Melamed Academy – My Review

Strawberries in January!
Strawberries in January!

Wow, I actually am able to get another blog written up within a month! Baruch Hashem, things have started to finally settle down. it just took almost a year and a half. Who ever said moving was easy? Especially multiple times and to a totally brand new location and friends. Who ever said growing up was easy? No. One. Ever. But now, I have started to breathe. I even did nothing a few times. Nothing. Just sat on the couch or laid on the bed. In the middle of the day, thinking something was wrong, but couldn’t really figure out what I was needing to do with the boys right then, feeling guilty, but not letting it bother me. I think I am finally able to do so much more than tread water to survive. I think I am finally getting there. I even went outside to swing with Mr. Little and had a few rounds of tether ball with another!

Without further adieu, my review of what everyone has been hearing about for the last 6 months or so; questioning, hesitating, getting snippets on, etc….

Melamed Academy

We have been signed up for Melamed Academy for about 2 months now. The first month was half vacation and half trying to figure out how things worked, and this past month has been actually getting into a routine and getting things done. The following information is based on my knowledge – from experience, calling up and talking on the phone with my questions, emails and my understanding. It is all in my own words.

What is Melamed Academy?
Melamed Academy is something that the Jewish world has been lacking. There are many secular schools that have been doing this for many years, and finally, there is something for us as well.  Melamed Academy touts themselves to be an Affordable, Online Jewish Day School going from kindergarten through 12 grade and college. Basically, one can get both Judaics and Secular done online, for all grades. No more is there wondering what Judaics to teach, how to teach it, grades etc.

Melamed Academy is registered as a non-public school in NJ and all high schoolKIMG0034 graduates will receive a NJ high school diploma. There are almost a dozen Bachelors that one can take through Melamed Academy, attaining degrees from either Thomas Edison State University (accredited by Middle States Commission on Higher Education) or Charter Oak State College (accredited by The New England Association of Schools and Colleges.)

MA offers both Judaic as well as secular classes. A child can be registered in both, just Judaics, just secular, or even individual secular classes.

The 4-letter word – What is the C-O-S-T?
As of November, 2015, the cost is $2000 total. Period. For both Judaics and secular. $1000 for Judaics, $1000 for secular. Affordable tuition.

How does it all work, and how can they charge so little when a regular private Jewish school tuition usually range from ~$10,000-$25,000 per child, per year?

The answer is simple. They try to compile as much free stuff as they can from the internet. I have heard people complain about that for anyone can do that, why should we pay for it? Here is my take:

If one has time to search for all the sites, great. If one has time to find the stuff for each and every week, even more kudos to you. However, I will put it bluntly. I am lazy. Yes, I have searched online, seen many, many websites, and yes, I could possibly put together most of what I see my children doing on Melamed Academy. But, I am lazy. To work for several hours each Sunday afternoon putting together links for the week is too much for me. Normally, I try to get as much done in the summer as possible but I can’t get it all done then and therefore there are things that will be lost for I do like to have a day off.

For $1000, I don’t mind paying someone to find all those links (mostly free, but not all,) post the videos, reading materials, create homework each week, and grade them. That I can afford and to me is reasonable.

KIMG1538The thing that sold us on trying this out is that they have an option for parents to purchase kosher computers. I don’t like my boys going on the internet – it is hard to monitor them, and with 4 boys all wanting to use the computer at the same time would be difficult, to say the least. On their kosher computer everything can be blocked. We have everything blocked except school work. My boys can be quite innovative and they try all sorts of things to get around the hoops. I have had to email the school multiple times to ask them to block them from being able to log onto their Gmail accounts, among other things I would never have thought of (I guess I am not a child anymore!) They have been very kind and have put up with all my email requests with a smile.

How does it all work?

The school uses the Google Classroom platform, which is similar to Blackboard, for those of you who have seen that. The main screen has links to the school (secular/Judaics) and you click on a link to go open it up. There is listed all the school work and due dates the child needs to do. Each topic has links to material that needs to be read and/or listened to and then there is homework to be completed and handed in.

