New Developments In The Classroom And Beyond
Tue, 08/21/2012
Associate Editors
Participants in Israel-Asia Leaders Fellowship.
Participants in Israel-Asia Leaders Fellowship.

If Yeshivat He’Atid is really the “yeshiva of the future,” as its name proclaims, then tuition-weary parents throughout the country may want to pursue time travel.

The centrist Orthodox school, located in Bergenfield, N.J., opens on Sept. 4 with 108 students in pre-K through first grade and tuition just under $9,000. Kindergarten and first-grade tuition at neighboring Jewish day schools and yeshivas ranges from $11,305 to $16,900. (For complete tuition listings for Bergen County’s eight day schools, go to http://yeshivasanity.blogspot.com.)

He’Atid aims to keep costs low by shifting some administrative duties to teachers and volunteers, and a curriculum of “blended learning” — mixing face-to-face instruction with technology.

School officials say that the “blended” approach will not only reduce costs, but will offer a better learning experience, enabling teachers to more easily accommodate different abilities and learning styles.

The new school, the product of a grass-roots effort led by a group of Bergen County parents, is already inspiring several imitators, all of them Modern or Centrist Orthodox: Tiferet Academy on Long Island and New Roc Torah Academy in Westchester County both plan to open in fall 2013. Other schools with blended learning and low tuition opening this fall include Binah School in Sharon, Mass., and Yeshiva High-Tech in Los Angeles.

The startup schools are getting assistance from Affordable Jewish Education, a New York-based group of philanthropists, many of them financial-industry professionals who prefer to remain anonymous.

“While we are helping some schools with startup funding, we are also bringing them together to collaborate by sharing resources and best practices,” said Jeff Kiderman, executive director of the group, which was founded nine months ago by Mark Nordlicht, chief investment officer of the Platinum Partners hedge fund. “We’re trying to turn a string of innovative but isolated schools into a formidable movement for high-quality, affordable Jewish education.”

Not all He’atid-like startups have taken off, however. The National Torah Academy, which was slated to open this fall in Silver Spring, Md., failed to recruit enough students to “sustain the program,” according to its website.

— Julie Wiener

YU’s Launches Online Instruction Program

Yeshiva University’s Institute for University-School Partnership is this fall offering what is believed to be the first certificate program in online/blended instruction for Jewish day school teachers.

Institute leaders see the program, which will enroll 20 educators from 10 schools, as a first step in establishing an “Open Day School,” a consortium where schools and teachers can share Judaic studies courses that combine online and in-person instruction.

Each participant in the certificate program will, in consultation with professionals from YU and other educational organizations, develop an online/blended course for the consortium. The materials will be licensed under the Creative Commons license, enabling educators to use and change them as they see fit.

Growing numbers of Jewish day schools are exploring online education resources in hopes that they can reduce expenses while also offering students a more individualized and engaging learning experience.

— Julie Wiener

OU, PEJE Team Up On Affordability

The Orthodox Union (OU) and the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish education (PEJE) are teaming up on an online clearinghouse for collecting and disseminating information about making Jewish day schools more affordable.

“Both organizations bring a different reach into the Jewish community,” said Amy Katz, director of PEJE. “PEJE brings perspective from 15 years of experience working with day schools. OU brings perspective through their relationship with synagogues and groundbreaking work with government foundations.”

Staff at the Affordability Knowledge Center will not just collect information about various new initiatives addressing the “tuition crisis,” but will analyze what it takes to get their program running and successful. They will then put that data into a coherent outline and post it online for other communities to use.

“We plan to break the various initiatives down in different ways that can be accessible to schools or entire communities via the website,” says Charles Cohen, who has been hired to implement the project. Cohen recently served as planning manager for Jewish continuity at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, where he worked with local day schools on the “Free Tuition for Transfer Students” program.

“The center is for the community. It is designed to put out information that’s going to help the community, which is comprised of schools, synagogues, parents and students,” said Nathan Diament, the OU’s executive director for public policy.

The website for the initiative is http://peje.org/index.php/knowledge-a-resources/affordabilitycenter.

— Hannah Anokye

The Israeli-Asian Connection

During the five years she has already spent studying Middle Eastern studies — in Hebrew — at the Hebrew University, Lee Jae Eun, from South Korea, yearned for a program tailor-made to her needs and interests.

Lee, who hopes to pursue a career in her country’s diplomatic corps and/or Korean-Israeli relations, said she was “thrilled” when she learned of the Israel-Asia Leaders Fellowship, which supplements the university study programs of Asian students already in Israel.

Launched last fall by the Jerusalem-based Israel-Asia Center (IAC), the fellowship has enabled the students to emerge from their academic bubbles and forge ties with Israeli professionals in several fields.

Rebecca Zeffert, IAC’s founder and executive director, said the program was created to encourage Asian students to maintain their ties with Israel throughout their careers.

Israel hosts “a few hundred” Asian students every year, but “the connection to Israel was often being lost,” Zeffert said, “and students didn’t have access to high-level professional networks while in Israel. We felt that an opportunity was being lost on both sides — to invest in the next generation of leaders in Israel-Asia relations and Israel’s future partners in Asia.”

The first crop of 12 fellows, who hail from China, Japan, India, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea, spent the academic year attending workshops, going on field trips and gaining “high-level access, contacts, the skill-set and support network necessary to build long-term strategic partnerships between Israel and Asia in their future careers,” Zeffert said.

The fellows, whose research fields include business and economics, agricultural science, environmental economics, conflict resolution, Middle Eastern studies, Holocaust education and architecture, toured the Knesset, learned about the solar power company Arava Power, and visited Better Place, which produces electric cars.

Participants also attended seminars at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Trade and Labor, and at the Israel Export Institute.

Lee, who is working on a documentary film on 50 years of Israel-Korea relations, said the fellowship provided her with contacts she “couldn’t get in the university setting.”

Howe Wang, a Yale University master’s student studying environmental economics and green energy at Tel Aviv University, hailed the fact that the fellowship “is tailored to your particular career’s focus.”

Wang, who hopes to forge investment and R&D ties between Israel and Asia in the clean-tech field, said the contacts he’s made have helped him understand both the Israeli economy and Israeli diplomacy.

“Now I can start developing relationships on a very practical level,” Wang said.

— Michele Chabin/Jerusalem