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Parents of Gray Academy students offer praise for “Gray Away”

Charlie (JK) & Samuel (Gr.2) Badniok

By BERNIE BELLAN
At the end of my conversation with Lori Binder, Rob Dalgliesh, and Andrea Ritter about how Gray Academy has adapted to online learning, I asked Andrea whether she could suggest the names of some parents who might be willing to offer comments about how their children have taken to online learning.

Andrea sent me names of three parents: Tara Kozlowich, who has children in Grades 3 & 6; Sophie Gaulin, who has children in JK & Grade 2 (and who has been in Guadaloupe since before the pandemic due to her husband’s work); and Marla Levene, who has children in Grades 6 & 9.
In addition, I also contacted Jonathan Strauss (who was actually the individual who had suggested that I do a story about how well Gray Academy is doing with online learning.) Jonathan has boys in Grades 4 & 7.

Following are the questions I posed to Tara, Marla, and Sophie: (I simply asked Jonathan to offer some capsule comments about his impressions of “Gray Away”.)

1. How much time do both of your children typically spend doing online learning in a given day?

Tara Kozlowich: We have two daughters at the Gray Academy. One is in Grade 6 and the other in Grade 3. They spend most of their school day in a balance of live online classes and independent work. Our older daughter has dedicated times where she can attend a google meet to ask her teacher questions about assignments or to go over something in a personalized setting, similar to what you would expect in a classroom. Our younger daughter has smaller group breakout sessions which has been very helpful in teaching different concepts and providing 1 on 1 attention. They also participate in a range of other subjects such as French, Art, Gym and Music.

Marla Levine: Our children (grade 9 and grade 6) spend between 5 1/2 to 6 hours a day learning. There are also breaks in the morning and afternoon as well a lunch break.

Sophie Gaulin: Our son, Samuel is in Gr. 2 and spends in average 4 1/2 hours in total online, learning, between zoom classes and homework.
Our daughter, Charlie in JK spends about two hours total, mainly on zoom.

2. Does it vary much from day to day?

Tara: One of the great things about Gray Away is that there is consistency and structure, which is such an important part of their school day – especially in the situation we all find ourselves in. The schedule can differ by day but expectations are always clearly communicated to the kids.
Marla: Each day the amount of time spent on computer as opposed to working alone changes.
For our daughter in grade 6, there is a “meet” with her general studies teacher first thing in the morning. They spend the morning with a combination of instruction from the teacher and independent time to do the assigned tasks. At the end of the morning they have a check in before lunch. The afternoon is a similar format with the Judaic studies teacher. In addition, the other itinerants (French, art, gym, debating/public speaking, music, etc.) are spread at different times within the morning or afternoon throughout the week.
For our son in high school, the week is divided into his various classes. For any given class they may have a live meet with instruction, time to work on posted assignments with the teacher available on a meet for questions, or a combination of both. There is also small group advisory with a designated teacher to check in on the kids and how they are doing.
For elementary, the itinerants vary from day to day. The content / format for main subjects in General and Judaic studies also vary depending on what they are working on at that time. In high school, it varies from day to day (depending on what each teacher is doing in that subject on that day) as well as from class to class.

Sophie: It doesn’t vary much from one day to another.

3. How are they reacting to it? (For instance, did they adapt to it quickly? Was there a novelty aspect to it at first? Are they feeling the same way about it now as they did to start?)

