Study Abroad Allows Students to Expand Horizons

Andrew Poverman (Photo provided)

Andrew Poverman (Photo provided)

In today’s globally connected world, more and more high school students are getting an opportunity to enjoy all the cultural and academic amenities countries have to offer through various study abroad programs.

For many of these students in the Baltimore community, learning another nation’s way of life, customs and traditions is as much of an educational  aspect as the schooling itself.

Daniel Goldman, who recently graduated from Beth Tfiloh and returned home from his senior trip to Israel, said the transparent dialogue among locals was eye-opening.

“To be honest, I think the whole vibe over there and the people are more relaxed,” Goldman said. “I think the people over there are more blunt, and when I’m with them, I never have to worry about offending anyone because they’re really good at taking constructive criticism.”

At Gilman, meanwhile, several exchange programs at various European schools are open to perspective rising juniors and seniors hoping to broaden their scholastic horizons. There are arrangements in place with Christ’s Hospital in the United Kingdom, St.  Edward’s School in England, Porg School in Prague, Czech Republic and institutions in Spain.

Daniel Goldman (Photo provided)

Daniel Goldman (Photo provided)

Andrew Poverman, a rising senior at Gilman, spent this past spring at Porg School’s Liben branch after one of his lacrosse teammates told him of his positive experience.

He said it took some time adjusting to his new surroundings, especially the language barrier. But after a few weeks, Poverman said he enjoyed many of Prague’s customs, including the school’s end-of-year hiking trip.

“It just seemed like something I couldn’t pass up, the chance to go to Prague and learn about their way of life,” Poverman said. “I’m really glad [I went], because it opened my eyes to a lot of things. If I had to do it over again, there isn’t really much I’d change about my time there.”

Daniel Goldman (Photo provided)

Daniel Goldman (Photo provided)

Eighth-graders at Krieger Schechter Day School cap their year with a two-week trip to Israel in conjunction with Ramah Israel Programs, the camping arm of conservative Judaism that impacts more than 9,000 students per year.

As part of Beth Tfiloh’s  requirements for graduation, students are expected to partake in the school’s annual  senior trip to Israel and Poland, which is designed to inspire a lasting commitment to the Holy Land. Also, the school  offers a gap-year program to students who delay their college enrollment to study in Israel for one year after high school.

Goldman, 18, has visited  Israel once in each of the last two years, and he said the significance of his most recent trek was greatly enhanced  because of the bond he shared with his classmates. He enjoyed his time so much that he  deferred his enrollment to the University of Maryland, College Park this fall to study in Israel for one year beginning this month.

“Going to Israel — the most meaningful place in the world — with your friends, it just makes the entire experience so much more rewarding,” Goldman said. “The meaning of everything is multiplied when you’re with people you’ve known for so long and when you’ve been waiting for this trip for so long.”

That sense of pride is also shared by the administrators, who are responsible for spending countless hours helping plan and coordinate these trips. Bart Griffith, assistant head of school for training and learning at Gilman, said both he and the school take a great deal of pride in pushing students beyond their comfort zone.

“It’s great to hear from the boys when they come back about the way they were challenged and the way their ideas or assumptions were challenged,” Griffith said. “I think it was Mark Twain who said, ‘Travel is a cure for bigotry,’ so you can’t travel and not change. It’s one of the most profound development opportunities kids have.”

CJE Offering New Opportunities for Young Families

Providing busy, young Jewish parents with meaningful experiences to keep them interested in Jewish life is no easy task, but it is one that local organizations have taken head-on.

In 2010, a community survey by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore identified 10,000 Jewish families around Baltimore that were not engaged with Jewish life or Jewish  institutions.

Since then, the organization and its branches, including the Louise D. and Martin  J. Macks Center for Jewish Education, began developing a number of programs to bring in young Jewish families and get them familiar with Jewish institutions and the community.

One of CJE’s first initiatives was to start a PJ Library community in Baltimore. PJ Library is a Jewish engagement and literacy program that sends books to families with children from 6 months to 8 years old. The books are selected for topics  related to Jewish identities and Jewish engagement targeted for the younger crowd.

Families participating in the CJE’s Ahava Baby program tour the  Butterbee Farm in Pikesville.

Families participating in the CJE’s Ahava Baby program tour the Butterbee Farm in Pikesville.

With the PJ Library community in place, Lisa Bodziner,  director of educational engagement at the CJE, and her staff began to build programming around engaging PJ Library families.

