Grade Descriptions & Themes
Living Our Values
First grade emphasizes how Jews express their values in their daily lives. Students will be exposed to heroes and heroines who exemplify positive Jewish values. They will look for examples within their family and friends, teachers and classmates. They will also explore the values and heroes/heroines associated with secular Jewish holidays and observances.
Second grade expands the students’ understanding of how Jews mark time including, when a day begins, calendars, life cycle celebrations, and seasonal holidays. We will learn about the origins of all of the major holidays including, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Chanukah, Tu B’Shevat, Purim, and Passover. This will include why they are celebrated, but also how we celebrate them.
Archeological and Mythical Origins of the Jews
Third grade is all about the origins of the Jewish People. Your child will learn the history and mythology of Jewish origins. We will read and explore stories from the first two books of the Torah, Genesis & Exodus, starting with the creation myth, to Noah and the flood, Abraham & Sarah and the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, and ending with Moses and the Hebrews as slaves in Egypt and the Exodus.
We'll spend time learning about myths, and how to think critically about these stories and how they can be applied to our modern lives. This is especially important given that beliefs like creationism and intelligent design have become an accepted part of American life for many. We will also explore creation myths from many cultures, ancient and modern. The class will learn about the way people lived during the era when the Jewish people emerged in Canaan during the Iron Age (around 1200 b.c.e.). They will learn to use time lines. This will include a class trip to the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology.
As an introduction to origins, the class will explore their own origins and family tree. Third grade is an important year for the kids and families at Folkshul to start connecting socially.There is a class potluck and other opportunities to build relationships that will grow as families move through the school and community.
Fourth Grade introduces students to ancient Jewish history, cultural contentions and values (particularly social justice) from the time of the judges through the Maccabis and creation of the two Talmuds. Students will examine the changes that occurred to a centrally controlled priestly religion in Israel followed by the changes to a locally controlled Rabbinic/Torah-centered religion of the Diaspora.
Since much of the Bible was written during this period, students will examine how the realities and politics of this period got translated into stories about a much earlier time. They will also critically examine the internal inconsistencies that arose because of multiple writers or groups of writers with different agendas.
Issues to be addressed may include: How did certain texts come to be “the Bible”? When were they written? What was left out? What can we know or speculate about the intentions of the authors? Is there evidence for Jewish polytheism? How did the Jewish polity interact with the major powers of the Mediterranean region? What do the Dead Sea Scrolls tell us about diversity within Judaism? Why was one splinter group of Jews (Christians) so successful within the Roman Empire? When and how did the Talmud become so authoritative? What happened to the Jews (Sadducees / Samaritans / Karaites) who rejected the Talmud? What did the rabbis offer in exchange for adherence to the oral law (immortality of the soul and an afterlife)?
Middle Ages to Democratic Revolutions
Fifth grade introduces students to Jewish history from the Middle Ages to the Democratic revolutions with an emphasis on the development of a powerful intellectual tradition that gives rise to our modern Jewish secular humanism.
Students will be introduced to the wide dispersal of Jews, their economic successes and hardships, shtetl life and the role of intellectual inquiry in preserving the sense of peoplehood among the Jews of the Diaspora.
Issues to be addressed may include: What were the economic bases of Jewish life in the dispersion? Were Jews treated differently in Muslim and Christian countries? What were the intellectual traditions that developed in this period (Rashi, Maimonides, responsa)? What was distinctive about the history of the Jews in Spain (Golden Age, Inquisition, expulsion)? How did religion and ethnic identity relate to each other in this period? What were the most important written texts in this period and what did they mean to the Jews? How did the Jews live in the shtetl? How did the Haskalah change Jewish life?
History of the Modern Jews
Through the Secular Humanistic Jewish lens, we will explore how history has shaped American society and Israel throughout the decades. Students will examine leaders and innovators who have made special contributions focusing on topics such as: the immigrant experience, the labor and Kibbutz movements, women’s history, the arts, film, music, sports, the sciences, civil rights, and much more!
