Baltimore County Public Schools recently announced that the first semester of this upcoming school year (2020-2021) will be entirely virtual. The JT spoke with Amian Kelemer, CEO of the Macks Center for Jewish Education, about her thoughts on this.
Kelemer emphasized that there is no correct answer when it comes to opening policies.
“Everyone has to make the best decisions they can. Everyone is doing the best for students that they can. Even though our system of Jewish schools will be live and we will not open virtually, it doesn’t take away from the fact that everyone is doing the best they can,” Kelemer said. “I feel like there’s no right answer. The most important thing is to have flexible thinking and offer as strong of an education as possible.”
Kelemer then noted what she believes organizers should keep in mind. “There are many ways to educate virtually. You don’t have to only exclusively use the internet as a tool. You can do a lot of things to give opportunities and tools for learning.” For example, she is encouraging local Jewish schools to have outside education programs.
Another concern of hers is a larger, more general question:
“What are we doing for a whole generation of kids who had a different education than we anticipated? How do we provide support for them? That is a huge and critical question. And we can’t know the outcomes this experience will have on them.”
Kelemer has seen her own son, who is 12, adapt quite well and even gain time management skills. “There are all sorts of learning from this that will be very important for the rest of their lives,” she said. “So there are very positive things that can come out of this. But it’s also very scary.”
She circled back to the point that school systems have lots of factors to weigh carefully. They must think holistically about the students’ health, how to engage with them, what to teach and students’ access to that education.
For example, children with disabilities will face more challenges.
“Ask the kids in therapy how effective it has been,” she said. “It’s very challenging. What do you do with a child who really has significant educational needs and they cannot be left without supervision and they’re trying to access the curriculum? For my son, functioning so beautifully presupposes a ton of things.”
She also noted that not all families have easy access to technology. “So how do we set low barriers to education? Having no in-person access creates huge challenges.”
Finally, Kelemer pointed out that faculty also needs to be taken into consideration. “It’s hard to teach with a mask on. It’s also hard to teach behind a screen.”
In conclusion, Kelemer said that everyone is trying their best. “There are a lot of smart people thinking about how to cover all those bases. You have to respect the decisions [of BCPS]. But I’m proud our system is coming up with ways to do things also. And I hope people would not judge Jewish schools either for doing something differently [than BCPS]. Everyone is doing their best.”