Students benefit from expert guidance paired with Federation resources

It’s a Tuesday afternoon at Hillel Academy of Greater Dayton. The children just finished eating lunch. A small group is gathered in the hall with Principal Dan Mecoli, working on robotics. Other children are in their respective classrooms, ready to tackle the afternoon’s lessons.

When Dr. Kathy Mecoli & Dan Mecoli became co-principals at Hillel Academy of Greater Dayton seven years ago, they knew they were embarking on a special journey. Kathy and Dan both come from long, successful careers in education. They worked for many years in the Dayton Public School system at Colonel White High School and Meadowdale High School. In addition, Kathy had been principal at the Miami Valley School and Dan had been principal at Mills Lawn Elementary in Yellow Springs and Precious Blood Catholic School. Throughout their careers, they met and developed relationships with many Jewish families.

When Hillel Academy began envisioning their future, Jerry Kotler approached Kathy and Dan to see if they would be interested in consulting on the project. Throughout the strategic planning process, it became clear they were the perfect pair to run Hillel Academy.

Over the years, Kathy and Dan have perfected a rhythm of their shared position as principal. Kathy focuses on curriculum and instruction; Dan focuses on the nuts and bolts of running the school.

“Our goal is to create life-long learners,” says Kathy. “We utilize project based learning, which engages the children in solving real-world problems. They ask questions, and we work with them to help figure out the answers. Recently, the students were studying electricity. They had a great idea to make a backlit “Welcome to Hillel” sign in Hebrew. When the children presented the idea to their teacher, he embarked on a journey with the students to learn how to make their idea a reality. They reached out to an electrician and researched the topic, eventually making their signs come to fruition.”

Students at Hillel Academy are also presented with the opportunity to work on public speaking through various projects and assignments. The school recently presented a play based on the graphic novels of Rabbi Harvey. All 28 students, from Kindergarten through sixth grade, had speaking roles. By speaking in front of an audience from an early age, the children are able to develop the skills necessary to engage in public speaking in the future.

Hillel Academy also utilizes flexible grouping for the classroom. The school consists of one primary class (K-2nd grade) and two intermediate classes (3rd-6th grades). Within the classes, each child’s experience is customized to fit their learning level and abilities.
“There are tons of individualization and customization options,” says Dan. Kathy added, “Homework is all differentiated. Projects are tailored to the individual student’s ability. Even their spelling lists are individualized.”

This type of individualization helps students maximize their potential. Most students are operating at least one grade level above where a typical child would be, and that gap usually expands over time.

However, the most critical component of Hillel Academy is one which cannot be found in any other school in our area, and that is the integration of Judaics into the academics. In addition to core subjects such as math, science and social studies, the students also participate in a Judaics class, Hebrew and daily prayer. “Parents know their values are safe and secure in this environment,” says Dan. “By weaving Judaics into the curriculum, students are able to build upon their Jewish values. The children aren’t just learning something for a test; they are learning skills and lessons that are applicable to life.”

In their Hebrew class, the students participate in a Partnership2Gether (P2G) Twinning program with a kibbutz in Gesher Haziv, which is in northern Israel close to the Lebanon border. The program, facilitated by Hebrew teacher Rina Thau, connects the Hillel Academy students with Israeli students. “The students send each other cards for holidays such as Rosh Hashanah and Chanukah and masks for Purim,” says Rina. “For Tu B’Shevat, we made leaves that were decorated by both the local students and the Israeli students. The children also send videos to each other where they speak in Hebrew and introduce themselves.”

Our students are able to see there are other children in the world who are like them. These children, they celebrate the same holidays as our students and they share the same beliefs. It makes our children feel connected to their Judaism.

~ Rina Thau
Hebrew Teacher, Hillel Academy of Greater Dayton

Our students are able to see there are other children in the world who are like them. These children, they celebrate the same holidays as our students and they share the same beliefs. It makes our children feel connected to their Judaism.

~ Rina Thau
Hebrew Teacher, Hillel Academy of Greater Dayton

Our students are able to see there are other children in the world who are like them. These children, they celebrate the same holidays as our students and they share the same beliefs. It makes our children feel connected to their Judaism.

~ Rina Thau
Hebrew Teacher, Hillel Academy of Greater Dayton

The P2G Twinning program has proven to be very beneficial. “Our students are able to see there are other children in the world who are like them,” says Rina. “These children celebrate the same holidays as our students and they share the same beliefs. It makes our students feel connected to their Judaism.”

Not only are current students reaping the benefits of their Hillel Academy experience, but alumni are as well. Most students who start at Hillel Academy only leave because their family is moving out of the area, or the student ages out. Those that move on to their local junior
high and high schools continue to be involved in the community, Jewish Federation, synagogue, temple, and school events.

Small but mighty, Hillel Academy has proven to be an excellent choice for families in the Dayton area. “Whether a student is reform, conservative, orthodox or unaffiliated, students are accepting of each other,” says Dan. “The success of a Jewish day school is critical to the success of the Jewish community, and this is THE place if you want to grow Jewish values.”

For more information on this and other P2G programs, please contact Cathy Gardner, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton at (937) 610-1555 or cgardner@jfgd.net.

The Partnership2Gether School Twinning Program seeks to create a high sense of regional and national belonging, both in Israel and in Dayton, by exposing participants to different shades of Jewish culture and identity. In addition, the program helps participants learn about each other, recognize their similarities, and respect their differences.

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