“It was an amazing event, it really was.” These are the words of Dr. David Kanani, the Director of US ORT Operations and President of Bramson ORT, after a recent Jewish Day High School STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) competition, the culmination of a year’s worth of dedication and hard work from ninth and tenth grade STEM students at the Queens-based Ezra Academy and Yeshiva Tiferet Tzion (YTT).

Over the past three years, Dr. Kanani, who holds a PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, spearheaded the development of a unique advanced STEM curriculum that prepares students to be competitive, whether college-bound or job-oriented. STEM programs became a natural fit for Bramson ORT, since it has provided career-oriented educational courses using state-of-the-art technologies for over 78 years in the Metropolitan New York area.

The challenge for these 40 students (four high school classes), working in teams of two/three students each, was to design a website that provided information on the meaning of the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary that the Israelites carried with them in the wilderness. The Bible specifies exactly how the tabernacle should be designed. “The creativity of the students was extraordinary, as each group used the coding skills learned during the year to create a website that depicted all the intricate details of the Mishkan,” Dr. Kanani added. “The results were awesome!”

Trophies, medals, and gifts were awarded to each class. “An outstanding presentation by all the teams,” commented Mrs. Lynn Leeb, Chairman of Bramson’s Board of Trustees, who watched the ZOOM presentation. “Today was a demonstration of the hard work and commitment of all the students, so really today everyone was a winner!”

Student-centered learning – the hands-on approach to problem solving – is key to a STEM-based education. Each student is exposed to a new educational environment where he or she learns to work collaboratively, use analytical skills to identify a problem, and then develop creative solutions, using the newest technologies.

The key to a successful STEM program is the ability of teachers to adapt to a new methodology. “We developed our own STEM Teacher Training program as an essential adjunct to the student component, enabling teachers to effectively deal with the new curriculum. Ms. Sima Fish, Esq., Principal of Ezra Academy, and Mr. Moishe Spern, Principal of Secular Studies at YTT, were instrumental in introducing both these programs in their schools,” explained Dr. Kanani.

According to Dr. Kanani, this competition was not only a celebration of this school year, but also a testament to the difficulties that were overcome in terms of the curriculum and the unforeseen obstacles due to COVID-19. “Years of research and development went into creating this curriculum. I work with an extremely gifted five-member team. Ms. Irit Tzemah, STEM Teacher/Mentor and Development Team Member, took complex and intricate information and tailor-made it for each of the classes. She even managed to adapt the course to be taught on cell phones for those students without sufficient home computers during the quarantine period.”

US ORT Operations is excited about continuing to work with its existing schools and taking these programs to the next level. Under development is the expansion of this unique program to more schools in the New York metropolitan area through Bramson ORT and to schools in the Greater Los Angeles area through Los Angeles ORT.