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Upper School Corner

Upper School Corner


Upper School Corner - BNOS CHABAD

This Shabbos we are having our first HAOC Upper School Girls Unity Shabbaton!!!

We are so excited to bring our girls together for a Shabbos of growth, fun and memories. It is going to be an incredible opportunity for our girls grades 6 through 12 to get to know each other and bond in a new way. We are looking forward to a fun outing to bowling and slurpees on Friday followed by a photo booth and souvenir sign in. Mrs. Mushka and Rabbi Friedman will be joining us to provide inspiration over Shabbos. We will be having workshops on healthy friendships, self awareness and independent thinking and lots of fun programming to ensure a great time is had by all. We are going to end off with swimming and a sing along bonfire with music provided by our very talented HAOC Band.

In this week's, Parsha we learn about the incredible hospitality Avraham and Sarah had along with their mission to teach the world about the existence of the One Gd. This Shabbos we will be following their example by bringing our school together to celebrate our Jewish Pride and inspire each other.

We also want to mention that our High School Birthday Committee, Decoration and Spirit Committee, Extra Curricular Committee and HAOC Band have been kicked off this month with much success. Every week there are happy faces winning prizes for reading the Thought of the Day. In addition to all of our in school programs, we had our second biweekly Night of Music with many local girls joining in.

We feel really lucky to be a part of something so incredible and we look forward to many many more exciting events for our Jewish sisters. We want to extend a special thank you to Rabbi Rapoport and Mrs. Stillerman for your unwavering support.

We wish you an amazing Shabbos!!

Thank you for making us a part of the Hebrew Academy Family!

Devorah Serraf and Shaina Marasow

Upper School Corner - Rabbi Avrohom Popack

Judaic studies at the Hebrew Academy strengthens and reinforces everything that our students learn all  across the curriculum.

Moreover, the method in which our students engage in Chumash/ Torah studies in Middle school affords them wonderful opportunities  to stretch their thinking and imagination, and the ability to create and construct powerful and inspiring personal life lessons that they can apply to their  lives as students today and that will guide and shape their characters long into the future.   

As our students study the original text of the Torah, they are asked to make associations and form connections with everything else in their lives.Our Middle school boys Chumash/Torah class incorporates Bloom's taxonomy of critical thinking, in the instruction as well as in student independent work.

 Life Lesson Reflection is a big highlight in  Torah class..

Upon learning a section of Torah, student’s  recall what was learned from the text, analyze its content further, and  unravel the  spirit of the Torah’s  timeless teachings..

Our students then explore current events and modern day living situations at home and in the community to make real life connections to what was discussed in the Torah text. Our students then  identify practical examples that will inspire our student’s lives propelling them to live their lives consistent with Torah values.

It’s always a special moment when a student says “Wow!That just happened to me!” or when they share how the lesson shared in class was actually applied at a later date.These ‘aha’ Moments are incredible, memorable and gratifying.

These life lessons form the building blocks of meaningful Divrei Torahs (Torah sermons) that our students go on to create and present to the class. This exercise provides  our students a remarkable outlet for self expression and and an opportunity to share what is important and valuable to them and to their peers.

Upper School Corner - Mr. Paul Sangha

Scientific Inquiry- Bridging Hearts and Minds

Small class sizes, something I never fathomed to experience in public education. The ability to track, assess, motivate and engage students is a customized experience here at Hebrew Academy. We all learn differently and science can be a difficult topic to get across to young minds. I am very blessed and grateful to have this opportunity to investigate scientific concepts with a group of eager students and a very supportive and flexible staff.

We have began the year as most science classes do, by engaging in discussions and creating a climate of respect and acceptance. Student’s quickly began learning about scientific investigations and how learning can be a community effort. We are all smarter together than any one individual is alone. In this class we have a community of scientists that rely on each other to generate ideas and communicate information. This level of cooperation does take time to develop, but we are now beginning to reap the fruits of our labor.  

Students have began applying their skills in our first class investigation about the strength of geometric shapes. This investigation has further developed into the application of bridge building. Students took strings and 12 straws and created a simple bridge design. They then added weights to the bridge until it collapsed. Students recorded data, analyzed it and compared their results. We had a class competition to see which classes bridge would hold the most weight. The winning class held over 20 pounds!  

