San Diego Jewish Academy shifts rapidly to meet needs of students, families

A SDJA student participates in a whole-class session from home.

As all of California moved to shelter-in-place, San Diego Jewish Academy in Carmel Valley quickly adapted to deliver educational and school-wide “gatherings” over digital platforms.

“Our faculty and teachers from kindergarten on through 12th grade are well-equipped and deeply committed to continuing the learning for students —they just do it now through digital platforms,” says Chaim Heller, SDJA head of school. “Through a combination of classes with all students in real-time, online meetings, and one-on-one check-ins and lesson planning, we’re charging ahead with both learning and care for each other as top priorities. Our parents have been absolutely phenomenal supporting us and their children in this transition.”

Distance learning at SDJA takes many shapes and forms: Preschool parents receive art projects and hands-on activities to do with their children while lower grade students participate in whole-class sessions and small breakout sessions with teachers and classmates via Zoom meetings. Middle and upper school students participate in full class sessions online while continuing to work independently on research projects and other ongoing course work. For all students, SDJA offers resources to increase mindfulness practices at this time, focusing on health and well-being.

“This is an adjustment for everyone, but SDJA really is empowering our children to learn from home and to continue growing under challenging circumstances,” said Jessica Fink, a SDJA parent. “The school is helping parents gain confidence and understanding with all of these new ways of learning. For us, feeling knowledgeable and able to support our children is so critical and helps us maintain some sense of normalcy.”

SDJA parents and students are used to school-wide weekly Shabbat gatherings and other community events and the school is intent on not losing that part of the SDJA experience.

“Our communal gatherings are actually needed now more than ever,” adds Heller. “So it’s up to us to adapt those gatherings to be online and to continue to be as meaningful and impactful as ever. We’re all in this together and we’ll gain strength from each other.”

Teachers and students were accustomed to digital learning experiences in part because of the school’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Thinking (CIET), which offers education and support on campus during normal operations.

Kwaku Aning, head of the CIET, said nothing is one-size-fits-all but they want students and families to be equipped to succeed in the future, “Based upon the past few days, it feels like distance learning and working remotely will be a part of that.” -- News release