As Classes Move Online, Schools and Parents Strategize

As classroom learning around the world is replaced with online instruction, our mosdos chinuch are called upon to create new solutions without compromising long-standing values. Here’s how they’re making it work.

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As schools all over the country rush to transfer student learning to online platforms, hanhalos of Lubavitch yeshivos and chadorim have had a lot to consider. Since the advent of the internet, frum leaders have urged their communites to educate themselves about its dangers and to think carefully about how they engage.

Now, heads of mosdei chinuch are having to re-examine the issue and make decisions that take conflicting needs into account.

“The Eibeshter, who has created this situation for His own reasons, was makdim refuah l’maka, with the various technological developments that make it easier to transcend boundaries,” said Rabbi Akiva Wagner, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Lubavitch Toronto. “It can’t be emphasized enough, however, that we must be constantly aware of the dangers they present, and vigilant in protecting ourselves.”

For some schools, this means limiting their classes to teleconferences and preparing visual materials so that students can follow along at home. Following the guidance of a prominent Chabad rav, several schools have chosen to do this.

“As much as our kinder need structure and a daily learning routine, to go the virtual route is introducing them to a realm of this world which cannot be unlearned – a reality which cannot be undone,” said Rabbi Mendy Yusewitz, principal of Ohr Menachem in Crown Heights.

Other menahelim feel that interactive and visual lessons are needed in order for talmidim to remain engaged and present. Furthermore, when children and teens can see their teachers and fellow classmates on-screen, it provides a feeling of familiarity that allows them to ease into this new way of learning.

“Kids are being locked up- it can be almost traumatic for them,” Rabbi Avrohom Wolowik of Cheder Chabad Baltimore told “They need a chance to have some consistency; interacting with other people in a familiar setting can alleviate some of the anxiety a situation like this can cause. They have almost a full day broken up, and it includes most regular subjects so that they are davening and learning like they do in school.”

To achieve this in a safe and responsible manner, hanhalos chose to invest in their own devices for each student which are being set up with the help of IT professionals. Controls are being put in place so that only the select few programs whitelisted- an online classroom, an email administered by the school, specific learning materials- can be accessed from the device. In addition, the devices are being monitored remotely.

“Unlike a filter, where specific websites or categories are blacklisted, everything on the device is blocked,” said Rabbi Wolowik. “We enable only those functions that are needed for school. The devices are monitored remotely, and we can even control the hours during which they can be used.”

This system is being implemented in elementaries and yeshivos in several cities with anash communities including Crown Heights, Chicago, Baltimore and Detroit.

“Before Pesach, teachers were videoing themselves classroom style and uploading it to a video platform so that parents could access and share them with their children over the day,” Rabbi Yitzchok Wolf, dean of Cheder Lubavitch of Chicago told “Many families had only one device at home, which meant that each child’s video class had to be consolidated into less than an hour per day.”

“Now, we have families with several children sitting at the dining room table, each with their own computer and headphones, learning simultaneously,” Rabbi Wolf said. “Thanks to the efforts of our executive director Rabbi Moshe Wolf and the incredible team working with him, our talmidim can now learn online for close to four hours each day.”

To keep the arrangement temporary, parents in some schools were advised to set up short term, basic internet plans that they will not be financially obligated to continue once schools are back in session. They are also being urged to be mindful of other devices at home that can be connected to the internet – including old phones – and to make sure that each one has a strong, effective filter.

To monitor internet use at home, experts are recommending that devices be kept and used only in open, shared spaces and that an adult should always be present nearby.While the situation is temporary and the allowance for online access is for a good reason, the risk remains just as serious.

“While schools must take achrayus for devices they administer, it’s the parents’ responsibility to monitor their children’s internet usage,” Rabbi Wolowik cautioned. “At the same time, we are doing whatever we can to keep our talmidim safe.”

The goal across the board is to approach this as a short term solution to a temporary challenge, and not to create new habits, or deem acceptable that which was previously avoided.

Yet, some parents are choosing to keep their children off the internet, despite the challenge that brings.

“I know the Zoom class is being done for good reason,” one parent shared. “However, I don’t have internet in my home and I’m not comfortable bringing it in at this time. My kids are home all day now, and I’m not sure how easy it will be to get rid of once it’s here – once a can of worms is opened, it’s very hard to close it again.”

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