Kids really used their textbooks today :)

Upper School Corner - Mr. Greg Schneider

The end of the calendar year brought with it a wonderful opportunity for the sixth graders to work cooperatively on a middle school project which focused on endangered species.  This Project Based Learning or PBL had our students engaged in deep research in their science classes to find out as much as possible about the impact human activities have had on habitat and species loss.  Through meticulous data collection and analysis, they were able to make connections between climate change and the potential extinction of their chosen species.  Once they collected all of their data, they were tasked with filming an educational video to educate others on the challenges facing their species and how the risks to these animals could be mitigated by legal, behavioral, or environmental changes. The students worked long hours to record their videos using the school’s ipads. Their creativity and knowledge really shone through in the videos that they produced. The final step of the PBL process involved writing research papers which addressed the current state of their species, the challenges facing them, and possible solutions. It took weeks of painstaking effort for them to craft these research papers which were reviewed and edited by their peers and teachers on numerous occasions. The culmination of this project took place before we left for break. Parents and family members were invited to our school to view and explore all of their hard work. Parents saw a presentation which took them through the process their kids followed throughout the PBL and following this presentation they dispersed to various classrooms to view their kid’s videos. The videos were received with a mixture of excitement and wonder at what the students were able to produce. It was the hope of the students that they would make their parents aware of the hardships facing their species and that ultimately they could all play some role in reducing the chances of their animals becoming extinct.

Throughout this PBL the teachers had the opportunity to observe their students completely immersed in their projects. The students didn’t need any prodding or motivation. They were truly intrinsically driven by the nature of the project. We were all so impressed with the countless hours they spent on refining their findings and editing their videos to perfection.  At the inception of this project we wondered whether the students would stay engaged for so many weeks, but in reality the weeks sped by with total engagement by all involved. It was wonderful to see the pride and joy with which the students presented their projects to their parents. The students walked away from this project not just more aware of their roles and responsibilities on Earth, but also the ability to work cooperatively and produce significant and engaging final products. This PBL left us with indelible memories and skills which will last a lifetime.

Upper School Corner - Mrs. Jennifer Bledsoe


 Preparing for the Future

The students in the high school have been engaged in activities which focus on postsecondary preparedness. We have been examining the entrance requirements of the various colleges and seminaries for which your students have expressed interest. All high school students wrote college application essays for their college or seminary of choice. This was a very practical exercise for our seniors, who have submitted applications beginning at the end of November. We have learned about the traits of a compelling entrance essay, and we’ve explored various methods of writing which will help our students’ submissions to stand out.

Additionally, our seniors sat down for another in an ongoing series of meetings with Ms. Schneider, who gave the students an overview and timeline for the application process. Ms. Schneider  shared the prevailing wisdom of applying to five colleges (two “safety schools” to which our students could expect admission easily, two schools to which they could realistically gain admission, and one “reach” or dream school). Seniors also heard about the application timeline for financial aid and Cal Grants which begins in January. The pros and cons of taking the SAT or ACT again were weighed, and possible qualifying options for “gap year” were explained. Our seniors left this meeting and made arrangements to meet with Ms. Schneider to have a more in-depth one-on-one tailored meeting to ensure they are on their desired pathways, meeting deadlines and requirements as they go.

While the seniors have naturally engaged in the most timely and personally relevant activities surrounding postsecondary educational opportunities, our 9th through 11th grade students have also been participating in activities which will help them prepare for their desired college, technical school, or seminary. On November 2, all 10th and 11th grade students took the PSAT test. Our 9th through 11th grade students also wrote college admissions essays, thus beginning or continuing to investigate the many educational options available. We examined various schools and their educational programs, and our students discussed how to meet the requirements to gain entrance. Throughout these discussions, our students were reassured by both faculty and our seniors that this is an ongoing discussion that staff and students have together throughout their high school careers, though one which is individually tailored, and narrowed as they progress through the grades. Echoing through all of these discussions is the reassurance and motivation that, “No matter where you want to go there is a way to get there.”


Upper School Corner - Mrs. Yiska Berkowitz

Hello, my name is Yiska Berkowitz and I teach Jewish History and Yahadus to the Middle School Girls and Jewish History to the Middle School Boys.

In Yahadus, we delved into all of the holidays of Tishrei, as well as the month of Elul and The Fast of Gedaliah.  We reviewed the basics and learned new insights and meanings behind the laws and customs.  I hope your children shared some of the information with you over the holidays!

After Thanksgiving break, I will be doing a unit on The Calendar.  The students will learn why some months have one day of Rosh Chodesh, and others have two, and they will also become more familiar with the dates and events on the Jewish Calendar.

In Jewish History, we picked up right where we left off last June.  The incoming 6th Graders weren't with us last year, but they transitioned into the class nicely.

