How to Inspire Your Child to Read

As printed in The Jewish Link of Bergen County:

By Mrs. Dawn Fisch, Curriculum Coordinator & 3rd Grade General Studies Teacher

From a young age I loved books, but I did not enjoy reading independently. I thought books were magical only when adults read them to me. As I reached adulthood my love for books and my attitude toward reading independently blossomed. I attribute my love for books and of reading to my experiences. Here are some tips I have learned through my childhood, teaching, and parenthood.

Tips to Inspire Your Child 
to Love Books and Reading:

Read books to your child from the time he/she is young.

Make reading part of your daily routine. Bedtime is the ideal time because it calms your child and allows you to end the day together in a meaningful way.

Choose books that are humorous and fun to read. If a book is boring to you, chances are your child will not be interested in it either.

Take turns reading the words or use the illustrations to tell your own story. You do not always need to correct your child’s mistakes. If you do correct your child, gently point out the letters, sounds or word he/she misread.

Select books that you loved as a child. Your love for books will shine through and hopefully rub off on your child.

Have books available in your home. You do not need to purchase them. Make going to your local library part of your weekly routine. They are free!

Read books yourself. It is very powerful when your child sees you reading books and enjoying them. It would also be helpful to share some themes from the book you are reading with your child.

Make going to a bookstore a treat. Allow your child to pick out a special book once in a while.

Take your child to library programs. Often your local libraries offer free story times and various educational programs. Take advantage!

Limit the use of your television. Your child will choose books or ask you to read for entertainment purposes. It really does work if your child knows TV is not an option.

Allow your child to listen to books on tape. Audio books can be used at home or in the car. Many libraries have these types of books available.

Play word games. There are tons of words games available, such as Scrabble, Boggle, Bananagrams, Words with Friends, or you can make up your own word games with blocks, chalk, shaving cream, sand, or a paper and pencil.

The Jewish Link Explores the Yeshivat He'Atid Educational Model

A revolutionary three-pillared pedagogical model is what drives every day’s activities at Yeshivat He’Atid, a yeshiva day school now completing its second full year of operation. Currently located on South Washington Avenue in Bergenfield, where the school plans to stay for just one more year while it actively seeks a new building for its growing student body, Yeshivat He’Atid, whose name is translated as “yeshiva of the future,” currently operates a pre-K, kindergarten, first, and second grade. One hundred and sixty-two students from 130 families are enrolled, and there is currently a waiting list for incoming students.

One of the initial goals of the yeshiva is well-known to the community: To bring a lower cost to day school tuition. The school continues to be committed to keeping its tuition at approximately $9,000, in keeping with 2012 inflation. But it is the 21st century educational approach, along with a commitment to working more efficiently, that is setting it apart and allowing it to take its place as a leader in Bergen County’s many pioneering Jewish institutions of excellence.

The unique blended learning model that Yeshivat He’Atid follows asks each student to empower his or herself by developing 21st century skills such as critical thinking and problem solving. Second, the students work collaboratively with classmates, sometimes with the teacher as only the facilitator. The third pillar of the model is quality time in student-teacher small groups, doing meaningful activities.

To put the model into practice, each classroom is complete with rotating stations in addition to a community space, where the class gets together for morning meetings and other group activities.

The school is scheduled to add a grade each year as it did this year, so that the current second grade will be the first graduating eighth grade class. The second grade is the smallest, with 24 students, while the first grade has two classes of 22 students. There are three kindergartens, each comprised of 21 children. The pre-K has two classes of 16. Hebrew immersion studies comprise a major part of each student’s day, and in pre-K and kindergarten, one out of each class’s two teachers speaks only Hebrew all day. “The goal is that by eighth grade every student will be fluent in Hebrew,” said Rabbi Netanel Gralla, Yeshivat He’Atid’s head of school. Also, the school plans to separate classes into boys and girls, probably in 4th grade, he said.

With an academic background in special education and extensive experience teaching at the Davis Renov Stahler Yeshiva High School for Boys, MTA (YU’s high school for boys) and Central (YU’s high school for girls), in addition to teaching and directing special education programs, Rabbi Gralla explained his epiphany to his approach to education, which contributed to his being approached to join Yeshivat He’Atid as head of school. He told JLBC that after almost a decade teaching special education, he was asked to teach honor students and found that an individualized education plan, similar to those he created for his students in special education, worked not only just as well, but in fact very impressively well for his honor students.

