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Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Earlier this month the Covenant Foundation awarded $1.7 million dollars in new grants for the 2020 year, which are used to fund different Jewish schools across the nation.

Among the many schools awarded was The Idea School and Institute, located in Tenafly, and led by Head of School Tikvah Wiener. The school was awarded $50,000.

Wiener felt honored to have her school be a grant recipient.

“I’ve long admired the Covenant Foundation and the work they do,” she said. “An endorsement from them feels gratifying and humbling—we feel very honored to be part of their organization, and to be alongside other grantees who are also doing amazing work.”

Wiener was inspired to start the school, which opened in 2017, after learning about project-based learning, a teaching method that allows children to apply skills that they learn through presentations, hands-on assignments and activities.

After doing more research on this alternative teaching method, she began her efforts to create a modern-Orthodox school that would offer this model.

“With traditional learning, students go from class to class and, for the most part, the main forms of assessment are tests, papers and quizzes,” Wiener said. “Maybe they can take one or two classes that address their passions, or take an extracurricular at the end of a long day.”

Through project-based learning, Wiener explained, students can pursue their passions while learning real-world life skills during their mainstream classes. For example, 10th-grade students at The Idea School are learning about how to manage a business. Instead of receiving a written exam on the facts they are learning, their knowledge is being put to the test in a more hands-on manner. The students are creating their own food-truck business, a project that allows them to learn about the laws of kashrut, business ethics and marketing.

“They’re doing the nitty-gritty stuff, like going to the Tenafly municipal center for a permit,” Wiener said. “They’re learning the legal parameters surrounding starting a business, how to publicize that business—they’re even earning food-handler certificates.”

Wiener looks forward to using the money to help spread awareness of project-based learning, and to create more resources for educators and anyone else interested in learning more.

When Wiener was learning about project-based learning, she had access to websites complete with videos, blog posts and other information that helped her understand the teaching method. She wants to add similar resources to The Idea School’s website in order to provide more information for those interested in project-based learning at a Jewish day school.

“It can be very robust and dynamic,” Wiener said of the online resources. “If you’re a teacher tired at the end of the day, it’s not like committing to an online class—here you’ll have an easy way to take information in in small bites that are manageable.”

Wiener also wants to offer professional development via workshops and summer conferences, such as The Maker and Creator conference.

“This allows us to show the different ways the institute works to share what we are doing with the field,” Wiener said.

Joni Blinderman, associate director of the Covenant Foundation, has long been impressed with Wiener and the work she and her colleagues have put into the school.

“The team that’s involved in working at the school, the vision of the school and the project-based learning that pervades the entire curriculum are all extremely impressive,” Blinderman said. “We believe in its mission and that it has a lot to teach others in the Jewish education community.”

The Covenant Foundation conducts a meticulous process to select grant winners, according to Blinderman.

The grants process opens each year during the first week in January. The Foundation accepts letters of inquiry from any non-profit organization located in North America whose mission is to provide Jewish education. The Foundation uses an academic model of peer-review. The reviewers are involved throughout the process, which culminates each year in December when a selection committee determines the recipients.

By Elizabeth Zakaim