“‘Since that time we’ve really been targeting our work more towards that engagement agenda,” she said. “What can we do to provide families with meaningful programs, to have them exposed to more, offer more opportunities for them to learn and feel more connected and invited to community events, programs and services?”

CJE began designing grassroots program around the community connector model. Community connectors are paid volunteers who reach out to families in their immediate communities in order to create programs around their wants and needs. CJE began implementing this model in with five individuals in 2014, and as they added more connectors, they were able to reach out to more than 70 families last year.

“The connectors are a launching pad to the peer-to-peer model of meeting families, finding out what they want, cultivating relationships and then building programs that meet the needs of those families,” Bodziner said.

Last year, with a grant from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation that runs the PJ Library program, Bodziner and the CJE rolled out the first year of their Ahava Baby program, designed for families with newborns through 1 year olds and based on the connector model.

Not only do the connectors help design the programs with feedback from the recipients, but they serve as a point of contact for the families, according to Bodziner.

“That’s what so great about our connectors; once they have a connection, [families] are more willing to show up somewhere because they know they will know someone,” she said.

This idea, that young Jewish families were more likely to show up if they felt like they knew someone, was one issue that connectors identified in the program last year, which involved two “cohorts” of 10 families, one in Hampden and one in Pikesville.

With the success and the lessons of last year’s program, CJE is opening up the Ahava Baby program to any PJ  Library families in the Baltimore area, including Towson, Roland Park and Lutherville-Timonium, among others.

Over the last two years, CJE has adjusted its programming to meet the needs that young Jewish families last year identified. Bodziner said the key requests that CJE has paid special attention to included a convenient location, relevant programming that ensures that time away from home was well-spent and easy, digestible lessons that can be implemented in the home.

However, the opportunities are not solely limited to  focusing on children. CJE connectors have been hosting moms’ and dads’ nights that help get busy parents out of the house. Family programming is available on certain Sundays, and special events like CPR training or challah bakes are held, all maintaining a Jewish theme.

However, the CJE’s educational programming also  includes adults.

Adam Kruger, CJE’s director of educational initiatives, runs the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning, and among the programs offered  is Foundations, which is targeted specifically for PJ Library families.

“It’s a 20-lesson — depending on how you break it down — curriculum that is actually designed for young families to teach them how to create Jewish identity and engagement with their children at a young age,” Kruger said.

The program pairs the lessons for adults with a concrete connection to the PJ Library  curriculum, so parents can read along with their kids with a message in mind. Kruger said he is particularly excited because it allows the parents to be teachers of Jewish identity in the home, as well as keeps young families involved in Jewish learning.

“We’re really trying to work with young families to try and create that next generation of adult Jewish learning, while also focusing on the traditional adult learning community and making sure that stays thriving and vibrant,” Kruger said.

Across all the programs, Bodziner said the focus is  beginning to shift. While they have made inroads with  engaging young families, the next challenge she sees for the CJE is keeping them engaged and involved in Jewish life as they and their children continue to grow.

Adam Barry is an intern at the Baltimore Jewish Times.

Nagel Brings Expertise to Beth Shalom

Louis Nagel (Photo provided)

Louis Nagel (Photo provided)

Louis Nagel was born in Philadelphia but has been living in Baltimore since he was 5 years old. Growing up, he attended religious school and worked as a madrich at the Orthodox shul B’nai Jacob. Additionally, he worked as a counselor at Camp Milldale.

Nagel, 59, graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park with a degree in early childhood education before teaching preschool locally. In 2009, he received his master’s degree from Baltimore Hebrew College. He is the new director of education at Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia, and prior to that, he served as director of education at B’nai Israel Congregation in North Bethesda.

“We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Nagel to Beth Shalom,” said Beth Shalom Rabbi Susan Grossman. “He is incredibly talented and kind and engaging. He understands different learning styles and is able to translate, in a meaningful way, the Jewish system of values. We couldn’t be more excited to have one of the top educators in the country coming on board.”

The Jewish Times sat down with Nagel to learn about his  career.

Tell us about your career.

The process of getting my Ph.D. opened me up to seeing the  potential for Jewish education. I was studying a lot of philosophy and also studying epistemology, the study of being. A lot of what I was reading mirrored what we are teaching in Jewish schools — to find meaning in life. All of what we are learning in Torah and tefillah is really an exploration of being, of discovering who we are and what our purpose is in the world. After getting my Ph.D., I started doing a lot more work on pedagogy.

