In the fall of 2009, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) conducted a survey of members from the National Association of Temple Educators (NATE) and professional youth and URJ Camps staff. The individuals surveyed reported an interest in upgrading their skills in the areas of Jewish educational leadership; education for adolescents and emerging adults; and experiential education and service learning. In response to these findings and an invitation from the Jim Joseph Foundation, HUC-JIR’s schools of education developed several new programs, including the new Certificate Program in Jewish Education for Adolescents and Emerging Adults.
Generously supported by the Jim Joseph Foundation as part of a greater educational initiative providing $45 million in grants to HUC-JIR, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and Yeshiva University to increase the number and enhance the quality of Jewish educators working with Jewish youth and young adults, this certificate program specifically aims to enhance the skills, knowledge, and personal capacities of Jewish educators who already serve those populations. In the survey, many youth workers who lacked professional training as educators noted that, to succeed in their work, they felt a need to increase their learning and specialized knowledge regarding adolescent development, experiential learning, new media and service learning and social justice leadership. We expect coursework for the program to include all of these areas as well as others, such as organizational dynamics.
Adolescent development courses will include learning about identity formation and the social context of today’s teens in the larger world and Jewish community. Also, by studying the principles of experiential education, cohort members will learn how to plan programs in informal settings. Electives in the areas of technology, media, the arts, and service learning enhance the certificate curriculum, which culminates in a final project by each student at the end of the year. The courses, project and a mentoring relationship will assist students in integrating online and face-to-face learning into their work environments.
As program coordinator, Rabbi Melissa Zalkin Stollman is often asked, “Will I have to leave my job to participate in this program?” The answer is definitively, “No!” The course of study lasts just one year. During this time a small cohort of students will learn together via online courses, two 3-day weekend intensives and one 10-day institute. This program, ideal for a youth director, assistant camp director or unit head, Hillel program director or NFTY advisor, offers the flexibility to help strengthen skills and grow professionally without having to attend a residential program.
To help shape this new program an advisory committee—including HUC-JIR faculty and staff as well as participants from NATE, the CCAR, the URJ and the field—meets periodically to identify what outcomes we expect students to achieve through their participation in the program; develop the specific learning experiences and mentoring process in which participants will engage; and provide ongoing input as the program unfolds.
The first cohort begins their study this fall, with the application process opening this summer. Thanks to the Jim Joseph Foundation’s generous support for the program, the initial cohort will not incur tuition costs and will receive travel subsidies, but space in the cohorts is limited. The goal of this educational initiative is to help professionalize the field of youth work through the creation of a cadre of well-trained Jewish educational leaders interacting with increased numbers of Jewish youth, teens and young adults in compelling educational experiences.
This article was originally published in the Union for Reform Judaism's Spring 2011 issue of Torah at the Center. Click here to view the publication.