Tara: They have both adapted well to the Gray Away program. Although they miss their teachers and classmates, the school has done a great job keeping them engaged and supported and they are able to connect digitally with their friends and teachers daily.
We are in a good routine with the program. Our older daughter who is in Grade 6 is independent and does not need assistance from us throughout the day. Our daughter in grade 3 needs some help each morning getting organized for the day. The structure of the program has allowed us to both work from home with minimal interruptions to our workday. Although the higher grades were already well versed in turning in assignments electronically, it’s amazing how quickly our younger daughter has picked up submitting assignments online, or taking her weekly spelling test online.
Marla: When Gray had to stop in school instruction, there was a huge unknown for everyone as to what to expect. Starting from the first day of Gray Away, our kids have been busy, engaged, happy, at ease. They are excited to see their peers and teachers. They are happy to remain connected to school. These are very uncertain times for everyone and Gray has given the kids a sense of normalcy, schedule, purpose to their day
Sophie: Our situation was a bit complicated at first because we are away in Guadeloupe. My husband was doing a locum at the hospital in NICU and PICU. We were supposed to stay on vacation only 10 days and come back mid-march but because of the COVID, he was asked to stay and help for an extended period of time.
We decided to stay together as a family but the kids didn’t have their school material and we didn’t have a printer, books… nothing. So at first it was a very stressful situation. But right away I saw why Gray is often described as a family: from Joyce Kerr, to Lori Binder, to the teachers, to Ira… we were shown an extensive solidarity that enabled us to continue their education abroad. They were sending the material every day. When we couldn’t find the material to do an activity (because we had restrictions to go out of the house for the first 6 weeks), they made sure my children didn’t feel left out.
They were amazing at providing a structured day so that the kids didn’t feel like they were on holidays but at the same time, my children feel empowered by the new learning experience. When the teacher says that they have a 30 minute break, they put their timer and go off. The system put in place is extremely organized and doesn’t require much of my time. And I have to admit it suits me fine because I work long hours remotely with my colleagues in Manitoba.

4. Do you think they are learning as much as they would be in a physical class room setting?

Tara: Although it’s hard to replicate the class room environment, they are not only learning academically, but also have the benefit of learning so many other skills such as resilience, kindness and the importance of community during difficult times. The school has done a great job of also continuing to make connections through online events whether it be for Yom Haatzmaut or a weekly Shabbat Assembly. It has been amazing to see families come together online.
Marla: We are incredibly pleased with how much our children are learning. Whether it is “as much” is easier to assess with our daughter as we can compare with what our son was learning in grade 6. It appears to us that they have not missed a beat … the teachers have modified lessons and brought in new innovative teaching, allowing the kids to flourish.

Sophie: I don’t know if they are learning as much but what I can say, is that they have not felt disconnected from school thanks to the amazing program put in place. I couldn’t believe how fast Gray was able to respond to the crisis. Within a couple days, we felt they had things under control and I felt really guided through this experience.
I feel that my children are still learning a lot. Yet they miss the real interaction with their friends and teachers.
They are also learning different skills. For instance, my 7 year-old son started writing his own emails to his teachers. So he learnt how to be responsible for sending his work or sending an email explaining why he couldn’t do it.

5. Lori mentioned that they actually have recess breaks built into the program? Do your children go outside during those recess breaks?

Tara: Our kids will often take their breaks outside for short walks or connecting with friends virtually. It’s nice to be able to spend ‘lunch recess’ with them and hear how their morning went.

Marla: The kids definitely take breaks. Sometimes that involves an outside activity and sometimes it involves an inside activity. It depends on the day and how much time they have. For example, with our son, if he happens to finish an assignment early he will often go for a walk or a bike ride or do some other type of exercise.

 

Sophie: Yes the schedule is very balanced. They have recess breaks and my children put the timer on and go off. Sometimes they go swimming in the pool, sometimes they go in the yard chasing lizards and caterpillars!

I invited each of the respondents to add a final comment.

Tara: Overall, our family has been so happy with Gray Away – in a short period of time the school came together quickly to launch a program that has been so well received.
It is important to mention how committed our teachers and Administration have been throughout this time – they have shown a tremendous amount of dedication to their students. Special touches like surprising the Grade 6 students with an early delivery of the coveted Gray Academy Raiders sweatshirt, or sending a personalized letter (received through regular mail!) to our younger daughter letting her know how much they miss her was such a nice surprise. These gestures have gone a long way towards our children’s happiness.
Well done Gray Academy!

Marla: We cannot thank the Gray team enough. They were able to create in a matter of days an online learning platform that should take years to launch. The administration, teachers and all staff adapted to create a learning environment that is truly remarkable. They also have gone above and beyond to check in to ensure each of our kids (and our family as a whole) is coping well with all that has come with this pandemic. We are so fortunate to have people so dedicated to our children and their well- being – educational, mental and physical. (As an aside, I should add that we have had conversations with many of our peers who are parents and our peers who work in the various educational systems. We can say confidently that there is no other private or public school that compares on any level to what is going on at Gray from an educational perspective, a connection to teachers/classmates and overall concern for emotional and physical well-being.)

