This month, it was my privilege to interview Erika Prafder, who is the founder of the Gamers Club at the Brandeis School. The video programming and design curriculum at Brandeis gives kids a jump on revolutionary new technologies that are changing our world.
Erika also offers some extremely useful advice for any parent interested in leveraging their professional experience in service to their child's day school education. Thank you, Erika, for your vision, resourcefulness, and brilliant example!
With pleasure, here's the interview:
(1) First off, could you tell me a bit about your background and how you came to choose the Brandeis School for your children's education?
While raised by Jewish parents, growing up in Nassau County, New York, I didn't receive any formal Jewish education and my connection to Judaism was limited. In my thirties, I went through a rough emotional patch while experiencing the challenge of high-risk pregnancy.
I found comfort in books by well-regarded Jewish authors, including the Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, founder of Hineni, whom I eventually was fortunate to meet and begin a relationship with. Her advice, counsel and Torah wisdom re-awakened my Jewish spirit. My husband and I have been on a more observant path ever since and together we decided to give our own three children the gift of a Jewish education.
(2) Please describe your video programming project and how it got off the ground. And how did you develop your innovative partnership with Microsoft?
As a veteran Higher Education Reporter for The New York Post and a long-time proponent of experiential education, I am uniquely aware of the skills required to succeed in many of the tech-centered industries of today and tomorrow. Over the past three years, I have leveraged my corporate contacts in the video game development and animation industries to introduce key study units in to The Brandeis School curriculum.
One example was the recent "Gotta Get Game" event, The Brandeis School hosted last Spring. With the help of key staff members at Brandeis in the art and computer departments, I brought in a speaker from Microsoft, who introduced students to the exciting field of video game design and its potential to constructively impact socially conscious issues and problems.
Students were challenged with thinking up their own environmentally-themed video game ideas. Winners received Microsoft prizes, including an X-box and a week's worth of technology camp. Microsoft also generously donated software to help the school officially kick off its video game design study unit, which is still in place today.
(3) If another day school was going to create a similar program, how would you recommend they get started?
Jewish Day school parents are a resourceful group to tap into. Working parents represent a wide variety of industries. My advice would be to focus on a particular study unit of interest to your school, and search out those parents who are employed in such fields, to help get the curriculum off the ground.
This can be done in the form of software donation, guest speakers, business mentors, and more. I also suggest that parents with new programming ideas meet with school principals to brainstorm their ideas, and discuss necessary staff and resource requirements.
While such projects require extra time and effort on top of our already over-scheduled days, the commitment to our children's education is worth it. Parents interested in beginning a similar study unit at their children's school can contact me for help getting started at email@example.com.