Yeshiva Darchei Torah was privileged to welcome the Honorable Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education of the United States, for a tour of its campus in May. Ms. DeVos made history as the first-ever head of the federal Department of Education to visit a yeshiva since the cabinet-level post was created in 1980.
Secretary DeVos, a lifelong champion of school choice, was led on a panoramic tour of the Yeshiva’s 9-acre campus that showcased several salient aspects of its world-renowned educational experience. Accompanying her were the Rosh HaYeshiva and faculty members and lay leaders of the Yeshiva, as well as Rabbis Chaim Dovid Zwiebel and Abba Cohen of Agudath Israel of America.
The first stop was a third-grade classroom, where Rav Yehuda Deutsch was in the midst of a lesson on the shivas haminim. Using props from plastic fruit to freshly baked cookies, the rebbi ensured that the lesson came to life. The Secretary was shown the room’s SMART Board, one of many throughout the building, an example of the Yeshiva’s successful integration of technology in the classroom.
Further down the hallway, Ms. DeVos visited the Willens Literacy Library, where she joined the fourth grade boys in learning about poetry.
The Secretary’s next stop was to one of the crown jewels of the Yeshiva, the Rabenstein Learning Center, where she witnessed some of the 300 students with special-education needs who regularly receive tutoring, therapy and self-contained classroom instruction within the school setting.
After stopping in on Rav Yossi Wieder’s sixth grade class, the tour moved across the campus to the Weiss Vocational Center, a trailblazing program where a select cadre of Mesivta students spend part of their afternoons learning trades such as carpentry, plumbing, electrical contracting and home wiring—in addition to a core curriculum that includes math, sciences and language arts. The Secretary saw a fully-functioning bathroom built from top-to-bottom by the students and watched as a talmid soldered an iron pipe. Another talmid presented her with a gift: a hand-crafted wooden cutting board with an American flag motif.
At Mesivta Chaim Shlomo, Secretary DeVos joined a class of high school bachurim for an enlightening, hands-on chemistry lesson in the state-of-the-art science laboratory.
Arriving at the Yeshiva’s 5,000-square-foot bais hamedrash during first seder was an eye-opener for the Secretary, as the hall reverberated with the sounds of hundreds of bachurim and yungeleit learning at wooden shtenders. She approached one pair, who happily explained to her the basics of studying Gemara with Mefarshim and the efficacy of chavrusa learning. She was also introduced to bachurim with physical disabilities who, in typical Darchei fashion, are fully integrated within the Yeshiva framework.
The delegation then walked across the campus promenade, past the Yeshiva’s spacious ballfields and playgrounds, for a brief visit to a classroom full of precocious children at the Harriet Keilson Early Childhood Center.
The tour was followed by a luncheon meeting with a cross-section of Yeshiva Darchei Torah parents, teachers, alumni and board members, who shared their personal reflections with Secretary DeVos. Among the issues discussed were the success of the Darchei educational model, including its dual curriculum of limudei kodesh and limudei chol; the challenge of tuition affordability; and government funding of programs for children with special needs. Secretary DeVos listened attentively and offered her own perspective on the need for continued advocacy on behalf of school choice, on the federal and state levels.
The Secretary of Education was visibly moved by her visit to the Yeshiva. “I thoroughly enjoyed my visit with the young men of Yeshiva Darchei Torah,” she remarked. “The teachers and entire faculty are preparing them to build successful and well-rounded futures for themselves.”