THA fourth-graders, Tucson J preschoolers bond in Madrichim program

THA fourth-graders, Tucson J preschoolers bond in Madrichim program (Gabby Erbst)

new program coordinated by the Tucson Hebrew Academy and the Tucson Jewish Community Center is crafting leaders out of fourth- grade students.

In the Madrichim (leaders) program, the THA students visit the Tucson J to teach preschoolers about the importance of upcoming holidays.

Gabby Erbst, THA director of admissions and support services, wanted THA students to have an experience where they spend some of their time helping others.

Rabbi Billy Lewkowicz and Tucson Hebrew Academy fourth-graders act out a story for preschoolers at the Tucson Jewish Community Center. (Gabby Erbst)

“We were trying to think of opportunities for THA to give back to the community and having our students be more involved in the Jewish community around them,” Erbst says.

She and THA teacher Emily Ellentuck developed an interactive curriculum where the children make crafts together.

“It is just a good way for the kids to learn leadership skills,” Erbst says.

Ellentuck says that the articulation required to teach the preschoolers helps the fourth-grade students better understand the topics for themselves.

“There is a concept that when you teach, you learn at a higher level,” she says.

“It’s also good for the pre-k kids because they are going to school next year with kids who are bigger than them,” Ellentuck says. “If they come to THA, they’ll know somebody, they’ll have a buddy.”

Crystal Lucha is the early childhood education teacher coordinating the Madrichim program at the J. She says the THA students provided a wonderful introduction to Rosh Hashanah.

“One student had a sibling in this class, which added a different dimension,” Lucha notes. She calls the program a way for the J and THA to build bridges. As most of the J’s EEC students are not Jewish, “talking about the Jewish holidays and values with them brings a different perspective. Being role models adds an extra element for them all.”

One THA student, Gregory Aday, says he likes to see the joy he and his classmates bring to the younger children.

“The thing that I like most is helping them do something that helps them think and knowing they’ll be happy with it,” Gregory says.

Olivia Slaughter, another THA student, appreciates that they share something with the younger children that the little kids get to share with their parents.

“I like that we help them and encourage them to learn more about Jewish history and the holidays,” Olivia says. “They’ll have something else to take home and show that their friends from THA helped them make.”

Rabbi Billy Lewkowicz, who oversees the program, thinks it helps the students retain the information better because the emphasis is on passing it on to someone else.

“They were going to learn this lesson and it wasn’t a lesson they are going to be graded on, but something they were going to impart to others,” Lewkowicz says. “I think when the kids heard that, they absorbed it more because it wasn’t for themselves, it was knowledge they were going to share.”

Although Lewkowicz stays until the end of each session to tell a story, he says the importance of the meetings comes from what the children teach each other and learn for themselves.

“I want to say it’s a bit of a cherry on top, it’s not the main part of it,” Lewkowicz says. “The ice cream cone and the scoop of ice cream is the kids doing the teaching.”