What is The WOW! Project?
The WOW! Project is a collaborative community initiative to engage greater numbers of children and families in satisfying and impactful complementary Jewish educational experiences by enhancing what exists and expanding the range of program options to meet the needs of 21st century Jewish learners.
Why WOW!? Why now?
There is growing recognition and concern that as a result of massive demographic and cultural changes, the part-time Jewish education system that was designed to meet the needs of the post-WWII Jewish community is failing to engage many of today’s children and families. We know this because:
- A substantial number of children receive no Jewish education – sometimes because the available options do not appeal to them or their parents;
- A growing number of families seek alternative programs and arrangements of dramatically varying quality;
- An unknown, but not insignificant, number of families “settle” for programs that they feel are less than optimal because they see no viable alternatives;
- There are limited options that look and operate substantially differently from the “usual” – e.g., that are more intensive, or emphasize particular aspects of Jewish experience like Hebrew or history, or employ different learning approaches like arts or social action, or are structured in different ways like camp programs during vacations.
While there has been a growing array of efforts to re-invigorate part-time Jewish education programs over the past 15 years, it has not been sufficient to ensure that all Jewish children have worthwhile Jewish educational experiences. The WOW! Project combines the strengths of community-wide planning with entrepreneurial initiative and the power of the marketplace in order for an entire community to provide learners and their families with an array of programs that will excite, inspire and impact their lives – and help ensure the community’s vibrant Jewish future.
How does The WOW! Project work?
Each WOW! community will redesign its complementary education system according to its own vision, the demographic, sociological and Jewish characteristics of its particular population and the array of resources that exists and can be mobilized to achieve its goals. JESNA’s expert consultants will coach the local “guiding coalition” of lay and professional leaders through the planning and implementation process, provide knowledge of best practices and innovative models from throughout North America, and offer guidance in developing a system that is most likely to work for the local community. The approximately 18-month process consists of: assessing and appreciating what currently exists in the community and where there are growth opportunities (Discovery Phase); envisioning what might be (Dream Phase); co-constructing what should be (Design Phase) and actualizing, learning and improving (Destiny Phase).
What could success look like?
- While each community will create its own unique educational system, one might imagine components such as:
- Several synagogues offering integrated congregational learning experiences of multi-generational learning or high quality schooling based on models developed by national projects like NESS, ECE or Legacy Heritage;
- Several other congregations that have come together to form a set of magnet schools focusing on the arts, social justice or family learning;
- An “exploring my Jewish heritage” program for children and parents from inter-married families;
- An after-school Hebrew immersion program that combines homework support, Jewish arts and culture, sports, etc.
- An online “home learning” package available to any family in the community, or support for home-schooling;
- A camp/retreat program that brings children (and families) together for intensive learning experiences.
The array of choices will be built up over a period of time—not every option would be in place from Day One. But the WOW! Project process will give communities an ongoing set of criteria, a methodology and a model for how to continually refresh the programs that will be available in order to reach an ever larger number of children and families with satisfying and impactful education.
WOW! Is not an acronym – it is what people will say when we succeed!