Gralla explained that every student learns differently, but classic classroom situations don’t always allow for the teacher to understand the intricacies of how a student learns. For example, a student who is considered an early reader, may be simply very good at decoding, which is recognizing the shapes of letters as they form words, and memorizing those shapes, but may be lacking in phonological understanding, which is the ability to attribute a sound to each letter. “Computer assessments give us important data on each student, and we then group students according to skills, such as phonics and decoding,” he said. Therefore, “In our school, non-readers may be learning at the same level as those who might be considered early readers, because they are all working on phonological understanding,” said Gralla.

This kind of information might not be available in other learning environments, and if a student is very good at memorization, it may provide a crutch to carry a student through a large portion of elementary school. “But by the time they get to higher grades, when they are traveling from room to room for classes, the information coming at them may become too overwhelming to memorize and the student may start to experience challenges because his critical thinking and problem solving skills aren’t as strong as his memory skills,” he said. “We will pick up on the fact that they are working primarily with their memory skills, and then give them more opportunities to work on critical thinking and problem solving,” Gralla explained.

For these reasons, it’s not too surprising that each morah at Yeshivat He’Atid is a licensed teacher with a master’s level degree, most often in special education. “We are looking for teachers who are very open to learning and growing, reflexive, collaborative, creative, and looking for additional professional development. And someone who wants to be part of a start-up, in an innovative environment,” Gralla added.

While Gralla said that a traditional resource room performs an important service in many schools, and he hopes that there will soon be room for one at Yeshivat He’Atid, the resource room concept today in most schools means that teachers pull the student out of the class to work with them individually. “With our rotational model, we are essentially providing remediation all day,” he said.

For 20 minutes each day, students get computer time for reading, math, or Hebrew. Each classroom has a three-to-one ratio of students to computers, so there are eight PCs in a room with 24 students. The school uses the iReady program for reading and math, which provides assessments based on whether the student gains mastery of the concept being taught. If the student doesn’t pass the assessment, the computer program either sends the student back for additional learning, or reports out the information to the teacher, who then works with the student individually on the specific issue.

Groups of students take their turns on the computers, and then work individually, with each other or with their teachers in rotation. Gralla shared that a recent study by a Harvard professor showed that the biggest success factor for students in school was whether the student felt the teacher “liked them.” So, therefore, a strong student-to-teacher relationship is valued at Yeshivat He’Atid. But the time with the teacher needs to be quality time, Gralla said, not just with a teacher writing on a board for an hour in front of all the students.

In topics other than reading, math, and Hebrew language skills, the computer time is not as present, Gralla explained, because the computer programs available on the market are not yet as sophisticated as iReady and TalAm (the program used for Judaic Studies). But the educational model certainly translates to the all other subjects being taught. “We are, first and foremost, a yeshiva. The key component for us is our pedagogy, our approach to education. We want our students to work independently, collaboratively, in a small group with a teacher, and as a class as a whole, to have meaningful discussion,” Gralla said. “So when our students study science, social studies, Chumash, and ultimately Mishnayot and Navi, those components of the classroom will always be in place. We will come up with creative ways to have the students be engaged in meaningful work that will allow them to have time for the various learning modalities,” he said.

In every classroom, there’s a poster that illustrates what students should do when they have a question. First, they ask themselves. If they don’t come up with the answer, they ask their neighbor or another member of the group, and then if they still don’t know, they ask their teacher. This allows for each student to be engaged in critical thinking all day, developing those 21st century skills s/he needs for the future.

Gralla said that other local school administrators have reached out to him to discuss learning methods, and that Yeshivat He’Atid has an open-door policy for all their professional development days. A group of West Coast school administrators recently visited the school to share methods and ideology. The school is also active in the DJLN, the Digital Jewish Learning Network, and Gralla recently presented a webinar on some of his school’s concepts. That webinar can be replayed at, though one must join the network to view it.

Those interested in learning more about Yeshivat He’Atid, please visit

By Elizabeth Kratz

Click here to see the article online.

