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Teacher Eileen Curtis with some of her students at the Irma Penn School

If you are a grandparent, you may have grown up going to a Jewish school after public school was over for the day. But, today, that is not the norm.
Eileen Curtis, a teacher at Irma Penn School of Jewish Learning at Winnipeg’s Temple Shalom, is helping to change this paradigm, while incorporating some new ways of teaching.





The school is named after the late Irma Penn, who was the first female soferet (scribe), and who was a member of Temple Shalom.
Curtis grew up in Winnipeg and spent nearly 15 years teaching in Regina, before moving back to Winnipeg to work at Brock Corydon School. She retired from teaching at Brock Corydon in 2014.

Curtis, however, has been teaching at Temple Shalom since 1995, having assumed several different teaching positions there, as well as the role of school administrator.
“We undertook a project this past year called ‘Twinning the Education,’” said Curtis. “It is a program we’re doing with Regina’s Isaac and Celia Berenbaum Hebrew School, a likely choice for a number of reasons.
“One reason was that the enrolment in both programs is similar. And, having been connected to schools in Regina also played into the decision. Knowing their teacher, knowing their staff, it just felt like it would be a good fit.
“Also, Regina is not really that far away. So, should we ever want to plan a joint program where the students would actually get to meet their new friends, we could do that.”

Students from both schools were partnered up and each student wrote an introductory letter to their partner, sharing information about themselves and the program.
Last Purim, students from each school sent Mishloach Manot packages to one another and a video conference was scheduled.
“The purpose was to connect our students with Jewish students in another community to hopefully do some joint teaching,” said Curtis. “We began with writing letters and introducing ourselves. So, students actually had a tactile piece that they could hold on to from their friend, and the children included a photo which went in a package along with Mishloach Manot.
“Once that was done, we decided to set up a time and date for teleconferencing, so the students could meet their partners virtually and so we could share what lessons in our classroom and what our classroom looked like. The children got to speak independently to their new friends.”

The schools are hoping to continue with this project in the fall.
“At some point, our ultimate goal is to be to find a place, midway between Regina and Winnipeg, to hold a Shabbat retreat weekend,” said Curtis.
The Irma Penn School of Jewish Learning is a Sunday school program, which also offers Hebrew classes on Wednesday evenings. Sunday classes operate from 10:30 am-12:30 pm, and Wednesday classes are from 4:30 pm-6:30pm.
Students can start classes as early as Grade 1 and can continue up through Grade 7.

The hope is to open up the school to younger children, ages three-to-five, if enough people request it. “Currently, I teach in the Wednesday program, doing the Hebrew classes – conversational Hebrew, reading, Jewish studies, and holidays,” explained Curtis.
“We’re always looking for new families and new students – whether the families are looking for an overall experience of having the Hebrew, and/more of a religious education for their student. We offer both.
“Some of our students join us both on Wednesday and Sunday, some who only join us for Hebrew on Wednesday, and some who only join us for the religious education on Sunday.”

This year, the school is introducing new pre-Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah classes, teaching students how to read the Torah, chant a Haftorah, conduct services, adopt a Tikun Olam project, and learn more about the Jewish and secular community of Winnipeg.
“I think the best way to describe our school is that we’re very family-friendly,” said Curtis. “We’re small, we’re intimate, and we offer a good, solid Jewish background for our students.”

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