Located in Dewitt, NY, the Syracuse Hebrew Day School (SHDS) is a K-6 independent, religious school serving Jewish and non-Jewish families in Central New York State. SHDS is dedicated to educating the whole child – mind, heart and soul – and providing a joyful and warm learning community. It prepares students for academic achievement through individualized, child-centered education with a focus on experiential learning; students learn to read, write, understand and speak both English and Hebrew every day.
Upon becoming Head of School at Syracuse Hebrew Day School, one of Laura Lavine’s first priorities was to upgrade classroom technology. A former public school superintendent, she recognized that her SHDS students were missing out on the benefits of interactive and collaborative technology. “I wanted my students to be as adept at using these devices as other students, so that when they graduate and move on to seventh grade, they won’t have to face a challenging learning curve,” said Lavine. “They also deserved the educational benefits that come with using technology during their primary and intermediate grades.”
Additionally, Lavine wanted to prepare for potential remote learning due to snow days or extended student absences (a prescient move considering the pandemic that surfaced months later). At that time, classrooms used a mix of old-school tools. The go-to for displaying content at the front of the room was a cart-mounted projector and a pull-down screen. Teachers shared lesson materials on a classic whiteboard. Lavine was familiar with projector-based interactive whiteboards from her days as a public school superintendent, and began considering this type of solution for SHDS, while also evaluating 1:1 computing devices, taking steps to become a Google school, and beginning professional development to bring teachers up-to-date on the use of online resources.
In June 2019, as she began her research into technology and online solutions, Lavine visited an area high school. As she peered into classrooms along the way, she noticed teachers and students working at interactive whiteboards that lacked a separate projector. “That’s when I first became aware of interactive whiteboards that don’t need a projector,” said Lavine. “They were slim, compact and looked easier to use.” Her colleagues at the high school confirmed her initial impressions and spoke highly of their displays – ViewSonic ViewBoard interactive flat panel displays. “I started looking at the various products available in this category,” said Lavine. “And I decided I didn’t want to do my usual lengthy amount of research. The school I visited is very large and loves their ViewSonic ViewBoard displays; I decided that if they were good enough for them, they would surely be good enough for our little gem of a school.” Lavine purchased a 75” ViewSonic ViewBoard IFP7550 4K interactive display within two weeks of her first glimpse of the technology. At the recommendation of her sales representative Nick Gugliuzza, she purchased the IFP7550-E2 bundle, which included everything needed to create an easy-to-use shared resource: the display, a mobile trolley cart and a wireless AC adapter. It proved to be much more than “good enough” for SHDS.
RESULTS Thanks to excellent PD provided by Nick, said Lavine, teachers quickly began integrating the ViewBoard into their curriculum and were initially satisfied with using it as a shared resource. (“Back in the pre-COVID days we could do that,” noted Lavine.) “Nick made the training very hands-on and everyone picked it up quickly,” Lavine said, acknowledging that she herself was a bit nervous about learning to use the display. “A teacher said, ‘Laura it’s just a big iPad’ – so I told myself, I can do this, and it ended up being easy. Our teachers took to it very quickly.”
Soon, however, teachers began asking to have one of their own, so Lavine purchased four more, equipping other classrooms – including every general education classroom – with a ViewSonic ViewBoard interactive display. “They told me that there was so much more they could do if they had one full time in their rooms,” said Lavine. “Fortunately, we received a grant from an area bank that enabled us to purchase more.” Along with outstanding customer service, Lavine said the displays themselves did not disappoint. “The quality of the onscreen picture is extremely high, the sound is good, and the user interface is very intuitive,” she said. “Half of our faculty is over 60 yet everyone is using them. Everything about these displays is great. They are easy to use and there’s been nothing glitchy at all. We love them.” When schools across the country began closing to slow the spread of COVID-19 in March 2020, Lavine said she was the first one in their county to announce the closing of a school. “I was confident in doing so because I knew we could handle teaching remotely thanks to the technology and training we had invested in,” she said. “We closed school on Friday March 13th, then on Monday March 16th we were fully online for the next three and a half months.” When the start of the next school year came around, Lavine opened the doors of SHDS knowing they had the pieces in place to keep everyone safe: small class sizes along with masking, maintaining socially-distanced classroom pods, and the addition of six-foot clear plexiglass booths around each student desk. “When it came to teaching effectively under these conditions,” she said, “The ViewSonic ViewBoard displays helped tremendously – I don’t think it’s too much to say that they’ve saved our school day.” In many ways, teachers used the ViewBoard displays exactly as they had for their first seven months at the school – working collaboratively with students using apps like Go Noodle, Brain Pop, Kahoot, Padlet and more. Under these new conditions, the large screen with crisp, clear images made it possible for every student to see and hear lessons clearly, said Lavine. Older students, who could be counted on to take care and use hand sanitizer appropriately, continue to get up and work at the boards. What has made the biggest difference during the pandemic, said Lavine, is the ability to connect with those who used to come into the building – guest readers, authors and the like – along with the ability to connect to the world at large. “Once a week, the cantor from an area synagogue came to school to teach Jewish music. Now she connects via Zoom so students get the that same half hour of music each week, displayed on the ViewBoard,” said Lavine. “The same goes for our monthly Kindergarten storyteller. These displays are allowing us to stay connected; they’ve opened up the world to us more than we would have thought possible during this pandemic.”
Another invaluable result of having ViewSonic ViewBoard displays in each classroom during these COVID times is the ability to keep the school’s traditions alive and well. One such tradition is the morning meeting, which, during typical times, brings students of all ages together in one room to get to know one another and share Torah portion lessons. It’s a tradition with countless student benefits, including the development of leadership and public speaking skills. The ViewSonic ViewBoard displays have enabled a nearly seamless continuation of this tradition. “Every classroom turns on their display and everyone is together virtually,” said Lavine. “The sixth graders still run the meeting and get the leadership experience. Even though the classrooms are just 20 feet apart, the ViewBoard displays are what bring us together as a community.” Day-to-day instruction continues within each classroom “pod,” bolstered by the combined use of the ViewSonic ViewBoard interactive displays and individual student devices. “A teacher’s creativity is the only thing that limits the use of the ViewBoard displays,” said Lavine. “And all of our teachers are really enjoying coming up with ways to use their ViewBoard for instruction.” A Hebrew teacher uses the Padlet app for teaching Hebrew. Sixth graders read the book Wonder, then watched it on the classroom screen. First graders learn about nouns and verbs using the Kahoot app and respond to questions on the big board using their individual devices. Just about every teacher mines YouTube for resources to display on their classroom ViewBoard. “These teachers are among the most collaborative and hard-working I have known in forty years, and they were - and are - eager to learn about new resources,” said Lavine. “The ViewSonic ViewBoard displays boosted their capabilities both in terms of what they do in their classrooms and in terms of getting them adjusted to learning and teaching remotely through technology. “The ViewBoard displays don’t just come in handy, they’re invaluable.”