Yeshivat He’Atid: Our Blended Learning Model

As printed in The Jewish Link of Bergen County:

By Mrs. Amanda Pransky, Blended Learning Coordinator

At Yeshivat He’Atid, there are a variety of components to our learning day. Many lessons begin in the community space, in which whole group instruction creates the opportunity for diverse learners to come together in enriching and meaningful discussion and conversation. We further implement our blended curriculum by utilizing a rotational model. The class is divided into groups based on differentiated learning styles and needs, and the groups circulate through learning environments as follows:

· Teacher-led centers, in which a targeted skill or topic is directly taught

· Independent work centers, in which students individually practice a skill

· Collaborative group centers, in which students work together on a creative project to demonstrate mastery of a skill or topic

· The learning lab, in which students complete lessons using an online content provider that has the capabilities to assess, diagnose, and remediate /enrich

These varied learning environments allow for more face time with the teacher in smaller groups, and even individually which in turn, fosters a meaningful relationship and learning environment between students and their teachers. The groups are determined based on the data that the teacher collects through class work, assessments, and observation, combined with the data generated by the students’ accomplishments using our online content providers. This unique and innovative model allows the teacher to teach, assess, diagnose, and remediate/enrich with an exceptional level of efficacy, all inside the classroom. Students are exposed to skills through a variety of mediums and are afforded the opportunity to explore and discover their personal learning styles on a daily basis at Yeshivat He’Atid.

A New Model For Jewish Day Schools

The following op-ed, written by Gershon Distenfeld, the Chairman of the Board of Yeshivat He'Atid, was published by The Jewish Week on Sept. 14, 2012. You can read it in its entirety here: 


Yeshivat He¹Atid, a new day school in Bergen County, NJ, is providing Jewish communities nationwide with a groundbreaking new model for high quality, affordable Jewish day school education. Opening with 115 students in our first year, Yeshivat He¹Atid is re-imagining the Jewish day school classroom of the 21st century.

We have hired a principal, teachers, and staff; ensured our facility is student-ready, and put in place the tools and curriculum to support our blended learning model. When fully built out, Yeshivat He¹Atid is estimated to save the Bergen County community $5 million annually. But our real goal is to serve as a model so that every Jewish community can build a school that is both affordable to most parents and delivers better educational outcomes.

How will we achieve this? While I admit that my purpose in starting a new school was to lower the high cost of yeshiva tuition, I learned over the past year that a blended learning educational model can deliver a higher quality education, one that will better prepare children for the realities they will face in an ever changing 21st century world. Blended learning is a revolutionary model that combines face-to-face instruction with online learning tools to optimize the learning environment for each student.

Blended learning empowers teachers ­ our most valuable assets in educating our children ­ with real-time data that will help them customize the learning approach to meet individual students¹ unique learning styles and academic needs.

Education in America is about to undergo revolutionary change. America also has a "tuition crisis."  Property taxes cannot keep increasing at the rate they have during the past two decades. At the same time, educational outcomes have been stagnant for a generation. Bold educational leaders and innovators across this country have been building and operating completely different educational models for years now with proven and successful results. If we are serious about placing Jewish education on sustainable footing, we must boldly propose and quickly implement entirely new models of Jewish education.

Think about any consumer good with the possible exception of healthcare. We can purchase products today at a fraction of the price they cost a generation ago. Think about the TV you have in your home today that is so much better than the one you grew up with and costs far less. The same is true of education ­ if only we are willing to embrace it.

As lay leaders, parents, and supporters of Jewish day schools, we have the responsibility to encourage our educators to move beyond their comfort zones. We need them to be more innovative and more efficient. We need to convince them that better education can be had at a significantly reduced  cost and that their jobs depend on delivering on those metrics. The idea that the only way to improve educational outcomes is to spend more money is simply not true.

Schools like Rocketship, KIPP Empower, and others around this country have successfully implemented a blended learning model that achieves superior results at a significantly lower cost per student. The Jewish education field needs to learn from these models and become leaders in these revolutionary educational methods.

We at Yeshivat He¹Atid don¹t have all the answers. But we recognize that the status quo of spending more money on an unsustainable model is a ticking time bomb. We are thrilled that through the continued generosity of the Affordable Jewish Education (AJE) Project, two more schools in the tri-state area are in the planning stages for the 2013-14 school year using our school  as a model. While we would love for many more schools to follow our lead, that may not be the right solution for every school or every community. We hope that our experience will motivate many other schools (existing and new)  to experiment with innovative models.
We need to be bold ­ and to encourage our educators to be bold. We have to allow them to experiment and, yes, sometimes fail but incremental change is no longer an option. We have to step out of our comfort zones and create
entirely new models of Jewish education that are both high quality and financially viable.

The Jewish people have solved far bigger problems in the past and I am confident that with the right leadership, we will solve this one too. But we won¹t do it by being timid. We need to embrace change now. We owe it to our children and we owe it to the future of the Jewish people.

Gershon Distenfeld is chairman of the board of Yeshivat He¹Atid and resides in Bergenfield, N.J.