Americans); Boston Freedom Trail (American Revolution); Ellis Island (Immigration); Yiddish Book Center (Shtetl Culture); Higgins Armory (Medieval Europe); and Israel Studies Tour (History of the Modern State of Israel).
Additionally, experiential learning occurs through our extensive arts and culture initiative. Visiting performers, artists, musicians, scientists, authors, poets, and actors are routinely scheduled in school throughout the school year. Shakespeare & Company, 1000 Cranes Studio, Traveling Lantern Theater Company, Springfield Symphony Programs, scientist Eric Rubenstein, authors Jackie Greene and Tami Lehman-Wilzig are some of the creative and talented people that have enriched our students’ education.
Affective learning is an important component of the environment and curriculum at Heritage Academy. The emotions, attitudes and values of our students complete their total education. Students have a structured, safe and consistent environment in which to develop their communication, self-control and interpersonal problem solving skills in order to enhance relationships with their peers and adults. Teachers enable students to develop their social competency skills through specific lessons. These will include, but are not limited to: learning how to calm down in emotional situations; how to problem-solve; how to identify dangerous and destructive situations; when to involve adults (the difference between “tattling” and getting help); how to give and receive compliments; how to listen attentively to others; how to be inclusive; etc. The students follow a strict anti-bullying policy and act accordingly. Instruction occurs through both the Open Circle Program and our own Jewish values embedded in the Derech Eretz curriculum taught at the school. Students practice: Haverut (friendship); Gimilut Hasadim (acts of loving kindness); Rodeph Shalom (peace making); Hachnasat Orchim (welcoming guests); Tzedakah (charity projects to assist the less fortunate); Shmirat Halashon (watching one’s words); Bal Tashchit (caring for the environment); Kibud Av V’em (honoring one’s parents); etc. All teachers are responsible for this teaching. All students are expected to demonstrate these attitudinal characteristics, because the student’s character matters at Heritage Academy.
Heritage Academy has a coherent, cumulative core curriculum in both Judaic and general studies, which instills values such as civic duty, honesty, diligence, perseverance, independent-mindedness, respect and kindness; which gives students step-by-step mastery of procedural knowledge in language arts (in both Hebrew and English) and mathematics; and which gives them step-by-step mastery of content knowledge in history, science, the arts, the humanities, Judaic texts, Israeli history and culture. The Heritage Academy community, (board members, administrators, teachers, parents, students), work together to insure acceptable student progress that fully prepares the students for the 21st Century. The rigorous, yet flexible, general and Judaic studies curriculum, the talented faculty that accommodates for the unique capabilities and aptitudes of each student, the use of cutting-edge technology, the emphasis on character education and Derech Eretz, readies Heritage Academy students to be productive, creative and successful members of their society. Heritage Academy students are the future leaders of the Jewish community and the United States.