Finally, here is what Jonathan Strauss had to say:

“Our family has been very impressed with how quickly Gray Away was developed and launched.
“The daily structure means that our kids are working without the need for us, as their parents, to be involved in their day to day work. From what we hear from other parents this is not the same as many other schools.
“The boys are spending much of their school day on their computers. While it is more than normal, we are happy that they are being engaged with their education for more than just a couple of hours per day.
“Seeing their friends every day on video calls means a lot to our kids. Having been separated for so long from their friends they look forward to this regular connection via Zoom.
“We can’t say enough about how pleased we are with Gray Away. Lori, her leadership teams and all of the teachers have done a tremendous job in transition quickly to online learning.”

 

I would really have liked to talk with individual children, and I might still do that – but I think I’ll save that for a future article.

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Working with late night talk show stars Colbert and Stewart dream job for former Winnipegger

By Myron Love When the Jewish Post last touched base with Raffie Rosenberg in the summer of 2020, she was back in Winnipeg for a few months during the Covid lockdown reconnecting with her father, Lewis Rosenberg (her mother, the late Dr. Fran Steinberg passed away ten years ago) and other relatives while looking forward to returning to New York in the fall to continue her studies at Columbia University.

As far back as she can remember,  she noted in that earlier interview, she has had her sights squarely set on a career in the entertainment industry.   “I started dancing lessons when I was two years old,” she recalled.  “I loved it.”

She added that her interest in the theatre was also stimulated by her parents, both of whom had been involved in the arts. Prior to pursuing a career in medicine, her mother studied at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.  She also taught dancing and further studied dance at York University.  Her dad also has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree – Theatre Design and Technology – from the University of Minnesota.

Having graduated previously (in 2016) from Western University’s  Ivey School of Business, Rosenberg earned her second degree – an MFA – with a focus on theatre management and producing –  from Columbia in 2022.

And she is very happy to report that, over the past two years, she has had the opportunity to work behind the scenes with two of her heroes in the entertainment business – none other than the king of late night television, Stephen Colbert, and his predecessor, Jon Stewart.

She got on with Colbert’s “The Late Show” as a production intern during her final semester at Columbia shortly after graduation from Columbia for a five-month period (January-May, 2022) and followed up on that coup by being hired as a production assistant on Stewart’s return to the air waves via Apple TV with “the Problem with Jon Stewart,” a weekly series featuring hour-long single subject episodes.  The show launched in the fall of 2021.  Rosenberg joined the production team in the fall of 2022. 

(The show was recently cancelled.)

Those were my dream jobs,” Rosenberg notes – “to work with both Stewart and Colbert on televised shows that include elements of live theatre (such as a studio audience and band).”

She points out that entertainment internships are difficult to get – especially in late night. “The team at Colbert is really proactive about interviewing a huge number of candidates and taking a look at people from the online applicant portal,” she reports. “I got lucky and the timing was right for that internship.” 

She notes that, being in an entry level role at The Late Show and at The Problem, she didn’t work with either host directly.  “The staff of The Late Show is over 100 people and at The Problem there were around 60 of us,” she says, “but both Jon and Stephen are incredible bosses. They’re kind, focused, and great leaders. Even though I never worked with either directly, being able to work on their shows was a huge highlight and definitely a childhood dream come true.” 

Her role was different for each of the shows – reflecting the different responsibilities in her job titles and the fact that Colbert is nightly and Stewart’s show was weekly.

As a production assistant, I was more involved in areas such as research, working on the podcast and deeper dives into current events ,” she points out.  “Also, we were working with a longer lead time on Jon’s show – which gave us more room to expand on individual subjects.”

In her independent work as a creative producer, she points out, she is more involved in sourcing funding to help get the project off the ground, crafting the narrative, working with the script writers and hiring lead actors and the director.

