Innovation Sensation!

Technological Advances Strike SDJA

By Ariela Moel (‘22)

 

Hidden below the old library area in the school’s A building secretly lies a little-known gem of  San Diego Jewish Academy. This beneficial learning environment boasts abundant technology and holds the key to innovation. What is this incognito luxury? The virtual reality lab! Even though it is relatively unknown now, students will soon become more familiar with the technological wonderland that SDJA has to offer. 

Mr. Kwaku Aning, director of the school’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Thinking (CIET), gave students new opportunities when his lab debuted in 2018, and again when he developed a new station located in the art room which followed it the next year. Both labs give students the ability to draw, create, and learn through artificial intelligence and augmented reality. Sophomore Rena Novom (‘22), has recently joined an art class in which she uses the VR. Rena mentions that VR lets her “manipulate the art form more than in a real-life situation.” 
VR Lab #1

Mr. Aning’s captivating VR Station, full of opportunities for SDJA’s students. Picture by Ariela Moel (‘22)

And this is only a small percentage of the enhancements SDJA has developed since the beginning of this school year. Other than the wonders which the virtual reality lab brings to the community, there have been other modifications made to the robotics team, classes added to the MS and HS curricula, and a newly established MS robotics program. As Jessie Gan (‘21), co-captain, along with Noah Katcher (’20), of the “7609 Lions” robotics team, mentions, the team has recently “taken advantage of the 3D printers.”  She notes that “now, more people on the team have those marketable 3D printing skills needed for our robotics use.”

Though unknown to many students, the VR labs are a school treasure. Whether it comes to building a 3D art model in Google Tilt Brush, an application made specifically for painting in new perspectives, or simply playing a game, students are allowed to see the unique window of high tech that is the VR.

Anyone interested in visiting one of the labs simply has to reach out to him. As Mr. Aning mentions, “We have several headsets (wired and wireless) and students can always email me if they would like to meet me during POD to try it out and explore how it works.”  

As if this VR station were not enough, Ms. Nebo has created a second VR lab, this one located in the art studio. When asked how it has improved SDJA’s art department, Ms. Nebo explains that “In the visual art class, we start off with a lot of paper and pencil and painting, kind of the more traditional art techniques and I think a lot of kids are intimidated by that because they don’t think of themselves as artists, and I feel like the VR gives them a different way to be able to express themselves.” With the implementation of the Occulus Quest, a type of VR headset, Ms. Nebo and her students have been able to benefit from the wireless technology.

VR Lab #2
Ms. Nebo’s new virtual reality headset which helps create student masterpieces. Picture by Ariela Moel (‘22)

Although virtual reality is exciting, it is not the only type of innovation at SDJA. “I think that when you challenge kids, you challenge students to try something new, and there’s a camaraderie that comes out of that,” says Mr. Marc Muroff, the AP Computer Science Principles teacher. When asked what innovations he has seen this year at SDJA, he responded, “I think SDJA offering two middle school programming classes and a full-year robotics class is very innovative.” Most people have generalized the word ‘innovation’ to be strictly technological, yet this isn’t so. As Mr. Muroff suggests, innovations can include allowing young students to take a leap into the world of experimental thinking in class and in the outside world.

The leaders in CIET have recently implemented a few new technologies at SDJA. After being asked about the upcoming projects or ideas for the school, Mr. Aning mentioned a new innovation center. “The plans are to create a space here on campus where students can conceive, create, and present new innovations in addition to incorporating these innovation skills into their school work,” he states.

Luckily, SDJA’s faucet of technology doesn’t stop running there. As well as the innovation center, there have been many new components in CIET. “I have seen a lot of amazing things this year!” Mr. Aning exclaims. “This include kindergarten students using AR to share their research about young activists with their parents, 5th-grade students using AI to develop adaptive solutions for people with disabilities, and high school students researching escape rooms to learn about film making, storytelling, and math,” 

The many opportunities that SDJA offers its students are nothing short of sensational. As Ms. Alicia Johal, CIET assistant director, mentions, “Teachers and students across campus have done some amazing work to embed innovative teaching practices into their curriculum. I have been excited by all of it – augmented reality experiences, virtual reality, robotics, creative video productions, podcasting, coding, and more!”

So many cutting edge additions to the school in such a short time confirm San Diego Jewish Academy as an authentic innovation sensation. As SDJA continues thinking creatively, the school community can look forward to even more progress and improvements in the near future. Stay tuned!

 

Jazzing Things Up

The SDJA music program gives a new spin on old school programming, and introduces students to new views on the art form
By Ron Gneezy (‘21)

 

Kab Shab Band 2019-2020

The Advanced Music class, spearheaded by Rabbi Frank and Mr. Collins, with help from Mr. Kahn, performs arrangements of classic Jewish songs at Kabbalat Shabbat. Photo by Rosie Alchalel (’21)

 

Since the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, the music program — especially the Advanced Music class — has grown both its presence on campus and its influence on the student body vastly. It’s practically a different entity compared to itself in previous years.

One big change is the rejuvenated presence of singers in the Advanced Music class. When asked about her history with the class, Sivan Gabai (‘23) stated, “I started Advanced Music this year,” and the story is the same for every singer.

With a constantly changing student body, bringing in new students is important for making sure the music program thrives. Mr. Collins has been teaching for, by his own account, “around fifteen years,” so he’s seen much of the program’s evolution.

