WELCOME TO THE VIRTUAL CLASSROOM
November 8, 2017
Beis Moshiach in #1092, Life on Shlichus

They have a bell, a board, books and notebooks, but it all happens over the internet with a webcam and computer screen. The virtual school for children of shluchim has a goal: to become a suitable tool that will meet the needs of the post-Geula era.

The ring of the bell is heard and the girls in first grade sit down in their places. The teacher walks in and greets them with a “Good morning.” The girls open their siddurim and begin davening.

This describes the start to a typical day in any brick and mortar classroom. But in this school, the teacher lives in Haifa, while the students live across the globe: Mushka lives in Playa, Shaina lives in Peru, Perla lives in Ecuador, and Mussia lives in Colorado.

What’s it like to be a student when the classroom is in your bedroom and your friends are spread out across the world? Meet “Moshiach Kids,” a virtual school for children of shluchim.

 

“We are on shlichus for six years,” says Leah Brod, shlucha to Playa del Carmen in Mexico. “We needed to open a preschool for the children of the community and my children. Boruch Hashem the preschool is very successful, but when Mushka turned five, we wanted to provide her with a Chassidishe chinuch that included limudei kodesh and kria that went beyond what we were offering in the preschool. We also wanted her to interact socially with other Chassidishe girls. As time passed and Mushka grew older, the need became more urgent and we started having private lessons for her via Skype, along with another girl whose family lives in the area.

“When I spoke with other shluchos, we realized we all have the same need. I spoke a lot with Shternie Caplin, shlucha to Kasol, India together with the Winderbaum family, about the chinuch challenge and what could be done. Shternie is on shlichus for five months of the year in a distant village in northern India. The rest of the year, her family lives in Chicago where the children attend local schools. In Kasol there is a building that is designated as a preschool for the children of the shluchim and they bring girls to be the morahs. But the girls who go there aren’t qualified to teach and sometimes they are not as Chassidish as the parents would like. As time passes, and the children get older, they need something more suitable.

“The vision started becoming reality with Shternie’s constant pushing, not to remain satisfied with private lessons via Skype for a few students, but to enable as many children of shluchim as possible to participate.

“With the encouragement and blessings of the Rebbe through the Igros Kodesh, we suggested the idea to other shluchim and there was tremendous interest.

“Once the plan developed in a serious way, we enlisted Elisheva Russo, shlucha to the Jewish-Indian community in Mumbai, to help run the school. Elisheva and her family live in Crown Heights part of the year for parnasa reasons. Her children are still young and school is not yet relevant for her, but her personal dream was to be part of a chinuch-shlichus and to pull together the new project using the most advanced virtual technologies available today.”

Leah and I speak over Skype and the enthusiasm in her voice traverses the distance across the Atlantic. Within two years, an actual mosad has formed with a staff of teachers, men and women, five separate classes for boys and girls, and two time zones – Central America and the Far East, books and notebooks, bells and recess, report cards and parent-teacher meetings, and even homework. Just like every other school.

THE GOAL: TO BE ON A HIGHER LEVEL THAN EVERY OTHER SCHOOL

Besides being a Chassidic solution for the children of shluchim, “Moshiach Kids” strives to go beyond the usual standards and introduces a new concept with the virtual aids at its disposal so that it will be “a level above all the other schools and a flagship model for others who want to use technological resources to leverage the learning and internalizing of the material on the part of the students; beyond using books, internet worksheets, databases or Chassidic computer learning games.”

How do you do it?

The great advantage in learning via computer is the audio and visuals. Through the senses of sight and hearing we give the children the maximum possible to internalize the learning. The teachers work a lot on preparing presentations and finding video and audio clips, in addition to other styles of learning that relate to other senses. Here is where a teacher’s creativity comes into play. He or she can present a lesson which is highly visual, but not limited to that medium, in order to promote significant learning.

