- Upper Division
By Shayna Friedman, Director of Admission
I often hear from veteran families that kindergarten at Denver JDS is “magical.” As a mom of three Denver JDS lifers, I can not disagree. Watching my elementary school newbies walk into the classroom was like watching them walk into a birthday party combined with a warm hug every single day. The academic and social-emotional skills they acquired were like the best party favors I could receive.
When my boys entered middle school, we were knee-deep in all the adolescent milestones: sudden on-set sullenness, facial breakouts, the introduction of serious homework….we weren’t exactly celebrating. But recently, I spoke with a few 6th grade moms who reminded me that there is plenty of magic present in the middle school at DJDS. I was so inspired by my conversations with these women! I hope you will be too! Please enjoy highlights from my conversation with Elke Barter (Izzy, Class of 2028) and Carla Kutnick (Noah, Class of 2028) below:
SF: What were your expectations for middle school?
EB: I expected it to be exactly like the Lower Division where almost all of Izzy’s day was facilitated by adults all the time. I also expected the homework piece to be terrible, but it was totally manageable and after a matter of weeks, Izzy was approaching his assignments and homework schedule/time management with confidence!
CK: I LOVE that part of his homework is to study the weekly Parsha and talk to the family about it! It is a great Torah refresher for me, and I can see that Noah is applying a deeper and more mature outlook to his Torah learning. I hadn’t really thought about that as such a bonus.
EB: There is also plenty of time built into the school day for Izzy to do his homework, and the work he brings home is both manageable and fun for him. He is currently loving a project he’s doing about Mesa Verde. In fact, he’s so excited about it that he brought his Chromebook with him on a family trip so he could keep working on it.
SF: Tell me about the Upper Division community and how that is impacting your kids.
CK: Noah feels like the older kids are really supportive and welcoming. He decided to run for 6th Grade Representative on Student Council, and he got great advice from some older kids on his speech. It was easy and comfortable for him to interact with them.
EB: On the first day of school for 6th grade, they had the building to themselves, but the Student Council came to welcome them. I cried.
CK: Yes! It’s like the older kids are rolling out the welcome mat for the 6th graders. It’s just embedded into the school culture.
SF: Can you describe some of the opportunities the middle school has offered your kids?
EB: Izzy is taking an elective class in the Maker Space taught by Mr. Butler who also happens to be a family friend. I love watching Izzy develop a new relationship with Mr. Butler as a teacher and mentor, and Mr. Butler has been amazing about nurturing Izzy’s interest in design and inviting him to use the Maker Space.
CK: It’s been great watching Noah decide to play soccer. Sports haven’t been a huge priority for him, so I love that he’s joining in, and he says he can’t wait for baseball season.
SF: Have there been tough moments in the transition? What are the challenges?
CK: I would say Noah has already learned some important life lessons. He ran against some really good friends in the Student Council election and having to navigate that and maintain relationships that are really important to him while pursuing something else that is also important to him was not easy. But the fact that he’s aware of the potential conflicts and continuing to learn the skills he needs to be a good friend and good human helps a lot. The school really keeps the kids focused on being good people, not just good students.
EB: Izzy wasn’t confident he could get to his locker and to class during the passing periods, so he decided to carry all of his stuff with him to every class. We’ll see how that goes...but I’m proud he found a workaround for now, and I look forward to watching him adjust and try new solutions as he deems necessary.
SF: What has surprised you most about middle school?
EB: The independence! The kids have so much autonomy, and the lessons they learn from getting to choose some of their own classes, packing up their clothes in the morning for after school practice, deciding how to use Tiger Time (a self-structured block a few days a week), or even where to eat their lunch make Izzy seem so much more grown-up and responsible!
CK: At Back to School Night, I noticed how accessible the teachers were. Even though they teach a variety of grades and several sections, they still want us to know they care about us and our kids and are very accessible. That felt great as a middle school mom.
The enthusiasm Carla and Elke shared was palpable. However, I had to wonder whether the kids felt the same sense of exuberance. I mean...it’s school. Both moms encouraged me to reach out to their kids myself to get their take.
Noah reflected on how much he is learning from the increased responsibilities, “with the responsibility, we are also given more choice and more freedom.” He continues, “with Tiger Time, we gain the trust to complete what we need to.” I loved this because it’s easy for grown-ups to forget that showing our kids we trust them has such a positive impact. Control is so often our default.
Izzy focused on teaching and learning, sharing that the end of every class is “bittersweet” because, “you're sad that the class is ending, but you're excited for the next class to start.”
Their comments reminded me of the interactions I’ve had with alumni and my awe at the affinity former students have for DJDS. I’ve worked in so many Jewish settings, but I must say that the lifelong relationship our students have with this institution is totally unique. While Izzy and Noah will, like all students, encounter challenges, they will be supported through them every step of the way here. Their parents will too. And they’ll remember it fondly for the rest of their lives.
Children become adolescents in the blink of an eye, but for their parents, it can feel like an arduous and never-ending journey. The joy and excitement of watching kids take their first steps, go on a first play date, or complete their first chapter book are replaced with anxiety when they bring home their first bad grade, begin to challenge our authority, and (gulp) get behind the wheel of a car. But bridging to the Upper Division at Denver JDS keeps the magic alive as every one of our 6th graders finds a path in this environment so uniquely and purposefully designed to bring out the best version of themselves. It lays the foundation that makes the other, less magical milestones, feel magically easier to manage.