Staff Profile: Education Director Mandy Herlich
Students returning to Emanuel Congregation Religious School this fall will find a new approach to learning, initiated by Education Director Mandy Herlich, to help children adjust to in-person classes.
“On Sundays, we are focusing heavily on community this year,” Mandy explains. “As it will be our only in-person day of ECRS and our homecoming after a year of remote learning, I really want to emphasize how good it is to be together.”
After the all-ages family service on Sunday mornings, students will split into grade-level classes to examine seven Jewish values through the Shalom Learning curriculum, which tailors its lessons for each age group. To help build a positive relationship with Hebrew, the K-3 students will learn from Hebrew Through Movement sessions, while older kids can follow their interests and pick from a variety of fun electives. All K-6 students will have music classes with Music Director Ruthie Seidner.
During the week, students in fourth, fifth and sixth grade will have one-on-one sessions with their Hebrew teachers.
“Giving parents the opportunity to schedule lessons directly with their teachers fosters a huge amount of added flexibility for families,” Mandy says. “Students are now free to explore their passions (competitive sports teams, lessons, etc.) without having to keep 4:30-6:00 on Tuesdays free on their calendars for Hebrew school. In addition, students will be able to learn Hebrew at their own pace.”
While creating the new learning plan, Mandy drew on advice of the Association for Reform Jewish Educators and colleagues from across the country. She then brought her ideas to the ECRS Leadership Team.
“I learned a lot last year and took notes of what was most successful and most challenging throughout our year of online learning,” says Mandy. “It was also my first year at Emanuel, so I paid special attention to our unique community and what best supported learning within it.”
Mandy knew from a young age that she wanted to pursue a career in Jewish education.
“I grew up in St. Louis with my mom dressing me up for Sunday school each week and taking me with her to our synagogue,” says Mandy. “As a teacher in the school, she got to have bagels in the office with the other teachers before school and I would sit with her and eat as well. I always felt so special being with her in those moments. In third grade, she was my teacher. I remember helping her set up chairs in an airplane formation for our ‘flight’ to Israel. I was inspired, even back then, to be involved in Jewish education.
“As I grew older, I became frustrated sitting through boring Religious School classes that felt irrelevant to my life, yet I always remained engaged. I was confirmed and then even chose to continue on with Hebrew High classes through 12th grade. Heading off to college, I knew I wanted to be involved in the Jewish world professionally, and I knew that it was my responsibility to make positive change in how we educate our youth.”
A graduate of the Tulane University and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Mandy has worked in congregations across the South and in New York and the Chicago area. Most recently, she served as the Director of Lifelong Learning at Temple Beth-El in Northbrook.
“I feel inspired each time I am able to facilitate a quality teacher professional learning session or step into a classroom where students are happy and engaged,” she says. “I love what I do when I can sit one-on-one with a student who is struggling and find a creative way to help them embrace a Jewish value or concept in a way that is meaningful to them as an individual. These moments fill me with gratitude and renew my own love of Judaism.”