School News Editor
When it became apparent that COVID-19 was going to change our way of life, the administration at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy recognized that Barrack needed to make sure it could meet the needs of its community in this new world. Upon realizing this, the SSEL initiative was launched. SSEL, or Spiritual, Social, and Emotional Learning, is a large committee comprised of Barrack community members who are determined to make sure that all of us are spiritually, socially, and emotionally nourished. SSEL’s goal is for everyone at Barrack to connect with one another, ourselves, G-d, and our environment.
Within SSEL are committees with narrower missions. One of these committees is DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion). DEI was established following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others, and the ensuing protests that erupted in response to their deaths and systemic racism in general. Many JBHA parents and students were adamant in their insistence that JBHA become an explicitly anti-racist, pro-Black Lives Matter school. In response, DEI will focus on bringing more diverse voices into the Barrack community, expanding the curriculum, being aware of the fact that JBHA is not totally homogenous, and being conscious of Barrack’s students of color who often feel marginalized.
Headed by Frank Tow, a former Barrack math teacher who left his job to pursue a degree in social work, DEI encompasses four subcommittees. These smaller task forces will focus on the curriculum, advisory periods, professional development for teachers, and overall student culture. DEI will work with the Derech Eretz Council, Gender Sexuality Alliance club, Students Combating Racism club, Culture Change club, and Women’s Empowerment club to truly make Barrack the most welcoming place it can be.
SSEL and DEI’s missions are not new concepts to Barrack, as the Derech Eretz Council has worked towards these goals for many years. However, DEI will be exclusively about diversity, equity, and inclusion (its namesake). DEI and Derech Eretz are interconnected because both initiatives will try to establish our school as a place that lives up to its values. We must honor every member of our community, making sure everyone feels valued, whether they are the minority or the majority. Students need a place to feel courageous, to raise concerns, say what they feel, and to put themselves out there to make a positive change. By nurturing this moral courage within its student body, Barrack can become a brave space. We need to be kind because JBHA students come from many different backgrounds and everyone should be included. By nurturing this kindness within its student body, Barrack can become a safe space. If people do not feel like they belong, JBHA does not live up to DEI’s mission or its Derech Eretz values.
For students interested in learning more about DEI and SSEL in general, the staff members involved include Rabbi Judd Levingston, Rabbi Will Keller, Mrs. Christine Farrell, Mr. Thomas McLaughlin, Mr. Justin Cooper, Ms. Jennifer Groen, Ms. Hallie Anderson, Rabbi Daniel Rosenberg, Mrs. Joyce Ferber, Mrs. Wendie Sittenfield, Mrs. Mari Kalman, Mrs. Amy Grolnick, and Mrs. Lisa Nolan.
Photo Credit: Jack M Barrack Hebrew Academy