New Partner Spotlight: Congregation B’nai Israel
ShalomLearning asked the leadership at Congregation B’nai Israel Barry Ira Graff School for Living Judaism (CBI), in Boca Raton, Florida about using our program. The school is under the direction of Kim Beame, Director of Religious Education and Cheryl Epstein, Assistant Director of Religious Education. CBI is a Reform synagogue with over 700 families and more than 350 students in grades K-12.
ShalomLearning (SL): Why did you decide to use ShalomLearning?
Congregation B’nai Israel Barry Ira Graff School for Living Judaism (CBI): We knew our curriculum needed updating. We could either reinvent the wheel or use an existing curriculum. We chose ShalomLearning because of the ready made lesson plans.
SL: How are you using ShalomLearning?
CBI: We started in September using ShalomLearning’s values-based curriculum in grades K-6 and Torah Aura Hebrew in grades 3-6. We’ve even started some virtual classes for Hebrew.
SL: How would you describe your experience using the program?
CBI: Moving from textbooks to a digital curriculum has taken some getting used to, but the assets in the curriculum are well worth it! We hear from teachers that they and the students are more engaged.
I believe we’ve retained several families by offering mid-week virtual classes for Hebrew. The classes are real-time and still teacher led, but the flexibility of the online classes is attractive to many families.
SL: What advice would you give to other schools starting ShalomLearning?
CBI: Use the resources ShalomLearning offers. Encourage your teachers to prepare in advance. The ShalomLearning team is amazing. They’re always available to answer questions, work with our teachers and guide us.
ShalomLearning looks forward to a long relationship with the Congregation B’nai Israel community and their dedicated team.
Using Ed-Tech to Teach Tefillah
Participants in ShalomLearning’s No Teacher Left Behind (an 8 week course in partnership with JETS) are learning about different online tools, and how they can used for Jewish education. Alissa Okrent, Religious School Principal at Temple Shalom, Succasunna, NJ used her new skills and her creativity to engage her students right away! Using Padlet, an online, collaborative, bulletin board, she created an activity where the seventh graders gained a deeper understanding and connection with tefillah.
She shared with us the following (and we’re including a picture so you feel like you know her):
One of my personal joys is helping my students feel our prayers are relevant today. My two foundations for this lesson were: Achrayut and nature. How can I integrate these two concepts into an activity that would engage my students, and help me to interact with each other and the learning?
I began with nature, choosing pictures that gave me a sense of “prayer meaning.” Seeing the “rock” could be an image of Gevurot; the sky aligned with God/Shema and the path felt like a connection to being in the present moment.
I asked, “What words describe this image?”, they typed in their words, and things started to appear on the screen. The lines, and arrows, and “web” effect was a total surprise to me!
Once each picture had words associations, I asked them, based on their understanding of the meaning of the prayers we had discussed, which prayer correlates to which image? There are no wrong answers. As I watched the words appear on the screen, I asked the group to create a poem which could be their prayer.
One of the students composed the poem and we all experienced our own moment of Achrayut; becoming a better version of ourselves.
The Value of Professional Development
In a traditional “classroom” or a virtual space, ShalomLearning went from coast to coast in August to support our educators. Our training began in Davie, FL, with special thanks to Orloff CAJE, where we trained 40 educators. We worked with new partners at NewCAJE8 in Moraga, CA, and led one more session at Hebrew College in Newton, MA. Our two-day training included:
- a comprehensive overview of ShalomLearning course materials
- personalized instruction
- training on our learning portal, my.shalomlearning.org
- preparing educators to use a virtual classroom
- an opportunity to network with peers
Whether on a laptop or hand-held mobile device, teachers mastered the basics and experienced the curriculum in a meaningful way and had some fun! Our Zoom icebreaker, a surprisingly competitive game of Kahoot!, and relaxing social gatherings were some of the highlights.
For those unable to attend or just wanting a refresher, we ended the month with well attended webinars reviewing the materials. And there’s more work to be done!
We’re currently providing virtual 1:1 training. Staff and mentors are meeting with teachers to answer specific questions, troubleshoot, and/or offer ideas. Questions and suggestions are also being discussed on ShalomLearning connect, our virtual teacher’s lounge.
There are additional opportunities to network and learn at our upcoming fall training sessions in New Hyde Park, NY in September and in Northfield, IL in October.
Throughout the year we will continue to connect educators to create a community of practice, encourage each other, and share ideas.