The whole world is watching
Schechter uses technology to connect school with broader community
A new project at the Solomon Schechter Day School in New Milford brings a personal story to mind.
After his first day of kindergarten, my son figured out how to bridge the gap between home and school.
When I asked him question after question about his day, he finally said in exasperation: “If you want to know so much, why don’t you just put a camera on my head?”
Perhaps by the time it’s my son’s turn to send children off to kindergarten, kid cams will be as accepted, as cop cams are starting to be. But in the meantime, some schools are using video technology to connect the school to parents, grandparents, and the broader community in ways that aren’t quite as all consuming or intrusive as the full-time monitoring that, to be honest, I probably would have wanted as the parent of a kindergartener.
At the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford, a grant has enabled the school to invest in the audiovisual equipment needed to connect the school and the community. The school is using its new ability to broadcast streaming video to bring the spirit of Shabbat, Jewish holidays, and special school events to watchers at home or work.
“It takes family education and family engagement into the 21st century, recognizing that we’re not all able to come to physically to the same space,” said Amy Glazer, the school’s director of institutional advancement.
“Technology today has the bad rap of making people more isolated, more insular,” she said. “What we’ve done is take the benefits of technology to create connections.”
Once a month, the school holds a special Friday afternoon event that it calls ReLiSh, for “ruach l’fnai Shabbat” — pre-Shabbat spirit. On the Friday afternoon before Pesach, the school hosted the Bible Players, an educational comedy duo. This proved the first chance for Ilan Marans, the school’s music specialist, who is in charge of the broadcasts, actually to produce one. He sat at the Newtek Tricaster 40 video editor, deciding which of two videos feeds to broadcast. One faculty member focused a camera on the Players; another roamed, taking in the students’ reactions.
“I was essentially live editing that program,” Mr. Marans said.
The result was streamed, and later placed on YouTube, with a link at the school’s website at ssdsbergen.org/relish.
The school also has been using the live streaming technology for other school events, including the departure ceremony when the eighth grade set off for their Israel trip last month.
“It was very moving,” Ms. Glazer said. “We heard stories of parents who didn’t even have students leaving that watched it.”
The head of the school, Ruth Gafni, is enthusiastic about the possibilities. “If people out there can be touched by what’s inside our walls, it can create a greater ripple, a transformative impact on the greater community,” she said.
She is grateful for the grant that “allowed us to venture into that part of the education world” by paying for the video equipment and staff training. The anonymous foundation that gave it was looking to help schools “use technology to enhance Jewish learning beyond the school walls,” she said.
Broadcasting its own events forces the school to make sure they run smoothly and more efficiently than they otherwise might have.
“You want to make sure the content of what you’re streaming is tight,” Ms. Gafni said. “It pushed us to get us to get our act together even more. You’re conscious someone is watching and you don’t want to waste their time.”
It’s not all video, however. That ReLiSh page also includes podcasts that Mr. Marans has been training some of his seventh and eighth grade students to prepare. They intertwine interviews with the school’s rabbi and fellow students along with audio of younger students singing holiday songs.
“It has to not only interest people, but to be educational,” Mr. Marans said.
The interviews and the songs constitute the basic structure of the podcasts, he said, “but it’s really the students’ voice, their addition, their fun, their jokes, that will bring listeners in. I’m slowly building them into an understanding of what it means to put together an audio event.”
Preparing audio shows about the holidays is an outgrowth on the work he does on audio editing in his music classes.
“For some of my students it comes very easily since most of the music they’re listening to is from samples,” he said. “It’s one way of learning harmony — through multitracking.”
Two thirds of the middle schoolers have learned how to use audio editing software, he said. The lessons pay off in their better understanding of music.
“There’s a visual conceptual thing that makes it a little easier for students to get through,” he said. “It allows them to bypass some resistance to old-school fundamental music theory and focus on the actual creative aspects of it.”