JMS draws families to student-centered, small-school experience

Posted on: August 31st, 2017 by tgregory

By KATHY CARLSON

Imagine a school where students, parents and teachers could all fit in one classroom, around one big table (with just a little crowding).

That school is Nashville’s Jewish Middle School, now in its second year. Seven students will attend JMS this fall, and an eighth will join in the spring semester. The school is housed at Akiva School, Nashville’s community Jewish day school for students from kindergarten through 6th grade, located on the campus of the Gordon Jewish Community Center.

At JMS, some students are sixth-graders; some are seventh-graders. Some attended Akiva before coming to JMS; others attended private schools, public schools or were homeschooled.  Some are Jewish; some are not.

Speaking in the Observer two years ago, Rabbi Saul Strosberg of Congregation Sherith Israel described JMS Nashville as a “pluralistic but unabashedly Jewish school.” 

Strosberg said he had dreamed for 10 years of opening a school that would extend the Jewish day school experience available in Nashville beyond the elementary grades at Akiva School, where his wife, Daniella Pressner, is principal. 

“This spring I said to Daniella, ‘We’ve just got to do it,’” he said, citing the quote attributed to Hillel: “Where there is no man, be a man.” 

This year, JMS has three returning teachers in addition to Strosberg, who will teach ethics and Bible. 

Lead teacher Alene Arnold teaches science and English and is an administrative point of contact for parents.  “I love middle school. It’s a huge opportunity for a huge impact socially and academically,” she told parents and students at an orientation meeting last month, one day before school was to start. She has four children.

Shelton Clark teaches social studies and math. He comes to teaching after working as a writer and journalist for close to 30 years. “Being a parent is hugely helpful when you’re teaching middle school,” said Clark, the parent of three sons.

Michelle Mandico, a songwriter, teaches art studio, music, movement/yoga and performing arts. 

Jack Simon, camp director and director of children and youth at the GJCC, teaches leadership workshop in the spring. 

Strosberg told parents that students will learn Hebrew through an immersive method, taught by Israeli teachers. Students will work on the Hebrew alphabet in their first semester and begin with texts in the second. Ethics is taught two or three times a week using a text by Joseph Telushkin. JMS students also do community service during half-hour chesed sessions twice a week.

One theme among parents involved choosing JMS because they thought a small school would benefit their children. “I really feel like there’s a love for the spirit of children at that age,” one parent said.

While school started on August 15, the JMS classroom is always open. •