On Saturday November 26th, the Copley Marriott was filled with the unmistakable energy of Gann alumni; old friends were reconnecting, and new friendships were in the making. Gann Academy was holding its Annual Alumni Reunion, it was the first time that the classes of 2011, 2006, 2001, and 2000 came together at one event.
The night kicked off with alumni celebrating their milestone reunions, including class groups from 5, 10, and 15 years out. Later in the evening, all alumni joined in, with attendees ranging from recent Gann grads to alumni from the original school, the New Jewish High School of Greater Boston (a/k/a New Jew). In the general hum of conversation, alumni talked about everything from first kids to first jobs. But most of all, the reunion was about catching up and having fun. Some alumni looked at giant photo boards and laughed about how they appeared in high school.
“It was an incredible opportunity for alumni to network in person with members of different classes and generations. We had such an amazing time, the spirit of our school was palpable,” said Anya Manning ’03, Gann Alumni Co-Chair.
Attendees noted that Gann’s annual reunion is only one way that alumni connect. Gann alumni often mentor one another, sometimes even finding former Gann students to advise them when they are learning the ropes at college. Some are making professional connections like entrepreneur Zach Schwartz, ’12, founder of First Bench Ventures, a real estate investment and management company, who says, “I find that networking among Gann alums is invaluable to making new business connections.” Still others are finding that the supportive community they experienced as a Gann student is alive and well in the alumni network. “I love how my sense of community with Gann continues as an alum,” said Talia Rubin, ’14.
With enthusiastic leadership from a group of committed alumni, Gann will be launching a state-of-the-art online alumni network early in 2017. This technology uses existing social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn to open doors to social and professional opportunities. Possibilities range from receiving career advice or job references to chatting with long lost friends. More opportunities for alumni connections are also in the works, including bringing alumni back to Gann to speak to current students, out-of-town alumni get-togethers, and other initiatives that will support the burgeoning alumni community.
Gann’s first Alumni Relations and Campaign Associate, Joanna Feldman, said, “I’m excited to meet alumni, and I’m happy to talk and hear alumni stories at any time.” Joanna hopes to meet every Gann alumni and encourages all alumni and parents to get in touch.
Wherever their interests and travels take them, alumni will always have the Gann network. Gann Academy is committed to helping alumni stay connected and developing caring relationships through all stages of life, both personally and professionally. If you’d like to get involved with Gann alumni activities or help test drive the online network, click here to contact Joanna Feldman.
Check out the Reunion 2016 scrapbook:
On Friday evening, November 18, the aroma of roasted vegetables, hot soup, and soft pretzels drifted through the halls of Gann Academy. There were sounds of music and laughter and sometimes quiet moments of prayer and discussion. It was the Freshman Shabbaton, an occasion to step back from the bustle of academic life as a new student and share a time of relaxed fellowship and contemplation.
From the end of school that Friday until Saturday evening, freshmen celebrated Shabbat as a community along with their classmates, advisors, and teachers. Activities ranged from candle lighting and prayer to singing, festive meals, small group discussions, and a spirited game of Clue. There was also plenty of free time for community-building and fun. The Shabbaton concluded with a beautiful Havdalah service and more singing before students headed home for the weekend—relaxed, happy, and more connected than ever to their classmates and to the Gann community.
For Emma Sullaway, a graduate of Cambridge’s Shady Hill School, the highlight of the Shabbaton was Friday’s high-energy song session. “I went with a few friends to see what it was like, and we decided that, if it got boring, we’d just leave,” she said. At first, they were all a little shy about participating. “But an hour and a half later, we were all singing enthusiastically, happy we went,” she said.
Eamon Sinclair, who spent his middle school days at the Runkle School in Brookline, particularly enjoyed playing “gaga” (like dodge ball with a soft foam ball). “Before we went to bed, the boys met up in a locker pod for a game,” he said. “I had a blast!” Eamon has also enjoyed exploring his Jewish identity at Gann; as a student in public school, he didn’t have much connection to Judaism in his daily life. “Until the Freshman Shabbaton, it never really resonated that I am officially part of this community,” he said. “Being here definitely gives me a sense of my Jewish identity in a very nice way.”
