Our RSS Story: Teaching and Parenting at a Jewish Day School

An interview with RSS parents Laurie and Joe Rayman P’ 21, ’21. Laurie is also a member of the RSS Faculty.


What do you both do for a living?

Laurie: I am a 4th Grade Learning Specialist here at RSS, where I have taught for almost 14 years. I enjoy inspiring children to develop a lifelong interest in learning and to become enthusiastic, confident, and socially responsible leaders. I feel very fortunate to be surrounded by wonderful children and to be able to work with such talented and dedicated colleagues.

Joe: I am a neuroscientist at Columbia University, where I study the biology of learning and memory with respect to both normal brain function as well as in pathological conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

That’s interesting that you are both connected to learning but from different perspectives. Did your backgrounds inform your decision to send your twin daughters to RSS?

Joe: Not really. I work with molecules, not people, so I have no expertise in the pedagogy of live children. In that regard, when it comes to helping Lucy and Nora with homework, Laurie is the go-to parent. (Truth be told, Laurie is the go-to parent 90% of the time.) Fortunately, her expertise with kids also includes a deft capacity for dealing with social drama and pre-teen angst, for which I am woefully ill-equipped.

Laurie: Joe is definitely underestimating his role there! So, we made the decision together to send our girls to RSS mainly because we consider the quality of education to be the single, most important priority. RSS has an outstanding and inspiring curriculum infused with Jewish values and ethics. Here at RSS, students are not taught what to think, but how to think. This was obvious from the moment I walked into RSS in the Spring of 2004 for my job interview. As I toured the building, I saw enthusiastic students asking lots of questions to talented teachers who facilitated class discussions in engaging ways. I sensed a genuine joy for learning and growing as a community. Fourteen years later, I still feel lucky to be a teacher at RSS, and even more fortunate that my children are able to benefit from such an amazing education.

Beyond the education, are there other notable aspects of RSS that attracted you to the school?

Laurie: In addition to stellar academics and outstanding teachers, RSS students are nurtured by a warm and loving community of peers, families, faculty, and clergy. From a very young age, children learn to build relationships, celebrate with friends, and support each other through challenging times. In the uncertain world that we live in today, we are incredibly grateful that our children enter the school building each day knowing that everyone inside those doors is there for them.

Joe: Laurie had already taught at RSS for several years before Lucy and Nora became students, so I already knew a fair amount about the school through her experiences. I would say that I like the fact that RSS is attuned to current events and encourages a contemporary understanding of the world. I also like the emphasis on social justice and responsibility. I think the school attracts families who want their children to become good citizens and have a positive impact on society, which is what we want for our daughters as well.

Did you always plan to have your children educated in a Jewish day school?

Joe: Not at all. I grew up in a military family, and we were members of many boring synagogues located in the middle of nowhere (Dad, are you sure there are Jews here?). I especially disliked the fact that some synagogues expected us to attend religious classes on both Sunday and Wednesday afternoons. This was problematic when I was in high school because I was on the rowing team, and with one less oarsman on one side of the boat, my teammates had to make do with paddling around in circles on Wednesdays. So when Laurie and I first entertained the prospect of sending our children to RSS, I was hit with a vague feeling that they would have the same counterproductive experience that I had. Fortunately, RSS has completely changed my thinking on what a Jewish education can be, and I couldn’t be happier about our decision.

Laurie: People are surprised to learn that I am not actually Jewish. The idea of sending our children to a Jewish day school only materialized when Joe and I got married. As an interfaith family, we have always felt welcomed and supported at both RSS and CRS, and I am grateful to my many colleagues for helping me learn some Hebrew over the years!

What makes you most proud as parents?

Laurie: I am most proud of the fact that Lucy and Nora are kind, compassionate, and socially conscious 10-year-olds. These values have been shaped in large part by their experiences at RSS. They understand the importance of thinking critically and contributing to the betterment of society.

Joe: I concur.

What kind of activities do you enjoy doing together as a family?

Joe: Going to the Intrepid Museum and marveling at the SR-71 (technically speaking, it’s an A-12). Ok, maybe I’m the only one who likes that museum, but Laurie, Lucy, and Nora do a good job of humoring me. Of course, I happily return the favor when we all go to a Broadway musical.

Laurie: In addition to the theater, we enjoy exploring Governor’s Island and other historical sights around the city. We particularly like to visit the Morris-Jumel Mansion and Hamilton Grange in Harlem.

On a completely different note, what books are on your nightstands?

Laurie: For adult reading, I am reading This Fight is Our Fight by Elizabeth Warren. As far as children’s books go, I am reading Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, which I highly recommend. Nora is reading Jake and Lily by Jerry Spinelli, and Lucy is reading The Last Present by Wendy Mass (both purchased at the RSS Book Fair).

Joe: I just finished reading a book called The Gene, An Intimate History by fellow Columbia scientist Siddhartha Mukherjee. Highly recommended.

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