Dear Parents,

February is one of my favorite months because.... it's Literacy Month at Mazel!  It is very moving to know that as a school, we are devoting a month toward inspiring our students to be excited about Reading.  With so much technology at our children's fingertips, getting them to read and to LOVE reading requires far more thought and focus than in previous generations. 

At Mazel, we pay extra special attention to building a love for reading in our students - using a number of key strategies. One will often observe children of all ages with a book in their hand, a spare book in the corner of their desk or asking if they can go spend some time in the classroom library area to read.  Reading is a way of life here at school - across all divisions.  This doesn't "just happen".  Some of the intentional strategies used include: modeling a joyous attitude toward reading, offering a variety of reading genres/series/subjects to children, constantly putting books into the hands of children, being a good book "matchmaker", carefully selecting rich and quality books for children to read... and frequently reading aloud to children.

In honor of Literacy Month, in this week's eNewsletter you will find many great suggestions from each division principal - from preschool to lower to middle school.  We hope that you will find these helpful in your own quest to inspire your children to love to read and develop their language and literacy skills.

Shabbat Shalom,

Chani Okonov, Head of School

Table of Contents

  • Preschool Highlights: It All Starts with an Environment: A Look at Language Development
  • Lower School Highlights: The Beauty of Reading
  • Middle School Highlights: Middle School Literacy
  • Jewish Learning and Literacy: Parsha Inspirations ~ The Moral Challenge
  • Parent Partnership: Why Do So Many Gifted and Talented Children Hate To Write?
  • Teacher Feature: Spotlight on Ms. Koffler, Middle School

Upcoming Events

  • MPA Family Book Fair and Pajama Party: February 11th
  • Preschool Open House for Prospective Parents: February 12th
  • President's Day Break: February 16th and 19th ~ SCHOOL CLOSED

It All Starts with an Environment: A Look at Language Development

Little Mazel often reminds me of a Big Beehive with buzzing words, songs, short stories and long conversations; a Big Beehive with a rich environment where children are involved in talking, singing, and reading, and have many opportunities throughout the day to communicate with others and engage in back-and-forth conversations with friends and adults likewise. 

How does Little Mazel do it?  How do our teachers create such enriched surroundings for our kids? They tune in and listen to what children say. For younger children who don't speak yet, teachers tune into what children are doing and use these moments to talk with them, naming and labeling, initiating communication based completely on children's interest.  As children get older and have more developed language skills, we help them grow even further.  Throughout the day, children are given many opportunities to reflect on their feelings, their actions, and on the things that they learn or are interested in.  This is what makes everything meaningful.

An interesting printout recently got into my hands. Reading it through, one phrase caught my attention. The phrase is "thick conversation". Thick conversation is characterized by the quality and quantity of verbal communication. It is enriched by open-ended questions, facial expressions, back-and-forth exchanges, and body language. When do "thick conversations" happen in the Little Mazel? One example is during meal times.  [Do not worry, dear parents, Morahs make sure that children consume a decent amount of food.]  There are no wrong answers, and there are different opinions. Most importantly, Morahs teach children the manners of polite conversation. We will discuss manners another time, but now I want to use this article inset to demonstrate how a "thin" conversation can be turned into a "thick" one. 

Thin Conversation 

  • Adult: Do you want to play with the boat? 
  • Child: Yes 
  • Adult: What color is it? 
  • Child: Blue 
  • Adult: Who will ride the boat? 
  • Child: The man 

Turn it into a thick conversation: 

  • Adult: Which toy do you like to play with the most? 
  • Child: The boat
  • Adult: Oh, the boat is your favorite. What will you do with the boat? 
  • Child: The man is going to ride on it. 
  • Adult: Where is the man traveling? 
  • Child: Into the bubbles 
  • Adult: The bubbles are dense. Watch out! 
  • Child: Help! The man is falling out! 
  • Adult: Oh no! Who will rescue the man? 
  • Child: I'll get the whale! 
  • Adult: The whale is the hero! 

Do you see the difference? How many thin conversations do we have throughout the day and how many thick ones? Which ones are making a bigger impact on our children's development? Which ones help to build connections and memories? Which ones are rich and enrich?

Let's choose thick conversations when we talk to our children. 

Morah Inna Izman, Early Childhood Director

Highlights from this Week at Little Mazel

This week, Literacy month came to life with shopping for books at our annual children's book sale, field trips to the local library and parent readers starting to visit our classes!

