Learning at Brandeis

Experiential Learning

How do you translate what students learn in the classroom and through books and lessons into real-life applications? By giving them the opportunity to get out of the classroom and apply their knowledge and conceptual understanding to real-world situations, of course.

At Brandeis, we offer programs at every grade that give our students the chance to learn through doing, observation, and interaction. From kindergarten field trips to learn about nature to our life-changing eighth-grade trip to Israel, we interweave academic and life lessons to help our students learn and grow.

Service Learning

Service learning connects classroom learning to the world outside of Brandeis. Our students acquire the skills necessary for empathetic, lifelong civic engagement, rooted in the richness of the Jewish concept of tikkun olam–repairing the world. Brandeis students embrace the understanding that giving back and making a difference in meaningful, productive, and powerful ways is central to our community values of integrity, kindness, and service. Through service learning, students are able to act upon these and other Jewish values in ways that contribute to their local community, to Israel, and to the world at large.

Service learning encourages Brandeis students to think critically and make choices as they collaborate with one another, their teachers, and local organizations. Students of all ages develop projects that foster connections to their local communities and deepen their understanding of the needs in the world around them. Service learning initiatives at Brandeis include:
  • All-school Volunteer Day—students in kindergarten through eighth grade engage in a day of service, with students participating in a variety of age-appropriate service projects. For example, students create birthday cards for Project Open Hand, make sandwiches and put together lunch bags for St. Anthony's Foundation, spend a week collecting clothing and shoe donations, tend to a local community garden, and work with Meals on Wheels and the SF-Marin Food Bank on a food drive.
  • Middle School Service Elective—a group of middle school students, trained by the Jewish Coalition for Literacy, works one-on-one with elementary school students at a Title 1 public school. Students reflect on their experiences as tutors and talk about the role of education and literacy in Judaism.
  • Connection with Partnering Schools in Israel—students communicate about social justice and environmental issues and projects with students at Hagomeh and Eynot Yarden schools through visits, mail, video, and over the Web.
Examples in the classroom include these and more:
  • First graders participate in the SPCA Puppy Dog Tales Program, in which they read to a dog. At the end of the year, the class hosts a read-a-thon to raise money for this SPCA reading program. The program was also featured in the fall 2016 issue of the SPCA newsletter Our Friends.
  • For 20+ years, eighth grade students have helped create Seder Sacks for Jewish Family and Children’s Services’ holiday outreach program, packing essential Passover foods for those in need.

Seventh Grade Tzedek Project

In the seventh grade, students participate in the Tzedek Program, which combines service learning with philanthropy.

Recognized on a national level by inclusion in the book The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Lieber, this project is designed to help students gain deep knowledge of the Jewish mitzvah of giving tzedakah and about the different needs that exist in their community and the world. Seventh grade families pool together resources that would otherwise go toward purchasing b'nai mitzvah gifts for each student and instead create a class fund to be used for philanthropic purposes. In recent years, the fund has reached $30,000! Armed with the knowledge they’ve learned in class and in talking with many organizations, seventh graders make educated philanthropic decisions, all through a Jewish lens. The project culminates with the students allocating grants to nonprofit organizations that they themselves have explored and championed throughout the project. This is a key seventh grade project that integrates all academic subjects with our Judaic studies curriculum and our students' personal experience and values, to impact the world at large in a very real, tangible way.

In December 2016, our Brandeis Tzedek Program was featured in Ron Lieber's Your Money column of the New York Times. Click here for the article. Lieber describes our program as "best school-based giving program I’ve ever encountered."

Israel Trip

In eighth grade, students travel to Israel for two weeks of unparalleled experiential education. This trip is a powerful culmination of our students’ time at Brandeis, as well as a lasting experience to carry with them as they continue their journey as leaders in high school and beyond. Many of our graduating students have described the Israel trip as the highlight of their years at Brandeis, having been a direct experience of what they have learned during their years at our school. It is a time for our students to experience a place where the biblical stories, Hebrew language, and history (both ancient and modern) that they have been studying comes to life. This trip is a culmination of many aspects of our students' experiences at Brandeis—incorporating inquiry, identity, history, spirituality, language, and community. The eighth grade Israel trip has become an important part of the fabric of the Brandeis educational experience.

Middle School Retreats

Returning to school from summer vacation is a major transition in the life of a middle school student. We also know that combining social activities with team-building, confidence-boosting, and initiative-enhancing challenges through a shared and supportive experience improves the reentry process and helps to ease this transition.

Our middle school students kick off their school year with an overnight retreat, where they engage in low-level challenge courses, high ropes elements, climbing walls, and adventure activities. Together, students build trust and cooperation, and strengthen the bonds between themselves and with their teachers.

Jewish values, which guide all of us at Brandeis, also play a major role in shaping retreat agendas. The retreat setting affords students the opportunity to reflect on past experiences, clarify their present goals, chart their path for the coming year, and realize more of their potential–allowing students to hit the ground running, socially and academically, once they return to campus.