A key element of the Yom Kippur liturgy is the Vidui, confession. During one specific prayer of the Vidui, a variety of sins that we have committed are listed, often referred to as the Ashamnu (we sinned). The Ashamnu is written in the first person/plural form, stating different areas that we, as a community, have sinned, recognizing our communal responsibilities and obligations to each other. As we find ourselves in the midst of the Aseret Yamai Tshuvah, 10 Day of Repentance, we cannot help but be reflective, not just at a personal level, but also at an organizational, Denver JDS-wide level.
Vidui, however, does not have to mean only a confession of sins. The Hebrew shoresh, or root, of vidui is י.ד.ה which also means to acknowledge. Rabbi Evan Moffic, author and spiritual leader, suggests, “I have no problem with confessing. We need to look honestly at ourselves. But my experience as a parent and a human being tells me that positive reinforcement often works better than negative condemnation. Why not highlight what we did right in addition to what we did wrong?” As such, we want to focus on a few areas that we feel we at Denver JDS did especially right this past year as we continue to grow and improve.
We challenged and supported our students as individuals (and continue to do so). We believe that all students learn best when allowed to do so at their own pace. From our Learning Resource Center, which offers mild to moderate support, to our Challenge Program, for our highly gifted students, and from differentiation in the classroom and flexible groupings to our Advanced Placement classes, we foster a growth mindset amongst our students and provide an environment for that challenges students at their comfort level for maximum growth. Our faculty-to-student ratio allows for one-on-one support when needed and personalized learning plans when relevant. Our college counseling program continues this theme, working with each student as an individual to find the just right school for each graduate.
We employed and supported a faculty and staff committed to student growth and learning (and continue to do so). Our teachers love being Denver JDS teachers and love working with Denver JDS students. They work throughout the summer to prepare their curriculum and spend evenings and weekends during the school year planning, reflecting, and adjusting each lesson in order to ensure it reaches every student. Our administration works to support our teachers and our families, always making time for parents when challenges arise and modeling open communication. As a team, we work to respond to parent feedback and student needs throughout the year, forming a strong partnership for student success. Our student performance data is a testament to this as is the anecdotal feedback our students and alumni share when reflecting on their DJDS experience.
We committed ourselves to impactful, inspirational, and relevant education (and continue to do so). Objective measures of students’ success such as standardized test scores and college acceptances show that a Denver JDS education is on par with top schools around the country and that our students are set up for success for college and beyond, but they do not tell the full story. Our focus on innovative education encourages students to apply their learning in real-world, interdisciplinary situations, honing their 21st century skills like collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. We are preparing them for the world of tomorrow. Denver JDS uses Jewish texts and tradition to inspire a sense of purpose in our students. They become not only scholars, but also mensches who intend to use their learning to impact the world for the better. By integrating our strong secular studies program with Judaic studies and elements such as our advisory program and counseling curriculum, students develop an emotional security which allows them to cultivate positive personal identities.
We did everything we could to ensure a Denver JDS education is financially possible for our families (and continue to do so). We set our tuition below the actual cost of expenses; in fact, tuition only covers 75% of the total cost. Beyond that, we work with families on an individual basis in order to provide payment plans and need-based financial aid. Our development department raises $1.4 million each year towards our operating expenses, and more than half of our families receive financial aid. Family financial information is kept strictly confidential. Neither educational administration nor teachers know which families pay full tuition and which families receive tuition assistance, ensuring that every student receives the same opportunities.
We created a true community (and continue to do so). Students, parents, teachers, and staff refer to Denver JDS as their extended family, and that family is really what makes Denver JDS so special. From the Back to School Celebration, Parent Schmoozes, and Grade-level playdates to Tekes Tichon (a special program for eighth and tenth graders), Hebrew Reading Buddies, and Color War, Denver JDS is a family that cares about all of its members. We support each other in celebration and in times of need, always looking out for our family.
All of what we do ultimately works together to create young men and women who truly know themselves — who are confident in who they are and comfortable with their place in the world. Our students matriculate to the larger world secure in who they are and what they want to do. This self-knowledge is invaluable.
We recently began a year-long process of introspection required by the Association of Colorado Independent Schools (ACIS) called the “self-study” in preparation for our reaccreditation. At our first meeting of our committees, we asked our faculty to highlight strengths of our program. Although we listed many strengths for each programmatic area, some themes emerged across all categories:
- We are responsive to the needs of the students.
- We build strong relationships.
- We have incredibly committed teachers and administration.
- We actively encourage and incorporate students’ involvement and voices.
- We prepare students for the real world.
- We make menches.
These themes were mentioned in science and math and Hebrew and Judaics and athletics and service learning and every other area because these are Denver JDS.
Like any strong organization that wants to continue being strong, we at Denver JDS are always reflecting on our strengths and areas of growth. Just as we as Jews welcome the yearly opportunity that comes with Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur to really reflect and become the best we can be, so, too, do we at Denver JDS welcome this opportunity to reflect and grow in order to continue to be the best place for our students and families.
Wishing you a g’mar chatimah tovah, may we all be sealed in the Book of Life for good.
Avi Halzel, Head of School (email@example.com)
Dr. Sarah Levy, Director of Jewish Life and Learning (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Elana Shapiro, Lower Division Principal (email@example.com)
Jason Snyder, Upper Division Principal (jsnyder@denverjdsorg)
Krista Boscoe, Director of Development (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Shayna Friedman, Director of Admissions (email@example.com)