We are studying the 1700-1900 period.  We learned about the birth of Chassidism, and about Jewry in Eastern Europe at the time.
Then, we moved into the period of the Enlightenment led by Moses Mendelssohn.

The students learn the material by teacher-led classes, partner learning, summary writing, biography organizers, question sheets and more.  In the past quarter we were getting our feet wet and I wanted to focus on covering material despite breaks for holidays. This quarter, we will definitely have an exciting and challenging project.

When I asked the students what the word "Enlightenment" means to them, one boy raised his hand and answered, "Inspiration."  This answer was deep and touching as each and every student truly is.  "Inspiration" is what I aspire to give to the students every time I see them.
In class, students earn individual points as well as class points.  They are really looking forward to cashing in some class points for some exciting rewards.

Wishing you and your a beautiful vacation and Shabbat Shalom,

Upper School Corner - Mr. Greg Schneider

Mr. Schneider’s 6th Grade US History

As the British Colonies in the New World inevitably inch closer and closer to all-out war against the Crown, we are reminded of the power that words have over human events.  Our 6th graders have been exploring this remarkable time in the history of our country with a focus on the impact of the written and spoken word.  They are reminded of the power of words that each of them is endowed.  Whether these words are written down or spoken aloud, they have the opportunity to reflect on the impact their words have on the world around them.  When they write a powerful, emotionally moving essay they are able to affect anyone who reads it.  And more immediately, their spoken words affect all those who are within their earshot.   As they go through their daily school routines, it is imperative for them to use words carefully so that they do not offend others.

As the history of our nation unfolds before them, they are starting to see a shift in the attitudes and beliefs of the colonists.  Even though many of the colonists in the New World, who now number more than a million, left the Old World to avoid the oppression of royalty, they still see themselves as dedicated subjects of the King George.  In 1775 they still view the idea of independence with horror.  However, events like the battle against the British at Concord and the Battle of Bunker Hill continue to chip away at this reticence to shun British rule.   Even these events do not garner the popular support for secession from the Crown.  This is where our students get the opportunity to explore the words of Patriots like Thomas Paine who wrote a pamphlet entitled “Common Sense” to inspire his fellow colonists to rise up against the British.  In this brilliant piece of persuasive writing, Paine states that, “Of more worth is one honest man, than all of the crowned ruffians who ever lived.”  The students are able to connect these ideas to the First Great Awakening which they studied earlier in the year that espoused the then novel idea that no one man has the right to oppress other men and that all men are equal in the eyes of their Maker.  This awakening laid the groundwork for the revolution which was to take place more than 40 years later.  These powerful ideas culminate in the eloquent call to arms made by Thomas Paine who urges his fellow colonists, “Ye that love mankind!  Ye that dare oppose not only tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth!...The sun never shined on a cause of greater worth.”  With these utterly inspirational words as motivation, our students have been writing their own persuasive essays and analyzing the events which led to the creation of our country.

With this focus on the power of words, our students have had the opportunity to work independently and in groups to absorb the lessons we have been taught by history.  When they work independently, they are reminded to be aware of the impact of their words and therefore to choose them carefully as they craft their responses to challenges.  As members of teams, they must communicate effectively in order to keep projects on track and to use words wisely to enchant the audience.  Lastly, they are able to present their project to the class so that they too can witness the power their own words have to sway and inform the masses.  These opportunities to ‘learn by doing’ allow them to live out ideas which may seem only two-dimensional and purely theoretical in the pages of their history books.

Upper School Corner - Mrs. Marjan Jahanfard

When I announced to our Middle School students that I want them to be the first generation of middle school students not to be intimidated by real world problems and application of math, they looked at me as if I was completely out of mind!

Two months later, they have all risen to the occasion and done their best to keep an open mind while facing this challenge head on.

Just this week, some of the 8th grade girls were learning about football, the velocity of it, and how to predict how long it would take for a pass to get to a certain height. With the football season being underway, the question seemed more relevant than ever. We were able to draw on real examples, talk about the different types of passes, the importance of math and physics in playing ball, and what coaches and quarterbacks need to know before they decide on a particular play.

At the same time, the 6th graders were calculating how much juice they needed to make a bowl of punch while still following the recipe that only makes a jar. Some of the students brought in other examples of ratios and proportions such as baking cookies with moms and how they sometimes need to double or triple their recipes. One student took it upon himself to conduct a mini survey of teachers and students at the Hebrew Academy regarding their favorite subject in school, to use as an example of ratios.

