An esteemed and influential force in Jewish education will be uniting with a new and different idea of learning this coming school year.
The goal of modernizing Jewish education to increase learning and decrease costs galvanized a group of Five Towns parents to form Tiferet Academy. It was to start with grades K and 1 under a plan known as blended learning. Beginning in the fall of 2013, the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach (HALB) will be absorbing Tiferet Academy into its student body, incorporating its principles of blended learning into the curriculum of HALB’s 1700-student campuses.
Tiferet Academy’s founding was heralded in early Fall 2012 as a lower tuition school that would provide a typical class with varied learning opportunities, dividing the class into three groups, rotating through three different modes of instruction. One group would be led by a teacher, another group would work on activities supervised by an assistant and a third group would be involved in online instruction. This method was found to increase the students’ abilities and growth in learning.
“Tiferet decided that instead of opening as an independent school they would change or improve HALB instead,” explained Jeff Kiderman, the Executive Director of the Affordable Jewish Education Project (AJE). “When HALB and Tiferet decided to merge we supported them and we are now supporting the integrated program in HALB, to try to adopt blended learning techniques as an affordability tool.”
AJE was founded at the end of 2011, noted Kiderman. The organization started with Mark Nordlicht, AJE’s lay leader. “The goal of AJE is high quality affordable Jewish education available to every Jewish child,” Kiderman said. They are attempting to customize the curriculum for each child, targeting each child’s individual needs and yet save on costs with this method.
“Depending on the school,” noted Kiderman, instituting the program “can require upfront investments of hardware, infrastructure, training. New schools are not fundamentally non-blended learning” since many already include computer based learning. ‘Starting a new school takes tremendous effort, tremendous resources. If the same goal can be accomplished with an existing structure, it makes a lot of sense. HALB bought into the same mission; with a school of that size, if the leadership is on board and wants to pursue it, there is no need to start a school from scratch.”
There have been a lot of inquiries, said Kiderman, with schools asking “can you work with us. We want to choose based on which schools are best suited and willing and able. The BOLD (Blended & Online Leraning in Day Schools) program launched a national search to find schools to embark on this journey.” The hope is to “take the mission of AJE and Tiferet and launch it into the environment where” it would present “a tremendous opportunity to have a tremendous impact and potential.”
“We decided to join with Tiferet and the AJE because we believe that we have similar objectives in terms of incorporating educational technology into our programming,” said Lance Hirt, president of HALB. “We have been working on many initiatives geared toward delivering an outstanding academic program and have found that technology will play an increasingly central role in that over time. In addition, we believe that over the longer time frame, technology may allow us to better manage the overall educational expense as well. The more time that we spent with the AJE/Tiferet leadership, the more convinced we became that they would be able to be much more effective working within the walls of an existing school with some 1700 students rather than starting from scratch with one or two classes. We also became convinced that we share the same vision and objectives for what technology can do to enhance the educational process. We are very much aligned in our thinking and are excited to work together. Rabbi Avromie Sacks will continue to be employed by the AJE but will be spending his time rolling out blended learning programs at HALB. We are very excited to have Rabbi Sacks working in partnership with HALB in this effort.
“We are not yet sure how many kids will be joining from Tiferet. We hope that they all decide to join us at HALB. Tiferet was planning to open with K and 1st grade. Within HALB, there will not be any separate entity. Everything will be fully integrated. Having said that, we will initially only be rolling out blended learning programs in certain classes. We hope to do more over time.”
As of now, HALB is not sure which classes will have blended learning. Hirt confirmed that K and 1st grade would have blended learning as Tiferet had planned, but since there are a number of classes on each grade level, it is as yet uncertain how many would incorporate blended learning. There is a “decent chance that we will role out some other blended learning pilot programs in other grades as well over the course of the upcoming school year,” said Hirt. He pointed out that they will begin use of the techniques with secular courses, expecting to use it eventually for Jewish studies, as well.
HALB, with branches in Long Beach, Woodmere and Hewlett Bay Park, has been providing an education steeped in halachic Judaism, in Torah and its Oral tradition, religious Zionism, scholastic achievement and personal growth to students for over 40 years.