For the children, I want  Judaism to be meaningful to them. I want them to live lives informed by Jewish values.” — Louis Nagel

Is there any particular  aspect of pedagogy on which you focus?

I definitely focus on the pursuit of better education, but the main thing is getting away from teacher-centered study to student-centered classes, a lot more of teachers introducing material and then turning it over to the children to look for what text means to them personally. Hebrew teachers can easily focus on “I’m going to teach you how to confidently chant ‘Adon Olam.’” A lot of what I saw, that was the be all and end all. What you get is children and teens and adults who know how to daven, but they don’t know what any of it means.

Why did you come to Beth Shalom from B’nai Israel?

I have lived in this community for more than 20 years. I have been coming to this synagogue for a lot of that time. I very much like Rabbi Susan Grossman and the cantor, Richard Walters, and the community as a whole.

Do you have any particular plans or goals for the  program?

For the children, I want Judaism to be meaningful to them. I want them to have an understanding, appreciation and enthusiasm for Jewish ethics and values, mikdot. I would say that is one of the highest priorities of mine. I want them to live lives informed by Jewish values.

In 2015, you received the  lifetime achievement award from the Jewish  Educators Assembly.  Was there any particular accomplishment for which you were being recognized?

If there is anything in particular that I am known for professionally, it is teacher/educator professional development. I have worked for Volunteer, it’s a professional organization. Much of my work in the Jewish Educators Assembly has been connected with educator professional development. I was on the conference committee a couple of times, and I chaired for six years the professional development committee. I hosted webinars almost every month, usually nine to 10 times a year.

Is it odd moving to a smaller community?

This synagogue has about 15 teachers and about 120 children, a little over 300 families. One of my friends a long time ago, Gloria Eisman, said so many things don’t matter if you’re in a big congregation and a big school or a small congregation and a small school. You still have to develop a program for those kindergarteners, first- and second-graders and on up. You still have to have a curriculum in place for each of those grades. And it is connecting to those individual children, those individual families. Those are some of my priorities. I am looking forward to that very much.

What other Jewish  organizations are you  involved in?

I am the president of Jewish Educators Assembly. I am  developing an affinity for AIPAC, I went to the Policy Conference this year. I have already attended a Jewish Federation event, so I am expecting to be much more engaged with the Howard County Jewish Federation — we don’t have a JCC here. I have long been involved in the wider Jewish community of educators where there is not much unity of purpose, so I am looking forward to working with those colleagues and starting to create a community of educators.

Schools, Programs Offer Personalized Special Needs Education

Special-needsEducation is rarely a one-size-fits-all discipline, especially among the special needs population. Luckily for individuals with disabilities, the Baltimore area has a variety of schools, agencies and programs that offer education, training and other help that can be tailored toward specific needs.

One such program is Friendship Circle run by Rabbi Chaya Sufrin out of Chabad of Clarksville. With more than 79 locations worldwide, the program boasts 5,000 children and close to 11,000 volunteers. Its approach brings  together teenage volunteers with children with special needs, primarily those with autism.

The organization’s largest program is called Friends at Home. Each child enrolled in the program is matched with a pair of teenage volunteers. These teens visit and play with the children at their homes or take them out to participate in fun activities within the community.

“The teens themselves go in thinking that they’re giving,”  according to Rabbi Sufrin, “but they don’t think about how much they gain in return. They get to go with a friend and end up seeing the bigger picture.” Volunteers appreciate the program as much as  participants, Sufrin said.

Local schools also do their part to cater to the needs of specific students. For example, the Jemicy School and the Odyssey School, located in Owings Mills and Stevenson, respectively, both focus on the needs of students with dyslexia and other language-based learning difficulties.

According to Jemicy’s mission statement, “the school utilizes creative, multisensory and research-based programs and techniques to develop reading, writing, spelling and organization skills.” In a similar vein, the educators at Odyssey “work as a team to understand the specific language and learning needs of the individual child and to tailor a personalized program to meet those needs.”

As the largest provider of mental health care in Maryland, the Sheppard Pratt Health System is actively involved in special education. The Health System includes 12 schools with a total of 17 special education programs. Its website claims to serve nearly 700 students with special needs, more than 50 percent of whom have been diagnosed with autism.

The more  personalized  curriculums  offered through special needs programs result in churning out graduates who are prepared for the work force.


