Monday, February 24, 2014

Drawing Parents Into their Children's Synagogue/Temple Educational Programming

When I was growing up in the '60s, our afternoon Hebrew School, in an effort to mimic the public schools, invited parents to parent-teacher conferences. We kids didn't take these afternoon events very seriously -- most of us felt that Hebrew school wasn't "real" school. Judging by the turnout at these conferences, most of the parents felt the same way (although my parents, to my chagrin, were always the first to arrive). 

Over the years, complementary afternoon schools have experimented with a variety of techniques which are aimed at encouraging parents to become more involved with their children's Jewish learning. Parents are invited in to join school lessons and other experiential educational activities including Shabbat and holiday services, school performances and evening get-togethers. Synagogue and Temple educators place a great deal of emphasis on the importance of involving the families of their students in the curriculum and atmosphere of the school.

Based on the comments of many Jewish educators, these efforts are producing mixed results. Parents are often overwhelmed by their other home and work responsibilities, and find it difficult to participate in their children's complementary school activities. As a result, the parents aren't able to follow-up on their children's Hebrew school curriculum which creates an unfortunate disconnect that Jewish educators would like to address.

Temple Emanuel in Pascack Valley, NJ is working with JETS Israel on a unique project of online education. Among the goals of the program, JETS and Temple Emanuel educational staff want to encourage a higher degree of parental involvement in their children's Hebrew school experience and an increased understanding of what their children are learning.

The project, entitled The Holocaust: Remembering and Rebuilding, provides an overview of the Holocaust and the Rebirth of the State of Israel for the Temple's Bar and Bat Mitzva class. Students meet online over the course of three months to gain a deeper understanding of the Shoah and the establishment of the State of Israel, and how they impacted -- and continues to impact -- the Jewish World.

All of the lessons are conducted online to enable students to sign in from their home and participate virtually. The dynamic lessons move from audio and video clips to selected readings to textual study -- with multiple interactive assignments and activities interspersed among the various presentations. Students create shared documents, online bulletin boards, social posters and collaborative presentations that summarize each week's lesson.

The elearning aspect of the lesson also addresses parental involvement. Parents are invited to participate with their children or, if they prefer, watch a video cast of the session after the lesson to access the material and monitor their own child's participation and progress.

A recent mid-semester questionnaire was presented to both parents and students. The reflections indicated that, not only were the students engaged in the class, but the parents were also knowledgeable about their children's Hebrew school activities and involved in the curriculum.  While the parents suggested that a more community atmosphere is created when the class takes place at the Temple itself, they were enthusiastic about the program and indicated that they would like to see it continue -- perhaps partially at home and partially at the Hebrew School. These comments can now be taken into account when planning future elearning projects.

The following are some of the feedback from students and parents:

A. Kids Speak

Parents Speak:

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