Some of the other students were learning about metals and alloys and what percentage of each type of metal they needed to make a specified alloy.

Yes, we were doing all of that and more in math... not chemistry and not PE.  As I told my young scholars, you will be surprised of all of the places that you will find math in real life....The playground, the science lab, and even in your own kitchen. In life, no one will ever come to you and ask if you could solve an equation. It is up to you to apply what you've learned in school and solve real world problems. Our own Miri Newman said it best “I really like word problems because then you can see how it applies to your life.”

Upper School Corner - Mrs. Raychel Lydon

 Loyalists and Patriots Battle it Out in the Middle School

As November begins, the 7th and 8th grade students at the Hebrew Academy have just finished taking the role of loyal British subjects and rebellious colonial patriots as part of their study of early American history. In their pamphlets, students were required to describe six things that took place between the end of the French and Indian War and the outbreak of the Revolutionary War and use their descriptions to convince other colonists to join in their side. One convincing Patriot wrote, “There are a few MAJOR problems that we have encountered with these troublesome Brits, disgusting rats: The Proclamation of 1763, the Boston Massacre, and the Boston Tea Party.” Another argued that “there was another atrocious act called the Quartering Act. This act made the us house the British troops and feed them, when they did nothing but harass the us. The soldiers are using all our hard earned resources and its time we do something about it!”

But patriots were not the only game in town. Loyalists held their own as well.  One loyalist pointed out that “The Tea Act, the Boston Massacre, and the Boston Tea Party also prove that King George is a good leader. ‘The Tea Act lowered the cost of tea that was sold by the British East India Company in the colonies. As a result, even taxed British tea became cheaper than smuggled Dutch tea.’ This is good because now tea would be less expensive. This helps the colonists to spend less money.”

Now, students will begin studying the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as they continue to learn more about Early American History. I look forward to helping continue to support them in all of their writing for the rest of the year.

Upper School Corner - Mrs. McKenna Harkins

 Ecosystems and Populations and Habitats-- Oh My!

Since the beginning of the year, the middle school students have been engaging in thoughtful dialogue about ecosystems-- understanding what they are, how they work, and how they can be impacted. In order to do this, students have learned about the living and nonliving factors that influence an ecosystem, and what kinds of responses the ecosystem can have. In addition, students have learned about food chains, food webs, and how interactions between different species can have a big impact!

In order to help students understand these concepts in a hands-on way, Mr. Nason and I have been eager to provide interactive opportunities for the students to engage with the content in a very authentic way. Students have been conducting mini-labs to identify how scientists can accurately (or not!) measure populations, witness how ecosystems can support the growth of populations, and recognize how ecosystems can fall apart when one aspect of the food chain is disrupted.

Looking ahead, we are eager for students to create strong connections with the material and build a strong foundation of information. Students will be utilizing this wealth of knowledge in the coming months as they engage in project-based learning to further understand and apply the content they have learned. Although we cannot give too many details yet, we are excited for students to take the classroom concepts that they have encountered and apply it to real-world situations to determine how ecosystems are affected by a variety of factors. Not only will students be studying these concepts in the classroom by thinking critically about solutions to real-world problems, but they will also be experiencing an engaging field trip soon! Please be on the lookout for more details coming your way.

Upper School Corner - Coach Zoltan

 Coach Jonathan Zoltan

Director of Physical Education 

The Hebrew Academy PE program is off to a great start this school year! The students are learning all kinds of sports such as, basketball, baseball, soccer, football and along with many more. As we play these sports throughout the school year, I as their coach, put a strong emphasis on teaching your students sportsmanship. This is an everyday lesson for the students at the Hebrew Academy. I want the kids to learn how to win well and lose graciously. At the end of class both teams will line up to give a high five to the opposing team and say “good game” to build the moral of the entire school. I hope this will message will carry with them for the rest of their lives like it has done for me.

In other exciting news, the Hebrew Academy  boys basketball program will be commencing in November and for the first time, we will be having a middle school girls basketball team! This is very exciting and I hope to a fun and competitive season. As the season goes on we hope all of the parents and students can come out to watch games and support our Hebrew Academy Rams!

As this is my second school year at the Hebrew academy I couldn't be happier to be apart of such a loving accepting community. Thank you for having me here I am excited to be working with your students again this school year.

Shana Tova,

Jonathan Zoltan  

Upper School Corner - Mr. Doug Nason

Mr. Doug Nason - Science Teacher 

 "Science is a window through which we view the world. It is not the only window, nor is it always the best window. But it is an important way to view our world."