Also participating in the Shabbaton were Ozrim, upper-class students who serve as mentors to the freshmen. The Ozrim helped plan the event and led many of the activities. “Some Ozrim, the senior girls, set aside time for us to get to know each other better,” said Shira McGinity, a graduate of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Newton. “We shared stories about our friends and family and life outside of school. Now I feel like I can be myself while getting to know people I hope will be my friends for the rest of my life.”
The Freshman Shabbaton also gave Shira a chance to experience Gann’s diversity and pluralism at a deeper level. “I learned that teachers and students here have a wide variety of spiritual practices,” she said. “This was refreshing, coming from a middle school with less religious diversity. It makes school feel like a safe place no matter how you identify yourself spiritually—everyone is accepted.”
The Shabbaton activities are just one way in which freshmen get to know each other and experience a sense of belonging—as they leave their 22 middle schools behind and build a new community at Gann. Other opportunities range from introductions to upper-class “Gannbassadors” to the freshman class Project Adventure ropes course to the All-School Retreat. Most notable are Gann’s weekly advisory sessions—meetings of eight freshmen, an upper-class mentor, and a faculty advisor, where students discuss everything from how to use Gann’s technology to world politics. Together, these activities build a very special sense of camaraderie among the class and within the school.
As they grow and thrive under the guidance of faculty members and older students, Gann freshmen are already moving towards someday becoming mentors for younger students. And so the circle continues, as the bonds freshmen form with each other, faculty advisors, and Ozrim enrich the lives of everyone in the Gann community.
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Next week, Gann’s ninth grade Music Foundations class will step into the spotlight and up to the microphones to perform for an audience of peers and faculty in the Black Box Theater. They will be singing original Gann anthems—“Gannthems”. This is the culmination of a semester-long, project-based learning curriculum in which students explored the question, “What makes an anthem for the ages?”
Over the past several months, students have analyzed dozens of anthems—ranging from Hatikva to “We Will Rock You” to “Charlie on the MTA”—to distill exactly what makes them memorable and compelling. Leading up to the final project, students used digital notation software to notate rhythmic motifs, and they all composed original melodies and raps. But this was just the beginning.
In groups of three, students then embarked on their final project—creating an anthem for the Gann community. That entailed thinking deeply about what Gann is in order to create both the lyrics and the music of their Gannthems. Some students interviewed upperclassmen; others did online research; and together the class interviewed Rabbi Baker on Gann’s history, mission, and core values.
“Rabbi Baker sharing his vision for the school was really inspiring for all of us. He took time out of his day to come and meet with us, which showed how important this was,” said Ari Sapers-Sydney. The echoes of Rabbi Baker’s words can be heard in the final compositions. “We create a unique community, a vibrant future for everyone, Gann inspires us all.” “We are the students of Gann, proud and supportive of friends, uplifting our spirits in song, for many years to come.” One anthem even quoted liturgy, encapsulating Gann’s approach to Jewish education, “lilmod u'lelamed. . .talmud torahtecha b’ahava (to learn and to teach. . .the words of your Torah with love)”. One theme emerging consistently is that of Gann as an accepting community that cares deeply about learning, about leading, and about each other.
