HYDE PARK — Parents at Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School are praising school officials for how quickly and effectively they shifted to online learning, after coronavirus precautions shuttered all Illinois schools this month.
Students in need of laptops were sent home with Chromebooks on March 13, the last day schools were open. Orientation for the new online hub, Akiba Atmosphere, was held March 17; the first virtual classes were held the next day.
Educators tried to keep the online school day similar to what students would normally experience, said Yelena Spector, the school’s director of admissions and marketing.
“Even our youngest students are meeting with their classmates and teachers on Zoom, having group time, singing [and] working on art projects,” Spector said. “We even have older students doing story time to younger students in the school.”
Under the direction of Head of School Eliezer Jones, who provides regular updates on the virtual learning process, faculty organized most of the program over a single weekend.
“A very small amount of the infrastructure was there [before the coronavirus outbreak], and they were able to leverage it very quickly,” Akiba-Schechter parent Terren Wein said.
Even online, school members continue to practice the “communal values” important to the Jewish faith, Wein said. A “Corona chesed” resource form, where parents can request things like grocery assistance and childcare, is available on the site.
Wein’s eighth-grade daughter is part of the school’s “buddy system,” reading a chapter a day to her “little buddy” over FaceTime.
The buddy system, instructors’ clear social expectations and Jones’ dad jokes during daily announcements are a few ways community building has continued on Akiba Atmosphere, Wein said.
The school has continued to focus on the growth of “the whole child,” as opposed to a strictly educational approach, parent Ruth Czarnecki-Lichstein said. It’s “exceptional” how quickly the school was able to move all operations online, she said.
“As far as I know, other private schools — none of them have moved like this,” she said, acknowledging the transition would be much harder for public schools.
Akiba-Schechter, 5235 S. Cornell Ave., began regular online instruction nearly two weeks before Chicago Public Schools announced its transition to remote learning Monday. All public schools will begin remote learning by April 13.
Czarnecki-Lichstein said she is relieved knowing her three kids are productive and monitored online, as it makes life easier while she and her husband work from home.
“Seeing my kindergartener’s face when he saw all of his friends online, it was just so heartwarming — especially during a time when it’s stressful for everyone,” Czarnecki-Lichstein said. “We’re nervous and trying not to be nervous for the kids.”
The school’s use of Zoom allows for virtual playdates, said Elli Goodman, who has a kindergartener and a second-grader at the school. Her kids have played charades and Guess Who with classmates on the computer.
With so much fear and uncertainty around the coronavirus pandemic, there’s a “need to focus on what’s the silver lining here,” Goodman said. “The silver lining has been watching the Akiba teachers work their magic, which I don’t get to do on a day-to-day basis.”
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