A longtime educator at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Raritan Valley in East Brunswick was recently honored by a former student who credited her current success to her teacher’s influence.
Adina Schwartz of East Brunswick, who will graduate this month with a degree in neurophysiology from the University of Maryland, was named a Philip Merrill Presidential Scholar as one of the school’s 25 most outstanding seniors.
When the scholars were feted at a university luncheon, each was joined by a former educator from their kindergarten through high school years and a university faculty member they considered to be their greatest mentors.
Schwartz invited Linda Benish, a Schechter teacher for 28 years. “She was probably one of the most amazing teachers I ever had,” said Schwartz. “She brought education to life.”
Schwartz named Dr. Daphne Soares, who runs the Soares Lab in Neuroethology at the university, as her faculty mentor.
In a phone interview with NJJN, Schwartz said Benish gave her a sense of empowerment and confidence beyond the classroom.
“She taught me to leyn Torah in the fifth grade and then I had her again in later years for English and history,” she said. “Even outside the classroom I would talk to her about various decisions. She taught me a love of learning. She introduced me to a world beyond the classroom and textbooks. I remember her always pushing me to be the best and helping me to find out where my strengths are.”
In a congratulatory letter to Schwartz, Schechter head of school Rabbi Stuart Saposh said Benish’s honor “is just one of the numerous examples of her contributions to Schechter’s next generation over the years. We are honored and blessed to have Linda on our faculty.”
Benish told NJJN her selection illustrated the important role teachers can play in the life of a child.
“We as teachers have to think about every word we say because you never know how they will influence a student,” she said. “When we talked, Adina had such vivid memories of what was said in my classes. I realized this is what I do every day, but it’s astonishing to think of the impact it had on a student.”
Benish, a Monroe resident, taught public school in Chicago and Maryland before moving to New Jersey. She teaches English and history to the upper grades in the K-eight SSDS school and organizes morning services. She is also coordinator of the school’s annual Magnificent Monday fund-raising program to support the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County.
Benish has been invited to National Honor Society inductions by former students in the past, but nothing like this, she said.
“This is very special,” she said. “Every once in a while I think of retiring. Maybe sometime in the future, but I have a hard time envisioning life not in a classroom.”
Schwartz, 23, is the daughter of Felene Weinstein and Michael Schwartz of East Brunswick. While a student at the university, she received a Howard Hughes Medical Institute fellowship, which allowed her to travel to Ecuador to study native cave fish. She is now applying to medical school.
As part of the scholars program, a $1,000 college scholarship in the educator’s name will be awarded in June to a graduating high school senior from the sending school district of the honored student and teacher.
However, since Schwartz, after graduating from SSDS, went to Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, which school will receive the scholarship remains undecided, said university undergraduate studies assistant dean Lisa Kiely, who said she would discuss the matter with Benish.
Schwartz, who already has discussed the matter with her former teacher, said, “We definitely want it to go to a former Schechter student.”