The technology laboratories that are a key feature of SuccessMaker and Waterford have contributed to increased student motivation. These projects are being upgraded and the expectation is that the new versions that are about to be introduced will produce even greater educational benefits.
It is noteworthy that the participating schools comprise a wide spectrum of day-school education. It may be expected that they would be institutions that focus more on secular studies than a typical yeshiva does. In fact, a number of major yeshivas are enrolled in Gruss academic programs and more are asking to join. Some months ago, a respected dean at a yeshiva outside New York called me three times and asked for me to assist his school’s effort to be included in CIJE programs.
In this connection, it is well to note the point made by Rav Elya Svei, the Philadelphia rosh yeshiva and the outstanding figure in American Torah education for a generation, to the effect that if a yeshiva allows a secular studies program to be ineffective and cares not about the progress its students are making, the results is bitul Torah or the neglect of Torah study.
CIJE has developed programs aimed at stronger students who need additional intellectual and academic challenges. As an example, for grades 5-9 there is the Excellence 2000 or E2K initiative which facilitates skills development in science. Installed so far in 68 schools, E2K also encompasses special training of day school faculty to enable them to effectively teach and inspire students in science and technology.
Add to this the state of the art science laboratories that have been placed, as of this writing, in eighteen specially selected elementary schools at a cost of about $75,000 for each facility. Additional schools are being brought in.
Then there are the interactive SmartBoards that CIJE is placing in day schools around the country. The rage these days in elementary and secondary education, SmartBoards essentially are the union of the old fashioned blackboard and a computer, with smartly done software added to the exciting brew. As a rule, new approaches in basic education tend to be oversold, and this may turn out to be true of SmartBoards because technology can only accomplish so much in view of powerful societal forces that often undermine the capacity of students to learn. But anyone who has sat in on a classroom demonstration can attest to the impact that it has on students, making for them the ordinary learning experience something that is marvelously exciting.
The further good news is that SmartBoard software is being developed for Talmudic study and other Judaic subjects. The painful truth is that for too many students, this is the part of the curriculum where they sort of check out. Hopefully, for these students Gemara will be transformed into a challenging experience.
There is more in the offing from Gruss and CIJE as new creative ways are being sought to improve the curriculum at yeshivas and day schools. It is small wonder that there is now much to celebrate in religious Jewish education thanks to the Gruss Foundation.