For the past two summers,  Rosenberg has produced the Arts in Action Festivals for the Broadway Advocacy Coalition.  The BAC was founded in 2016 by a group of actors and activists with the goal of using the arts to try to create as a vehicle to help create a more just world.  The two-day Arts in Action festivals present workshops, performances, panels and screenings in furtherance of its goals.

With the conclusion of production for the “The Problem With Jon Stewart” last fall, Rosenberg is open to new projects – one of which is a collaboration with a couple of other Jewish artists on a coming-of-age comedy.

It would seem that Raffie Rosenberg has a bright future to look forward to in theatre and film production.   

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Husband and wife team of Russel and Rori Picker Neiss bringing different aspects of Jewish learning to Limmud Winnipeg

Rori Picker Neiss (left) and Russell Neiss

By MYRON LOVE Rori Picker and Rusell Neiss say they are excited about their upcoming first visit to Winnipeg.  The couple, Jewish educators – originally from New York, who have been living and working in St. Louis for the past ten years – will be here on the weekend of March 9-10 – as presenters at our community’s 14th annual Limmud Fest.

Russel Neiss is promising Limmud attendees that those attending his presentation will be in the first audience to view the digitized version of “The Story of Purim,” an award winning Jewish educational filmstrip which is part of a recently rediscovered lost cache produced by the NY Bureau of Jewish Education in the 1950s.  

“We’ll view the slides and table-read the script together as we see how much the field of Jewish engagement and education has (and hasn’t) changed over the last 70 year,” notes Russel Neiss.

Russel is a 2005 graduate of City University of New York.  The recipient – in 2020, of the prestigious Covenant Award (which recognizes educators who have made a noticeable impact on Jewish lives through innovative educational practices and models), served for several years as vice-principal of a Jewish day school in the New York area.

In 2014, Russel changed careers. He became a software engineer specializing in the development of software programming for Jewish educators for an organization called Sefaria.  The nonprofit organization is dedicated to digitizing the entire body of Jewish religious writings in order to make them available so that anyone can engage with the textual treasures of our tradition.

“A couple of years ago,” he reports, “I came across a cache of film strips produced by the New York Bureau of Jewish Education in the 1950s.  These films would have been shown to students in the 1950s and ‘60s. They have not been viewed for more than 60 years.”

At Limmud, he will be showing a film called “The Story of Purim.”  “We’ll view the slides and table-read the script together as we see how much the field of Jewish engagement and education has (and hasn’t) changed over the years,” he says.

His second presentation – on Sunday afternoon – will focus on “what the atheist computer scientist Richard Stallman can teach us about how Torah learning can thrive in the world today while delving into the interplay between Hacker Culture, the Free Software Movement and the teachings of great Jewish thinkers like Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.”

Rori Picker Neiss will also be doing two presentations – one of which will be a study of leadership as exhibited by Moshe Rabbenu in the matter of the Golden Calf. For those who may not know or remember the story in the Torah, some days after leaving Egypt, Moshe climbed Mount Sinai to commune with Hashem. After some time had gone by and he didn’t return, the frightened Hebrews, believing that he wasn’t coming back, gathered together everything they had that was made of gold and created a golden calf to worship – an act of blasphemy that resulted in  severe divine consequences – including the Israelites having to wander in the desert for 40 years until the last of the offending generation had died out.

“What we can take away from this episode,” Rori observes, “and what Hashem made clear to Moshe- is that leadership is not about the leader and fame and glory. Leadership should be about doing what is in the best interests of  the people.”

Her second presentation will be an exploration of what the early rabbis thought about Jesus and Christianity as seen through a censored Rabbinic passage.

Rori Picker Reiss has the distinction of being one of the first half dozen  Orthodox women to be ordained  – through the Yeshivat Maharat organization – founded in 2009 – to serve as clergy.

“I welcomed the opportunity to study Talmud and our religious texts,” she says of her decision to enroll in the Maharat program.  ‘My ordination presented me with a number of different ways to serve our community.” 

In St. Louis Maharat Rori served as Director of Programming, Education and Community Engagement at the modern Orthodox Bais Abraham Congregation. She was also Rabbi in Residence at Holy Communion Episcopal Church, chair of the cabinet of Interfaith partnership of Greater St. Louis and a member of the Board of Trustees for the Parliament of the World’s Religions.

