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Eighth Graders Embark on ‘Passion Projects’ at Solomon Schechter

Student Ari Sobel-Pressman works diligently on his fantasy novel for Solomon Schechter passion project. Photo courtesy of Sherri Pliskin

Eighth-grade students at West Hartford’s Solomon Schechter Day School continue to work on their passion projects, an initiative that began after COVID-19 disrupted travel plans for their school trip to Israel.  

Halayah Schectman working on a 1997 Toyota Chinook. Photo courtesy of Sherri Pliskin.

By Melanie Grados

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the eighth-grade class at Solomon Schechter Day School were unable to take their annual trip to Israel. The school then challenged the eighth-grade class to dedicate the two weeks set aside for the trip toward delving into a topic that deeply interested or inspires them.

Students were asked to make a plan, set goals, and investigate individualized projects. During this time, students were allowed to conference with teachers and mentors to help guide them through the process.

Eighth-grade student Ari Sobel-Pressman dedicated his two weeks toward working on a fantasy novel.

To begin his project, Sobel-Pressman drew a detailed map of the world in which his novel takes place. The story follows the main character, Gray, through his journey in learning lightning magic in a world where its use is considered highly dangerous.

In addition to the detailed map, Sobel-Pressman keeps a separate note-taking document he created where he considers the overall plot of the novel and plans what will happen next. Through the creative process, he has created different types of magic, detailed locations, and conflicts.

Ari Sobel-Pressman writing and creating the map for his fantasy novel. Photo courtesy of Sherri Pliskin.

Sobel-Pressman had been planning the novel for some time but utilized the two-week period allocated by the school as an opportunity to fully immerse himself in his work. He has written more than 23 single-spaced pages since the beginning of the project.

Although the two-week period has ended and Sobel-Pressman is not quite finished, he is planning on completing his novel.

Halaylah Schectman, another eighth-grade student, had a completely different passion project in mind.

She decided to use this time to restore a 1997 Toyota Chinook with her father as a way to learn about the mechanical systems and body of automobiles. The car has been in Schectman’s father’s possession for more than 30 years.

“My father and I have been meaning on working on his collectible [car] for a while but never got around to it, so now was the time to kickstart,” said Schectman.

Although the car is not finished, Schectman made incredible progress in two weeks.

“Here are the things that have been done,” Schectman said, providing the following list: “Small area where body rusted through has been sanded, covered with body tape, fiberglass paste, sanded again, and primed. The front driver’s side tire has been replaced. An auxiliary gas tank has been hooked up. The engine has been warmed up and run with now oil. The battery was also replaced with one of the terminals also being replaced.”

The head of the school, Dr. Andrea RC Kasper, has been thoroughly impressed with the work of her students.

“When you trust young people and give them the opportunity to explore what they truly want … it is astounding and can impress you,” said Kasper.

Solomon Schechter Day School has successfully transitioned into online learning, school administrators said. They aim to continue a sense of structure and social continuity for their students throughout the rest of this school year.

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Melanie Grados

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