Jewish day schools reach new heights

Change is in the air at Tucson Hebrew Academy and Pardes Jewish Day School in the Valley.
Both schools have long histories of combining a love for Jewish learning and culture with excellent academics and a strong sense of community. They each strive to nurture critical thinking and a positive Jewish identity while providing a well-rounded environment. Building on this strong foundation, the schools are continuously on the lookout for innovations in education and ways to enhance their students’ experience.
Here’s a quick look at what’s new and exciting at these two community Jewish day schools.

What’s new in Judaic studies?

Last summer, Pardes hired a new director of Jewish Life and Learning. Dr. Eran Vaisben holds a master’s in Jewish education from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and a doctoral degree in educational leadership from the University of California, Davis. He has served as a synagogue education director and has an extensive background in educational leadership, curriculum development, Jewish learning and educational technology. “He’s working very closely with all of the Jewish studies and Hebrew teachers and really continuing to elevate that curriculum,” says Pardes Head of School Jill Kessler. “He’s also been in touch with a number of schools in Israel and is looking at ways that we can work cross-culturally.”

Pardes Hebrew teachers Dina Bedak and Ilanit Pony-Levitin spent a week at the Legacy Heritage Teacher Institute at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem focused on creating innovative educational initiatives for their students. They developed a project for sixth-graders to learn about Israel’s past and present, which will pair them with peers of the same grade level in Haifa.

Eden and Netanel Achituv are the first Morim Shlichim (teacher emissaries) from the World Zionist Organization to join the Judaics faculty at THA. According to Head of School Jon Ben-Asher, they are instrumental in implementing a new model for Hebrew language instruction and in strengthening ties with students in Tucson’s Partnership2Gether communities of Hof Ashkelon and Kiryat Malachi.

What’s new in STEM?

Building on the success of its first STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) festival last spring, Tucson Hebrew Academy recently raised money to upgrade its math curriculum. Middle school math offerings now include both Algebra 1 and Geometry, so that graduates have the opportunity to start high school at advanced math levels. The eighth-grade science curriculum includes a unit on forensics and culminates with robotics. “STEM is what science is all about,” says Ben-Asher. “When you build a space station, or a car, or an iPod, you’re using all of the sciences.”

Kessler agrees on the importance of the STEM curriculum: “Our eighth-grade students have created robots, suspension bridges out of toothpicks and had to solve a crime scene. Finding out who did it was the most fun.” On Jan. 21, Pardes will host a STEM evening for Pardes families, featuring grade-level projects that demonstrate the work being done in the science and engineering area. There are plans to further STEM studies through Level Up Village, a program that connects students globally and will enable collaboration with kids in Israel, which is known for its science and technology innovations.

What’s new in community connections?

In response to a research study in the fall of 2014 that tapped opinions of staff, students, parents, alumni and others in the Jewish community, THA has undergone a series of transformations over the past year. Refocusing on its mission, vision and values statements, while honoring its past, THA unveiled a new brand identity at a communitywide event on Nov. 3, 2015.

Pardes has several upcoming events to involve families in their children’s school life. Grandparents are invited to a special breakfast on Feb. 5. Parents and kids are invited to unleash their creative side through a variety of hands-on art projects at Art Night on Feb. 10. There are also programs for families who want to learn more about the school, including Middle School Information Night on Jan. 26 and a School Showcase on Feb. 28.
For more information about Pardes Jewish Day School, contact Director of Admissions and Marketing Bethany Spector at 480-991-9141 or or visit

For details about Tucson Hebrew Academy, contact Director of Admissions, Development and Community Relations Julee Dawson at 520-529-3888 or or visit

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