What Will Religious School Look Like This Fall? SURVEY SAYS . . .

It’s mid-August. For many students and teachers—particularly in the South and West—back to school is here while others will be back in session in mid-to-late September. We wanted to find out what back to school looks like in this awkward fall when things seem better even as we all remain cautious about what the Delta variant of COVID might mean in the coming weeks and months.

So we asked, “What will religious school look like for Fall 2021”?
47 schools from across the country responded in detail. And while uncertainty remains, and no one can yet retire the word ‘pivot’ (sorry!), educators have been finding ways to take the best from a stunningly challenging 2020 and move forward. Here are the results of the survey.

How will your school be meeting this year?

In contrast to last fall, when schools were zooming exclusively, most educators responding indicated that going into this school year they plan to have learning take place in person (53%), or in a combination of in-person and remote (43%) as long as the Delta variant does not create the need to cancel in-person gatherings. Only 4% indicated they currently plan to meet only remotely.

While many respondents reported that the Hebrew portion of their program would be the part still taking place remotely, either in one-on-one or in small groups, some of them are planning zoom sessions for all, interspersed with a few Sundays of in-person programming. One school reported planning two entirely separate tracks for all learning, one in-person and one remote.

How are you organizing your Hebrew program?

65% of respondents reported a plan to offer in-person Hebrew learning, and 67% will offer remote instruction. The number is greater than 100% because some schools plan to offer both.  82% plan to organize at least part of their Hebrew program for small group learning, while about half will have some one-on-one Hebrew tutoring. Grade-based groups remain the more usual organizing principal for Hebrew learning, with skills-based groupings following for about 19% of the respondents.

What new thing did you do in your program to respond to the pandemic that you will keep doing this coming year?

2020 was a year of forced change and experimentation. The need to keep ourselves and others safe mandated extensive alteration in the way schools operated. And while we all look forward to a time when things can feel ‘back-to-normal,’ there will certainly be ideas and policies that educators tried out under emergency circumstances that worked so well they’ve decided to stick with them.

So we asked educators what those might be. By far the most extensive set of changes that are sticking involve Hebrew instruction, with many moving more learners to small group and one-on-one instruction. And it seems the ability to offer these sessions remotely is an important part of their appeal. More individualized approaches to Hebrew and the ability to learn more about their individual students through 1-1 work was also reported as highly gratifying for teachers.

Other innovations that are sticking:

  • Mid-week remote learning options
  • Longer t’filah sessions that include discussion
  • Deeper and more extensive involvement of madrichim
  • Incorporating more online programs such as Kahoot and Padlet into learning sessions
  • Greater focus on social emotional spiritual learning (SESL)
  • Book clubs and storytimes

Learners were not the only ones to benefit from changes that grew out of necessity to become important programmatic features. Educators also reported more family-based programming, as well as changes in parent communications and experiences, including remote options for committees, teacher meetings, and online communications. Noted one: “we won’t make them schlep to Temple anymore for less than one hour.”

Thanks to all who responded. We will be checking back as the year progesses to see what extraordinary things Jewish educators are pulling out of their hats in your commitment to your learners and your families. L'shanah tovah.



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