With schools, synagogues and area institutions shuttered due to COVID-19, the need for digital resources has grown, and while Zoom and Google Meet have provided the formats for online learning, content still is key.
Even prior to recent school closures, Classrooms Without Borders began promoting its online curriculum support center as an electronic resource for educators. Complete with lesson plans, documentary videos and virtual museum tours, the curriculum support center has filled a much needed role, explained CWB’s founder and executive director, Tsipy Gur.
In today’s climate “teachers need to be up to date on anti-Semitism,” said Gur. “Through our programs at Classrooms Without Borders, we created a community of educators, and now we can build on supporting that community.”
CWB, founded by Gur in 2011, provides experiential professional development for teachers through study seminars in locales such as Poland, Italy and Israel. While the travel abroad affords educators insight into topics such as anti-Semitism, the brainstorming and collaboration that occurs in connection with those trips also serves as a critical component of CWB’s work, Gur said.
Educators who access the curriculum support center can find recently added age-appropriate lesson plans for middle school, high school and university students, including a study guide for Elie Weisel’s “Night”; strategies for cultivating tolerance; and a method for bridge building by “examining the Kielce and Tree of Life massacres and exploring community reconciliation.”
Several of the lesson plans were submitted prior to the one year commemoration of the October 2018 attack at the Tree of Life building, explained Melissa Haviv, CWB’s assistant director: It was important “that teachers could take a moment and not let the one year mark go by without addressing the event, and that kids could engage in dialogue and learn what happened.”
Apart from addressing the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, educators accessing the curriculum support center can find recently added materials that provide general instruction related to “the Holocaust, hate or respecting cultural differences in the classroom,” she added.
Placing this work online is consistent with CWB’s mission, explained Gur. Since its founding, CWB has prided itself on connecting and bolstering teachers in order to benefit students’ education.
The COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t change that directive, insisted Gur.
“Instead of gathering, and having speakers and bringing them into the classrooms, we will stream until the time comes,” she said.
Through CWB’s curriculum support center, teachers can network, share resources and also connect with scholars for mentorship purposes, explained Haviv. Whether it’s connecting classrooms in Israel and Pittsburgh that are each working on water related projects, or any other imaginable assignment, “the curriculum support center is serving as the online presence for something that was already a large part of our programming.”
Transitioning venues from public settings to the digital realm represents a change in CWB’s operations. More dramatic, however, is the fact that the organization, which routinely offers international study experiences as pedagogical tools, has been forced to cancel a number of upcoming foreign seminars.
As disappointing as those cancellations are, efforts have been made to use the curriculum support center to connect those educators who were registered for the trips.
“We’re doing lectures on Zoom and preparing teachers for when we go,” said Gur.
Along these lines, previously scheduled public programs, such as upcoming presentations or movie screenings, will move online and be available to the public-at-large in order to continue the organization’s mission, she added.
“We are organizing an online book club for educators; online lectures with our scholar-in-residence Avi Ben-Hur; an online lecture with Dr. David Hirsh on the topic of “Anti-Semitism, Populism and Politics Today: Learning from the British Experience”; an online film screening and discussion with the director of “Warsaw: A City Divided” (and offering virtual ‘school visits’ for him to connect to classes that are using online learning during this time); and more,” said Daniel Pearlman, CWB’s program manager, in an email.
Looking ahead, the hope is that the curriculum support center can function as a “one-stop shop for educators,” said Haviv.
With more teachers seeking resources for digital dissemination, CWB staff expects increased reliance on its platform. To date, educators from 138 schools in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Sarasota, Florida, have created accounts at curriculum.classroomswithoutborders.org, said Gur.
“We know who’s using it, and from where, and it’s lovely because it lets us know that there are so many teachers out there who care. Talk about immediate gratification in your job, it’s amazing,” said Haviv. PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.