By Carol Hershenson
Schools in Ohio have been closed by state order from Mar. 17 through at least May 1 (updated on Monday, Mar. 30), and it is possible that they may not reopen during this school year. Several of the Jewish schools in Cincinnati, both day schools and supplementary religious schools, have pivoted to distance learning methodologies to continue their students’ educations during the shutdown.
Cincinnati Hebrew Day School and Atara High School for Girls:
Cincinnati Hebrew Day School (preschool through grade 8) and Atara High School for Girls (grades 9-12), both Orthodox day schools, continue to teach through distance learning during the mandated school closing. Synchronous classes via Zoom are being conducted (real-time lessons with the teachers) in core subjects, such as Jewish Law and Science, but asynchronous projects and independent work have also been expanded.
Administration has also been adjusted to the new circumstances; administrators visit the Zoom classes to ensure that students are learning, and the homework policy has been revised to allow for more independent work.
Rabbi Yitzchok Goldstein, principal at Cincinnati Hebrew Day School, stressed the psychological imperative to continue education, as an important life lesson in flexibility and resiliency for the students. Mrs. Penina Teitelbaum, principal of Atara, added “Students cannot afford to lose weeks to months of lessons. Ultimately, we are a school, and inside or outside the physical confines of our building, our mission is to educate.”
Congregation Beth Adam - Our Village school
Our Village is the supplementary religious school of Congregation Beth Adam, a congregation that lists humanistic principles first among their core values. The education at Our Village is “based in creativity,” according to educator Rabbi David Burstein, who added that “the hands-on education of Our Village is a natural fit to move online.”
Rabbi Burstein is reaching out to every school family every week to maintain connections. He is conducting virtual “play dates” with the students and offering meditations for children; since the students do meditation and yoga in their normal in-person classes, these practices are familiar to them. He is also hosting weekly meetings with parents.
“Our Village Unplugged” is scheduled to start Sunday, Apr. 5, offering religious school via Zoom with an art session with Israeli artist Hanoch Piven, who will be Zoomed in from Barcelona. With Piven’s guidance, each family will create a found art project using materials from their homes. One objective of the lesson is to point out to the students the beauty and creativity available to them in their own homes, to which they are currently confined. The following Sunday, the artworks will be presented in a Gallery view. As families prepare for Passover, another project for students will be to put their own family into the Haggadah; this continues in a distance-learning format the co-creativity and collaboration that are normal components of Jewish education at Our Village. The school year will conclude on the last Sunday in April with a virtual dance party and ice cream sundaes.
Kulanu: Cincinnati Reform Jewish High School
Kulanu, the supplementary Reform high school that would normally meet on Sunday evenings, has also pivoted to a distance learning format. Rather than attempt to move all the varied elective class subjects that they normally offer online, their distance learning via Zoom has two offerings each week; the first class block is a meeting hosted by the clergy from each of their four participating temples (Rockdale, Sholom, Valley, and Wise) for students from that temple, and the second is an all-school experience like include a musical concert for Kulanu by noted leading songwriting/musician Dan Nichols, or a community wide teen program with teens from throughout the larger community. The new virtual format began on Mar. 28 with a virtual Havdalah led by clergy from the four Reform temples that participate in Kulanu.
Nina Loftspring, Kulanu Dirctor, said “We hope to keep our students connected to one another, to their rabbis and congregations, and to their sense of community and continued learning; we believe that the bonds of community and Jewish life can anchor our students even more deeply during this unprecedented time.”
Ohr Torah Cincinnati:
Ohr Torah Cincinnati (preprimary through grade 7), an Orthodox Jewish day school with a focus on “whole-child” education, has rolled out its remote learning program in stages.
In the first stage, on Friday, Mar.13, OTC sent its students home with initial learning materials to cover student learning for two days while its team of educators and administrators constructed a framework and plans for rolling out OTC’s Remote Learning Program.
