June 15, 2024
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June 15, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Making a Difference, One Student at a Time

Needless to say, the world has faced tremendous challenges in recent months. Medical, financial and emotional hardships have hit wide swaths of our population. The heartening response of many to these new challenges has been to double down and offer more kindness and empathy to others in an effort to make the world a better place. Goodness and generosity have been displayed in so many ways. I think it is important for us to share examples of this goodness as a way to combat the inordinate focus of the mainstream press on negativity, controversy and cynicism. I offer one small iteration of this phenomenon that I have witnessed.

When schools were forced to shut down their buildings because of the COVID-19 virus, educators had to radically transform their educational platforms overnight. Our yeshiva day schools did a fabulous job, ensuring that students continued to learn and grow.

One of the first decisions that our educators needed to make was to decide what our educational goals would be in this new format. Leadership at the Moriah School made what turned out to be a controversial decision, to ensure that teaching continued on pace with a target to complete curricular goals by the end of the school year. Many schools, including much of the public school world, did not think that these were realistic objectives, and therefore developed different goals. These schools had a number of valid concerns. One of these concerns was that while remote learning has worked well for most children, there are still many children who thrive in a brick-and-mortar classroom yet struggle with a distance-learning model.

Cognizant of this challenge, Moriah leadership began to search for solutions to address the problem and close gaps for students who were struggling. Our approach included a number of strategies, including restructuring the schedule so that we could further personalize the learning for students in core subjects. Personalized learning is one of the hallmarks of a Moriah education, so this adaptation was helpful in closing gaps.

Another strategy that our school used was to give students one-on-one support. With all of our teachers working overtime to ensure that the remote teaching was successful, however, we felt that we lacked the resources to achieve this goal. To address this challenge we developed a plan to reach out to a broader segment of our community to ask for volunteers, thereby expanding the resources available to us.

We set up a volunteer tutoring program where parents or Moriah alumni signed up to pair off with students and study with them, once, twice or three times a week. Rachel Ratzersdorfer, a Moriah faculty member, who spearheaded the program, developed a database of students whose families or teachers felt that they could use extra support. She then created a database of volunteers willing to help tutor these students.

We originally envisioned sending out a request for volunteer tutors to the wider community. A brief email to our parent body describing the program was sufficient. The overwhelming response by volunteers offering to help made it clear that we did not need to issue any more requests for volunteers. We had too many volunteers—far more than the number of students needing extra help!

We began to pair students with volunteer tutors, involving classroom teachers in every discussion so that we could find the most appropriate pairings and so that our tutors had the information and guidance from teachers that they needed to help their students. Since we had so many volunteers we expanded the program and set up tutors for students who also wanted enrichment.

The program was so successful that once it was running smoothly we decided to expand it even further to include a big brother and sister program. We saw that many of our early childhood students, stuck at home, were craving social interactions. We asked for volunteers, many of them in our own middle school to become big brothers or sisters to early childhood students so that they could interact with them, play games with them and give them the critical social interactions and support that was so valuable to them.

Both of these programs have been so successful that they are continuing through the summer. Students have enjoyed the program and the relationships they have created and are learning so much that they wanted to continue. Our adults and alumni, many of them high school students, are willing to continue to donate their time and help our students out of the generosity of their hearts.

This is just one example of the kindness and generosity that we have seen displayed over the last few months. It gives us hope and confidence that we will overcome present challenges because of the strength and kindness that we see on a daily basis. It has also added a new dimension to our everyday lives as an outgrowth of present challenges that we can perpetuate even during better times.


Rabbi Daniel Alter is head of school at The Moriah School.

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