My Life as a Frisch Parent (and Faculty Member) during Shiriyah

January 3, 2015

The following post written last year by Rabbi Tzvi Pittinsky, our Director of Educational Technology, describes what it is like to be a parent during Shiriyah, providing a taste of what is in store for the week ahead.

This past week has been that most magical time at The Frisch School, Shiriyah. Shiriyah is more than just a singing contest or a color war. It is a week-long festival for our students to showcase all of their creative talents. This post will focus on what it is like to be a father of two current Frisch students, a son who is a junior, and a daughter who is a sophomore, during Shiriyah.

When I asked my wife about her experience as a Frisch parent during Shiriyah, her first response was that Shiriyah meant that she did not see our children much the entire week, until of course she came to the Shiriyah finale and was able to shep nachas about their accomplishments. Our kids, together with most of their classmates, voluntarily spent much of Sunday at school and then stayed at school on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights until 8PM, 10PM, and 12AM respectively. All this leading up to the finale on Thursday night. Obviously, my wife and younger children saw little of our older children this past week.

I am lucky to be in a different position. As both a Frisch parent and faculty member, I could not only be amazed at my children’s unwavering devotion and wonderful accomplishments during Shiriyah but I could watch their progress throughout this magical week.

What is it that makes Shiriyah so special for so many students including my own children? As I taught my sophomores this week whose team was Kedushat Hamikdash, the Holiness of the Temple, the work of Shiriyah is very similar to the work of the Mishkan. The Torah devotes four plus parshiot to the work of the Mishkan both to its conception and construction. This is more space than almost any other mitzvah in the Torah. The reason I believe is because the Mishkan is the one holy endeavor that involves all of the creative activities known to humanity. It includes artists and artisans, goldsmiths and seamstresses, musicians and construction workers, and the list goes on and on. Similarly, Shiriyah with its songs and hallways, Cake Boss, Project Runway and video teams, banners and murals just to name a few involves students using every one of their creative talents.

Watching my own children this week, I realized that Shiriyah is even more than that. It is about our children and students discovering the creative talents within them that they did not even know they possessed.

Let me list four examples.

Leadership and Teamwork

My son is highly intelligent, an out-of-the-box thinker, and is well liked by his peers. (I know, I am a doting father.) He is also often quiet and much prefers working by himself to group work. However, during Shiriyah, he transformed himself. He spent 5 days straight holed up in one room with six of his friends and the few other juniors who walked in and out creating a stop-motion video. This involved many strengths he already possessed like creating a script and mapping it out on a storyboard. It is also involved his taking a leadership position in working together as a team. He might have come up with many of the ideas for the video but he needed his team of masterful artists and collaborative partners to bring these ideas, and those of the other members of his team, to life. When the stop motion video was about to be played on Shiriyah night, the entire junior class started chanting his name. They recognized my son’s leadership role in the stop motion video team.

Persuasive Writing and Digital Citizenship

My daughter could not be more different than my son. She is a natural leader who always is at the center of her peer group. She excels at oral communication. However, communicating in writing comes hard for her due to her unique learning style. Over Shabbat after Shiriyah began, she had a very creative idea for her hallway. She wanted to communicate it to her peers as quickly as possible so they could start discussing it. So after Shabbat, since it was still Saturday night and her team would not be meeting until the next day, she chose to write up her idea on her team’s Facebook group despite her difficulty in written communication. She then respectfully but forcefully argued in writing for her position quoting a myriad of Torah sources and commentaries to boot through dozens of responses from her teammates. She wrote coherently and persuasively, spelling mistakes and all, and won many of her peers over to her creative ideas which were later incorporated into her hallway. This skill set, writing persuasively to her peers using social media, is probably something even my daughter did not know she was capable of.

Digital Storytelling

My son is not much a photographer. However, over the past few months, he researched digital cameras since he felt that one issue with his stop motion video last year, was the fact that the pictures taken mostly using an iPhone were not ideal. A month ago he purchased a Nikon Coolpix L820, a camera that is a step up from a point and shoot but more affordable than a true DSLR. He purchased this camera primarily so he could use it for creating his Shiriyah stop motion video.

My son describes the process of creating these videos as something akin to making a silent film. The pictures and the music need to tell the story since there is no spoken dialogue. He also realizes that since these videos are so short because of the technical difficulty in making them, every moment has to be tightly scripted. As an illustration of how tedious stop motion videography is, during their first day, my son’s team created less than 15 seconds of video working for some 12 hours straight and even once they got a bit faster filming, it remained an exacting process with the entire 2 minute film requiring some 833 pictures.

You can watch his team’s completed video below. Note how the pictures, text, and music perfectly tell a story in 3 scenes. Even subtle details like the use of color or lack thereof, the rolling of the eyes, and the materials chosen for each scene all advance the plot line which matches the juniors’ grade wide theme- the holiness of time. You can also watch equally amazing stop motion films by the sophomores and seniors here and here.

Resourcefulness

When I was driving my children home at 8PM this past Monday night, my earliest pickup all week, they noticed on every street corner discarded Christmas trees. What does this mean? More decorations for the Shiriyah hallways, of course! So when they got home, they each posted about the trees on their team Facebook groups. The juniors answered first. “Yes, please bring as many as you can!” So there I was, outside with my son in the plummeting temperatures, figuring out how to drag two evergreens into our SUV, which still smells from a lovely pine scent, so my son could help his team’s hallway come to life with some real live trees. There is no better father-son bonding experience than dragging “holiday” trees into our car at 10 o’clock at night in the freezing cold.

My daughter too learned the value of being resourceful this week, whether it was through “borrowing” some of my wife’s nursery school posters, a full length mirror we had in our garage, and a box of leftover floor tiles which we will probably never get back, all for hallway displays, or through figuring out how to color fondant brown using coffee grounds and how to mix a myriad of other color combinations for the cake boss competition. A common mantra in our time is “reuse, recycle”. During Shiriyah, our children practiced this first-hand, transforming one person’s throwaway or overstocked items into creative treasures.

These are just a few of the lessons that I watched my children learn this most special week. I am sure that this post could have been written by any number of the other 500+ Frisch parents with their long list of all their children learned from this most special example of project based, student directed learning.

In my children’s 4 year high school career, G-d willing, they will be blessed with 4 weeks of Shiriyah. That is one month out of the 40 months they will spend in Frisch. I have witnessed first-hand how they probably will learn as much in this month as in the other 39 months combined. They will learn to utilize every one of their talents and discover hidden talents within themselves they did not even think possible. This could explain the tremendous anticipation, utter excitement, and single-minded devotion that my children and every other student at Frisch has to the magic that is Shiriyah.

Experiential Education, Shiriyah