28 May 2020
On Friday, March 13, it was announced that Gesher Jewish Day School, a partner agency of The Jewish Federation, would be closing its building and transitioning to an online learning environment due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Allison Brody, Director of Student Services and Technology at Gesher, didn’t have much time to get the school ready.
“[We had] a weekend and two days of training,” Allison says. “And then we hit go.”
It was Allison’s job to make sure that Gesher was as prepared as possible to resume educating its students on March 18 without meeting in person. She was responsible for finding and licensing as many online educational tools as she could for the school and ensuring that teachers and students were registered to use them. She also created user manuals and training videos for the teachers to learn how to use these platforms.
“I was staying up until 4 o’clock in the morning to churn out everything that I could think of,” Allison says. “I think I lost my voice that week because I was doing so many [videos].”
That work didn’t stop once #GesherConnected, the school’s remote learning capabilities, were up and running. She continued to troubleshoot and respond to problems for teachers and students, explore alternative technological options, and develop resources so Gesher could maintain its standards for student education and engagement.
“Allison’s creativity and ability to troubleshoot in an instant made the transition to remote efficient and clear,” says Jennifer Scher, Gesher’s Director of Institutional Advancement. “Every day she continues to expand the resources, tools, and training for teachers, students, and parents to ensure the academic excellence at Gesher continues without disruption.”
Even in preparation for spring break, when Gesher was shut down, Allison put together a list of activities for students during the school closure. “No one really asked for it,” she says. But growing up with the values of giving tzedakah (charity or justice), the idea of doing what she can to help others was engrained in her from an early age. “The driving force of all of this is to do what I can to help whoever I can,” she says. “If we can achieve it, we’re going to find a way to do it.”
Allison is committed to helping teachers find the right technologies so they can run their virtual classrooms the way they want to.
“One size does not fit all in education,” Allison says, referring both to how teachers teach and how students learn. “We wanted to still [honor that] in this space.”
A few weeks into teaching online, she says Gesher’s teachers really hit their groove, even as they were all teaching in different ways. Some were doing more live video lectures; others were doing more pre-recorded lessons. Some were doing more regular one-on-one check-ins with students; others were relying more on interactive online games and activities. One 4th-grade teacher is using an app called Jamboard so her students can work out math problems on a virtual white board.
“The teachers have come into what’s working best for them,” Allison says. But no matter how each class looks from day to day, she believes it’s still important to have some virtual face-to-face interaction. “We still need these touchpoints to connect with each other and keep that community.”
In addition to staying connected, Allison is also committed to maintaining aspects of the school year that could be lost by transitioning to a virtual-only environment. “We really wanted to find a way to not lose [those traditions] because we’re at home,” she says.
For the eighth-grade students whose trip to Israel was canceled, Gesher arranged for them to receive a care package with an Israeli cookbook and spices so they could experience Israeli cuisine at home. They also participated in a Q&A session with Ron Dermer, Israeli Ambassador to the United States.
Most recently, Allison helped create a virtual Lag B’Omer, complete with a list of activities students could do with their families to commemorate the 33rd day of the Omer. Traditionally, this is a day of celebration within the 49-day period of “mini-mourning” that begins the second day of Passover. In addition to the activities, Gesher also created a pump-up video to get students excited.
Despite all of the challenges, Allison has enjoyed testing the waters of online education and exploring the different ways teachers can connect with their students. “Ultimately, we’re going to be better for it,” Allison says. “[It’s a] learning opportunity to do something we wouldn’t normally have a chance to do and hope that we can grow from it.”
The Jewish Federation is proud to partner with the six local Jewish Day Schools serving our Greater Washington community, including Gesher Jewish Day School. As our community continues to weather the Coronavirus pandemic and its ensuing challenges, the support of donors to Federation’s Annual Campaign has ensured that our schools and other partner agencies are equipped to meet their needs—and to be agile in their work during this time of crisis.