By Zeesy Deren
The Sinai Academy began in 2006, and is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
From humble beginnings in the home of a community member (Dina Chorn), we ran our first toddler class. The school was then opened as the Jewish Montessori Preschool.
In 2007, our community school expanded to two preschool classes on new premises (our current home) in Bloubergrant in Cape Town, which were able to cover the preschool age groups of 18 months to three years, and three to six years.
In 2008, we built a second storey as we had grown and needed more space.
In 2009, as we grew, the school married the two educational philosophies of Reggio Emilia and Montessori, complementing the creative with the academic, both at their core value of “respecting the child”. We renamed our school The Sinai Academy.
A boutique school
Sinai represents Mount Sinai, where the Jewish people traditionally received the Torah at the start of the nation over 3 000 years ago. The school combines Jewish teachings with a true secular studies “academy” of the highest level and a unique forward-thinking approach, which is what has made our school so appealing to the families that have chosen to be here.
We then opened our junior primary (grades 1–3) in 2010 and, in 2014, we expanded into a senior primary (grades 4–6). Our current challenge is that we are growing out of our premises, and we are looking to build a bigger and more permanent campus. We now host a
fully-fledged preschool and primary school, which is more than just a school – it is a community, a school family! One of our parents fondly describes it as a “boutique school”.
Every level of Jewish observance is accepted. Families are invited to participate in real-life experiences through the synagogue, which is housed on the same premises. This is one of the reasons that Sinai was chosen as the Reggio Emilia representative for the Western Cape, because we are a community school.
National and international links
Locally, we are registered with the Department of Social Development and the Western Cape Education Department and use the South African curriculum1 as a benchmark guide, so that children transitioning locally will be able to do so easily. In addition, we bring in international curricula and assessment benchmarks, to ensure our children are able to transition internationally, too, giving our students the best of both worlds.
Internationally, the school is registered with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC),2 with international candidacy approval. An in-depth process of selfstudy and school improvement, with guidance and scrutiny from WASC, continues for a few more years until completion.
We create personalised learning goals for each child, with a holistic approach that caters to all learning styles and abilities. Each child’s progress is reviewed weekly, which ensures optimal growth. We follow a modular approach for assessments, which means that each child writes tests as they finish the unit. A child that can move faster is not held back by having to wait for the class to move on.
Conversely, children who struggle can develop at their own pace, with support to progress, which is most beneficial.
Everyone enjoys “genius hour”
Our child-centric emergent curriculum approach encourages children to be passionate about their learning. Inquiry and project-based learning (with “genius hour” being the most exciting hour of the week, as the students can choose to study and research topics of their choice) grows our children’s higher order thinking and personal interests as they develop.
Vertical grouping (different ages together) in classrooms optimises children’s social and academic learning, where younger children learn from and look up to older ones, and older children are able to adopt leadership roles, building inner confidence. Skills are always taught individually or to same-level small groups.
Learning also depends on the relationship between student and teacher. Close relationships are longer lasting with teachers, as the duration of stay in each classroom with the same teacher is longer than one year, which proves to be beneficial to the academic and emotional development of the child.
A few of the parents’ favourite things
Our high teacher-to-student ratio is also one of parents’ favourite things about Sinai, and helps children transition easily from home to school.
Families also favour our no homework policy and our “Sinai Active Challenge” – a combination of exercise and fun, developing various parts of the brain and emotional well-being.
Another big plus for parents is that all stationery and books are provided by the school. All meals and snacks, being specifically kosher, are provided by our super chef and her kitchen team.
Besides the normal academic menu of literacy, maths, cultural subjects and social sciences, the curriculum includes sports, drama, music, art, a multi-technology strategic approach, creative writing, entrepreneurship, community service, fundraising projects, recycling programmes, environmental organic farming and much more.
We provide extra family support through community leaders and support teachers, as well as through our school’s emotional programme.
A great premium is put on the ongoing professional and personal development of our staff team, whose care and respect for children is a “Sinai special” that is above and beyond the norm of a teacher.
A telling testimonial
Here is a beautiful testimonial from a parent:
“I research a lot about all different education systems and ways of teaching/parenting etc. I truly believe Sinai has the most amazing system I’ve ever seen. I have yet to come across another school that comes close to Sinai in principles and methods. I think the level of teaching and education is worldclass, and every teacher my kids have had has been outstanding. It’s not ‘just a job’ to them, but a real passion. This has always been evident to me at the school.
“The fact that the children are allowed to learn at their own pace, be an individual, flourish naturally and think for themselves, makes staying next year a no-brainer for us!
“My biggest fear is my kids being forced into a mainstream box, where they are told what to do and how to do it, and also told off when they don’t do work a certain way the teacher/school deems correct… I don’t believe those are the correct ways to teach, encourage and inspire young minds. I want my kids to be creative, innovators and have a love and passion for what they’re learning.
“Both of them also have a very strong connection to Judaism and I want to feed and nurture that natural love inside of them because I’ve seen and experienced for myself first-hand how special and beautiful it is.”
1. See: http://www.education.gov.za/Curriculum/CurriculumAssessment PolicyStatements(CAPS).aspx.
2. See: http://www.acswasc.org/.
Category: Summer 2016