The Beauty of Reading

I remember the first time I truly read a book. I was sitting at my kitchen table in the seat by the window leaning against the wallpapered wall as my mother chopped vegetables for one of her recipes. The sunlight beamed through the window illuminating the illustrations on the page. With each page turned, I moved farther and farther away from the kitchen and deeper into the story. Before I knew it, I was no longer home, I was in The Wizard of Oz. When I finished the book, I vividly remember looking up at my mother and exclaiming, “Mom! I was in the book! I was in the story!” This was the moment reading became a magical experience for me. This is my wish for Mazel students. I wish for them to fall in love with reading and find the joy and satisfaction in books that many of us did as children.

The world has changed dramatically since we were in school. Today’s youth is regularly overstimulated with constant distraction taking them away from the simple yet enriching things - like books.

Now that Literacy Month is in full swing, Mazel Day School has made it our mission to put extra emphasis on the importance and beauty of reading.  Each and every classroom in the school is full of celebration about books, literature, poetry, writing and all things reading! We’ve already had a published author visit our school and do a special program with each class. There is a steady flow of parents volunteering to guest read in their children’s classrooms and students are visiting each other’s classrooms to cozy up with books together.

Reading provides children with the forever gift of simultaneously engaging their imagination and intellect. Reading opens up new worlds, new possibilities and new insights into a rich array of subjects. I encourage you to engage your children with literature presented on paper rather than on a screen. There is something unique and personal about feeling the pages between your fingers as you turn them to find out what happens next; students connect to the story on a more emotional level, therefore investing more deeply in the story.

Parents, we encourage you to take advantage of this Literacy Month. Remember that reading is not a chore or a task. It is something that should be enjoyed and that children should look forward to. Give your children the opportunity to read what they are interested in and not what you want them to read. This way, you will contribute to fostering a love of reading rather than potentially creating a stigma around it.

  • Take the time to read a book to your child or even alongside your child.
  • Carve out some family time when everyone can silently read together.
  • Take trips to the bookstore or library.
  • Create a sacred, cozy place for your children to curl up with a book.
  • Create a “camping trip” in your living room with flashlights to read books in the dark
  • Have book talks
  • Make your own books at home with your children- illustrate and bind them!
  • Let kids read “below” their level if they want to
  • Listen to storytellers

These are just some suggestions of how to make reading come to life with your children. Be sure to take advantage of this Literacy Month. Sign up to read to your child’s class, come to this Sunday’s Book Fair at Mazel Day School and make reading a part of your daily life!

Sonya Finkel-Levy, Lower School Principal

Leap Into Literacy Month

Students have been immersed in a plethora of literacy activities. They met a real published author, had publishing parties and welcomed parent readers into their classrooms.

Visiting Author: Lela Nargi

Guest author: Lela Nargi

4th graders with the Guest Author

Kindergarteners raising their hands high for an opportunity to ask the author questions about her book and writing

2nd graders riveted as the Author Visitor reads a story aloud

Special Guest Readers

A mommy reads to her daughter's 2nd grade class

Another happy 2nd grader with her mom as guest reader

1B enjoying a story read by a parent

Mom visits third grade

A Publishing Celebration

Class 1B had a publishing party to celebrate the completion of their opinion writing. Many other classes attended and read first graders' work. Visiting students provided compliment and feedback cards and actively interacted with the first grade authors!

First graders providing feedback about writing

Third graders working together with their first grade schoolmates

Buddy Reading

What better way to share the joy of reading than to allow children an opportunity to read to each other? During Literacy Month, we put a strong emphasis on the importance of reading aloud to each other. Children are given opportunities to read to each other across the grades.

A second and first grader sharing a book

Third graders read with a first grader

Sharing a good book

Mazel Day School students love reading!

What an exciting start we’ve had to Literacy Month!! This week our students have been visiting the book fair, and we had an incredible author come speak with our students.

The children were completely fascinated by the author, Lela Nargi. She was so engaging, and explained how challenging the writing process can be. Ms. Nargi made it clear that writing is never really done.  She talked about the importance of drafting, revising, and editing. Many of our students were shocked to discover that professional writers have editors, and they too have to continually review, and improve their writing.

Another interesting part of the author’s visit was her explanation of writing nonfiction books, and articles for magazines, like National Geographic. She explained the importance of fact checking, and accuracy.

This was an incredibly meaningful learning experience for our students!

It’s literacy month at Mazel Day School, and with that in mind please remember the impact you have on your child’s affinity towards reading. Beyond introducing students to literature at school, parents play a significant role in helping their children develop into lifelong readers.

