Friday, January 6, 2012

Paula Spack - Giving her Heart and Soul

After talking to first grade teacher Paula Spack (fondly known as Morah P’nina), it seems no one could love teaching as much as she. And clearly, Morah P’nina was born to teach at Golda Och Academy.
“You can’t ask for a better place to be,” said Morah P’nina, a teacher with Golda Och Academy for 23 years and counting.
The 1984 graduate of the former Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union pointed out, “I have spent more than half my life in this school!”
She said her love for teaching began at an early age. As a high school student, Morah P’nina was always finding ways to spend time with the younger school children and would often get passes from her teachers to do so.
“I knew then that I wanted to be in education,” she said. “It’s in my blood. My grandfather, alav hashalom , was a teacher at our school.”
Over the years, Morah P’nina has taught kindergarten through fifth grade, both Judaic and general studies, at Golda Och Academy, including teaching integrated classrooms. Instead of students having one teacher for Judaic studies and another for general studies, “I taught them every subject,” she said. “I was the general and Judaics teacher.” It is not unusual to hear Morah P’nina speak Hebrew to her students when teaching math or other general studies subjects. Her classes are fully integrated.
“I love the little ones and being there at the very beginning of their learning,” she said.
Morah P’nina’s daughter, Liat Kessler, graduated GOA in 2010 and was on a gap year in Israel last year. She is now at Muhlenberg College. Her sons – Avi and Shachar Kessler – are current students at GOA, in grades 11 and 6, respectively. She also has two step-children who are former GOA students - Yael and Jonah Nelson.
Morah P’nina also enjoys Israeli dancing. For the past 10 years she has led our Lower School’s Israeli Dance Troupe – Raglayim Shel Zahav.
The third through fifth grade members of the dance troupe practice on Mondays during recess. In April, they performed in the Israel Folk Dance Festival and Festival of the Arts in New York City. They have also performed at community events, the JCC, and senior homes.
“I danced with this troupe when I was a kid,” she said. “We have three kids whose parents danced in it when they were younger.”
Israeli dancing is her passion, according to Morah P’nina. Every Rosh Chodesh, students at the Lower School start the day with Israeli dancing. “It connects the kids to Israel in another way,” she said. “It’s connected to celebration.”
As if all this weren’t enough to keep her busy, Morah P’nina also writes and directs the fifth grade Moving Up ceremony at the Lower School, and this year she is also in charge of the first grade Siddur Play.
The Caldwell resident is also active at Congregation Agudath Israel of West Essex, where she is a regular Torah reader and leads children’s Shabbat services.
From teaching to dancing to leading services, all of what she does centers around her devotion to Judaism, said Morah P’nina.
“It’s important to me as a Conservative Jewish woman to be an example to the students,” she said. “I plan on, God willing, being here several more years. I put my heart and soul in this place.”

For previous GO Behind the Scenes, click below:
Sandra Charlap