New York School Highlights Incredible Innovation at Celebrate Israel Parade
After a three-year hiatus, students from one Westchester school will be marching down Fifth Avenue this Sunday, with musical instruments that show off their skills in technology as part of the Celebrate Israel Parade.
Students from Westchester Torah Academy, known as WTA in New Rochelle, will march playing 3-D printed instruments, which they designed themselves. The instruments were made as part of WTA’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) program. WTA places a high value on technology, says Head of School Deganit Ronen.
“We are so excited to be at the parade with instruments made by 3-D printers,” Ronen said. “We pride ourselves on innovation and progressive education — our students are able to do things you don’t see everywhere else.”
She credited White Plains resident David Merel, the school’s Director of Operations and Technology, for helping students to be on the cutting edge.
Merel did not take a typical route to the school. He is the founder and CEO of several technology companies and a phone company that he has built to self-sufficiency over the past 15 years.
Three years ago, he had an accident where he fell off a ladder while helping a neighbor, and feared he might not be able to walk again. During his recovery from multiple surgeries, he heard that WTA needed help upgrading Internet access, and volunteered to assist. While the school was quoted a price of $30,000, he was able to do it for $2,000.
Inspired by the school’s mission, vision, and philosophy, Merel became more involved and has been there ever since. He now runs the school’s operations and the STEAM lab, where he teaches students how to disassemble and assemble computers, build and program robots, design and run 3-D printers, and more.
“Life is full of surprises,” Merel said. “I come from a business background, and I never would have expected to be doing what I’m doing now. But when I got a small sample of seeing students learn and empowering students through technology, I knew that I had found my passion. I love getting up and going to school every morning, knowing that I am able to use my technology skills to help our students thrive in today’s IT-driven world.”
Ronen praised Merel for his passion and humility, which she said are among the core values of the school.
In 8th grade, WTA students take the skills they have learned over their years at school, and use them to help local families or institutions. “This program instills in our students the concept that all Jews are responsible for the welfare of each other,” Merel said.
Visiting the school on two occasions, Aryeh Majerowicz, Vice President of Administration for the Gruss Foundation, said that WTA’s model was one that other schools should emulate.
The school of 216 students and 38 teachers begins with three-year-olds, and goes to 8th grade. Ronen said that prior to middle school, students learn in small groups through blended learning. The middle school has adopted the Summit Learning Platform, whose three pillars are mentoring, project-based learning, and self-direction.
The author is a writer based in New York.