Jeffrey Levine
Blogger, Entrepreneur, and Philanthropist

A Covid19 Response – Pioneering the educational system: in person and online

No doubt, one of the biggest challenges of Covid19 has been on the Education system.

Tucked away in the quiet neighborhood of Katamon, Jerusalem is the Jerusalem American International School (“JAIS’). But don’t let the location or the size fool you. JAIS has been a trailblazer in the face of Covid-19 and has taken over the world of virtual learning. Teachers and students were able to learn the lay of the land within the school, meet their classmates, begin to cultivate in-person friendships and relationships with their teachers and enjoy their classes. In response to the situation, JAIS has pioneered a new “outdoor studies” class which allows the students the freedom to move, breathe in the fresh Jerusalem air, and apply what they typically learn inside the classroom in a new, outdoor environment.

When the Government announced a possible lockdown, JAIS was ready. “We’ve been through this before. We know how to keep our students engaged, and we know techniques to help the students balance their mental and physical health during these challenging times, all while keeping up with a balanced curriculum.” stated one teacher. Besides keeping a regular school schedule, JAIS has instituted extracurricular activities such as “Spirit Week” and “Fun Friday”. “This is my specialty.” says PE teacher and coach Ross Meltzer, “Teaching the students new skills online and getting them to challenge themselves as they are having a great time is my goal. I cultivate programs for students from preschool-8th grade, focusing on the development of appropriate gross motor skills and most importantly, sportsmanship.”

I had the privilege of Interviewing Tiffany Ben Ari, Assistant Head of the Jerusalem American International School who shared some of the challenges, successes behind the Covid19 Education response. I hope that some of these ideas will inspire other schools to adopt these to improve the lives and learning of both teachers and students.

Photo – used with permission on JAIS

Q- How do you track student participation? Engagement? assignments?

Student participation is tracked through the different apps we use. For example, for Spanish and French class, we give online assignments that are submitted directly to the teacher for review through DuoLingo School or because Seesaw is an interactive platform, the students engage directly from the app, connecting with the teacher and other students. Google Classroom is another platform we use that tracks participation and can be seen in real time. Of course, Zoom classes are great for face to face interaction. Our PE teacher has his classes via Zoom. They’re a lot of fun (in fact a lot of parents join in to get some movement in as well!) He directs and works with the class while being able to observe the students and give them feedback throughout the class. Another fun way for students to participate is Kahoot! Our students love Kahoot quizzes and it’s an exciting tool for the kids that gives immediate feedback and creates some friendly competition when reviewing what we’ve learned.

Our teachers connect with their students multiple times daily. It can be anything from help with an assignment to just a chat to check in on how a student is feeling during this uncertain time. The Administration calls parents and teachers weekly to check-in as well. We want our teachers and parents to know we are here for them. Sometimes they need to talk about school or even just ask for local advice during the lockdown.

Q- Are there interactive tools that you use when doing online classes?

Since this current lockdown was anticipated, our teachers made individual packets for students with different math manipulatives, art supplies, workbooks, games, or anything students might need for an online lesson. We find that hands on work – even if via Zoom or Seesaw works really well, as well as IXL,and Epic!.

Seesaw is like a student portfolio that allows interaction between students, parents and the teacher. On Seesaw, students can photograph or video what they’ve created at home and upload for the class to see. We aim to maintain our current curriculum although we are online. https://web.seesaw.me/

IXL allows the students to do self-paced practice in English, Spanish, Math and Science. https://www.ixl.com/

Epic! is a program that allows our students to read their favorite books from a computer or iPad. https://www.getepic.com/

All programs are very user friendly and allow the parents to assist if needed, but most students are quite capable of independent learning. Although, in my opinion, for any school I don’t believe the strong suit is the technology used, but the way (our) teachers navigate the monotony of online learning and their innovative styles to keep the students engaged and active.

 Q- What are the positives and negatives of your Experiences?

It’s truly amazing to see how resilient our team of teachers and students are as they so easily move from in-person to online learning. Virtual learning gives us a chance to take a deeper look at our curriculum to find out where we can improve and foster growth in our students. Of course, being online isn’t always easy. Some students have a hard time keeping their focus without face to face interactions and definitely miss the social aspect of the school. For our younger students, we offer teacher monitored “playdates” via Zoom where the kids can just catch up. They like to show each other special things from their bedrooms or talk about the special dinner Dad made the night before. Our older students are offered a chance to “hang out” in their Advisory class. Advisory offers them a safe place to open up, talk about current events, life events, or even just fill each other in on their trip to the market. It’s a place where they can connect and have teacher guidance without any pressure.

Q- A lot of teachers say that they hate Zoom classes and say that it adds a lot of extra work. Is there any advice you can give here? 

Of course, Zoom classes, or any virtual video platform, aren’t a teachers first choice. We all would rather be teaching in person, on campus. However, the best advice is that sometimes, less is more. If you find that your students aren’t meeting your assignment deadlines or you’re having trouble as well, it might be better to just turn on Zoom, work on the lesson together, allowing the students to participate, talk, or even just hangout! This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon, so remember to take things one day at a time.

Q- How can your experience help less advantaged schools?

Knowing that it has been done and it can be done is the most important. Even for schools that are less advantaged, there are so many wonderful platforms that you can use free of charge. For example, Zoom is free to use up to 40 minutes, Seesaw has a free option, as well as Epic. Using Google Classroom is no extra charge if a school is already using Google as their email server. There are many “free” ideas for lessons on TeachersPayTeachers. There are other low-cost platforms such as Mystery Science. You can create an effective virtual school with any of the low-cost options. I think the most important part is that the teachers are engaging with students daily.

About JAIS

JAIS offers art, drama, music, Spanish, French and English as part of their regular curriculum both in person and online. “We tailor the programs to meet the needs of our students whether they’re studying from home here in Jerusalem or stuck in South Africa waiting for their return flight. Someone once asked me what is the one  thing JAIS can be proud of and that’s so easy for me to answer: we take lemons and make lemonade!”

To find out more about JAIS visit www.jerusalemais.org

About This Blog

This Blog unfortunately is not a reflection of the state of education during the time of Corona in government-funded schools. It is our hope that some ideas expressed here can be shared to improve the situation in other schools.

About the Author
Jeffrey is a Blogger, Entrepreneur, and Philanthropist (we can only dream) living in Jerusalem. He is a young grandfather has five kids and four grandchildren. Jeffrey provides freelance CFO and Accounting services through www.persofi.com He is looking to spread the message of Ahavat Yisrael and Jewish Unity through the music and stories through www.souldoctorstories.com and blogging.
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