Literacy Tips for Parents of Middle School Students:

  1. Read. Read – The most important means of improving reading skills is to encourage reading of all kinds. Read the back of a cereal box, the newspaper, or billboards. Have your child read things to you and no matter how old your child is, if you read to him or her, they will surely benefit.
  2. Visit places where reading is featured – the library, museums, bookstores, etc.
  3. Talk to your child about what they are reading or learning. I encourage you to take the time to discuss the actual content.
  4. Have your child summarize or paraphrase what they are reading.
  5. Bring books along everywhere - the doctor’s office, the store, on trips, between games, and of course, on Shabbat. Instead of a video game, bring a book.
  6. Help your child understand the difference in types of reading material. – Middle school students must adjust to juggling multiple classes and more difficult assignments, which require more advanced reading skills. Science, social studies, math and English each have their own vocabulary and structure; students need to move from answering simple questions about content and plot to reading longer, more complex texts that require gathering and analyzing information.
  7. One of the best things you can do to connect with your child as a reader is to read the same books they are reading. – This allows you to talk to your child about the book.
  8. Even if you can’t read with your child, ask them about what they are reading. Ask your child why and how questions, not just factual questions.
  9. Work with your child on skimming and scanning – Not every piece of text needs to be read completely. Have your child scan a newspaper article to get the main idea. (Read the piece ahead of time, and explain to your child a particular point they should be aware of.) Have them look for sub headings, main ideas in paragraphs, etc. Discuss when skimming or scanning might be necessary as opposed to reading every page. (dictionary, encyclopedia, phone book, web page)
  10. Have fun with words. – Increasing vocabulary is one of the most effective ways to improve reading. Play with words. Learn a new word a day with your child and do crossword puzzles together.
  11. Model reading behaviors for your children. Take the time to read when your children can see you doing it. Showing your children that reading is pleasurable and part of your life allows children to see that reading isn’t only an academic activity.

At MDS we take great care in selecting the books our students read. It’s important not to underestimate the dialogue that stems from great literature.

If you’re finding your child is not an enthusiastic reader, please encourage them to speak with their ELA teacher or me, and we will be sure to suggest a book that will “hook” your child!

Thank you for your ongoing partnership and commitment to your child as a reader.

Shabbat Shalom.

Yours in learning, 

Dina Freeman, Middle School Principal

Analyzing & Studying The Constitution

Understanding the Roles of the House & Senate

6th grade students are studying the actual text of the constitution. They are demonstrating their comprehension and analysis by creating 'job description' posters for the Senate and House of Representatives. 

The Moral Challenge

Excerpted from the "Parsha Family Guide" attached.  Click the link to read more...


I'm going to mention a few of the Torah's civil laws
from this week's portion, and I want to issue a challenge: Can you name any other society that had such an incredibly sophisticated moral code 3,000 years ago, or 1,000, or even 100 years ago. I will even venture to challenge that no one can find a code today that matches up. This is not saying that Jews are better than anyone else. Rarely have we fully lived up to these values. I'm just saying that the value system clearly seems to be above and beyond anything that human beings could have or would have come up with themselves. Here are my few examples:

  • There is no debtor's prison in Judaism. There is no point in putting debtors in prison, much as we might feel we would like to. Both the UK and USA only saw fit to abolish this in the 19th century.
  • In general, the punishment for theft is paying back the amount stolen. There is no harsher punishment if more money is involved. Stealing more money is no worse than stealing less. Values are absolute, not money dependent. Theft is theft, be it Bernie Madoff or a pickpocket. Only in a society that places money on too high a pedestal, will Madoff be viewed as worse.
  • It is forbidden to push someone into selling you something that they don't want to sell, even if you offer way above the market value. By putting them in a corner, you impinge upon their right of ownership. A buyer must, in Jewish law, take "no" for an answer.
  • A lender is not allowed to press the borrower to repay a loan. If the borrower does not have the money, Jewish law states that the lender must go out of his way to avoid him, so as not to embarrass him.
  • If you take a deposit for a loan from a poor man, you must return it to him when he needs it. If it is a pillow for example, you must return it to him every night.
  • Full-time household servants cannot be quartered in lesser accommodation than their masters. They must live in the same size rooms, have the same softness of beds, the same amount of pillows and eat the same food. Simply put, one must treat one's servants as one's equals.
  • If there is a dispute between a worker and an employer, the worker always has the upper hand. Labor laws were pretty much forced upon Western society in the 19th and 20th centuries by the power of trade unions. In Jewish law, the worker was been protected from his wealthy employer for over 3,000 years.