The Gannthems project and the Music Foundations course are part of Gann’s new Arts curriculum, in which each incoming freshman takes a full year of foundational courses—one semester of visual and one of performing. Courses include Video, Photography and Design, Studio Arts, Music, Dance, and Theater. Teachers encourage students to explore and deepen their own self-conceptions as artists. Lisa Jacobs, Chair of the Arts Department, explains, “The Arts faculty is committed to providing students with opportunities to step outside their comfort zones and take risks, to experience the world through diverse lenses, and to develop empathy through self-reflection and encountering the other.“
Indeed, the final projects of the freshman artists vary widely and embody the essence of risk-taking. Students in the Design Foundation classes have prepared PSA posters for the Mothers Out Front organization to use in their campaign for environmental protection. Students in the Video Foundations classes are showing final cuts of their original music videos, and students in the Dance Foundations classes are performing their own, self-choreographed pieces. After freshman year, students can follow up these courses with additional electives, ranging from pottery and graphic design to electronic music and animation.
For now, though, our aspiring anthem-writers are excited about their debuts next week. Freshman Amital Shapiro says that her group’s Gannthem intends to evoke a feeling of pride. “To create, to strive, to care, and to connect—these are our values that make us proud to be a part of this school.”
This fall, seniors in the Environmental Science & Sustainability elective stepped outside the classroom to put their lab experience to the test. Students gain scientific inquiry skills in Gann’s Science Department, which combines theory with primary research, both in the lab and in the field.
This interdisciplinary class explores the Earth’s systems and cycles, including energy, water, and climate. Students examine the interconnectedness of life and the influence of humans on our environment, exploring solutions to environmental issues facing the planet.
These seniors investigated how drought is affecting water supply and conservation. “Due to the widespread effect of the drought in Massachusetts, we felt that it was crucial for us to see its consequences first hand,” said student, David Clardy, ’17, of Lexington.
This environmental science class learned a lot about the status of the Massachusetts drought and water quality by visiting freshwater Beaver Brook, a stream close to Gann Academy, and collected samples from the Ipswich River. Students were taken aback by the extremely visible low levels of water from both sources.
Clardy described his class’ field study trip in a recent blog:
Writing in a blog about this lab and field experience was the culminating assignment for this science class as part of project based learning. Students have also begun to identify ways to conserve water and are advocating for reducing humans’ hydro-footprint among their peers, urging others to be aware of the consequences of ignoring the drought.
"We are incredibly proud of the growth and success of our athletics program—It’s an extension of the classroom at Gann. Our student-athletes learn how to thrive competitively and handle adversity gracefully as part of a team."
- Pam Roecker, Athletic Director
In an exciting win his fall, Gann Academy won the inaugural Girls Volleyball Championship in the IGC (Independent Girls Conference). According to Director of Athletics Pam Roecker, this title is a milestone within the growth of Gann Athletics, a newcomer in a well-established conference.
Roecker came to Gann from Emanuel College in 2015. She served as Emmanuel’s Director of Athletics and Recreation for 12 years, and the department experienced significant growth during Roecker's tenure. She has had an extensive career in collegiate athletics, including coaching Division I women’s basketball.
Roecker took a moment recently to reflect on Gann’s history and impressive track record:
"Gann athletics has been on a steady climb since it began in 1997, when the school was founded. In the early years, we focused on building our program. And we were always on the road practicing, because we were without our own facilities. Since then, we have come a long way—and our teams have won 41 championships in total.
In 2000, we had our first big win when the Boys Soccer team was crowned MBIL (Mass Bay Independent League) champions. 2003 was a watershed moment for Gann Athletics. We moved to our then new, and current Waltham home, here on Forest Street. When our campus opened, it featured the state-of-the-art facilities that our teams enjoy today: two basketball courts, a grass soccer field, baseball and softball fields, and access to the City of Waltham turf fields.
Our wins kept mounting. For example, Gann’s Girls and Boys Tennis programs have dominated league play, winning six and seven titles respectively over the past seven years. We had a banner year in 2015-2016 when we brought home five trophies: Girls Basketball, Boys Tennis, Baseball, Softball, and Co-Ed Ultimate Frisbee.
Last academic year, our Girls Basketball team became the 2016 IGC champions. And Boys Soccer advanced to the MBIL Championship this fall, although the title slipped from their grasp in an extremely competitive match.
