Crystal Codner has to drive two and a half hours to get to the nearest synagogue.
But Hebrew school is within walking distance. In fact, it’s inside Codner’s Arizona home, thanks to a high-speed Internet connection and ShalomLearning Online, a new program launching next month.
Codner, a U.S. Army veteran, and her husband, who is on active reserve duty, recently registered their children for the online Jewish course, availing themselves of a special offer for military families. With an anonymous donor underwriting the tuition, the course is free of charge.
Codner first learned of ShalomLearning’s online class for fourth-through-sixth graders through an army chaplain, and she said she is impressed with the curriculum. “ShalomLearning is ideal, because the kids can get onto it wherever we are,” Codner said. “As military families, we’re always in a transient state, so to have something that can always go with you, especially when you don’t know where you will be in a year — to have a consistent curriculum — that’s important to me.”
Based in a suburb of Washington, D.C., the two-year-old ShalomLearning also markets a modular “blended learning” curriculum — a mix of face-to-face encounters, individualized study and synchronous online classes — to congregational schools and other supplemental Jewish education programs throughout North America, including Temple Israel and Park Avenue Synagogue in Manhattan.
So far five children from four military families (two in Arizona, two in Italy) have registered for the fully online course; it is also open to civilians, for whom annual per-child tuition is $800.
Sarah Steinberg, ShalomLearning’s CEO, said the company initially began talking about military families because two staff members have “strong military connections.”
“We started doing some research and realized that, although the numbers are quite small — there are only between 5,000-10,000 Jewish military families that would have kids in fourth through sixth grade — they’re a very underserved populations in terms of access to Jewish community and Jewish education … Then we started thinking that if we put our curriculum fully online, not only would we reach military kids, but could reach other kids as well.”
“Being in Washington, we’re always hearing about military families and the sacrifices they’re making,” she added.