Like I say, these are just a few examples of the incredible moral sophistication in the Torah. As I learn Torah's codes of values, I am rarely unimpressed. Anyone want to take me up on my challenge?!


Why Do So Many Gifted and Talented Children Hate To Write?

It’s a widespread phenomenon, affecting as many as 50 percent of gifted kids--here’s how to change their minds just a little.      By Tobi J. Phillips, Ed. D, headmaster and founder of Village East Gifted

Never ask a gifted child who dislikes writing just to “write something.” Hearing those dreaded words can start a big argument or cause your child to seek an immediate exit through the nearest door. Why is it such a sore subject? 

Imagine this: You are a brilliant, young person who started reading chapter books when your peers were tracing letters of the alphabet. Every day you hope that your peers will catch up with you--only to find out that they never do. You “take in” everything you see, hear, touch and feel which has already evolved into profound ideologies, extreme sensitivities, uncanny insights and an innate ability to remember everything. You often hear your parents refer to you as an “old soul.” You don’t really understand what that means because you are not old--you are just a little kid. 

Now imagine writing all those complex thoughts and intense feelings on paper in a way that you, as well as other people, can understand. For many young, gifted minds, it can feel like a seemingly impossible task. Yet, if you ask any gifted child to talk about something, he or she could easily spend 10 to 15 minutes articulately describing every fine detail of an experience or the facts about a topic of interest using advanced vocabulary words that were probably just “picked up” from a nearby adult conversation. 


This week's Spotlight: Ms. Koffler

This week, we proudly share an interview with Ms. Michelle Koffler, our Middle School Science Teacher 


BIO:I was born and raised in Brooklyn, receiving a Bachelor of Science in Geology from Brooklyn College, followed by two Masters degrees in Adolescent and Middle Childhood Science Education from the same school. While still an undergrad, I joined the Teacher Academy, a program designed to train students to become math and science teachers. This program allowed me to get an early, hands-on approach to teaching science before I even began student teaching. I have been teaching in NYC middle and high schools since receiving my undergraduate degree.

I became a teacher because…  I got the teaching bug early on when I realized I enjoyed helping my classmates out with their homework and upcoming exams. Seeing that light bulb turn on in people’s eyes, that “Aha!” moment, is what I enjoy most about teaching. Teaching science in particular leads to many of those moments. Questioning, understanding, and deepening our appreciation and love for the world around us, and spreading that understanding, joy, and love of science to others, is my unabashed passion.

My vision for our children is…  I hope to see each Mazel student grow to become kind, caring, thoughtful Jews and citizens of the world.

I joined Mazel because… Having spent so many years teaching students in the public school system, I missed the immersive Jewish environment (outside of my friends and family). Teaching in a Jewish school feels different - it awakens the soul in a way that does not happen so easily in other environments. Seeing students at Mazel grow and learn as scientists, as individuals, as citizens, and as Jews has been truly worthwhile and wonderful to watch.  

My most favorite memory from being a student is…  I always enjoyed the moments within a lesson where our teachers connected to our class as people, not just students. Hearing stories about their youth and family lives helped enrich our school experience.

The difficult part of teaching Middle School is… Middle school is a time when a lot of changes happen for students: physical, emotional, and psychological. Sometimes these changes happen abruptly, sometimes gradually, but it is always a process for students - and their parents and teachers - to deal with, so I try my best to help students navigate this sometimes difficult period in their lives.

My best advice to parents is….  Let your kids explore and ask questions. It's okay if you don't know all the answers to those questions: you can learn more and discover the answers together.

If I could teach my students only thing, it would be... to be kind. Kindness and caring are, to me, more important than memorizing a list of facts and definitions.

If I would not have become a teacher I would have become…  It's very hard to imagine myself as anything but a teacher, since I have wanted to be one for so long, but, if I HAD to choose another job, I would probably choose something else in the education field, such as tutoring or writing curriculum.

A trick I use in the classroom is...  I may have borrowed the idea from Ms. Frizzle (of The Magic School Bus), but I love to wear outfits that relate to topics that students are currently learning. If students see that I'm passionate enough about a subject to want to wear it, then they start to get excited about it, too.

Outside of school I like to...  I enjoy spending time with my friends and family, traveling, collecting rocks and minerals, and attending conventions such as New York Comic Con.

Shabbat Shalom!

Shabbat Candle Lighting Time: 5:06 PM

Shabbat Ends: 6:07 PM

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Mazel Day School

2901 Brighton 6th Street

60 West End Avenue