Shalom Torah Academy in Morganville ushered in the first day of school Sept. 1 with a ceremony inaugurating the school’s new computer laboratory. Rep. Rush Holt (D-Dist. 12) was on hand to cut the ribbon and speak to students and faculty about the importance of education.
“We can’t overestimate the importance of a school in a community. When I went to Congress I fought for a seat on the education committee, because in my opinion there’s nothing more important,” Holt said before speaking to a group of middle school students about the role of a U.S. representative.
Holt was led on a tour of the school, culminating in a visit to the new computer lab, which was funded by the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education of the Gruss Life Monument Funds in New York. Shalom Torah is one of 115 Jewish day schools in nine states that have received Gruss funding.
The foundation provided 24 new computers and monitors, a dedicated server, software, computer tables, chairs, and a printer, as well as a curriculum coordinator to train staff and offer support. The program offers individualized instruction in math, science, and language arts.
“What Gruss Life has done in the Jewish day school environment is nothing short of amazing,” headmaster Rabbi Moshe Bak told NJJN. “Through their generosity and technological expertise, they are strengthening general studies of Jewish day schools across the country.”
Accompanying Holt and Bak on the tour were Risa Gold, the school’s director of outreach; Stuart Abraham, president of Jewish Federation of Monmouth County; Leon Goldenberg, school board chair; and Jason Cury and Joel Beritz, president and vice president, respectively, of the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education.
“We feel that children in Jewish day schools need to get the proper tools for the 21st-century economy,” Cury said. “We have to provide families a curriculum that exceeds what public schools offer, so that they continue to enroll in Jewish day schools for the sake of Jewish continuity. The program teaches and assesses at the same time, so teachers can see what level the student is at and identify any areas of difficulty.”
‘We need technology’
Shalom Torah student enrollment has grown since last year from 165 to 193, said Bak. Students are mainly from Manalapan, Marlboro, East Brunswick, Holmdel, and Red Bank. When Bak was hired as headmaster of the 35-year-old school last October, he met with parents to assess their needs and interests. “They indicated they wanted a Jewish experience but did not want it to compromise their children’s general studies education. That’s one of my priority goals,” he said.
The school extended the middle school day from 3:45 to 4:30 p.m. to enable more study time and brought in a new writing program. “I met with a number of principals at Jewish high schools in the region, and they all said the greatest challenge of students enrolling in high school is poor writing skills,” Bak said. “Shalom Torah parents simply wouldn’t enroll here if they had to give up on general studies and their dreams for their children to be productive citizens.”
On the first day of school, students said they looked forward to using the new computer lab. “So far, I’ve only peeked in there a couple times. As we advance, we will need technology a lot more,” said eighth-grader Sam Hollander of Morganville. “It’s good to learn this now, so that when we are older we won’t have to ask our children or grandchildren how to use this thing.”
Seventh-grader Nicole Sherman of Marlboro said she was eagerly anticipating her first lab session. “When you work in the classroom, you have one teacher who has to focus on the whole class. With this new computer program, you get individual attention and can learn more at your own pace,” she said.