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“I am very proud to be a faculty member of the Ida Crown Jewish Academy, especially in this time of crisis,” says ICJA Math teacher Marlene Wasserstrom.

Once the decision was made by the state of Illinois to shut down schools, we wasted no time in setting up an all-staff training and geared up for an immediate start to “virtual school”. Immediately after Shabbat (the announcement was made late Friday afternoon), our staff adapted the school schedule and classes to online Zoom learning, an amazing feat that our Education Technology Coordinators Mrs. Olivia Friedman and Rabbi Binyomin Segal worked tirelessly to accomplish. Students came to campus that last Monday to gather their things and prepared for transitioning their classes over to an online schedule. By Tuesday, the entire curriculum was up and running virtually. Students, parents, faculty and staff were on board! From that day onward, we have been successfully running 125 classes daily.

Recipe for Success

Rabbi Segal attributes a large part of our success to the investment ICJA has made in technology and 21st Century Learning. For years the Academy has invested in infrastructure and teacher training that made this transition smooth. The most obvious example of this is the technology program that includes a school-issued iPad for all students, a project that is supported by the Jack P. Schleifer Foundation, and our virtual platforms on the Google suite and PowerSchool learning.

“Adjusting to Zoom seemed difficult at the start, as everyone had to get used to a new way of learning, but the effort that each teacher has made to adjust to new technology and the extremes to which they go to in order to keep us intrigued and focused has created a positive learning environment from our homes,” says Senior Yaakov Rosenberg.

The transition would not have been possible without the can-do attitude of our faculty and staff. “Kudos to Mrs. Friedman and Rabbi Segal! Their upbeat attitudes and technical expertise bolstered us and showed us how to approach Zooming effectively. Also, Rabbi Matanky’s daily communications have kept us all informed and feeling appreciated. A shout out also must go to the students who quickly learned how to shift to online education. Most of us knew nothing about Zoom, but with a few hours of training we entered our Zoom rooms eager to connect with our students, and learned day by day,” says English Department Chair Sheri Goldstein.

Methodology and Professional Development

Professional development has been a longstanding value at ICJA. Many of the teachers were already familiar with much of the software that we are using, and with methods of alternative assessment that are necessary in this virtual environment. It was in the last year that ICJA sent most of their teachers to ISTE Chicago (The International Society for Technology in Education), the preeminent technology conference for education.

Over Passover break, we offered additional optional professional development sessions to teachers to enhance their knowledge of online tools. Also, Mrs. Friedman and Rabbi Segal have been creating short tech tips of the day explaining different apps and tools teachers might find useful. For example, the Math Department was looking for methods to assess their students that would allow them to draw their answers, so Mrs. Friedman researched interactive worksheets and was able to recommend GoFormative and Wizer. Other teachers were looking for an app that would enable them to annotate in their Zoom class, the options ranged from using the Zoom Whiteboard which is included in the program, to opening up their own documents and using the Kami app to annotate. Thinglink and Genially have been popular programs to create interactive content, another alternative form of assessment.

Beyond the Virtual Classroom

As important as addressing the education component of online learning, ICJA felt it even more important to consider the social and emotional needs of our students. Our teachers and staff have reached out to students and families to make sure people stay connected. The first week of online learning we surprised the students with a private concert by Simcha Leiner erev Shabbat in order to uplift and raise their spirits. Looking for more ways to connect with our students and provide entertainment, we also hosted a comedy show with ICJA alum Eli Lebowicz, a game show night playing the popular Let’s Make a Deal, and frequent Torah classes. Even with the modified class schedule, our staff and students continue to prioritize Torah learning and Tefillah, davening and learning together during and outside of class, even over Passover break.

“We’re not only learning the regular dual curriculum, but also what it means to persevere, to practice faith during challenging times, to overcome obstacles and live life to its fullest. These lessons will leave an indelible impression,” says Senior Jacob Miller.

We are committed to continuing to provide support to our community during this challenging time through innovative online initiatives and community building. Our faculty and staff will continue to expand our efforts in staying connected and fostering an environment of growth and opportunity. The entire Ida Crown Jewish Academy is incredibly proud of our team for their devotion to educating and nurturing our students, thank you for rising to the occasion and soaring above and beyond.

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