The Chaya Mushka Children’s House Elementary & Middle School will reach a milestone when the school year begins Aug. 21: The members of the Montessori Jewish day school’s first graduating class will begin their last year.
The class is composed of 10 eighth-graders, eight of whom have grown up as the Sandy Springs school has added a grade each year since opening in 2010.
“It’s exciting, and it’s challenging because at the end of the day this class is the one that will set the tone for where we go as a school,” said Rabbi Michoel Druin, the head of school.
People in the past have asked where Chaya Mushka graduates went to high school, he said. By the spring, he’ll finally have some answers.
Rabbi Druin said the eighth-graders are considering everything from public schools to yeshivas, and part of his job this year is to meet with Jewish high schools to ensure that Chaya Mushka graduates have a seamless transition wherever they go next year.
The arrival of the school’s first graduating class coincides with a time of expansion and transition for the school, an outgrowth of Chabad of Atlanta’s Chaya Mushka preschool, led by Dassie New at Congregation Beth Tefillah.
The elementary and middle school is at capacity with 100 students on a leased campus on West Wieuca Road. No more than 15 are in a classroom. During a phone interview Thursday, July 27, Rabbi Druin said he had a forthcoming meeting with a family of four children but likely had nowhere to put them.
As a stopgap measure for this year, the school has installed a climate-controlled tent to serve as a lunchroom while Chaya Mushka searches for a permanent home. One possibility, Rabbi Druin said, is to purchase and build out its current campus.
Students come from all over, he said, including East Cobb and Alpharetta in addition to the school’s hometown of Sandy Springs. Enough students come from Toco Hills that the school is adding a second van for transportation to and from that heavily Orthodox enclave, reflecting that many of the students are not part of Chabad families.
One of the attractions is an individualized educational road map for each student, adjusted based on assessments conducted every three months.
The school is adding an engineering program for first- through eighth-graders this year, filling out its STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics) curriculum. From fourth grade up, teachers have specific disciplines — an engineering teacher, a math teacher, an art teacher — instead of teaching everything themselves, though the lessons will cross lines.
Rabbi Druin said he believes in forcing students out of their comfort zones, so students who need help get more questions to guide them rather than being given the answers.
“We want to make sure they are learners vs. students,” he said. Students can memorize and repeat what they are taught but can’t go beyond it. Learners know how to gain understanding and value learning.
The STEAM curriculum blends high- and low-tech approaches. The school is getting the latest Bluetooth whiteboards, but Rabbi Druin said it’s also important for students to study with actual books and write with pens on paper in addition to typing on keyboards.
“I don’t believe in overwhelming technology,” the rabbi said. “I still walk around with a pen in my pocket.”
Such blended learning enables students to progress in line with their own abilities — some of the eighth-graders will be doing high school math this year, getting an edge on their peers next year — while also ensuring they’ll all measure up favorably with students around the country, Rabbi Druin said, creating proud, knowledgeable Jews.
“The reason why we exist as a school,” Rabbi Druin said, “it’s about Jewish kids getting a Jewish environment that inspires them as Jewish people. … That’s a primary purpose why we’re here, to inspire them, to make sure they’re proud of their heritage, proud of their history, proud of their community.”