It's Sunday morning, and teens and preteens from Los Angeles to New Jersey are online. But it's not Facebook, YouTube or a movie. It's online Jewish learning. Using a webcamera, headset with microphone and high speed internet, students from around the country connect in a specialized online platform with its own chatbox, screen share and files to learn Hebrew language, culture and Jewish traditions and history.
Before the beginning of every school year Jewish websites and the blogosphere devote considerable attention to the place of Hebrew school within the Jewish community. Should we or shouldn't we? Which type of Hebrew school? How many days a week? Cost? Accessibility? Outreach? How to hire and retain top educators? How to involve parents? How to retain the kids after Bar/Bat Mitzvah?
For many North American Jewish parents, educators and community leaders the questions are daunting. Some studies indicate that more than 50% of Jewish kids in America are not receiving any type of formal Jewish education. Why?
Some kids don't integrate into the local congregational school. Others live in areas in which there is no local enrichment program available. Some families hope for a more interactive Jewish program than they are able to find in their community.
Many parents also carry their own memories of Hebrew school with them and want their children to experience a more fulfilling and enriching Jewish educational experience than they remember from their childhood Hebrew school days. A significant percentage of Jewish families don't have the financial resources to pay the Hebrew school tuition and synagogue/templemembership dues.
The JconnecT Learning online Hebrew school was created four years ago to answer the need of Jewish kids and parents who are looking for an enriching Hebrew school environment that will meet their personal needs and expectations. JconnecT Sunday Morning Live is a partnership between the JETS Jerusalem EdTech Solutions and the Margolin Hebrew Academy of Memphis. The program features an exciting learning atmosphere in which participants engage with their Jewish heritage as they learn about Israel and about Jewish culture and traditions via unique content, interactive projects and challenging activities.
Mrs. Caroline Lee, mother of JconnecTer Zev Lee, 14, Jacksonville, FL., is a big fan of the program. "Zev really enjoys his sessions with Mrs. Goldstein. He is so excited about the Chessed program for the IDF soldiers. Connecting with teachers in Israel and the other kids online is a stimulating intellectual and social experience. We love it!"
"I like that we apply the lessons to modern day issues such as learning and meeting people in Israel,” says Yoni Brande, 15, from Birmingham, Al. “I enjoy having the opportunity through JconnecT to interact with and get to know Jewish kids from other places."
JconnecT is a non-denominational online learning program which is open to young Jewish learners. Kids from the 5th – 8th grades sign in on Sunday mornings from their home PC or in small groups in their synagogue or temple to explore different Jewish concepts and themes. The kids can work individually or together as they use online tools such as Wikiboards, stickies, blogs, voicepops, woodles, mind-mapping, scribbalars, social posters and more to exchange ideas and learn new material.
JconnecT offers two class options, Hip Hop Hebraics for learning modern Hebrew and Contemporary Jewish Issues which delves into the subjects that are of concern to today's Jewish community. Students may sign up for one class or can stay online and participant in both classes. The program also includes two Shabbatonim at the Margolin Hebrew Academy of Memphis where the kids join with Margolin students for a dynamic Shabbat experience of singing, discussions, social interaction and plenty of wonderful Shabbat food.
JconnecT was recently featured in the Jews in Green blog which chronicles the experiences of Jewish kids who participate in JconnecT from their parents' army base homes. Other participants include homeschooled kids, kids who live in rural areas, pre-teens who want to prepare for a bar or bat mitzvah and teens who would like to continue with their Jewish studies after their Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrations.
Students are invited to join one free JconnecT session before signing on for the year. The cost is minimized to ensure that all interested students can participate.
21st century tools now provide new opportunities for high quality experiences of Jewish learning and engagement for Jewish kids worldwide.