Day schools may be closed, but the learning goes on.
Fear of the coronavirus has led to the closing of public and private schools across Ontario, but a group of Toronto Jewish day schools have come up with a co-ordinated plan to continue educating their students online.
A similar approach was taken in the nation’s capital, where Torah Day School of Ottawa (TDS), which serves kids from kindergarten to Grade 8, switched to an e-learning model for all students.
And in Montreal, JPPS-Bialik, Solomon Schechter Academy and Hebrew Academy, among other schools, announced they too were closing their doors and switching to online learning.
In a letter to parents dated March 13, 10 day school administrators in Toronto stated, “We are committed to doing everything we can to mitigate the impact this decision has on our students. Our respective schools will be implementing alternative educational programming conducive to preserving the health of students and staff. Schools will individually communicate the distance-learning plans in the coming days.”
The letter is signed by representatives of Associated Hebrew Schools, Bialik Hebrew Day School, Bnei Akiva Schools, Montessori Jewish Day School, Netivot HaTorah Day School, Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School, Robbins Hebrew Academy, TanenbaumCHAT, the Leo Baeck Day School and the Toronto Heschel School.
Virtual classes have already begun at CHAT, said Jonathan Levy, head of school. The school is employing the Zoom digital platform, a virtual meeting place to which students log in, connect to their teachers and take the classes according to their regular schedules.
“We are trying to mirror their regular schedules. Students are expected to attend and pay attention,” Levy said. “All classes students have taken will continue.”
The software allows not just for online lessons, but for other school activities, such as a virtual “jersey day” and a lunchtime online cooking class. There’s even a way for teachers and staff to stay “in touch with students to see if they’re OK from an emotional point of view,” given concerns over the COVID-19 virus, Levy said.
Speaking one day after the program launched, Levy said the feedback from parents has been positive, though he acknowledged that, as with any new program, there could be glitches.
“I think we got off to a wonderful start,” he said.
Ora Shulman, head of school at Associated Hebrew Schools, said, “We are making every effort to follow the scope and sequence of our full curriculum program through our distance-learning program.
“Teachers have been trained to use a variety of different platforms for live video-conferencing, as well as platforms to pre-record lessons and videos for asynchronous learning (according to the student’s schedule).
“We are doing our best to provide a balanced program to meet all the needs of our learners,” she said.
TDS in Ottawa told parents that its “new learning model is being rolled out gradually, with fully online classes expected to be running by next week.” Under that plan, teachers will email lessons and assignments to students daily.
Among the learning strategies being employed are “posting video lessons, having students record audio or video responses, and individually calling students at home and working with them one-on-one.”
Like CHAT, TDS teachers will utilize Zoom, as well as Google Classroom, along with FaceTime and email, “to create interactive and engaging ways for students to continue learning while the school is physically closed,” the school announced.
Shulman and Levy both said they expect students would complete the school year on time, despite the disruptions, without the need to stretch the academic year into the summer.
In fact, there is hope that regular classes at the Toronto schools will resume on April 20, after the scheduled Passover break. However, that will depend on how the situation evolves in the interim.