When COVID-19 struck last spring, the Hebrew Academy in Huntington Beach was prepared in two critical ways: It had a data-driven curriculum that allows continuity and feedback for instruction and an emphasis on social-emotional learning that reaches beyond academics to serve and support students, according to Rabbi Yitzchok Newman, Head of School, and Dr. Bryn Harari, Principal.
As on-campus learning became an option in September, every school that applied to reopen had to have a comprehensive COVID-19 prevention plan in place, meeting all the requirements for facial coverings, physical distancing, screening and sanitation. At all schools that have been allowed to reopen, a distance-learning option is available for families who do not feel comfortable having students return to campus.
With safety, a data-driven curriculum, and social-emotional learning procedures in place, the school was ready to “create a new vision for getting back to normal while meeting state guidelines,” Rabbi Newman said.
Serious about making every day count, keeping students in school, assessing progress and being cognizant of the needs of the whole child, the school approached its teachers to get their input on protection and support. Hebrew Academy redesigned the campus for non-contract sports and added physical equipment, support specialists to help teachers cope with an increased workload and child care for teachers.
“Continuity has mitigated the impact of the blip in time,” Dr. Harari said. “Staying within the structure, being in the classroom community, and getting back into the routine are important but challenging in these unprecedented times.”
As she explained, “Prior to COVID, we had made sophisticated use of online data, putting the curriculum online.” That function was important to distance learning, and now teachers can do concurrent classes daily, accommodated by multiple screens and monitors. Parents and students can access learning materials, students can take tests wherever they are, and teachers can see the work wherever they are. Data-driven curriculum, and instruction enables the learning and evaluation process to be uninterrupted.
“Parents are grateful for constant communication to stay in the loop, and that partnership has inspired trust and confidence,” Dr. Harari said. She noted that each student from second grade and up develops proficiency in the use their own laptops to make full use of their technology.
Rabbi Newman explained that social-emotional learning takes the whole child into account to take care of the emotional needs of the community. As he said, “social-emotional learning is a big part of what has mitigated challenges. A network of support has helped with interruptions and enabled the school to come through in difficult times. Students in the classroom or in their homes can still interact with teachers, socialize with students and perform mitzvot.”
He continued, “As a result, most students have continued on without drop-off or have come back to their previous levels of learning and participation. Some students are suffering from the issues caused by the pandemic, and we’re helping them. For the most part, the kids have progressed with no loss of momentum. Our enrollment is higher than ever because families have seen that we deliver excellent education and meaningful community experiences under any circumstances.”
Some of the costs of equipping the school to cope with COVID-19 have been made possible by grants from the Jewish Community Foundation of Orange County and Jewish Long Beach. A partnership with Jewish Family and Children’s Service in Long Beach provides counselors who work with Hebrew Academy students.
Rabbi Newman concluded, “We strive for happy scholars, with the emphasis on both ‘happy’ and ‘scholars.’ That means that we try to meet the social, emotional, and academic needs of our students, and cutting-edge technology plays a vital role in making that happen.”
Nelli Greenspan is a contributing writer to Kiddish Magazine.