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Robbins celebrates 50 years

Tags: Jewish learning News
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Robbins Hebrew Academy head of school Claire Sumerlus, centre, enjoys RHA’s 50th anniversary celebration with Grade 8 students, from left, Max Starkman, Jordan Allen, Aaron Good, Harry Worb, Raquel Benitah and Carly Abrahams. [Michelle Bitran photo]

TORONTO — Kids from junior kindergarten through Grade 8 arrived by the busload to the grounds of the Prosserman Jewish Community Centre last Thursday to celebrate the Robbins Hebrew Academy’s (RHA) 50th anniversary.

The school celebrated its milestone birthday earlier this year with a gala event for parents, staff and alumni, but Thursday’s outdoor activity-filled celebration was just for kids.

 “The school is really about the kids,” said Claire Sumerlus, the RHA head of school, adding that it was important to her that the children get the opportunity to celebrate the school’s half-century mark in a way that would be fun for them. “We figured, ‘What’s better than a field day, or a fun day?’” she said.

Fun was certainly on the agenda as the students swooped around and through hula hoops, kicked soccer balls and knocked down plastic bowling pins, hardly noticing the chilly spring weather.

The students, who were bussed in from both the Bathurst Street and Bayview Avenue campuses, were also treated to hotdogs, cake and lemonade to keep up their energy for the obstacle courses and sports activities.

“Even though this is only a snapshot of these 50 years, this is what the school is about,” said Sumerlus, motioning to the students playing together, the older students guiding the younger ones through the activities.

Sumerlus, who has been the head of school at RHA for the last three years, explained that an outdoor, active celebration was chosen as a way to promote physical activity among the students. This is part of the school’s ongoing effort to increase physical activity, which is most noticeable in the recent implementation of a 20-minute exercise period before the start of the school day for students in grades 1 through 5.

Another important aspect of the event was the leadership of the grades 7 and 8 students. Many of these students arrived early to set up the obstacle course stations, and later they were leading and instructing the younger grades through their rotations at each of the stations.

“They are the leaders of the school,” said Sumerlus proudly of the older students. She also noted that although the students had come from two different campuses, many of them had gotten to know one another through joint school events, and were able to get along well and to work together. Sumerlus said that she hopes to increase the number of joint campus events, so that the students are able to bond more.

RHA began at its Bathurst campus location as a Beth Tzedec Synagogue school in 1957 and became an independent school, under the name United Synagogue Day School (USDS), in the 1961-62 school year.

Today, the Bathurst campus still operates out of Beth Tzedec, and since 1969, the Bayview campus has been running out of Beth Tikvah Synagogue. A Richmond Hill campus was opened in 1987, but was closed in 2006. The school is an affiliate of the Conservative movement’s Schechter Day School Network, but teaches students from all branches of Judaism.

USDS became RHA in 2010, after Toronto builder and USDS grandparent Larry Robbins gave a $4-million gift to the school in memory of his late wife, Miriam.

Throughout its history, RHA has continued to provide Judaic and general studies education to hundreds of children each year from preschool through Grade 8, something that Sumerlus takes great pride in. “It’s a really exciting place to be,” she said of the school. “It’s an amazing feat to say we’ve been educating Jewish children for 50 years.”

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