NEWTON CENTRE, Mass., Jan. 27, 2016 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- In September 2015, Lincolnshire, Illinois' Adlai E. Stevenson High School District 125 faced a key educational challenge. After almost twenty years of teaching Hebrew as one of the world languages available to Stevenson High students, this year's Hebrew class enrollment did not warrant a full-time teacher. Facing the real possibility of eliminating the class and disappointing all of the students eager to learn the language, the district investigated alternatives to support the program when a vacancy for a part-time position went unfilled. After exploring various options, Stevenson selected and began offering Hebrew through online classes from Hebrew College in Newton Centre, Massachusetts.

Hebrew is one of the ten oldest languages still spoken in the world, and for Justin Fisk, Stevenson's Director of World Languages/ELL, it was paramount to be able to deliver high quality, cost-effective Hebrew learning. "We had a commitment to support our students and to work toward sustaining our program," he said. He investigated a variety of language providers both regionally and nationally, and chose Hebrew College to provide online education based on the institution's quality of teaching, breadth of capabilities, understanding of his students' needs, and reputational strength: "It fit our unique needs."

Mr. Fisk worked with Michal Levy, the College's Online Hebrew Language Coordinator, to provide three separate levels of Hebrew classes for students of all levels of Hebrew proficiency, taught via Skype, an online communications platform for text, voice and video.
Learning Hebrew Online in Chicago

"We have twenty-seven Stevenson students studying at three levels of Hebrew (beginner, intermediate, advanced) according to their capabilities," said Ms. Levy. Students study online every day of the week during their first period. There is a supervisor to manage the technology and a member of a local center, which supports Israel education, who can answer questions and offer support. Once a week, each student participates in a small group Skype "live class" directly with Ms. Levy.

"Courses are interactive and students read, listen, write and record assignments," said Ms. Levy. "They submit their written and oral assignments via email and get feedback the same way,"
Ms. Levy has taught at Hebrew College for thirty years, and as the Online Coordinator, she has established an international program, though the Stevenson partnership still represented a first. "Our college students are all over the world, including the US, Canada, Dubai, England, and Uganda," said Ms. Levy.  "But this is our first experience with high-school Hebrew language distance learning.  These young people are making good adjustments to a new educational medium, and we're excited about the potential."

New Methods, Enhanced Skills

Some other Chicago districts have met the challenge of reduced enrollment by transporting students to another school for Hebrew. For Stevenson, however, Hebrew College's online program is meeting the students' Hebrew language needs as well as providing other key life skills.  "The online experience has several advantages," said Ms. Levy.  "Besides keeping students in their own school, it offers the additional chance to develop organizational and executive function skills. One of the interesting challenges at every level is the responsibility online learning places on the students," said Ms. Levy.  "It requires them to take charge of their own learning, and master working independently as well as with peers." Added Mr. Fisk, "Michal is a great communicator and finds ways to propel students forward."   
The Future of Online Learning

"On-site instructors may have been ideal," said Mr. Fisk, "but technology has created many opportunities to overcome the various issues associated with program administration, whether low enrollment, insufficient staff, or other challenges. We're seeing how this model can offer distinct advantages, and it's possible that the future will bring additional hybrid programs similar to this."
About Hebrew College

Hebrew College promotes excellence in Jewish learning and leadership within a pluralistic environment of open inquiry, intellectual rigor, personal engagement, and spiritual creativity. The College empowers and inspires individuals to contribute their voices and vision to the Jewish community and to bring Jewish values to bear on the critical issues of our time. For more information, visit

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Newton Centre, MA 02459
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Rabbi Dr. Michael Shire
Chief Academic Officer
Hebrew College