Maayan Torah Day School finds creative ways to meet students needs during school closures

A one-to-one laptop-to-student ratio, small student population and a dedicated staff made it possible for Maayan Torah Day School in Lake Oswego to provide online learning to all its students effective Wednesday, March 18.

Maayan Torah Day School is a private Jewish school for students in preschool through eighth grade.

The school had been monitoring the situation since Lake Oswego School District first closed the doors of Forest Hills Elementary School at the end of February as a precaution when an employee at the school tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. COURTESY PHOTO - Maayan Torah Day School, a private Jewish school in Lake Oswego, recently completed an effort to make sure every student has a laptop — thus making it easier for the school to transition into full online learning amid the COVID-19 crisis.

"We immediately started thinking 'what if we are next and we need to close school?' Obviously this was early in the game but it was in our minds," said Rabbi Yerachmiel Kalter, Judaics principal at Maayan Torah Day School.

On Friday March 13, the day after the Lake Oswego School Board voted to close its schools for an extended spring break, Maayan Torah notified parents they'd close as well.

"Having already set up Google education within our school, it was an easy step to transition onto Google classroom and stream live with teachers on Google meet," Kalter said in an email.

"Thankfully we were lucky to have made serious improvements to our technology infrastructure this past year which helped tremendously," Kalter added.

In the 2018-19 school year, the school had several Chromebooks that rotated among students. In the fall, the school added to the inventory, so that every student in fourth grade and up would have one. Grants, donations and purchases throughout the year allowed them to get where they are today.

He said that, although Maayan Torah is a small school with limited resources and a significant percentage of families on financial scholarships, they were able to provide everything necessary for online learning through grants for laptops and dedicated staff.

Parents had a big role to play in getting online learning off the ground as well.

He said that, while teachers were creating new class schedules, parents were picking up devices and supplies to begin online learning.

Kalter said some families don't have internet access at home and have had to get creative by doing things like driving to parking lots of buildings they know has Wi-Fi to so their kids can learn.

He said for the students who log on and participate in the programs offered, he's confident their learning won't be stunted.

"We are fairly confident we will get them ready for the next grade level," Kalter said.

He said that, even if online learning had to continue through the end of the school year, he believes students will be prepared for the next school year.

Maayan Torah has 100 students, 67 of whom are in kindergarten through eighth grade.

He said he's not familiar with public school education and that Maayan Torah does not have to meet the same assurances mandated to public schools by the Oregon Department of Education.

He said he knows that the Lake Oswego School District is grappling with how to provide learning equitably.

That's something Maayan Torah is prioritizing as well, according to Kalter.

"Every one of the students have equal access to the learning," he said.

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