We will explore these topics through engaging discussions, creative projects, unique speakers, films, music, games, and historic archival footage. As we are active participants in our modern history, we hope to promote curiosity in subjects that students would not typically be exposed to in public/private school, maybe even generating interest in a future Bar/Bat/Breet Mitzvah project.
Oppression, Resistance, and the Power to Effect Change
Seventh graders study intolerance and prejudice, and the actions that individuals and groups can take to counteract these forces. Students will examine historical and contemporary examples of the indignities and inhumanity that flow from intolerance and prejudice, with an emphasis on the Holocaust.
Students will seek to understand from a Secular Humanistic perspective just why intolerance and prejudice are wrong; to gain insight into the kinds of cultural, political, and economic circumstances that foster these wrongs; and to develop strategies for changing those circumstances. Students will explore examples of resistance such as the Warsaw Ghetto, Bielski Partisans and American Jewry during 1930’s; examples of righteous Gentiles such as Raoul Wallenberg and the Dutch; and examples of compliance such as that of many shtetl rabbis.
We will also be attending all of the class B’nai Mitzvah ceremonies together. These too will help us learn from each other through the aspects of Judaism which our B’nai Mitzvah students have chosen to explore in greater depth.
Who is a Jew? Who is a Secular Humanistic Jew?
Eighth grade focuses on what it means to be Jewish and where Secular Humanistic Jews fit within the larger Jewish community. Hence, one major component of the curriculum for this year is a summing up of the beliefs and principles of Secular Humanistic Jews identified during the historical and cultural studies of the preceding grades. A second major component consists of comparing these beliefs and principles to those of other Jewish groups: religious (e.g., Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Hasidic, Reconstructionist, Lubatvich); secular (e.g., Sholem Aleichem, B’nai B’rith); political (e.g., Zionist, socialist, labor unions); and youth groups (e.g., Hillel).
A part of this study will include a family tree (history) of the various groups and field trips to the meetings and celebrations of some of them. At the end of eighth grade, students will pick the topics for the ninth grade.
Sunday Fundays for Pre-K Children & Their Families
Throughout the school year, we hold 6 monthly programs specifically for preschoolers and their families. Children and their parents learn about Jewish Holidays through crafts, story time, and structured play. Sunday Fundays are a great way to get a feel for what Folkshul is about and get your little one acclimated to our community.
Assistants Program for 10th, 11th & 12th Graders
Graduates of Folkshul are invited to return as paid classroom assistants. Assistants are a vital part of the Folkshul community and through this important role they learn leadership skills, professionalism, event production, organization, and classroom management.
This is a year when Folkshul's emerging young adults further shape their own learning. Ninth grade will critically explore one or more topics selected at the end of eighth grade and reviewed at the beginning of ninth grade that is of particular interest and relevance to the students.
Possible topics might be Jewish ethics such as those relating to environmentalism, civil and political rights; Israel; Jewish identity through film, literature, and other forms of media and art. Students can be expected to engage in both individual and group research and presentations to the full class for discussion and debate, examining traditional and contemporary Jewish treatments.
In the younger grades, we focus on students' understanding how Judaism impacts their family through holidays and the passage of time.
Kindergarten begins to expand the students’ understanding of how they are Jewish, and how Secular Humanistic Jews live their values. The students will explore the customs, practices, meanings, and symbols for the secular celebration of the Jewish holidays and Observances. They will discuss the customs of each child’s family to begin creating bonds with their classmates and to learn about pluralism and the acceptance of differences. They will explore how to be good family members, friends, and classmates
In Kindergarten students begin to explore our secular and humanistic connections to Judaism through stories, music, folk dancing, sharing time, and art activities while making new friends.
The children will also be introduced to the values of caring for the world (Tikun Olum) and helping others (Mitzvah).