Chicago Jewish Day School makes ‘exodus’ to new campus

One of the guiding principles in designing the building was that “the classroom is like another teacher.”  

CJDS exodus image
Chicago Jewish Day School students “flying” on their new campus’ mobile stools, part of the school’s focus on allowing students to define their own learning spaces. Photo credit: Abbe Vallen.

Chicago Jewish Day School has made its long-anticipated move to a new campus in Chicago's Irving Park neighborhood, a permanent home that includes state-of-the-art classrooms, central worship and learning spaces, and extensive athletic and recreational facilities designed to enhance the school's commitment to academic excellence.

The multi-denominational, progressive Jewish day school's new campus spans 2.6 acres of buildings and playlots, encompassing most of the city block on California between Waveland and Grace. It boasts high-tech gear in every classroom and spaces big enough for the whole school to come together to pray and play.

"The new campus is a combination of old and new, as we repurposed an existing property, but added all the bells and whistles one would want in a school setting," said Anat Geva, president of the CJDS Board of Directors. "We are thrilled to now be able to house this rich school experience in a state-of-the-art facility that enhances the education of our students, producing empowered and engaged citizens.

"We would not be where we are today, were it not for the vision of the school's founders, the dedication of our faculty, staff, parents, and loyal community supporters," Geva said. "We are also forever grateful to JUF and lead gifts from the Crown-Goodman family, Betsy Gidwitz, and two anonymous donors."

A constellation of new buildings is nestled between a ball field and a future playground-which will have a permanent gaga pit. The new facilities feature a library and media center, gym, and beit midrash , which serves as a central gathering space for services and other school-wide activities. Phase Two of the project will feature science and art labs and a food court-style cafeteria.

One of the guiding principles in designing the building was that "the classroom is like another teacher," said Cortney Stark Cope, director of Admissions.

Collaboration is a major value for students, baked into the very design. School desks, work tables, and chairs are on wheels. Each floor has open spaces with abstract, modular tables and chairs. The front foyer, called the "mercaz"(Hebrew for "center"), is designed to spark ideas and friendships. Walls are covered in corkboards and dry-erase material to help students personalize their space, and students made their own mezuzot , which will be affixed on doorways throughout the campus.

The school has been multi-denominational since its inception; Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform rabbis were all consulted as it developed its curriculum. The secular and religious coursework is "integrated," meaning that while the history unit focuses on, for example, the Thanksgiving story, the Jewish unit discusses the Torah's teachings about how Jews are often "strangers in a strange land."

CJDS opened its doors in 2003 with seven students, and now has more than 220 students enrolled.

The school made the move to the new campus with assistance from the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, which provided loan guarantees and helped CJDS negotiate for critical financing to purchase and redevelop the property. JFMC Facilities Corp provided guidance and supervision to the school during construction, including expert consultation on security issues.

The lead gifts were made through the JUF/Federation's Centennial Campaign, and CJDS is also supported by JUF's Day School Guaranty Trust Fund.

Former CJDS president Adam Levine serves as New Campus Project Chair, and CJDS Founding President, Wendy Platt Newberger, serves as its Capital Campaign Chair.

"Moving to our incredible new space will not only give us a place to call home, but the campus will enhance the excellent education that we already provide on a daily basis," said Judy Finkelstein-Taff, CJDS's Head of School.  "We are excited to enter this new chapter and can't wait to share our new campus with the Chicago Jewish community."

Check out this video on the first day of school at the new campus  .  

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