Distance Learning at Montgomery County Jewish Day Schools

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By Devora Solomon and Rebecca Shaid

The first two cases of COVID-19 in Montgomery county, home to Perelman Jewish Day School, both Stern and Forman Centers, and Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, were confirmed on March 7. It only took five days until, on March 12, Gov. Tom Wolf announced the closing of all schools in Montgomery county beginning the following day. 

Perelman Jewish Day School followed the advice from Wolf as it was released, and immediately made plans for online and at-home learning. So far, there have been two phases of Perelman’s distance learning plan with a third on the way. Phase one was a continuation of the “Boker Tov” (Good Morning) meetings that students usually participate in each morning at school. These meetings last about an hour and are used to update students on the situation as it develops. The school is currently in phase two, which includes one period of Jewish studies and one period of general studies a day along with the “Boker Tov” meetings and daily services. While this phase incorporates much more learning than in phase one, Perelman hopes to add even more opportunities for learning in phase three which has yet to be announced. 

The students have appreciated the online classes and creative at-home projects such as  practicing math by calculating the area and perimeter of several rooms in their houses. Perelman has worked hard and “done [their] best to create a compromise between screen time for the younger children and creative learning at home” said Mindy Andelman, Perelman Director of Admissions. Students have been experiencing expected difficulties, however, with the lack of in-person attention, and the administrators have been facing the challenge of making learning schedules that accommodates everyone’s needs and desires. 

Perelman had to quickly create an infrastructure of technology including emails, google suite, and canvas and guarantee that all students had the access to the technology they needed and were able to use it. The teachers have stepped up and made the most for the children, ensuring that they are eager to learn and experience sparks of normalcy in these unprecedented times. 

In addition to operating classes, Perelman has provided non-academic programming that has had great response. Storytime with the principal, baking classes, and indoor recess have been full of students enthusiastic about spending more time with their teachers and deepening their already strong connection to both their teachers and the school. 

Similar to Perelman, when schools closed on March 13, Barrack teachers responded immediately, making a plan to continue the curriculum without losing any content or depth. The teachers were all already “experts in their field, but they had to become experts overnight in teaching online,” which is a whole new ball-game for any teacher, Barrack administrator and parent Jen Groen said. Barrack teachers did not waste a minute as classes reconvened online on March 18, giving them only a short three days to adjust to the new technology and consider any family needs that they needed to attend to in this time of uncertainty. 

Unlike some high schools who are continuing learning with at-home, individual assignments, Barrack provides a full day of online classes, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The problems that arose from distance learning were all immediate and obvious, accompanied by swift and effective responses.  Barrack has been very open to feedback and implementing new procedures where it can. For example, Barrack has been posting videos every morning from the Dean of Students, Dr. Darin Katz, which includes information a student might need for that particular school day. 

Barrack has also been putting particular emphasis on keeping up with student’s Social Emotional Learning during this time. Groen explained that this is not just distance learning, it is learning in a time of crisis. Most importantly, they must respond to the needs of the community and try to understand what is going on with every family. Barrack’s guidance counselor, Amy Grolnick, has been reaching out to students, and the Physical Education department has been sending out instructional videos to keep students active. This is certainly a time of uncertainty for everyone, but Barrack has been doing its best to keep fulfilling each student’s academic, physical, and emotional needs. 

Both Barrack Hebrew Academy and Perelman Jewish Day School have truly made learning possible for the students and given them sparks of normalcy while being stuck at home. Teachers, Administrators, parents, and students have all worked together to not only get through the day, but also to create experiences that students will remember and use to build character. The students living and learning through this crisis will come out the other side stronger and with a better idea of what it means to be a leader. As the students come together each day, they can see the true and widespread effects of this strong Jewish community.

Devora Solomon of Wynnewood and Rebecca Shaid of Merion Station are both senior at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy.

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