Imagine it's August: A family calls a school asking for help. Their son has no prior Hebrew education and yet is determined to have a bar mitzvah -  in just a few months. 

That's the call Rabbi Rena Rifkin, director of the religious school at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City, received last summer. The boy wouldn't be starting school until September, and Rifkin knew there was a time crunch, so she offered the family another option to jumpstart his learning - the Online Learning Center.

The OLC is tool that provides students access to digital materials to extend learning and offers opportunities for extra practice. Rifkin set up the student in the OLC as his own class, so he could use Alef Bet Questa Hebrew primer and digital companion, on his own time, at his own pace.

"He was really motivated. He knew zilch and started with learning the alef bet," Rifkin says. "He started getting into it in August when he had no other schoolwork to compete with his time. In later September he came into my office and read for me and I was stunned. He could put together words for me. I was totally blown away."

Within three weeks of using the OLC he knew the name of every letter and the sounds of almost every vowel, Rifkin says. The boy also began receiving one-on-one lessons, using the OLC as a tool, during school hours, in addition to bnei mitzvah tutoring. His bar mitzvah is schedule for May.

A case like this seems like nothing less than magic, and of course, a cram session doesn't exactly make for optimal learning. However, the Online Learning Center can serve as a valuable resource to students.

Now in its fifth year, nearly 600 teachers and more than 4,000 students have logged in to the OLC at least once this school year to teach and learn online. 

For educators like Rifkin, the experience reinforced what she already knew about the OLC.  "It's the element of student-directed learning that’s essential. You can accomplish so much more in 20 minutes one-to-one with a kid than three hours in a group. Where the OLC is incredibly impressive is in terms of remedial work."

"We saw firsthand that if you actually dedicate time and effort, this is the result that can happen," Rifkin says.

Over the past five years, we have been making continuous improvements to the OLC to make it the best - and easiest - it can be for students, teachers, and education directors. Want more information? Learn more about the Online Learning Center here.