Educational Excellence Award
Miriam Shamsian has been teaching Ivrit for more than twenty-five years, with eighteen of those years right here at JKHA, where she has served as Ivrit Department Chair for the past twelve. Morah Shamsian has been a catalyst for change throughout the school in sharpening and defining our Ivrit academic program while also inspiring students to develop the confidence to speak Ivrit in school and beyond. Among the initiatives that Morah Shamsian created is the beloved Kochavei Kushner competition, which is held annually on Yom Ha'atzmaut as a celebration of Israeli culture. Through Kochavei Kushner, students develop a love of Ivrit by learning and performing contemporary Israeli pop songs in a schoolwide competition. Similarly, in another initiative, entitled Bistro 75, Morah Shamsian and her team have created a program through which students in grades 6-8 learning about Jewish history and Jewish historical personas in class, ultimately culminating in a “cafe” where students take on the roles of the people they’ve learned about in order to teach their classmates about the era as they drink shoko cham as they build knowledge and community.
Morah Shamsian aspires to bring learning directly into her students’ hands, with experiential learning opportunities that enable students to creatively collaborate on projects that highlight our connection to Israel. People passing through to the Middle School can see the project Morah Shamsian spearheaded, the Israeli Timeline Project, which outlines 2,000 years of Jewish exile, with student generated time markers and QR codes that lead viewers to students’ unique synopses of pivotal historical events. This year, Morah Shamsian has led an interdisciplinary effort that weds the Judaic Studies program with Jewish history entitled ישראל שלנו במקרא. Through this project, students in 6th, 7th and 8th grades and their teachers have been working on identifying current sites and cities which we can also find in the Tanach on a massive map of Israel, highlighting the connection between our past and future.
One of Morah Shamsian’s greatest talents is in her eagerness to make learning relevant and personal for each person she comes into contact with, students and teachers alike. Morah Shamsian’s love for Israel and Ivrit radiate into all that she does, from her discussions with students about what it means to be Tzioni to her enthusiastic explanations of Israeli slang and phrases in her weekly announcement of mishpat Hashavua. Morah Shamsian strives to make learning resonant and powerful for her students, enforcing student learning through programs like, “What’s the importance of learning Hebrew?” through which she invites alumni speakers to share with her students how their fluency with Ivrit shaped and continues to impact their lives in Israel and beyond. In addition to supporting each of her students, differentiating her instruction for each student as an individual, Morah Shamsian also tirelessly mentors new teachers to her department, inspiring and encouraging them to have the support that they need to be outstanding educators.
As an added bonus, Morah Shamsian is a vibrant member of the West Orange community, whose connection to her students and alumni extends beyond the physical classroom. She currently lives in West Orange with her husband and three sons, all of whom are JKHA/RKYHS graduates.