Jim Truscello is director of day school programming for the Health System’s special education services. “We enact a transition plan in eighth grade so they are job ready,” he explained. “The hardest thing is to get them to pass the tests necessary to graduate from high school.” These tests are based on measures such as mathematical ability, reading comprehension and writing ability.

“Their learning style just doesn’t match how the public schools teach,” Jim said. This mindset in regard to the style of teaching is prevalent in the world of special education. Earlier this year, Melanie Hood-Wilson, director of special populations at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC), shared that “we teach our courses in a way that is less traditional, less paper-pencil work, fewer lectures … we make sure [students] are getting all the rigor that’s necessary, but we deliver it in a way that’s accessible.”

CCBC further expands upon the basic skill sets, which these students develop throughout middle and high school with its Single Step program. The program is geared to engage adults with disabilities in both academic and general studies with the goal being to prepare individuals for independent living and employment.

The Single Step program features several tracks of study that students can follow. One option is for individuals to choose a career certification track, which will allow them to emerge from the school system with tailored skills aimed at a specific industry. There are preparatory tracks for jobs as a child care assistant, technician, security guard and animal care worker to name a few.

Other students are working toward their associate’s degree or are simply taking classes for enjoyment, learning skills that interest them or are necessary real-world skills such as computer programming and personal finance.

The more personalized curriculums offered through special needs programs result in churning out graduates who are prepared for the work force, which many enter with the aid of free vocational services offered by local health systems.

For example, the Sheppard Pratt Health System — through Mosaic Community Services — assists clients with finding employment based on the interests of the employee as opposed to specialized  experience.

Sinai Hospital and LifeBridge Health provide a range of services to clients, offering a general vocational services program. Additionally, the system provides explicitly Jewish vocational services through Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital, where volunteers with special needs come regularly in the company of coaches to help with tasks around the hospital.

The Arc Baltimore is partnered with LifeBridge Health and Northwest Hospital. The organization’s website states, “The Arc [provides] employment training and support, day and residential services, family support and education, treatment foster care, respite care, public policy advocacy and information and referrals,” all aimed at individuals with  intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.

Jewish Community Services (JCS), an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, also offers career advising and training. Sherri Sacks, a career coach at JCS, explained that their main goal is to “tailor placement to what a person needs,” be it transitioning from high school to college or seeking employment in the real world.

Flashback Ellen Olson

Ellen Olson (provided)

Ellen Olson (provided)

For most of her working life, Ellen Olson’s passion has been to provide young children with a solid educational foundation. A Philadelphia native, Olson, 60, relocated to Baltimore from Richmond, Va., 30 years ago to take over as associate director of the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC’s early childhood program. During that time, thousands of kids have come through program, including her two own daughters and now two grandchildren.

You have been at the JCC since 1986. What’s it been like?

It’s been amazing. I always say I’m like Cal Ripken, but that’s the beauty of the longevity —children who were 3 years old when I started are now bringing their 3-year-old children. That is so exciting, because you  remember them as a 3-year-olds, and now here are their families, which all makes it really worthwhile. I get to see them grow up and see what fabulous parents they are, but it’s also great to see that the “J” meant something to them.

How did the job affect the way you raised your own children?

The way I did things raising children is different than the way it is now. It doesn’t mean it is better or worse, but it’s just different. Now that I’m a bubbie, many people have said to me here, “You know, we’re happy a bubbie is helping run this school.” They like the fact that bubbies are running this school, because we have been there and done that. We can help them see the light at the end of the tunnel. Raising my two kids — luckily they have been successful — I’m able to bring that experience to new parents. I think they like and just feel I have that experience.

Ellen Olson (provided)

Ellen Olson (provided)

Are there any memories that stick out in particular?

I lived in this community for most of my working life, so there are many things that come to mind. [Somebody will] holler “Mrs. Ellen” or “Ellen,” and my friends will say, “Ah, another friend of Ellen’s.” The JCC is so far-reaching that I have 1,000 memories of being somewhere and being able to re-meet a child who went to school here, who’s now being bar and bat mitzvahed, who’s now off to college, who’s now getting married or having children.

Homeschooling on the Rise



All parents want the best education for their children. Sometimes, that means the local public school and other times it’s a private institution or nearby charter school. But, for some families, the best choice comes in homeschooling.

More than 27,500 students were homeschooled in Maryland last school year, according to the state Department of Education. Nationally, U.S. Department of Education statistics show homeschooling accounts for about 3.4 percent of students as of 2012, up from 2.2 percent a decade ago.

