Online learning platforms have been implemented long before Zoom became an everyday word. For many students, choosing to learn virtually is the optimal choice, often providing greater academic success than the traditional classroom setting. Edu-together Academy, an engaging virtual school, is at the head of its class, offering curriculums for grades 3-12 that are taught by more than 50 exceptional educators, in real time.
Edu-Together Academy is a branch of Edu-Together, a platform developed to connect teachers in Israel with schools overseas. Edu-Together was founded in 2012 by Aryeh Eisenberg, an educator and ed-tech who made aliyah 13 years ago from Highland Park, New Jersey. Committed to continuing in his field, Eisenberg encountered obstacles along the way, and it became clear that other educators making aliyah were facing similar challenges. At the same time, he saw the daily challenges faced by today’s students, teachers and administrators and believed that real-time technology could solve them.
The platform focuses on staffing excellent teachers, especially for more advanced subjects and Judaic courses. Finding qualified teachers, even in populated cities, has become increasingly challenging, Eisenberg said. His company aims to match the right teachers to the right schools and students, creating an online learning experience that far surpasses many of the more conventional educational models. They also help schools implement additional class sections and new learning opportunities, including a wide range of foreign languages, computer science and other electives, all seamlessly integrated into an existing academic program.
When Eisenberg first started the company, he was working with three schools. Within a few months, the company tripled in size, making it apparent to him that there was a real demand for a high quality online educational platform. Today, Edu-Together works with more than 100 schools, 80% of them Jewish day schools.
Eisenberg recently expanded his platform to include Edu-Together Academy, an accredited virtual school that provides official transcripts and full high school diplomas. He makes it clear that his program is not intended to compete with traditional day schools. “Edu-Together Academy is for students who have not found success in a mainstream school setting,” said Eisenberg. It could be a student that is too advanced and requires a more challenging curriculum, someone who has learning issues and doesn’t thrive in a conventional classroom, or even a student who struggles with certain social dynamics, he added. Edu-Together Academy creates a customized school experience for each student that highlights their strengths while also pinpointing areas that need improvement. Eisenberg says it’s the personalized nature of their service that makes the program so successful.
Each student’s academic program is tailored to their specific needs. Students typically spend 50% of their classes in a one-on-one setting and the other 50% with a very small group of students. The objective is to keep classes small enough to focus on each student’s requirements. “We don’t lower the expectations,” said Eisenberg, who emphasized that it’s the unique approach to learning that fosters success.
Eisenberg describes his program as student-centered, innovative and flexible. The synchronous learning environment is structured so that students attend live classes, facilitating real-time interactions between educators and learners. “None of our classes are pre-recorded,” said Eisenberg, who believes this distinguishes Edu-Together Academy from other online platforms.
Edu-Together Academy teachers are all U.S.-trained and board certified with at least five years of classroom experience, many holding advanced degrees in their specific fields. They are not only expert in the subjects they teach, they also keenly understand the specifics of online teaching, which, according to Eisenberg, is critical to the success of the program. With the correct training, student-teacher relationships can be built, and the communication can take place just as well, if not better, than in a regular classroom, he added. Teachers are also trained to read non-verbal commentary, ensuring that nothing goes unnoticed on the other side of the camera. “In virtual school there’s no such thing as a back row seat,” he joked. Each student is in the spotlight, allowing teachers to effectively evaluate what’s going on.
The exemplary staff includes a director of education, an expert technology team and a guidance counselor, all making sure families and students are taken care of in the same way they would be in a traditional school setting.
Eisenberg understands the concerns surrounding the decision to enroll a child in an online learning program. Together with his dedicated staff, he makes every effort to facilitate social opportunities for students. He also encourages parents to fill in the gap by making sure kids are enrolled in extracurricular activities or youth groups, where they can engage in person with other kids their age. He added that some students who became friends virtually have coordinated their summer plans so they could spend time together face to face.
Like traditional schools, Edu-Together Academy sponsors non-academic events throughout the school year. This past year, they ran a coding contest and hosted virtual assemblies with various presentations, including an opportunity for students to talk to the Israeli Olympic baseball team. Also, when students visit Israel, either with family or for a gap year, they almost always reach out to their teachers, who are equally excited to connect in person.
This past year Edu-Together Academy enrolled 40 students, including some who were not thriving at local Bergen County yeshiva day schools and transferred to the online program where they ultimately excelled.
As a former educator in the United States, Eisenberg says one thing that always bothered him was the idea that students had to adapt to the curriculum, when in fact he believes it should be the reverse. “It’s our job as educators to figure out how to make our students successful.”
To learn more about Edu-Together Academy, please visit www.edutogether.org or by phone at 732-572-6575.
By Andrea Nissel