Previously, she worked as acting Executive Director for Religions for Peace-USA, program coordinator for the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, assistant director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, and secretary for the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations.  

While there may be some among the Orthodox community who may be uncomfortable with the concept of women serving as clergy, Rori reports that she was generally well-received in St. Louis and was able to build many relationships both within the Orthodox and the wider communities.

Rori and Russel have recently moved back to New York City where Rori has been appointed the Senior Vice-President for Community  Relations for the Jewish Council for Public affairs.

For more information about this year’s Limmud and to register, please visit www.limmudwinnipeg.org or contact coordinator@limmudwinnipeg.org  or 204-557-6260

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Three organization join forces to mount Mission to Israel in May

By BERNIE BELLAN In response to many requests received from members of Winnipeg’s Jewish community to organize a volunteer mission to Israel, for the first time ever three different organizations have joined together to organize just such a mission – from May 20-28.
Titled “HINENI 2024,” the mission is being mounted by the Jewish National Fund, Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, and Bridges for Peace.
The mission will include five days of intensive volunteering and visits to various sites in Israel. It will also include three meals a day and ground transportation.

There will be an information night at the Asper Campus on February 28 but, in advance of that information night, we contacted JNF Manitoba-Saskatchewan Executive Director David Greaves to ask whether he could provide some details about the planned mission prior to that information meeting and describe how it all came about.
Greaves said that both the JNF and the Federation were thinking of organizing missions in May, so it was only natural that they would combine efforts.
“The Federation has organizational experience, and they’ll be able to handle the registration process,” Greaves explained, while “the JNF will be able to handle the logistics on the ground,” such as arranging accommodation, transportation, and meals.
And Bridges for Peace was able to step up and negotiate some very good pricing for air fares for anyone who would want to fly on specific flights – details for which will be announced in the coming days. (Greaves noted that flights have not been included as part of the package as many individuals indicated that they wanted to make their own arrangements getting to Israel.)

Yet, unlike any other mission that the JNF has mounted in years past, Greaves wanted to make it clear that the May mission will be a “volunteer” mission, during which participants will be expected to “be on their feet four-five hours a day” engaging in tasks whose exact nature is still being formulated – in conjunction with various Israeli organizations.
“We’re looking at volunteering primarily in the south,” Greaves said, including picking fruit and vegetables. As of this moment, he added: “We’re still investigating various volunteer possibilities.”
Included in the mission tentatively, accordiing to Greaves, will be visits to the site of the Nova music festival, where 364 primarily young Israelis were massacred (along with 40 abducted), as well as visits with families of hostages and a visit with the mayor of Sderot.

As far as accommodation is concerned, Greaves wanted to make it clear that mission participants will not be staying in four or five star hotels.”Most likely they will be three star hotels,” he noted. And, when you take into account the cost of providing three meals a day along with bus transportation and other ancillary costs, Greaves suggested that the mission cost, which will be no more than $3,000 (exclusive of air fare), is quite reasonable, especially when you take into account typical costs associated with visiting Israel and the relatively low Canadian dollar. As well, Greaves said that couples travelling together will probably pay somewhat less per person – around $2500 per person, he suggested is likely.

I asked Greaves how many people they were hoping to have participate in the mission. He said that they’re looking at around 40. Although it would be great if there were a larger response, he added, the logistics of having to hire an additional bus would make it difficult to plan a mission with two buses unless the number of participants warranted that.
“If response is overwhelming, we’d get a second bus,” he added though.
I asked Greaves whether there are JNF missions of a similar nature being planned in other Canadian cities and he said there were – “in Toronto and Vancouver,” but he also wanted to emphasize that they are both being planned locally – unlike every other JNF mission, which has always been planned at the national level – until now.
In addition to the combined organizational efforts of the JNF, Jewish Federation, and Bridges for Peace, five Winnipeg congregations are also lending their support to the mission, helping to promote it among their respective congregants.
If you would like to obtain further information about the mission and are unable to attend the February 28 information evening, contact either David Greaves at the JNF at david.greaves@jnf.ca or Abby Flackman at the Jewish Federation at aflackman@jewishwinnipeg.org.

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