Homeschooling regulations vary from state to state. In Maryland, parents must fill out a form declaring their intent to homeschool each year. The state does require some proof of learning — either in the form of supervision from the local public school system or from a state Department of Education-approved umbrella program, often through a place of worship or homeschooling cooperative.

Rashida Simmons and Mar Braxton homeschool their son,  8-year-old Kendi, and plan to do the same for their youngest,  1-year-old Aman.

Rashida Simmons and Mar Braxton homeschool their son, 8-year-old Kendi, and plan to do the same for their youngest, 1-year-old Aman.

The reasons vary for families on why they decided on homeschooling, but usually one theme pops up more than once: the idea that their children would benefit outside the perceived “one-size-fits-all” education of traditional schools.

For Nechama and Shaya Cox, it was something of a family tradition. Shaya had been homeschooled himself growing up and thought their own kids — they now have seven — could benefit. Living in London at the time, Nechama was convinced after talking to a teacher who told her, “I get the kids for the good hours.”

“And I thought, ‘huh?’ I would like them for those good hours,” said Nechama Cox, who has now been homeschooling for 15 years, and living in Baltimore for 11.

Homeschooling also allows them to ensure their kids have a full Jewish education, along with a full secular education. Now homeschooling her sixth child, Cox has been using the Calvert School for a number of years, which provides curriculum as well as tests and report cards that function as sufficient oversight for the state.

Homeschool_Braxton2The methods of homeschooling range widely from family to family, but for the Coxes, structure wins out. Their approach is very traditional. They have a room set aside as the classroom, and all the kids wear uniforms — including a tie, which they earn once they learn to read. (The youngest of school age, Eliaz, 5, recently won his tie, which he wears proudly, “just like his older brothers,” said Cox.)

Of their four oldest, ranging in age from 13 to 20, two are in college, one attends a local school and the last is at the Gilman School. All four were homeschooled through elementary school but allowed to choose whether to homeschool or attend a brick-and-mortar building for high school, and, so far, all have chosen the latter.

In a break from the norm, the Coxes actually send the kids to a play school during the day when they are young, so they can focus on the home  education of the older ones. Right now, the youngest, at age 3, is doing that, while the other two young ones study at home.

“The thing that was surprising was how much I enjoyed it,” said Nechama Cox. Now, she can’t imagine doing it any other way.

Shai, Eliaz and Kalev — three of the seven Cox children —are homeschooled by their parents.

Shai, Eliaz and Kalev — three of the seven Cox children —are homeschooled by their parents.

Though there are other Jewish families who choose to homeschool, the majority of religious families who homeschool are Christian.

The Maryland Association of Christian Home Educators has a membership of more than 4,500 families, according to its website, and many of the state Department of Education- approved umbrella organizations are churches or other ministry education.

Nationally, as of 2012, the U.S. Department of Education found that, of those families choosing to homeschool, about two-thirds (64 percent) were doing it for religious reasons. An even higher percentage (77 percent) said they chose homeschooling to provide a “moral instruction.” The majority of these families are Christian but, as the Coxes show, certainly not exclusively.

Ja’Near Garrus, the director of Greater Baltimore Christian Homeschoolers, has been homeschooling her children since her oldest, now 8, was in preschool. Her son, Ryan, started at a private Christian school, but the family realized quickly — within the first month — that it wasn’t a good fit, Garrus said.

Now both Ryan and her other son, Azariah, 5, are homeschooled, and she will be starting preschool activities with her daughter, Hillary, 3, this year. For the first year, Garrus chose a curriculum that mirrored what her son’s private Christian school would have taught, A beka — a Christian curriculum that teaches from a Bible literalist perspective. In the years since, she has moved away from any one curriculum and instead uses a variety of different resources depending on what she thinks will work well with her children — different textbooks, library books, online resources, etc.

“The religious benefits were just an added bonus to the academic benefits,” she said of her family’s decision to homeschool.

Ja’Neer Garrus (pictured above with her family) took her oldest son, Ryan, now 8, out of a local Christian preschool within the first month to homeschool. She now also homeschools her other son, Azariah, 5, and will her daughter, Hillary, 3.

Ja’Neer Garrus (pictured above with her family) took her oldest son, Ryan, now 8, out of a local Christian preschool within the first month to homeschool. She now also homeschools her other son, Azariah, 5, and will her daughter, Hillary, 3.

