Enrolment Open at Calgary’s Jewish Academy

Community, Academics, Yiddishkeit, and Beyond: Why Students and Teachers Love the CJA

By: Lesley Machon

Registration is now open for the 2022-2023 school year at Calgary Jewish Academy (CJA), where students pursue academia, athleticism, Yiddishkeit, and unique extracurricular activities under the guidance and support of an incredible Jewish Day School community. 

The school serves students from nursery to grade 9, and keeps class sizes in each grade intentionally small. This results in a greater sense of cohesion in the classroom, more learner engagement, less sensory overwhelm, and more one-on-one teacher assistance. Additional support for navigating stress and challenges is also available through the GAIN team, who actively promote mental health and inclusive education. The team is composed of two compassionate professionals whose intention is to help students cultivate mental and emotional wellbeing, access calm, and build strategies to improve focus and regulation.

“I like having the school counsellor because I feel I have someone to talk to when I am feeling anxious. This is very important for me during the pandemic. Mrs. Rooke is always willing to listen and is patient.” – Caleb Hornstein Grade 8 ​

CJA’s teaching staff is full of inspiring and passionate individuals who bring their creativity and expertise to the classroom. The school offers Hebrew and French in addition to English, which means some of our staff members are trilingual (we even have some polyglots). We have teachers with international and IB-level teaching experience from London to Kenya, scribbling algebraic expressions on the whiteboard, and making math tangible. We have teachers who sport the Mechanical Engineering pinky ring, leading explorations into robotics, math, and science. We have teachers who act as virtual Israeli travel guides, as they connect ancient texts to the Land of Milk and Honey which they hold dear to their hearts.  Teachers who are published internationally, swap lesson plans with teachers who scale mountains switching fluently between English and French as they tie butterfly knots. Some of our staff are distinguished artists whose work has been displayed in galleries, some lead fitness classes, play banjo, and have lived in Israel. All teachers here are experts in their fields, constantly pursuing new opportunities for professional development, and bringing their unique experiences to the classroom to keep learning engaging for a wide range of students. This is especially important because research demonstrates a key factor in student engagement, is a teacher’s passion for the subject at hand, and ability to connect with kids.

“We are coding a game through Scratch. I like the process. It’s cool to learn how to code actions and decisions and to animate the sprites on the screen. Mr. Warner really knows his stuff!” – Jesse Hansen Grade 6

Connection and community are incredibly important to us at CJA. Serving students from nursery to grade 9 provides a sense of belonging and secure attachment to a community during the critical developmental period of childhood and early adolescence. Cohesion and support are central to healthy maturation, and the development of independence. At the CJA, the Principal knows each student by name, teaches when needed, attends events, and coaches sports teams. Teachers watch students walk the same halls a little taller each year, and are available to support their transition to each new grade. Many members of staff are alumni, and have dedicated their careers to teaching here, and enrolling their own children. Generations continue to stay at the school, in some cases the legacy passing from grandparents, to parents, to children; showing our commitment to M’Dor L’Dor .

“ At the CJA we are really able to get to know the teachers, and they get to know us, which makes me feel safe and seen and heard. As a teenager, this is very important to me. I was able to invite my teachers to my Bat Mitzvah and it was so meaningful to have them there because they helped guide me to this significant stage of my life.” – Makena Kolman grade 7

We value athletics, knowing that sports offer an important arena for children to take risks, set goals, practice leadership, and move their bodies in ways that promote fitness and fun. CJA facilitates extracurricular team sports as early as grade 6. In many schools across the city, students must wait an extra year to play, and there aren’t enough spaces available for students to play on all teams. With a smaller school and many eager coaches, students at the CJA  are able to play on as many teams as they like, giving them access to technical and team building skills early on.

“ I have been playing all of the sports the school offers since grade 6. Volleyball this year was the best because we worked hard to earn gold. I’ve emerged as a leader through sports, and I am friends with kids across all of the JH grades. “ – Sam Oppenheim Grade 9

In addition to being a pillar of consistency, the CJA continues to evolve each year. Unique extracurriculars are always being added, and current options include Innovation, Robotics, and STTEAM Club (Science, Technology, Torah, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) where students coded the first part of the second chapter of Sefer Shmuel. We also have crochet clubs where students make scarfs and dishcloths, creative writing clubs, and a running club. Projects done at school have been published in local and international journals – from poetry cafes, to Holocaust novel study units.

“We are the presidents of the student council. It’s a bit different with COVID, but we have planned events for Pink and Orange shirt day for all of the students, and had the opportunity to fundraise and choose new books to diversify the library. We are learning leadership skills and contributing to the school community in a lasting way, which we are both proud of.” – Annie Sztabzyb and Tova Rodin Grade 9

In the past, junior high students formed debate teams and practiced public speaking and diplomacy through participation in Model UN trips to Boston and San Francisco (grade 7, 8, 9). It was incredible to watch their self-confidence emerge as they triumphed over discomfort, accepted new growth opportunities, and made international friends. Class trips have been to Salt Spring Island (grade 7 outdoor Indigenous and eco-justice focused), Washington (grade 8, human rights related), and Israel (grade 9s, the culmination of their Jewish learning).  Each student in the grade has the opportunity to participate in travel, and the chance to practice life skills and build strong, supportive bonds between classmates and with teachers.

We also have an incredible sense of community here. We have cried together and celebrated together, sat shiva as a community and kvelled with pride during bar/bat mitzvahs, honoring the end of life and the largest coming-of-age moment for Jewish kids. When able, we have visited the local Jewish hospices and elderly homes, holding hands, singing for the holidays, making cards, leading crafts. Our community strength became especially evident as we navigated the upheaval associated with COVID. The depth of support, structure, and safety provided by the Jewish community got us through some especially rough times. When restrictions allow, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles attend holiday events. During lockdown we managed to have our community pray and celebrate together online through teacher-created videos. Eating and praying together is important because it grounds us in a sense of purpose and belonging, and reminds us that we are not alone, but deeply held and cared for.

“I liked doing the Grandparent’s Day Havdalah. I made candles at school which I used with my grandparents as we watched the service. “ – Elliott Yanofsky Grade 3

“On Friday I sing my favourite song, Adon Olam. I sing it with my classmates, and I like how it sounds with us together.” –Grade 2 Student

At the CJA we go beyond the provincial curriculum, and layer in a culture of Judaism. 

Our Jewish history, faith, and community are invaluable to staff and students alike. Through Judaism we have a framework for engaging with the world, we have the lens of culture to facilitate self-understanding, a perspective on life that includes a rich spiritual dimension, stories to remind us of what truly matters, and we have common ground and shared language with others.

Administration and teachers at the CJA are so proud of the space we create, and we’re honoured to watch students flourish inside of it. We want this same experience for you as parents. For more information regarding registration or general questions about the school please visit the CJA website (https://www.cja.ab.ca/) or call 403-253-3992, and prepare to witness your child bloom in a Jewish Day school atmosphere.