We use educational apps that enable various forms of interaction in the classroom. Students can participate and “touch” the lessons presented by the teacher – of course, by her instruction – as well as write on the board, respond to questions on screen or through various icons. The students participate, respond, review and give feedback about the lessons that are learned.

In addition, the teachers use the “remote control” function, so that the students only see them on the screen. This enables them to concentrate fully. It is also possible to divide the class into groups, to give the screen stage to a certain student to answer the question or share an experience, and to put all the children up on the screen simultaneously. Students can also write to each other during a lesson as a group and not only speak among themselves.

Describe a school day.

A typical day can vary from area to area. The students go to their computers and meet with their friends and teachers. The teacher greets them all, asks how they are, and davening begins.

There are certain set subjects. At the beginning and end of recess, teachers turn on music that serves in the place of a bell. It’s moving to see how the children use recess time to “visit” with one another, showing their homes and the work of the Chabad House.

The topics of discussion among the children are a lesson in themselves. We hear lines like, “You also have monsoons where you live?” Or “We had 87 tourists this Shabbos, how about you?” Or “I bake six kilos (over 13 pounds) of challos with my mother for Shabbos; it’s fun. Do you also bake challos or can you buy them?”

The Asian time zone includes the Philippines and India, and the American time zone includes the U.S., Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, etc. It’s amazing to see how the school rises above limitations of time and place and the children learn together, build friendships, farbreng, and form one Chassidic group.

How do the children connect socially despite the distance?

Children’s social instincts, especially that of children of shluchim, are far more innocent, without barriers and walls. A boy or girl on shlichus is exposed to many varied social situations that the typical child does not encounter. They take a central role in shlichus and in spreading the wellsprings. Sometimes, their friends are passersby or tourists. There are countless examples that show how children on shlichus ignite souls. For example, how does the request of a little girl of a guest to put on a shawl to be more modest or to light Shabbos candles, compare to the request of an adult?

The social nature of children of shluchim is apparent in our online classes too. The children sense the commonalities between the entire group, and the social experience is intensified the more the class becomes established. The children’s joy is palpable when they speak with their virtual friends. You don’t have to do much; just give the children the opportunity, and it happens on its own.

MOMMY AS THE SCHOOL SECRETARY

The virtual school requires a high level of involvement on the part of the parents. With a brick and mortar school, a parent sends a child off and relies on the staff to take over. With this school that comes into the home, the parent has to take care of the technical end of things, teach the child how to navigate the school web portal, and make sure the child is actually “present” at the lessons in front of the screen.

The mother, says Leah, is like the school secretary. She prints papers, makes sure there are things like scissors and glue, and helps cut a many-piece puzzle for the next day’s activity. When it’s report card time, parents print out the grades and a certificate of excellence on high quality paper, laminate it and put it in a nice envelope so as to provide the feeling and atmosphere of a school. On Chassidic dates, parents provide l’chaim and refreshments. Sometimes they also need to keep curious siblings away.

Sarah Kupchik, mother of Mushka from New Delhi, says:

“I must say that, boruch Hashem, since we joined ‘Moshiach Kids,’ we are seeing an enormous change in our children. They get up happily in the morning and look forward to joining the class. It’s a dream that even though we are in Delhi, we have a Chassidishe melamed and Chassidishe morah. It’s been a year already that instead of just learning with Ima, Abba or girls, they have a teacher and a class! The children have developed a special bond with the staff and their friends. The school fills the entire home with a Chassidishe atmosphere and provides them with a social outlet.

“It recently worked out that both we and the Levy family from the Philippines were in Eretz Yisroel. We had the children meet and it was very exciting for them, with an immediate connection, even though the children had never met previously beyond the screen. The children were thrilled to be together and walked hand in hand the entire Shabbos like family. It’s a special bond that will always be with them thanks to the school.

“We are happy that the school has small classes of fewer than ten students per class. Each child has room to express himself and make progress and we are in constant touch with the teachers. In India there are frequent electric outages and this disconnects us from the internet and the school, so we always make sure there is an adult around to reconnect the child so he doesn’t lose continuity.