For the state-required check-ins, Garrus chose a Christian umbrella organization, the Conowingo Rising Sun Christian School. The GBC Homeschoolers group acts as a place for socializing and enrichment activities with other families who share their Christian values. Homeschooling has helped in embracing and teaching those values, Garrus says. As a family, they can do things like read the Bible, pray and talk about current events through the lens of their faith.

“I do hope to [homeschool] for the long term,” she said. “I’ve seen [my children] grow academically and as people.”

Outside of religious reasons, there is a growing group of families choosing “un-schooling” — a nontraditional education approach that emphasizes the child’s interests and de-emphasizes structured lessons. This is what Rashida Simmons and Mar Braxton, both Baltimore born and raised, use for their son, Kendi, 8. They just sort of fell into homeschooling, Simmons said. Braxton works in Washington, D.C., and Simmons was staying home with Kendi when he was young, as well as providing home daycare for friends.

While staying home with Kendi and the other kids, Simmons was providing early education along with play. They enrolled Kendi in kindergarten but found he was ahead of many of his classmates, both academically and physically. Kendi, now 8, is the size of a healthy 12-year-old, his doctor has told Simmons. It provided unique challenges in identifying with his peer group and also with teachers thinking he was older than he was. The schedule, too, was proving to be hard on the family.

“It took maybe three months before we realized it didn’t work for us,” she said.

So, Simmons brought him home. She uses the state education standards as her guide but takes a more un-schooling approach overall. She ensures that he covers all the ground he needs to for the grade level he’s in — currently, most of Kendi’s academic work is about a fifth-grade level — but otherwise  allows his interests to direct his learning.

She and her husband have also appreciated that homeschooling gives them the opportunity to talk to their son about current events in the world — including recent racial violence and tensions — and address any questions he may have in their own terms.

So far, it’s been working well, and Simmons will likely also homeschool her youngest son, Aman, who turned 1 in May.

Whatever the reason for each family, homeschooling has been on a fairly steady rise since the Department of Education started keeping track of homeschooled kids in the ’90s. Cox, Simmons and Garrus all felt Maryland had done a good job of balancing the state’s desire for regulation with parents’ desire to dictate the education of their children. As it hits the mainstream, more families are opting for the flexibility and control over what their children are learning.

Homeschooling, it seems, is just hitting its stride.

The (retail) Cost of Education Survey: Stores anticipate big school-supplies sales

081415_retailBack-to-school sales are already in full force at stores such as Target and Wal-Mart, and this year, families are expected to spend more on school supplies and incidentals, shopping both in-store and online.

The National Retail Federation’s annual survey, conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, looks at shopping tendencies, anticipated spending and digital habits. Survey data says spending on back-to-school and college is expected to reach $68 billion.

On average, families plan to spend $97.74 on school supplies, the second-highest amount since the most recent recession. Families with children in grades K to 12 will spend an average of $630 on back-to-school shopping, which includes non-school supply items.

“The back-to-school season is the second-largest sales-driving season of the year after the holidays for Target,” said a store representative.

Back-to-school shopping is not just about dollars, it’s also about logistics.

Wal-Mart estimates the amount of paper it stocks during back-to-school weighs as much as
525 Boeing 747s — or about 236,000 tons — and if all of the notebook binders it sold were laid end-to-end, they would stretch across the U.S. twice, according to a company spokesperson. Wal-Mart also anticipates selling 56,000 units of Elmer’s glue per hour during tax-free weekend, or approximately 16 units per second.

Although they did not provide figures, a Target representative said some of the top trending items for the back-to-school season this year are do-it-yourself arts-and-crafts supplies and apparel donned with characters from movies such as “Minions,” “Stars Wars,” “Frozen” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

The NRF survey shows that shoppers are also procrastinating more this year, with 30 percent of back-to-school shoppers likely to wait until just one or two weeks before school starts to begin shopping; this number is up from 25 percent last year. Perhaps to combat this trend, stores such as Target place huge advertisement signage on floor stands and suspend it from ceilings that help direct back-to-school shoppers to the school supplies aisles.

“Our back-to-school section at the back of the store [was] set on June 21 in early-start markets and on July 6 chainwide,” said a spokesperson
for Target.

Back-to-school wardrobe shopping can be just as frenetic, but some institutions help ease that financial strain by requiring uniforms.

Of those K-12 students whose families were surveyed, 28 percent wear a uniform to school, the highest percentage in the survey’s history.

