Grant to spur technological innovation at Yeshivat Noam
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Grant to spur technological innovation at Yeshivat Noam

This summer, Rabbi Chaim Hagler received what he termed a “wonderful surprise.”

The principal of Paramus’ Yeshivat Noam learned that parents Avi and Becky Katz planned to give the school a $1 million multiyear grant to create an educational technology and innovation program.

“I was not expecting it,” he said, noting that he had never discussed it with the Teaneck couple. “But coming from this family – with its commitment to innovation and Jewish education – it was not shocking. They’re very involved in the school and they care tremendously about it.”

The couple have three children in the school – Michal, in 7th grade; Tali, a 4th grader; and Yehuda, who is in 1st grade. Yoni, a Noam graduate, is a sophomore at the Torah Academy of Bergen County.

“Becky and Avi have been engaged leaders since the founding of our school, and they continue to amaze me every day with the time, talent and energy that they dedicate to it,” Hagler said.

The school has brought in Seth Dimbert, a specialist in the field of educational technology and innovation, to launch and oversee the new technology program.

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Avi and Becky Katz gave Yeshivat Noam a $1 million grant for a technology and innovation program.

“We conducted a thorough search for the right person,” Hagler said. “All roads led to him.”

Elaborating on his vision of what he calls “21st century learning,” Hagler talks about “the four Cs: collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking.” He noted, for example, that while collaboration is becoming the norm in research conducted throughout the world, schools generally have discouraged students from sharing information.

Now, he said, schools realize that their job is not simply to impart information “but to empower the students to access that information” from whatever sources are available. “Our job is to teach them how to use that information,” he said. “We’re not going to get rid of text or teachers. It’s not mutually exclusive.”

Last year, he said, parents Dan and Marge Fried donated 300 iPads to the school, some of which were sent home with sixth-graders and then returned at the end of the year.

“We learned a lot from that,” Hagler said, adding that the Frieds have pledged more money for technological improvements. “One thing we learned is that we need a person totally dedicated to overseeing this project.”

Dimbert will train teachers in “remaking” their classrooms, he continued. “They’re still our primary resource and we’ll invest in them to change how they’re teaching. We’ll support them and follow an appropriate timetable.”

The new project director also will research online learning resources – both secular and Judaic – and bring them to the teachers, showing them how to use these materials in the classroom.

“He’ll be leading the charge in teaching teachers to use the technology,” Hagler said, noting that while students and teachers have been both comfortable and excited about the school’s enhanced use of technology, “it’s clear that the teachers need more professional development to maximize the use of this.”

Dimbert, who said the program is still in its early stages, noted that the grant – which will facilitate the introduction of new technology – allows the school to do things it couldn’t do before.

“Technology is the language our students speak, and utilizing this allows us to speak to them,” he said, and his goal is “to teach them the skills they’ll need to navigate a complicated world.”

“We want to prepare students for a world that is different from the one that existed when we went to school,” he said. “The average 10-year-old at Noam has access to more information than President Reagan had when he was in the Oval Office. There’s more information every day, and it’s easier to search. We’re shifting from an economy where the people who had power were the ones who had information, to one where those who have power are those who know what to do with that information.”

Dimbert – whose official title at the school is director of educational technology and innovation – also pointed out that the jobs many students will have as adults well may not exist today.

While Hagler does not know how the new program will affect enrollment, he said that “most people want to see research-based and cutting-edge methodology brought into the school.” In addition, he said, “though it’s certainly not our number one focus, through technology we can leverage certain costs,” which may help to maintain or lower tuition.

The new initiative will benefit each of the school’s 830 students, he said, bringing “more engaged learning, more creative learning, offering more support, and meeting more of the students’ needs over time.” A three-person IT team will be available to make sure that the technology is used both correctly and safely.

“We’re constantly trying to educate students about internet safety,” he said, noting that with all the safeguards in place both at home and at school, “the biggest safeguard is to educate.” The school will be switching to Chromebooks, he said, since you can “lock down a lot of things. It gives more safety options.”

For their part, Avi and Becky Katz are confident that the new program will be of great value to students.

According to the couple, “As technology is becoming a more central part of education and the world around us, ensuring that our teachers are empowered to meaningfully and effectively use technology in their classrooms has never been more essential…. We want our teachers to be constantly thinking about how the use of technology will improve their ability to meet and exceed the students’ needs both in and out of the classroom. It is important to not only transfer what was once on paper to a computer, but to also better differentiate and engage each student in new and creative ways.”

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