These are the words I greeted our students with this year. I hope they didn't get too confused! My name is Doug Nason, and I've been teaching science at public and private schools throughout O.C., most notable at the Prentice School in North Tustin. I am so happy to be working here with Mrs. Harkins and the rest of the staff as we craft a meaningful and challenging year for our students. 

The middle school science classes have jumped right into our Life Science text as we explore the inter-connectedness of our natural world. Students are learning about food chains, element cycles, biomes, populations, and many other factors in Ecology. Ecology comes from the greek word for "house" (oikos). Together, we are learning about how all living things on earth get along with their environment as if they were living in one BIG house we call earth.

My challenge for all of you is to explore this awesome house we live in and peek through the window of science. Go out on a hike in the hills above Irvine, or explore the wetlands of Bolsa Chica or Newport Back Bay. By understanding our inter-connectedness, we can fully realize how each of us plays an important role in our world.

Upper School Corner - Rabbi Mendy Naparstek

The Talmud!

We are now full swing into our Talmud classes and it is so rich with with life lessons and life skills! The kids are already able to identify the structure of the Mishne, know the "Who said it?", "What is the case?", "What is the law and why?". They can also navigate their way around a page of Talmud!

There are many thinking skills that the kids have in their bag after spending time learning Talmud, one o those skills that we just focused on is what does 'Inference' mean. This  exercise teaches them to analyze text and have independent thinking.

It is so nice too see all the kids so involved and enthusiastic about their learning!

May we all have a Kesiva Vachasima Tovah - Written and sealed for a good and healthy year!

Sample of a work sheet - 


A number of statements follow each of the sentences below. Indicate next to each statement whether it is explicitly stated, inferred, or neither stated nor inferred. Use an “E” for explicit, an “I” for inferred, and an “N” for neither. 

1) United States troops left Vietnam in haste.

___ The U.S. army entered Vietnam.

___ The U.S. army left Vietnam. 

___ The U.S. army faced defeat in Vietnam. 

___ The U.S. army lost many soldiers in Vietnam.


2) The Yankees returned from the World Series to a ticker tape parade on Broadway. ___ The Yankees played in the World Series.

___ The Yankees won the World Series. 

___ There was a parade on Broadway. 

___ The citizens of New York are happy with the Yankees.

___ The Yankees will not be trading any of their players this year.

Upper School Corner - Mrs. Michelle Ginsburg

 Mrs. Ginsburg

Middle School English/Language Arts  teacher 

 My name is Michelle Ginsburg and I am the new Middle School English/Language Arts  teacher at the Hebrew Academy.  In our first week of school, We began to use Thinking Maps as a prewriting tool for expository, narrative and persuasive writing. This week, students brought in their outside reading books (ORB) along with a journal. Their dialectical journals will enable the students to create a conversation or dialogue with their novels.  By writing about literature, they will give meaning to the text and reflect thoughtfully on what they are reading.  This is done through quotes and references to the text along with specific and detailed commentary. Beginning this month, we will use Wordly Wise for vocabulary support and a classroom novel for grammar focus.  

I look forward to a wonderful year helping our young scholars grow into expressive writers and avid readers!

Upper School Corner - Mr. Clay Heller

From the Desk of Clay Heller 

On May 11th, three brave seniors at the Hebrew Academy took the three and a half hour long AP English Language and Composition exam. This test measures their work against a college standard for a Writing and Composition class. It is very difficult, and only 56% of the students who take it are able to pass it. We have very high hopes that the three students who took it this year will be successful. 

Even though our students travel unique paths after high school, the value of the class should be something that stays with them throughout their lives. Each girl practiced developing strong arguments, as they learned how to support their claims with fact-based evidence and statistics. Each girl practiced analyzing rhetoric, as they studied famous works of American history like the Declaration of Independence and speeches of Thomas Paine in an effort to understand how people convince us of their positions. Each girl studied how to synthesize different sources into one coherent argument, taking topics as diverse as foreign language education and the purpose of the penny, and composing clear, well argued positions on the matters. 

In concluding the course, each of the students has been hard at work on a small project. They are writing four different types of text--a descriptive essay, a non-fiction narrative, an argumentative essay, and a poem--about a place that had a large impact on their lives. Each of these projects will be considered the capstone for the larger portfolio of work that they will take away from the Hebrew Academy and be able to reflect on later in life. We are all, again, so proud of the work that these girls have done through the year, and wish them the best as they move on to whatever's next. 

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