Some students currently in the program have been participants since well before they entered high school, such as accomplished trumpeter Charles Simons (‘21), who, “started actually… playing the trumpet in 5th grade.” No matter when they joined the program, though, the goal for Mr. Collins remains the same: to make sure that, “as [the students’] musical ability gets better and they get more comfortable playing with other people, that they’re able to communicate through the music,” adding that, “improvisation is really the ultimate goal.”

Many students have greatly appreciated this direction of teaching, such as Devin Marcus (‘21), who says that, compared to when he was playing mostly by himself, “knowing that the other instruments are there to accompany me and what I can do is really fun, and I enjoy playing with them because they can also teach you a lot more about how to work in a group.”

The biggest change for the music program this year, though, is the integration of the Advanced Music class into the brand new Kabbalat Shabbat programming. The weekly repetition of these performances has played into their evolution, with Sivan Gabai saying that, “singing in front of the entire group at Kabbalat Shabbat has just become, y’know, more like a routine, so not necessarily as big as a performance.” This is key for that comfort in playing that Mr. Collins is seeking.

In addition to furthering Mr. Collins’ goal of teaching students the valuable skill of improvisation, the Kabbalat Shabbat involvement is a massive part of Rabbi Frank’s ultimate plan for the Friday programming. The Rabbi’s goal since day one has been, “to get kids up on the stage with us, not only playing music, but ultimately my vision is that all of the staff are gonna be very far in the background. The kids are gonna be taking ownership for introducing the various Brachot, candle lighting, Mi Shebeirach, and so forth, and giving Drashot instead of me.” The musicians’ involvement is just the first part of this.

Everywhere on campus, the impact of the music program is increasing at a breakneck pace. As more students get involved in events and performances around the school — from showcase night to open mics — the general capability increases, with members from the seasoned students to the fresh blood learning nonstop. Hopefully, this trend continues for years to come.

Lion-ing Up for Lunch

New MUS Cafe and Lunch Area Spark Gustatory Adventures 

By Alexandra Wellman (’23)

Standing in line to purchase hot lunch, Jessica Podolsky (‘20) tries to peek through the swarm of people to see what’s on the menu, ready to get her hands on the day’s meal. “I love how convenient it is to get lunch here,”  Jessica states, adding how “ it’s not only easy to just swing by and pick it up but it’s also delicious.”

This year the SDJA hot-lunch has had a major influx of hungry customers. Why? Because, thanks to the new Lion’s Cafe, the lunch experience has been changed for the better.

In past years, students had to walk from the upper school to the lower school playground to pick up their hot lunches. This process took precious time out of students’ short break. Upon arriving at SDJA, Executive Chef Giselle Wellman, took it upon herself to change the hot lunch experience in the Maimonides Upper School.  Just two years later, the Lion’s Café opened to the hungry Lions in the upper school. 

The new Lions Café was the perfect solution to students’ lunch problems.

However, the success of the Lion’s Cafe has not come without hardship. The new café brought the challenge of more students coming in to receive lunch every day. “I’m a lot busier this year moving food from one kitchen to the other but it feels great to be able to feed more people,” Giselle Wellman shared. 

With the shortened wait time and easy access to the café, more students choose to buy lunch. However, the increase of students has made it harder to keep track of each person who walked in the door. The solution? Each student now has a PIN number which they type into a computer before selecting their meal. 

Which, of course, brings its own technological difficulties. 

Although it may sound simple, memorizing a PIN number does not top the list for most students. Mrs. Anna Falkiewicz, MUS Dean of Students, who helps out at the Lions Café every day, expressed that it was definitely frustrating at first to have to remind students of their PIN every day. Despite the difficulties, every student who remembers their PIN number means faster food for everyone else. 

Although there have been some twists and turns along the way, there is one thing the Lions Café has definitely done right–the food! For example, students all know that Wednesdays are pizza days, lining up ahead of time pouring in as soon as lunch starts. 

When asked about past meals she has enjoyed at the Lions’ Café, Noa Rosenbaum (’23) says, “I am never disappointed by the food. Regardless of what is served, it is always delicious.” 

Bringing the school healthy lunches has been the main goal for the Lions Café. Ms. Wellman explains that, “Just because it tastes good doesn’t mean it has to be unhealthy. I always try to incorporate fruits, vegetables, and healthy ingredients into the lunches for the students.” One of the delicious meals that exhibits this perfectly is a campus favorite: butternut squash macaroni and cheese. “Yes! It’s mac and cheese day” students excitedly whisper in class rooms, hallways, and all around school. Diego Kohan (’22), already excited for the next one, says “I honestly never knew it had butternut squash! I think it’s great to know that the delicious lunch that I eat all the time is good for me, too.”

 

Eitan Breziner and Chicken Fingers

Eitan Breziner (’20) savors every bite of his chicken fingers and potato wedges . 

Photo by Alexandra Wellman (’23)

The Lions’ Café is not the only recent addition to the SDJA lunch experience; students are also making good use out of the handsome new tables, a welcome replacement for some of the old worn out tables. These new brown wooden tables have improved the ambiance of students’ lunch time experience. “The tables added a sense of community to SDJA, since some of the new tables are bigger they’ve allowed more people to sit together.” Kate Aizin (‘22) shares.

SDJA is experiencing a new lunch-time dynamic. Bringing hot, healthy, and delicious lunches to the MUS, and adding new, unifying tables and a more efficient delivery system has sparked an eating renaissance on campus. What delicious item will you have for lunch tomorrow at the Lions Café?