“I would like to thank Morah Mushky Gabbai, the teacher for first graders in the Far East and R’ Shlomo Chaim Gruzman, the first grade rebbi for boys, and the rest of the staff: R’ Yisroel Noach Friedman, R’ Moshe Kot, R’ Shneur Zalman Tzik and Miss Osnat Friedman, for their year-round devotion, their personal, loving relationship with every student, preparing interesting lessons that are suitable for internet classes, their Chassidishe chayus, the farbrengens, mivtzaim and great simcha they bring to the children.

“To the directors, Leah Brod, Shternie Caplin, and Elisheva Russo who made the dream into reality, pushed and did not give up until the school was founded. For selecting the fabulous staff and their constant involvement throughout the year, for being in constant touch with teachers and parents. For readiness and willingness to solve problems that arise educationally and technically.”

DESPITE EVERYTHING – AL TAHARAS HA’KODESH

From the Simchas Torah sicha 5715:

“ …the first three years in which a child begins to learn is the essential foundation for his future success. It is specifically at this time that they take the child and pollute his mind with English, grammar and the like. If only the older ones also did not know these things. All the more so till age 9, till 12, and I would say in the years to follow too. Hashem’s desire is to dwell specifically in the mind of a Jewish child and they take this mind and pollute it with secular wisdom … Where is Jewish pride?”

***

“From the minute we got involved with this project we’ve encountered numerous complications, financial difficulties and other challenges in running such a complex network,” said Leah. “There are moments of despair and a desire to quit. The yetzer ha’ra tries to convince us that the whole thing is a balloon about to pop. There is no school building with classrooms and desks and chairs and it’s so easy to close the screen and walk away, to say this is beyond our abilities. But the Rebbe doesn’t let. We get endless chizuk and brachos from the Rebbe not to drop out and to continue in chinuch. He just doesn’t let us give up. It keeps on bringing us back on track, for who are we to feel weakness if the Rebbe has the final word? If the Rebbe encourages this mosad, then, with Hashem’s help, we will do it and be successful!”

In accordance with the Rebbe’s instructions, “Moshiach Kids” has only Torah-based learning.

“There are few mosdos where the situation allows for them to fully fulfill the Rebbe’s horaos. Boruch Hashem, we are free to do so and the hanhala has, as its goal, to instill chinuch al taharas ha’kodesh with no compromises. Both the boys’ and the girls’ hours contain varied subjects, but no arithmetic, geography or English. The curriculum is drawn solely from Chassidic sources and is modified according to our policy if necessary.

In addition, we begin staff meetings with something from the Rebbe on the subject of chinuch. It always reminds us of the importance of involvement in chinuch and gives us the strength to go on.

The mashpia of the school is Mrs. Itty Chazan who keeps tabs on the school and occasionally points out certain things that need correcting or adding. She also states her opinion when there are differing views.

THINKING OF THE FUTURE

Leah has no doubts as to the future of the school.

“When the Rebbe is revealed with the true and complete Geula very soon, the shluchim will continue their shlichus. Although the format of shlichus will change, there will still be plenty of work to do and maybe more than now. Just think of the mass migration of Jews and gentiles to the local Chabad House in order “to know G-d,” which will necessitate wide-ranging organization on every front. Surely ‘Moshiach Kids’ will continue to exist and perhaps on a grander scale than in galus.

“Our vision is to prepare our school for the Geula and to develop it more and more as a suitable tool to meet the needs of the post-Geula era. Of course, the emphasis now is for the lessons and approach to promote the message of Geula and belief in the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach with pride, which itself hastens the Geula.”

They have a bell, a board, books and notebooks, but it all happens over the internet with a webcam and computer screen. The virtual school for children of shluchim has a goal: to become a suitable tool that will meet the needs of the post-Geula era

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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