Experiential Education

In keeping with the school’s mission and vision, the NCJHS educational process is approached not only from the formal avenue of classroom instruction, but from the experiential and emotional path, better known as “informal education.” As the great writer Aldous Huxley wrote, “Experience is not what happens to you; it is what you do with what happens to you.”

Experiential or “informal” education is the lifelong process whereby every individual acquires attitudes, values, skills, and knowledge from daily experiences and the educative influences and resources in his or her environment — from family and neighbors, from work and play, from school, and the child’s mentors.

Through our experiential education programs, students experience the world around them in a variety of local and national locations. These experiences support both classroom learning as well as provide students with unique opportunities that enhance their overall education.

While this philosophy permeates the educational model of NCJHS, with experiential aspects being afforded to the students on an almost daily basis, there are specific curricular elements that have been carefully planned by the faculty and administration to give the students intensive periods of experiencing the curriculum while they are learning the material.

For the 9th Grade, their first concrete contact with NCJHS and their new class is a 3-day retreat that occurs the week before formal classes start. This retreat is conducted at the Brandeis-Bardin Campus of the American Jewish University in Simi Valley, and is geared to introduce the incoming class of freshman to their fellow classmates and their faculty before the hectic start of a new school year. Specific ice-breakers and team building activities are planned to break down the barriers that naturally exist when a new group of teenagers meet for the first time. The retreat includes Israeli Dancing, small group activities, and plenty of time for bonding. Beyond the social activities, the students have the unique opportunity to spend time with various faculty members who introduce them to high school life, start their academic and emotional transition from middle to high school, and provide them with numerous study and time management techniques. Finally, and maybe most importantly, the incoming freshman have the occasion to be steeped in the mission and vision of this school with Dr. Bruce Powell, Head of School.

In the 10th Grade, the main themes revolve around tikkun olam (repairing the world), pikuah nefesh (saving a life) and taking care of oneself while staying in a rustic campsite setting over Shabbat. The setting is the Brandeis campus of American Jewish University in Simi Valley. The students are provided hands-on instruction on triage and first aid. They practice these skills in their assigned teams and also learn how to use an emergency radio, practice rescue scenarios, and transport injured victims. The trip includes a staged trauma scene where the students form rescue teams, locate the “injured” (mainly teachers and a few students play these roles), triage, treat, and transport the “injured.” Students have the unique opportunity to dialogue with an adolescent motivational speaker and health educator whose mission is to help teens navigate life as informed and confident young people with positive self-identities. At the end of the trip, parents also meet with the same health educator to learn about open communication with teens and acquire strategies for understanding adolescence.

The 11th Grade participates in a Civil Rights Journey through the American South, exploring both the American and Jewish response to the move towards equality and a color-blind society. This journey features explorations of important sites of the Civil Rights Movement, including Atlanta, Georgia, Birmingham, and Montgomery, Alabama, Tupelo, Mississippi, and ending in Memphis, Tennessee. We meet and converse with people who were in the forefront of this movement as well as participate in many other exciting events. A highlight of the trip is visiting the home of rock and roll (Elvis Presley’s Graceland) and learning how music influenced the road to freedom. The students learn and experience the drive, focus, and will to make such a large change in society.

The 12th Grade travels to New Orleans. This trip is a final and especially unique experience for the seniors that culminates the values and vision of their time as students at NCJHS. The trip has several components including learning about the New Orleans Jewish community, discussions about the current status of New Orleans at the site of the levees in the Lower 9th Ward, meeting with a local community to discuss the impact of the destruction of their homes/church/community center and engage in a multi-day service project, walking tour of the French Quarter to understand the multi-cultural influences that make up New Orleans, the production of a carnival for local children at a community center, and a celebratory evening of live jazz and community bonding.