Jewish Journal

Tradition meets future at Yeshiva High Tech

by Liam Keegan, Contributing Writer

Posted on Aug. 8, 2012 at 4:42 pm

Yeshiva High Tech, a new Jewish high school opening this fall, will offer students a blended-learning curriculum—a form of education that gives technology a central role in the classroom.

The first blended-learning project founded west of the Mississippi, the Pico Boulevard school combines traditional forms of teaching with technology-driven activities, which is its main difference from online learning. 

Head of School Rebecca Coen, who will run Yeshiva High Tech with Director Rabbi Moises Benzaquen, says research shows students are more engaged in blended-learning environments than in traditional classrooms.

“Blended learning focuses on the student, rather than the educator,” Coen said. “The teacher is no longer the keeper of knowledge. The teacher supports and guides the students to meet the needs of each student at their own academic levels.”

The blended-learning system involves one teacher guiding students on a number of subjects, in contrast to the traditional one teacher per subject model. Students complete subjects in online programs under the direction of a teacher.

Coen gave an example of what a literature class would look like through blended learning.

“Students would be accessing literature, vocabulary development, grammar usage and application, etc. through an online curriculum platform. They would be reading and analyzing various types of literature [novels, plays, poetry, short stories, etc.] through classroom discussions, online chats, Moodles [an e-learning software platform] and essays.”

Coen says teacher-student ratios won’t exceed eight students per teacher.

“You wouldn’t find just one grade in a class,” Coen explained. “Students work collaboratively on individual programs. It’s an individualized program based on how students are performing academically and socially.”

Funding for the school is coming from various organizations, including the AVI CHAI Foundation, the Saul Schottenstein Foundation, the Jewish Community Foundation, the Affordable Jewish Education Project as well as a local charity.

“The school has rented facilities at Mogen David on Pico Boulevard near Beverly Drive, where we have had buildings renovated and upgrades through donations from the community,” Coen said.

Coen, who is a former head of Richmond Jewish Day School and a mentor at Harvard University’s Art of Leadership program, said the school is a recognized alternate to expensive Jewish private high school education.

Tuition will cost students $8,500 a year—among the lowest tuitions at Jewish high schools in Los Angeles, which usually run between $25,000 and approximately $40,000 a year.

“We offer a different way of learning, and we are already nationally accredited, so students will graduate with a degree that is accepted by colleges or universities.”

Coen also said the online platform will give students access to a wide range of subjects.

“The online platform that we are using is called Keystone. Through this platform, students can access all of the traditional subject areas in English, math, science and history as well as AP classes in each of these subject areas, and electives in subjects like money management, graphic design, screenplay writing, world languages [French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, etc.] and many more.”

Miriam Prum Hess, director of the Center for Excellence in Day School Education and Jewish educational engagement at BJE—Builders of Jewish Education—says the new high school is at an experimental stage.

“The advancement and application of technology in online learning has been around for a long time,” Prum Hess said. “But the possibility of a combination of online learning and classroom education is a new focus. The approach allows for more flexibility and personalization in education, as well as being more affordable.”

In 2010, all-boys Orthodox high school Yeshivas Ohev Shalom on Fairfax Avenue also began teaching students through online education.

Coen said Yeshiva High Tech’s target enrollment for its first year was 20 students. So far the school has enrolled 40 students and expects to cap enrollment at 50.

Prum Hess says this school will make high school more affordable for many people.

“Some people will be very excited about this; it will provide opportunities for parents to send their kids to school when they couldn’t afford other high schools. Also, there will be those who feel the online approach is best suited to them.  For others, it won’t be the right approach.”

The school’s blended-learning environment is to be based on Torah values and “a total commitment to the halachah that guides and determines a person’s lifestyle,” according to the Yeshiva High Tech Web site.

Coen says Judaic studies will be taught mostly in traditional form with a teacher, as online Judaic curriculum hasn’t been fully developed.

“We are an Orthodox school,” Coen said. “We expect students to keep Shabbat, kosher and Torah values. Boys and girls will share the same campus but will learn in separate classes. Students will pray every day, and about 50 percent of the day will be dedicated to Judaic studies.”

Yeshiva High Tech will begin its first semester in the fall, and registration is currently open at yeshivahightech.org.

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