A nonprofit education company hopes to immerse students in Jewish learning with its technologically focused programming.
ShalomLearning takes a values-based approach with an emphasis on communal study and Hebrew language and prayer, and it can be used as a supplement to Hebrew school or as an at-home learning tool.
“We’re talking about Jewish values, but they don’t align themselves by any denomination,” said CEO Sarah Steinberg. “The focus is really thinking about the relevancy of the information to your secular life.”
Next fall, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation will become the first Baltimore synagogue to use the program in its religious school. ShalomLearning, which started in 2011 with seven students, is now being used to teach 300 students in about 20 synagogues across the country. Approximately 20 students use the online program exclusively.
Steinberg said the program has struck a chord with military families and had a recent meeting with a board that works with Jewish military chaplains, who are going to reach out to families.
“It turns out 1.5 percent of the military is Jewish,” Steinberg said.
There are two pieces to the technology — a virtual classroom and a learning management system. In synagogues, the blended learning model has about 50 percent of its curriculum in the synagogue and the other 50 percent in the virtual classroom for flexibility.
The company works directly with synagogues, training teachers before the start of the school year on the curriculum and technology.
ShalomLearning is available for fourth through sixth grade now, and Steinberg said the company hopes to expand as it refines its practices.
She said the program seems to be catching on, and from the company’s perspective, applying Judaism to everyday life helps reel the students in.
“You’re a kid, you’re wondering about things,” Steinberg said. “Let’s wonder about them together.”
While the company started as a for-profit firm, Steinberg said it switched to nonprofit status so it would be seen as more of a team player in education.
“We wanted to really be seen as partners in the Jewish community,” she said.