Silver Academy "Doesn't Skip A Beat" Thanks to Virtual Learning

By Mary Klaus

Although Pennsylvania schools have been closed since March 16th because of coronavirus, Silver Academy students continue to learn about everything from Judaic studies to science.

“With fairly short notice, our teachers switched from teaching their students in person on Friday to teaching them virtually on Monday,” said Samara Sofian, Head of School at the Silver Academy. “Each day, we have a live-stream morning meeting, age appropriate davening (prayer) and a combination of live-stream classes and other classwork that students access at their own pace.”

The new arrangement seems to be working well.

Nick Fortini, the academy computer teacher, built a website to get the Jewish Day School running remotely. He said that these days, Silver Academy teaching and learning is mostly taking place through Zoom, a video conference software arrangement which lets teachers and students interact “face-to-face” when meeting in person isn’t possible, such as during the COVID-19 crisis.

“It was trial-by-fire at first,” Fortini said. “Now, we’re on the right track. We start each morning at 8:30am on Zoom. Students recite the Pledge of Allegiance, sing our National Anthem and the Israeli National Anthem, say the Silver Academy pledge, and get a welcome from Samara.”

In addition to Zoom, he said that the Silver Academy has a website for virtual learning where students go for assignments and announcements. Teachers and students use email for private communications.

Sofian said that teachers, students, parents, and administrators have been flexible during the switch to virtual learning.

Teacher Jessica Wenzelburger adapted her English Language Arts classes from in person to remote classrooms for her 3rd-8th grade students.

“The foundation to any successful English Language Arts program is reading,” she said. “Our school climate always has been geared toward making sure that our students are readers starting in Ganeinu, all the way through the eighth grade.”

Her third grade students moved their reading logs from pencil and paper to Google Sheets, which allows spreadsheets to be accessed online. They can choose books to read at home, then answer questions about the books in Google Documents, similar to Microsoft Word.

Fourth and fifth grade students began reading Holes by Louis Sachar, a novel about a teenager sent to a juvenile corrections facility in a Texas desert after being falsely accused of theft.

Middle School students, who recently finished a unit of learning about the Holocaust, have moved to the lighter topic of fairy tales. After reading books and keeping journals about them, they will write their own fairy tales.

Wentzelburger said that thanks to the dedication of students and their families “the students are learning continuously without skipping a beat.”

Brandy Hurley, who teaches first and second grade general studies, has continued the Elkie Koplovitz Reading Club by posting a few chapters from a book on the school’s website on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

 “This week I began reading The BFG by Roald Dahl,” she says.

Rabbi Moshe Yosef Gewirtz uses Zoom to teach Judaic studies to 3rd-8th grade students.

“Those grades participate together in a group Shacharit (morning prayer),” he said. “Through Zoom, our students and teachers can see and hear each other as well as see instructional material, texts, and slides on their computer screens.”

The rabbi said that worksheets attached to Google Classroom can be printed and completed during class. “Students are given social time before class starts and are practicing the on-line classroom derech eretz (etiquette) that enables a good educational experience.”

Fortini said that Marina Cherepinsky, music teacher, plays the piano and can listen as students sing individually. He said that gym class gives students exercises to stay fit.

          “We don’t want to overwork the kids as they get used to this new lifestyle,” he said. “Conducting school this way was a big adjustment for everyone, but we’ve been able to do it. Everything is going great."

Sofian said that while Silver students practice proper social distancing, they still stay in touch with the community by making cards for residents at the Campus of the Jewish Home.

As for Israel Memorial and Independence Day? “We plan on commemorating and celebrating Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatmaut as we do every year,” says Sofian.

She said the students are fortunate to have dedicated teachers who are serving as role models in new ways.

“We work hard to teach our students the skills to be able to adapt based on what they have learned,” Sofian said. “They often do not get to see the adults in their lives doing this. Now, they are as they see how their teachers are learning to teach in this new model. It’s an incredible journey.”