To alleviate some of the dollar drain associated with back-to-school needs, the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community Parent Association holds a uniform sale called the Non-Swap Shop, where parents donate lightly used school uniforms that are then sold at steep discounts in order to help make uniform shopping more cost effective, according to Vered Taylor, Beth Tfiloh Parent Association president.

Other schools around Baltimore, such as Bais Yaakov School for Girls, remind families about the much anticipated tax-free week from Aug. 9 to Aug 15 via email. Tax-free-week sales at Wal-Mart are second only to the holiday season’s Black Friday in terms of sales, according to a spokesperson from the chain.

When NRF surveyed about college-student spending, the average amount spent increased to $899 for back-to-school shopping. In addition, the average college family plans to spend $126 on dorm or apartment furnishings, which adds up when there is an expected 31 percent of college students who will live in a dorm room or college housing this year, the highest percentage in the NRF survey history.

Spending doesn’t stop once college students reach campus. Target provides students at more than a dozen institutions, such as George Washington University, free shuttle bus service back and forth between Target stores and their campus housing.

More than 75 percent of college shoppers own a smartphone, and for the first time, more than 50 percent own a tablet according to NRF. And no wonder, since 40 percent of college shoppers say they plan to use a smartphone to research products and 46 percent plan to use a tablet to shop. NRF stated that nine in ten online shoppers plan to take advantage of free shipping, and that nearly half of online back-to-college shoppers will use ship-to-store or in-store pickup services.

The technology trends are not lost on Target; this year the retail giant will be beta testing its School List Assist Program. The phone and tablet application is said to curate a list of items most commonly purchased for grades K-8 and allow shoppers to purchase them online. After they have completed their choices, shoppers can either pick them up at a store or have them shipped directly to their homes.

Marc Shapiro contributed to this article.

Diversity in Programming Vast array of academic programs in nearby private schools prove popular with parents

Parents in the Jewish community have many choices when determining which school will provide the best foundation for their child. Many have turned to private schools due to the academic and extracurricular programs they offer, and some Jewish families choose schools that include a religious component, even if it is not Jewish.

“Learning should be exciting, it should be stimulating. I believe all education should be taught like this.”
— Ben Shifrin, head of school, the Jemicy School

Herb Burgunder has three children who attend Friends School of Baltimore, the city’s only Quaker school. Burgunder said many of the school’s values match up with the Jewish education he had growing up.

“There’s something called the Quaker Testimonies, and the acronym is SPICES, which stands for simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality and stewardship,” he said. “To me, it’s the perfect combination of excellent academics and character education.”

Burgunder’s two sons, Ben, 16, and Sam, 13, started their education at Friends, and his daughter, Maisie, 10, began in first grade. He said the school has been very accepting of all interests. “My oldest loves nature and the outdoors; he is into science and math and things like that,” Burgunder said.

Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation also has two children at Friends and said the experience so far has been “wonderful.”

“We found it to be a very welcoming community,” she said.

Sachs-Kohen added that the school holds up several principle Jewish values.

“In many ways the guiding principle for the Friends School philosophy is the divine in every person,” she said. “I think in Judaism we would say that’s B’tzelem Elohim, that we’re all created in God’s image.”

Her son Manny, a rising seventh-grader, has been involved in sports and piano and will be on the student leadership council in the upcoming year. Her daughter Noa, who starts fourth grade, was in the school’s rock band last year and does gymnastics outside of school.

A number of Jewish families also have students at Garrison Forest School, an all-girls K-12 school that offers both day and boarding-school programs. Helen Shafer’s 14-year old daughter, Serena, has been a day student since she was 3 and said the campus “feels like home to her.” This is a similar feeling that Helen Shafer experienced when she  was a student at Garrison more than 20 years ago.

“It immediately felt like home,” she said. “Everybody was so kind and nurturing.”

Shafer, like her daughter, was a tennis player at Garrison Forest and also was photography editor on the yearbook staff her senior year. She said the diversity of academic offerings and students has been key to making both her and Serena’s experience there memorable.

“I felt like I didn’t have to be one thing or another,” she said. “I didn’t have to be an A student or an athlete.”

Shafer is in a somewhat unique position of having a child at Garrison Forest and being an alum, but she has ties to another private school too. In 2004, her son, Hayden, then 2, was diagnosed with autism, and that started “a whole new journey” for their family.

“It was incredibly difficult and painful, because no parent wants their kid to suffer,” she said. “Your whole entire perspective on life and your plans come to a screeching halt. It changes life not just for your child, but for your entire family.”