Each week new material is posted for the child to complete at their leisure. For our boys, some of the material is the same for all our boys (videos on tzaddikim and similar topics, and Parsha is the same for all except my high school boy.) However, the homework is related to the age of the child. They have a teacher/rebbe assigned to the classes and the boys can send and receive messages.

I am very happy with the secular program that we are doing and do not want to change that, however, the boys are getting older and need more than what I can provide for Judiacs. I did have a peak at a couple of the secular classes for my sister has signed up her oldest in some of them. The ones that I saw were high quality online classes geared for children at grade level. They seemed like good classes and include quizzes, tests and homework.

What is our experience?

The beginning was a bit difficult for the boys for it was something that was totally different than what they were used to. The main issue was that the material is mainly videos that are about an hour long. Some of the classes had multiple videos to watch before answering questions. At first, I was not sure how it was going to work for the videos are mainly geared towards adults. However, surprisingly, the boys have all gotten used to them and no longer complain about how long things are and they just go and do their work.

The one thing that I have noticed is that all of them enjoy doing their school work. Every single one of them. Even the one that finds school work more challenging and doesn’t really want to do school at all really enjoys going on “his” computer to do work. This one particular boy is usually one of the first ones to finish his work for the week and that shocks me to no end! This is the one I was most concerned with. I noticed that he started to turn in his school work empty, just to say it was done. I started unsubmitting his work so that he could actually do it. It turns out that he found the shiruim very daunting and was just too overwhelmed. I started sitting down with him and listening to the shiurim with him and then I could help him answer the questions. I had him read the questions before listening to the shiur so that he would know what to listen for. When he found an answer he could stop the audio and write things down. After about 3 or 4 times of this, he started telling me to go away! I was hesitant, but I let him test his wings. When I went to check his work, I found that yes, he was starting to answer the questions. He occasionally would ask for my help on something, but that would be all. He found out he really could do it and now I just spot check and help him on one assignment to help him make his work look better (grammar).

The school wants the children to succeed. They work with the child, customizing the work – is the child overwhelmed? Do they need to have shorter material to read each week? Does a child have an IEP? Too high or too low of a level? I can’t count how many emails (and a few phone calls) were made since we started talking to the school. Every email I write I get a nice patient answer. We have made multiple changes to the security of their computers as well as multiple changes to the school work of various boys. They work with me to find a good and happy medium for each child.

Tu B’Shevat Seder with Room 613!

One of the big results of our boys being in this school is that I have finally found that I can breathe. It has been a long year and a half since we have started our process of moving and settling down, and even though it has been just about a year since we have made our final move, things still did not settle down until now. I have found that even though have we added multiple classes to each boys’ week in Judaics, I have time to do more – both with each of them and for myself. I am able to find time for Mr. Little and get his school work done, and I have time to breathe. Mr. Little has joined me on my handicrafts and sits down to crochet with me. I can even sit down in the middle of the day to write a few thoughts on my blog. 😀

So, what is our overall impression? For our family, this is definitely just what the doctor ordered. I feel that a huge burden has been lifted from my shoulders. No, it is not perfect – how much really are some of my boys getting out of an adult shiur when they are only in elementary and middle school? They seem to be able to answer the questions in general so I think that things are good. If we get to a question that was not found in the shiur, and perhaps really above their level at the moment (we have done this a few times especially with Mr. Little,) and since their computers won’t let them search the internet for answer (yes, we have told them we have sefarim to look in!) we would just make a note to the teacher/rebbe that we didn’t seem to find the answers to a question and go on.

This is a new kind of program for religious Jews and with new things there are things that can improve, but this is a very good start. I am sure that over the next few years they will get better and we look forward to growing with them. So for now, we are very happy.

Also, a full line of Melamed Academy-created Torah courses is in the works, and is being phased in. Look out for it next year!

Kol tuv.