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Jewish Day School, DU School Psychologist Work Toward Being Mensch

With shared commitments to spiritual and religious values, Catholic Duquesne University and the Jewish Community Day School in Squirrel Hill have forged a partnership that strengthens both institutions.

It's all about being a mensch-a Yiddish term that connotes an upright person in the community-and finding a disciplinary system to reward and support 274 K-8th-grade students, in keeping with Jewish laws and traditions.

Dr. Kara McGoey, associate professor of school psychology in Duquesne's School of Education's Department of Counseling, Psychology and Special Education, has worked for two years with Avi Munro, head of school for Community Day School, and the school's educational staff on the plan to reward children for doing the right thing.

"Avi saw this curriculum and thought it would work, but it was more main stream, not based on Jewish law and traditions," McGoey said. "Positive behavior support is my background, but I didn't know anything about Jewish law and traditions. Together, we could match what they were trying to do with the principles of positive behavior support to set up a system for their school."

McGoey and her graduate students visit the school weekly to team with the teachers, providing more support to students who need individual counseling, social skills groups or teacher consultations, as well as evaluations and behavioral interventions.

As students grow in stature in their communities, they strive to be menschy, doing good and caring for people. While the reward for good behavior is intrinsic, the Mensch Project intermittently catches children being good and recognizes them with a mensch card. The cards are seen as a group accomplishment (among the school's 12 inter-grade level tribes of Israel) and, periodically, the tribe with the most mensch cards earns a privilege like a dress-down day.

"We appreciate the partnership as an incredible value-added component for our school," Munro said. "Duquesne University graduate students are able to maintain and compile data on a weekly basis that allow us to monitor and improve our program. At the same time, they are gaining valuable field experiences at our school. Dr. McGoey is recognized for the expertise and objectivity she brings to this initiative, and she has earned the respect of our parents, staff, and board members for this work."

Now that McGoey sees how the curriculum can be customized, she's interested in adapting positive behavior support to a culturally relevant program for urban African-American schools.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.