The next year she was sitting in her kitchen, talking to her husband about Hayden’s Individualized Education Plan meeting, when it occurred to her that her son would need a large amount of support services.

“We weren’t that excited about some of the options in the community,” she said.

In 2006, Shafer opened the Shafer Center for Early Intervention, which offers programs for children between the ages of 18 months and 13 years. There are now 63 kids there.

“For me the thing that’s really important is that all kids on the spectrum have the opportunity to be included in their community,” she said.

While the Shafer Center focuses on one area of specialized education, nearby Jemicy School specializes in another. The school, founded in 1973, offers programs for students with language-based learning disabilities such as dyslexia.

“These are bright kids who understand the world,” Head of School Ben Shifrin said. “They have the thoughts but can’t get the words down on paper.”

Shifrin said Jemicy uses a multisensory approach to learning, teaching concepts in visual, spoken and written form.

“When we teach a concept, we teach with all of the methods that a student can learn from,” he said.

Shifrin said a simple example of a typical lesson at Jemicy is that students who are learning about grammar will learn that a sentence has “a person, a thing or an action,” as opposed to learning technical terms such as “adjective.”

Shifrin previously ran a school in Los Angeles and is starting his 14th year at Jemicy. He said his passion for education came from his own upbringing as a dyslexic child, where many of his teachers were ineffective and simply thought he was “lazy.”

“It was such a humiliating experience,” he said.

Shifrin said ever since then, his mission has been to make sure no child ever has to go through a similar type of experience.

“Learning should be exciting, it should be stimulating,” he said. “I believe all education should be taught like this.”

Eco-friendly lunch boxes

081415_inside_scoopAs more and more parents try to pack their kids healthier school lunches and school systems have grappled with providing healthier options, eco-friendly lunch boxes and packaging are becoming more common in schools too. Whether it’s a metal lunch box or an insulated carrier, students seem to be ditching the days of plastic and paper bags in favor of Tupperware, stainless steel and other reusable options.

A variety of companies make eco-friendly options using different materials, different sizes and different colors. EcoLunchbox makes stainless steel bento lunch boxes with a variety of compartment-size options. Laptop Lunches makes a variety of bento products, insulated lunch totes and sleeves as well as additional bento boxes. They come in kid-appealing designs with a variety of color schemes and patterns. Laptop also makes many biodegradable non-toxic bento ice packs to choose from.

A lot of products are made BPA- and PVC free, widely acknowledged as a harmful chemical and plastic, respectively. Laptop products are BPA- and PVC-free, as is the Oots! lunchbox, which features upright containers inside a larger container held together with an elastic strap. Stainless steel water bottles provide long-lasting and safe alternative to plastic bottles.

If bento boxes aren’t to a student’s liking, options include Dabbawalla’s machine washable lunch bags, and Lunchskins makes leak-proof sandwich- and snack-sized bags out of cotton coated with a food-safe polyurethane liner.

New this year: Pottery Barn Kids has a Heroes & Villains collection that includes lunch bags, thermoses and more.

Lockers That Rock

In 2011, The New York Times declared middle school lockers “the latest frontier in nesting.” Four years later, that trend seems to have remained in girls’ lockers.

Looking to exercise their creativity and create a little place in school completely of their own, plain metal lockers in schools throughout the country now feature rugs, wallpaper, mirrors, shelves, chandeliers, picture frames, makeup holders and pencil holders.

While some spend more than $100 on locker decorations, a quick Google search turns up bloggers with advice on how to decorate on a budget along with a variety of affordable options on sites such as eBay.

Tiffany Ivanovsky of shows how to make a $17 locker look like a locker that cost $107 simply by buying most items at a dollar store. She claims her daughter and her daughter’s friends couldn’t tell the difference.

Another blogger, Laina Turner, noted how important locker decoration is.

“A plain locker in not acceptable today, and you know how much pressure there is in school to follow the trends,” she wrote on “Locker decorating with the middle school set is a top priority with the girls, not the boys.”

There’s even an entire shopping website dedicated to the art of locker decoration, On the site, users can design their own locker with wallpaper, storage, flowers, rugs, lighting, mirrors, dry-erase boards, gem magnets and photo frames or shop for pieces individually.

The website’s mission statement says it all about why the trend has caught on: “to provide and deliver a creative environment with fun products that enable students to positively express their personality in educational and social settings.”