When we won the inaugural Girls Volleyball Championship on November 2nd, as part of the Fall 2016 IGC, it was truly a history making title. The 2016 squad was undefeated in their regular season, posting a final record of 15-1 this year, and a two-year record of 25-5. This is an extraordinary accomplishment given that the seniors from this team only won five games in Fall 2013, and six games in Fall 2014.
I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction helping students to develop their athletic abilities and to experience the joy of sport and team comradery. We can’t wait for the upcoming winter season! "
In addition to Pam Roecker’s collegiate athletics experience, she has been a commentator on ESPNU, Comcast SportsNet, MSG, CBS College Sports, and Fox. Watch a clip of Roecker in her current role as the Northeast Conference women’s basketball analyst on ESPN3.
"These students have a new place for Israel in their hearts. When we traveled back from Israel together, they couldn’t stop talking about how changed they feel, how much the trip was an amazing experience."
-Laila Goodman, Science Teacher, Madrichah Ruchanit (Spiritual Advisor)
This past August, thirty Gann juniors embarked on a journey to Israel, leaving the creature comforts of home, their parents, and familiar places behind. What began as a scramble to get to know new teachers and classes, peer travelers, and a new country—became a transformative experience.
The group recently returned in November after spending 12 weeks at Alexander Muss High school in the Tel Aviv suburb of Hod HaSharon, where they combined their traditional studies—math, English, history and more—with an immersion into Israeli culture.
Gann's travel and learning program exposes students to historical, biblical, and modern Israel through first-hand experiences and classroom study. The program supports the building of life-long connections to Israeli people, history, and culture.
Student traveler Jordan Cyker had this to say about classroom study, “I learned so much more about the history of the Jewish people in core class, and stories that I have never heard before. I was surprised by how much I didn’t know, even about stories that I have heard my whole life.”
The journey was also a tactile experience of outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, and field trips to sites throughout Israel. Students walked in the footsteps of ancient Israelites, traveled where Abraham traveled, visited the holy sites of Jerusalem, camped in the desert, experienced modern Tel Aviv, and swam in the Dead Sea. They got a feel for the Land and people, and learned about the history at the same time.
“Everybody was so friendly, you truly felt like everyone in Israel was your family. It was comforting walking down the streets, knowing anyone you passed by would have taken you in, it’s just part of the culture,” said Marissa Rosenzweig, Gann student.
These Gann Juniors also gained an understanding of the struggle and sacrifices that it took to build modern Israel, the agricultural, economic, and military challenges of the early pioneers, and the way that their fellow Jews turned a desert into a productive landscape. Students returned feeling more confident about discussing complex political issues such as the relationship between Israel and Palestine.
“I think about myself and my place in this world as a Jew differently than before this Israel trip. I have come to believe that as a Jew it is my job to stand up for Israel,” said Marissa Rosenzweig, Gann student.
“Because of this trip, I definitely feel like I have more of a voice. And I’m never going to forget how strong Israelis are. The history of Israel shows its ability to survive, it still stands strong today,” said
Jordan Cyker, Gann student
Marissa experienced an indelible moment, which is evocative of the connection that this group of student travelers made to Israel:
“My favorite memory of the trip took place on Yom Kippur. We were staying in Jerusalem that night. After temple, we went to join many yeshiva students who were sitting in a circle leading songs. Two other friends and I decided to lay down, and we looked up to the sky, reflecting on all that we have accomplished and look forward to in life. It was a special moment that I will never forget.”
This spring 2017, for the first time, every Gann Academy sophomore will go on a MyIsrael trip. The ground-breaking, eight-week program builds on the successful foundation of our earlier program. Gann faculty customized the trip so that it integrates with Gann’s curriculum. It also builds on our partnership with Ironi Hey school in Haifa, whose 65 students will join the Gann sophomores in a range of activities.
