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School is back in session

Blended learning, lower tuition

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Yeshivat He’Atid in Bergenfield

Yeshiva He’atid, which has been hailed as a solution to the high price of Jewish day school education, is opening in Bergenfield this week. It will have 118 students: 25 in the first grade, 43 in kindergarten, and 55 in pre-k.

It joins five other Modern Orthodox elementary day schools in the area.

What sets it apart is its tuition. Yeshiva He’Atid charges $8,990 for kindergarten and first grade, and charges none of the extra fees that can bring the costs at some schools up to $17,000. (Pre-k costs about $1,000 less.)

What also sets its apart is its “blended learning” model, which administrators say will allow for fewer teachers and administrators. That, they say, will make the school sustainable despite its low tuition, and will provide at least as good an education as more conventional models.

When the school is at capacity, administrators plan to have one teacher and one half of an assistant for each class, which will have up to 26 students.

Blended learning makes computers an integral although not the only component of education.

“The idea is to personalize the learning experience, to differentiate the learning,” Rabbi Netanel Gralla, the new school’s principal, said.

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Rabbi Netanel Gralla

“Students get to learn at a pace they’re comfortable with and be engaged throughout the day.”

Rather than basing the classroom on a teacher addressing all the students simultaneously, “kids will rotate throughout the day through a number of learning environments in the classroom,” Gralla said.

Computersone for every three students in first grade – will be one of those environments. Gralla said that he expects first graders to spend 20 minutes a day on the computers for English or math. (Younger students will use them less.)

While some students are using the computers, others will be working in small groups with a teacher, and the rest will be working independently.

The key aspect of the computer software, said Gralla, is that it will diagnose what the students do not understand.

“Instead of using a pencil and a workbook, kids will be engaged in an engaging activity on the computer which is fun and animated,” Gralla said.

Meanwhile, “the computer is assessing how well they do it, which points they’re understanding and which they’re not understanding,” he said.

“The computer is just a tool to empower the teacher to better understand the student’s strength and weakness,” he said.

“It’s going to empower me as a teacher,” Amanda Pransky said. She is the school’s first-grade teacher for English subjects. Pransky, who lives in Bergen County and taught first grade for three years at the Ramaz School in Manhattan, spent this week training with the Yeshivat He’Atid’s faculty and blended learning consultants.

“Because of the way we’re implementing the technology, the data about the student’s achievement and assessment will all be in one place,” she said.

“It has its challenges,” she said of the blended learning model, “but I’m really excited to be learning about all the new programs we will be using.”

For English subjects, Yeshivat He’Atid has selected programs from the growing number of companies specializing in computer-assisted instruction. For Hebrew, it is using the Tal Am curriculum, which several other area day schools also use. For the first time this year, Tal Am offers an online edition. That’s the one that Yeshivat He’Atid will use.

“We’re tied in to the common standards,” said Gralla. “The difference is the way the classroom looks and the learning experience the students go through. It’s a very efficiently designed model and the efficiencies are going to be cost effective.”

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