The Gesher Jewish Day School (Gesher JDS) community enjoys a school campus that includes 28 expansive wooded acres of exploration space in Fairfax, Virginia. Gesher JDS teachers take full advantage of the campus, seizing opportunities to move away from the traditional classroom setting and embracing the concept of #DitchTheDesk.
When Rose Marie Russo, fourth grade general studies teacher at Gesher JDS, looks out her classroom window and sees the sun shining, she’s known to grab her planned math lesson and take it outside. The path is decorated with math equations written out in sidewalk chalk, and there is a trail of buckets filled with unique objects. Each object represents a different number, and each bucket has a math problem to solve. Inside Russo’s classroom, children use tables for group work rather than using individual desks. Children read, engage in small group work, or simply change their position to make themselves more available for learning by getting comfortable in bean bag chairs.
Stuck inside because of the weather? Gesher second grade teacher Joan Desantis recently purchased eight-inch fitness balls. Her class uses them during energizer breaks in the classroom. Indoor recess doesn’t disappoint either. The Shichman Imagination Playground entertains students, giving them the opportunity to engineer structures across the gym.
Maddie Rosenwald, Gesher STEAM coordinator, facilitates student races outside in order to calculate speed and acceleration. Math Coordinator Jack England uses sports to take middle school students onto the field to describe geometry. England explains, “The soccer field is a plane, players are points, a pass is a line segment.”
Students throughout elementary and middle school enjoy Gesher’s outdoor discovery centers. Learning through touch, students explore nature in the Gesher woods, dig in the garden, journey through our wetland area, and interact with salamanders and tadpoles in the vernal pond. Science, math, nature, poetry, and Jewish values dance together with joyful feet in puddle boots.
Moving and playing throughout the day helps children develop. Doing so supports social and emotional development while also strengthening problem-solving skills that require persistence and engagement. Gesher does not limit the value of movement and play to early childhood.
“Allowing students to sit or stand, to manipulate their learning environment, and to work collaboratively with their peers fosters self-confidence and promotes academic success for older middle school students as well as for our young early elementary children. We continue to encourage Gesher faculty to own their spaces, get moving, get creative, and #DitchTheDesk,” says Head of School Dan Finkel.
By Jennifer Scher
Jennifer Scher is director of development at Gesher Jewish Day School.