Gann’s focus on college readiness was further validated in September when the Presidents Council of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) elected Sherri Geller, Gann’s Co-Director of College Counseling, as its Coordinator-elect. Sherri will serve as the Coordinator and hold a seat on the NACAC Board of Directors in 2017-18. NACAC is the leading organization for college counselors and college admissions officers, representing 16,000 professionals from around the world dedicated to serving students as they make choices about pursuing post-secondary education.
The current president of the New England NACAC, Sherri will carry not only Gann’s banner but she’ll represent a Jewish day school “voice” in the national and international admissions community. She and Dave Tabachnik, her co-director of College Counseling at Gann, believe in an approach that ensures that students are not just candidates for the best colleges and universities, but that they focus on schools that are also the best “match” in terms of academic offerings, size, location, Jewish community, and other factors that are important to each student and family. The two full-time counselors actively support each member of the junior and senior class, ensuring that every Gann graduate gets the attention and assistance he or she needs in pursuing post-secondary goals.
Members of the Class of 2016 class enrolled in 41 different schools; in that class, schools attracting the greatest number of Gann students include Syracuse (5 students), Brown (4), BU, Brandeis, Princeton, Skidmore and GW (3 each) and Clark, Harvard, Muhlenberg, NYU, U Conn, U Penn, and Yale (2 each). Sherri and Dave also work with students who choose to pursue a gap year experience before attending college; programs involving urban volunteer service, international travel, and yeshiva study provide a critical space for skill development and a deepening of self-understanding..
Regardless of a student’s destination, Sherri and Dave’s work is laser focused on helping students prepare for the journey and arrive ready to excel. Please click here to see Gann’s 2016 Matriculation List.
Over his 16 years at Gann, Jonathan Golden has taught AP American History, chaired the History Department, and served as Assistant Head of School and Director of Academic Operations. A 1995 graduate of Princeton University, he received his MJEd from Hebrew College and PhD from Brandeis University. At Brandeis, he studied American Jewish history under the tutelage of Professor Jonathan Sarna and wrote a dissertation entitled From Cooperation to Confrontation: The Rise and Fall of the Synagogue Council of America. In 2007, he was the recipient of Hebrew College’s Sydney Hillson Memorial Award for Distinguished Leadership in and Commitment to Jewish Education. In 2014, he received the AJC Boston Young Leadership Award. He is the Chair of AJC ACCESS Boston, the young leadership division of the American Jewish Committee’s Boston office. Golden also serves on the Board of Directors for Camp Yavneh which he attended for 13 summers as a camper and counselor.
I love teaching American history in an election year. Like American educational philosopher John Dewey, I believe that my primary purpose is to prepare my students for participation in American democracy. My favorite teaching moment of all time was the day after the 2000 election. I barely spoke 2 sentences before my students’ hands were in the air for the entire hour, asking questions of genuine curiosity about the intricacies of the voting and vote counting process. It was an education for us all.
My teaching colleagues around the country have struggled with (and in some cases shied away from) election education in 2016. I empathize with the challenges that we face as educators to foster productive and constructive education about this complex election. Here are four questions that have been my guideposts in my teaching during this unusual election year:
1. How can students play the role of analysts and advisors?
After the first debate, I asked students to analyze what each candidate hoped to accomplish in the debate and to assess what they actually accomplished. Then, I had students imagine playing the role of advisor for each campaign: what would be the next ad that the campaign should produce? The next campaign spot? The strategy for the next debate?
2. What are the parallels between this election and key moments in American history?
In AP History, we are studying the American Revolution and looking at themes of how leaders and “the common man” shaped the Revolution and the newly emergent Constitution. Students can draw connections between when candidates stress their leadership credentials and when they emphasize their common roots and backgrounds with voters.
3. How have our Limud Clali (communal learning) programs prepared students for this election?
For the past 2 years, students have heard speakers and engaged in advisory discussions about race and gender. The content and modalities of those conversations have been helpful to process this year’s election.
