This post is by second year Education Fellow Ben Chaidell.
ISJL Education Fellows often work with our communities on how to create successful assistant teacher programs that put teenagers in younger students’ Sunday school classrooms. These emerging leaders are commonly referred to as madrichim, which means “guides” in Hebrew. The teens are the guides for the younger students and serve as role models for continued involvement in and enthusiasm for the Jewish community.
Congregation Adat Chaverim in Plano, Texas has built a very successful madrichim program as part of its dynamic school culture. While the congregation is only about 15 years old, it has grown to about 200 families and almost 150 students in its religious school, including over 41 madrichim.
Implementing and maintaining an active and helpful madrichim program is no simple feat. So, what draws 41 teenagers to Sunday school on a morning when they could be sleeping? And how do they arrive ready to assist teachers and younger students?
Education Director Valerie Klein does some things differently at Adat Chaverim, and she gets good results. First, the madrichim are also known as macharniks, from the Hebrew word machar which means “tomorrow.” The macharniks are the Jewish leaders of tomorrow. Serving as macharniks keeps them engaged with the congregation through their high school years and equips them with the skills necessary to serve the Jewish community in the future.
Second, the macharniks cover a wide range of responsibilities. They teach, lead learning stations and games, and participate in classroom discussions and art projects. Further, as a group they organize the Hanukkah and Passover all-school programs. Past programs they have organized include “Willy Wonka Hanukkah” and “Who Stole the Afikoman Mystery?”
Third, Valerie and machar coordinator Joanna Rudoff set the macharniks up for success. Joanna runs check-ins and training sessions for the macharniks, who each receive their own manual at the beginning of the year detailing their responsibilities. I had the opportunity to sit in on the session in which the older macharniks passed on advice to the younger ones. Some wise gems included: “get to know your kids,” “they’ll respect you as much as you respect them,” and “don’t say anything you wouldn’t say in front of your grandma.”
Valerie credits the success of her program to the expectation that students stay involved after their bar/bat mitzvah in a unique choice-based high school program. Students earn a certain number of points to “graduate” when they are seniors from each of the following categories: youth group, high school classes, and gemilut chasidim (acts of loving kindness, which include serving as a macharnik). This flexibility enables busy high school students to schedule their Jewish involvement in a way that works for them.
Ultimately, however, the macharniks keep coming back because religious school is simply fun. Valerie recognizes that it’s not usually the teachers who motivate their students to look forward to religious school; instead, it’s the friends the students make at religious school that make them look forward to returning. As a result, Valerie encourages her students to spend time together not only at religious school but also over the summer at Greene Family Camp. Over 40 campers and staff from the congregation attended Greene Family Camp this past summer, an astounding number for the size of the congregation.
I’ve certainly had a lot of fun with the folks at Adat Chaverim and learned a lot as well, and I can’t wait for my next visit!