In the second stage, a three week plan for the initial state-announced close down, OTC distributed Chromebooks and other critical resources and materials to families. OTC’s Remote Learning Program, introduced to families via emails, began the next day.
OTC is using some synchronous experiences via Zoom, which are recorded so that students can also access them at alternative times, conference calls to provide group phone-in experiences, and asynchronous experiences via Google Classroom for a variety of information, assignments, lessons and activities that students can access on an ongoing basis. One Google Classroom is devoted to “Wellness”, with a variety of resources and activities.
OTC has now reached a third stage in their planning and implementation of extended remote learning, since the period has been expanded beyond the initial three weeks by state order.
Dr. Chaviva Randolph, Head of School, explained that “In anticipation of this announcement, Ohr Torah’s team of educators and administrators has been working to develop a framework and plans for us to be ready to shift into providing an extended phase to our Remote Learning Program, which will begin following our return from Pesach Break.” She emphasized OTC’s commitment to provide students and families with continuity of positive school culture and dual-curriculum learning.
Rockwern Academy (preschool through grade 8), an inclusive Jewish day school, launched their remote-learning formats successively in order for all participants to adjust to their new routines. They are further training teachers on the distance-learning platforms while the teachers determine what will work best for their classes. Anticipating the closure, materials students will need were sent home with them on the last day of in-person classes, Mar. 19.
Teachers have been in communication with all families. Students in grades K-8 have daily synchronous sessions with their teachers, and a weekly email is sent to families with all assignments The student support team (school counselor, speech language pathologist, reading specialists, and gifted specialist) are all continuing to offer support remotely to students.
Additional virtual activities to provide community connection to the Rockwern families have included a Shabbat Shirah (Sing) on Friday afternoon and a parents happy hour via Zoom; the Shabbat celebrations are weekly, and there are nightly bedtime stories.
Rabbi Laura Baum, Head of School at Rockwern said, “I am so proud of our Rockwern community. During this challenging time, we have leaned on one another and created new ways for our Jewish and General Studies programs to continue to thrive alongside our powerful sense of community. These are what define Rockwern ordinarily, and we have now proven that they continue, even when our building is closed.”
Wise Temple Religious School
The Wise Temple Religious School, a supplementary pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school in the Reform movement, was partially online before the current health crisis. Their midweek Hebrew classes for fourth through sixth grades had already been using Hebrew Connect, an online education program. The Hebrew Connect classes have therefore been able to continue as usual, providing continuity and connection for those students and their teachers.
On Sunday mornings, when there would normally have been in-person classes for the full age-range of the school, the Wise Temple Religious School is offering alternative, online options:
First, all of Wise’s Religious School families are invited to join in live Sunday morning songs and prayer via Zoom. These Sunday morning sessions, led by the rabbis, youth director, and religious school director of Wise Temple are an opportunity for the Religious School community to come together in a fun and upbeat way.
Second, all of the students in first grade and up have been invited to participate in weekly virtual "hangout" sessions via Zoom. These sessions, which are facilitated by members of the Wise Temple staff, are intended to help the students maintain their religious school friendships through informal conversations and games online.
And third, students and parents receive weekly, grade-level specific emails with links to resources and optional enrichment activities that students can complete at home. All of the enrichment activities are connected to what students would be learning if their Religious School classes were still able to meet.
Religious School Director Courtney Anthony said that “during this unprecedented time, the primary goals of the Religious School are to help our students and their parents maintain connections with each other and with the larger temple community, and to support Jewish engagement at home while families shelter in place.”
The adaptions of these different Jewish day and supplementary schools in Cincinnati to this evolving crisis encapsulate the variety and resiliency of the Jewish educational institutions in Cincinnati.
The American Israelite reached out to as many Jewish schools in Cincinnati as possible. If we did not receive your information in time to include it before going to press, we will be happy to add it online.
We inadvertently left out the JCC preschool from the print edition of this article. They are sheltering in place, as are other schools and preschools.