The Binah School
is a new, 21st century all-girls Jewish middle and high school in Sharon, Massachusetts that integrates project-based learning with real world problem solving, text-based Judaic studies, and academic excellence. Founded by two Orthodox women and working mothers, Michal Oshman and Rina Hoffman, the Binah School has already won national attention for its commitment to affordability, research-based methods, and its emphasis on global citizenship in Jewish education.
Can you tell Kveller readers what makes the Binah School different from other schools for Orthodox girls?
The Binah School is a warm and nurturing middle and high school setting for Orthodox girls whose curriculum weaves together academic subjects and traditional, text-based Torah study with learning about social justice issues, independent and small group work, use of arts and technology, and project-based learning.
In our first year, our students learned about tzedek (justice) by studying issues of food waste and hunger; our second year students learned about areyvut (mutual responsibility) by studying the topic of inclusion and disabilities. In each case, our students left the school grounds and went out into the community to engage in projects. This upcoming year’s expedition will explore the theme of water and transformation.
What were your respective high school educations like, and how did your experiences influence how you shape Binah?
Michal: My educational experiences blended the formal academic with the informal–I attended a college prep high school but did a lot of out-of-the-classroom experiences like March of the Living, studying abroad, etc. As I became more and more religious–I am a ba’aalat tshuva–and studied Torah, I realized how much Torah is about living life; Torah study is project-based, too.
Rina: Like Michal, I also grew up in a secular environment. I went to a very academic high school which was great, but I was also a dancer, and wound up spending half a day at a performing arts school. This allowed me to pursue something I loved in depth, which was very inspiring. I then attended an experiential college where I had the opportunity to design my own curriculum. This educational foundation allowed me to think about building the Binah School in a way that is different from the status quo.
Who is the typical Binah student? Where is she from? What is her background?
There isn’t just one profile. We have students who come from a range of Orthodox backgrounds, from the far left on the Modern Orthodox spectrum to Chabad, and anywhere in between. We value and work on being able to meet the needs of a diverse Orthodox population. One of our strengths is to look at individuals. We have a range of learners, and students who are challenged in different ways, too.
Our students come to us because they need something more from their schooling environment: either because socially they find that they’re not being nourished, or maybe they need more creativity, or perhaps because they can benefit from a multi-age classroom setting. We track our students not necessarily by birthday, but rather, we attempt to create small, personalized, instruction environments that are healthy and inclusive.
What makes you kvell?
Rina: I kvell over my children. And, I really kvell when I watch our students take action in the world and work to make things better. It’s remarkable for a middle school or young high school-aged girl to create something that educates and informs others that’s important to them and our community. I kvell when I see that happening.
Michal: Seeing children and students really know their potential, knowing in the sense that they have reached “it.” Whether it’s watching my own kids turn a long car ride to Canada into a creative environment, or watching our students fall in love with engineering, seeing students tap into their potential makes me kvell.