Just a few short months ago I received my Certificate in Jewish Education for Adolescents and Emerging Adults from HUC-JIR in the mail. An entire season has passed since I completed my coursework, and life after this program is well underway. This new certificate is proudly displayed on my wall in my office at the American Hebrew Academy, an international Jewish boarding school in Greensboro, North Carolina. Founded in 1996, the Academy was established to provide an outstanding co-educational college preparatory program and Jewish secondary education to intellectually motivated and high achieving Jewish teenagers from around the world. In addition to being the Administrative Coordinator for Student and Jewish Life and a teacher in the Jewish Studies department, I have the honor of being the House Parent for approximately twenty freshmen and sophomore girls.
As I entered my third year at the Academy last year, I knew I wanted to continue my education. I loved the Academy’s ability to create a unique Jewish environment, truly blending formal and experiential learning in a way that I had never seen before. When the new Certificate Program was announced, I jumped at the opportunity presented to me and applied.
My HUC-JIR program was cohort-based, in addition to being a combination of face-to-face seminars and distance learning. We met as a cohort in person three times during the year in addition to taking online courses via videoconferencing technology. Our very first class, taught by Dr. Betsy Stone (a warm, funny and charismatic psychotherapist and HUC-JIR adjunct faculty member), focused on adolescent development and emerging adulthood. Fascinated to learn the science behind the teenage brain, I began to create a knowledge base of adolescent psychology based on fact, rather than my own personal experiences. My favorite lesson I learned from Betsy defined the term “emerging adult.” As we learned about the identifying characteristics of emerging adulthood, such as marriage, job stability, kids, and so on, I came to a slightly terrifying realization. This was about me but I hadn’t yet achieved any of the milestones mentioned above! I was not alone in my realization as the younger part of our cohort came to the same conclusion, while the more mature end of our cohort probably giggled as we panicked. The most interesting fact of the day came at the end of the class; your brain doesn’t really finish developing until you are 25 years old! In fact, emerging adults are really just teenagers without the raging hormones.
When I heard these facts about brains still growing until this age it was if a light bulb went off in my head. The Academy has a Fellowship program designed for recent college graduates to work and live on campus with students doing social, educational and Jewish programming with the students. In return, they gain work experience by having various internships on campus geared towards their interests. We expect that these staff members are adults, regardless of where they are developmentally. My HUC-JIR course has resulted in me giving serious thought to the idea of restructuring our program with the understanding that emerging adults have different needs than adults.
This past summer, when it came time to brainstorm for a keynote speaker for our Student Life Staff Orientation, it was a “no–brainer” (no pun intended!) My campus invited Dr. Stone to spend several of our sessions teaching about adolescent development and counseling skills to enable us to better work with our students. My time learning at HUC-JIR has already extended beyond the virtual classroom. I am still in close contact with my cohort, amazed by the bonds we developed in just nine months.
Kelly Kossar is the Administrative Coordinator for Student & Jewish Life, a synagogue skills teacher and Beit Shalom (Freshman & Sophomore Girls) House Parent for 20 awesome teens at the American Hebrew Academy (http://www.americanhebrewacademy.org), an international Jewish boarding school in Greensboro, North Carolina. In her non-existent free time she enjoys singing, learning guitar, figuring out how to transition from being an emerging adult to adulthood and blogging at http://www.reformingjew.blogspot.com