4. What role can students play in election education?
This year, our Junior State of America chapter at Gann will lead our Limud Clali program on November 11 to process American democracy through the lens of technology (our Limud Clali theme this year). They have already held discussions of the candidates and the 4 ballot questions in Massachusetts.
Like the Passover Seder, when we ask the right questions, the telling of the American political story liberates students to engage with meaning and depth so that they are ready to be voters and active citizens.
Of note: Jonathan will be offering a special post-election analysis "For the Love of God and Country: Jews, American Religion, and the 2016 Presidential Election in Historical Context” on Saturday, November 12th after services at Mishkan Tefila in Brookline.
We had an opportunity to sit down with Sierra Weiss, Gann class of 2014 and now a junior at Emory University in Atlanta, GA to learn more about her work on disability inclusion and how she’s used her Gann education to realize her passions while helping make the world a better place.
Gann: We know you’ve got a lot going on. Tell us a little about your transition to Emory and your academic focus.
Sierra: It has been busy for sure, but also a great experience. When I arrived at Emory University after graduating from Gann, I found that there wasn’t any one major that fit my specific interests. So, in true Gann style, I worked with Emory’s Interdisciplinary Studies Program, which allowed me to create my own major. Gann showed me how powerful an education unique to your interests and passions could be. Since I was exposed to studying a topic that I loved during my time at Gann, I was not ready to lose that momentum in college. Gann taught me how to self-advocate and to design the education that I wished to receive, which gave me the tools to create a major that I am truly passionate about.
My curricular focus is on disability studies and bioethics. I am also deeply involved in Emory’s Undergraduate Disability Studies Initiative and last semester I assisted Professor Jennifer Sarrett in her research on how to make the workplace more inclusive for people on the autism spectrum. In addition, I’m involved with Hillel, Chabad, and Meor on campus and I recently declared a Jewish Studies minor.
Gann: How did your time at Gann influence your path and where you are today?
Sierra: Gann taught me the importance of inclusion and supported me advocating for people with disabilities. During my junior year at Gann especially, I was given two amazing opportunities to delve into my budding interest in disability inclusion. Throughout my junior year I studied one on one with a teacher about the genetics of Down syndrome through Gann’s Independent Research and Design program. And, during Exploration Week, I was given permission to travel to Israel for the purpose of learning more about their innovative programming for people with disabilities. These experiences shaped the path I have decided to follow in my studies in college.
Further, in my advocacy work for people with disabilities, I find myself returning to lessons I learned while at Gann. Gann taught me to stand up for what I believe in and to campaign for the rights of each and every person. Gann provided me with the skills necessary to eloquently explain my point of view, while always considering how others see the issue as well. And, finally, Gann instilled the values of tikkun olam in me, which inspire my passion for the inclusion of people with disabilities.
Gann: And you also work for the Ruderman Foundation while running your own non-profit, is that right?
Sierra: Yes, I started as an intern at the Ruderman Family Foundation while I was at Gann. The Foundation is dedicated to the mission of disability inclusion and has been an incredible learning experience for me. I have worked as an Outreach Associate full-time in their Boston office during the last two summers and part time during the school year.
And, in my not so free time, I am the President of a non-profit organization called dance4empowerment. My non-profit started as a Tikkun Olam project during my Diller Teen Fellowship sophomore year. It got some early momentum and I decided to turn it into a formal organization. We’ve been recognized in several local newspapers, by the Boston Celtics as a Hero Among Us, and by an official letter from former Governor Deval Patrick, The program’s impact continues to expand as we host dance programs for children with disabilities each year.
Gann: That is impressive. A last question: why is inclusion so important to you?
Sierra: Inclusion is so important to me because I believe that every person deserves equal rights and access to independence, education, and a fulfilling life. I think that I bring a unique perspective to the fight for full inclusion because I do not have a familial connection to disability inclusion, just a deep passion for the equal rights of people with disabilities. I learned the importance of fighting for what you believe in and making the world a just place at Gann and continue to take these lessons with me today.