“I think,” said Dafna Menashe-Baruch, principal of Mae Boyar High School in Jerusalem during a special international Zoom Webcast on May 12, 2020, “that the coronavirus may actually have some positive results. It may make teachers more creative and students more independent.”
Current students and academic leaders discussed SAE’s response to the two-month school closings in Israel ordered by the government to mitigate COVID-19 during the Webcast. Dozens of Society for Advancement of Education (SAE) supporters in the United States, England and Israel participated in the presentations and a Q & A session. See and hear the full Webcast here.
The event was hosted by Rina Shkolnik, Vice-Chair of the American Friends of Kidum.
Eitan Moran, SAE Executive Director, described how in 24 hours SAE’s nine high schools and seven residences transitioned from traditional classroom and in-person group instruction and activities to virtual learning. “We had unbelievable enthusiasm and commitment from our staff,” Eitan said.
SAE also provided food and basic necessities for students who had to move back to their low income families, purchased computers and installed wi-fi for teachers and students who did not have those necessary resources at home, and created a support net for all students and staff to address anxiety issues during this stressful time.
“Our basic philosophy at SAE has been the same for more than 50 years,” Eitan said. “We will do whatever is best for the children.”
Like all schools moving to distant learning, Dafna reported that Boyar High School faced a wide-range of challenges, from developing lessons and activities that could be taught via computer to training teachers and students to use new technology.
“One of the important things we did,” Dafna recalled, “was to maintain the traditions of Boyar that make the school so unique and directly involve our students.” These included marking special national holidays, comforting bereaved families, creating opportunities for students to talk directly with Boyar alumni, online activities for each class, and having students maintain their volunteer contact with senior citizens via phone, not personal visits as before.
For the students who had to move home from the Boyar Residence, the staff has kept in touch online on an almost daily basis. “That makes quite a difference,” Dafna said.
“With the amazing help of our terrific teachers, dedicated staff and very willing and flexible students,” Dafna concluded, “We made lemonade out of the lemons that the coronavirus gave us.”
Dr. Bruce Oppenheimer, a Senior Clinical Psychologist at the Zofnat Institute, has been working with SAE for years. During the school closings Zofnat and SAE staff have led weekly workshops with the principals and heads of all SAE schools and institutions to facilitate collaborative work on academic and psychological issues.
“SAE is a learning organization,” he said, “always quick to process new information and adopt new ways while not getting stuck in the paradigms of the past. And human relations,” he pointed out, “is at the forefront of the organization.”
A highlight of the Webcast was the opportunity to meet current SAE students still sequestered in their homes:
Eyal Agam, a senior in his fifth year at Steinberg Residential Campus in Kfar Saba, said this was a difficult time since it had always been hard for him to learn at home. “I used to have a daily routine, then it’s gone.” But “the Steinberg staff calls me every day to make sure I am still learning. That helps a lot. Steinberg is like a second home for me.”
Amit Nahum, a 7th grader at the newly established Inbar Leadership School for Girls in Jerusalem, explained that she chose Inbar because she was looking for challenges and Inbar is a place where she can do her best and where her opinion is valued. She explained how the school not only has regular classes online, but sports and exercise sessions. The students have also been divided into teams to tackle relevant current issues. Her team is examining body image in social media.
Lara Mqalde, a 10th grader at Sindiana, the Arab Youth Village for Leadership in Givat Haviva, admitted that she was afraid that one of her loved ones might get infected. She was pleased that the school celebrated Ramadan together via the Internet. “I have learned to appreciate all we have taken for granted,” she said. “When will technology take the place of human contact? Never. I could not image not being right next to my friends.”
Asked if COVID-19 would have any long-term effect on education, Dr. Oppenheimer said “a revolution is going on. Distance learning has been given an enormous boost. Education and schooling will change. It will be hard to go back.”
The Webcast was planned and managed by Jessica Lawson Stein and Shoshana Becker of the SAE Development Department. Watch for additional Webcasts in the future.