JedCamp, an AFFORDABLE Jewish Conference Model

I have a confession to make. I only travel to one educational conference a year. It is not that I don't value conferences. I do. Very much so. I learn a great deal at conferences both from the presentations and the camaraderie with like minded educators. At conferences, I can recharge my batteries and gain new ideas which often carry me for many months into the future.

I even go to many conferences locally. For example, next month I will be attending and presenting with two of my friends Shira Leibowitz and Aaron Ross at the Global Twinning Network Meeting which is a part of the Partnership 2Gether Conference. But this is taking place in Newark, NJ, only a short drive from my home. Why do I only travel to one conference a year?

I cannot afford to travel to more.

There are many great conferences out there for Jewish educators. There are the North American Jewish Day School Conference and EdJewcon just to name two. Each of these conferences would offer something for me. But with the hotel, airfare, and time missed from school, each of these would cost me or my school well over $1500 to attend. Who can afford to go to all of these?

That's why I have to choose only one to travel to each year. For me, that choice is ISTE, the International Society of Technology in Education, which gives me SO many ideas with its well over 15,000 attendees and vendors all sharing an interest in something that I am passionate about, educational technology. Through the help of organizations like Avi Chai and PELE which now bring cohorts of Jewish educators every year, I can not only attend the broader ISTE conference each day but also reflect with a small, intimate group of like-minded Jewish educators each night of the conference. I get the best of both worlds. A large conference and a small group of Jewish educators to share it with.

Most educators in Jewish day schools cannot even afford to travel to one conference a year. It was noted by many who were at the recent North American Jewish Day School Conference that most of the attendees were administrators or perhaps people aspiring for a position in educational administration. There were very few regular teachers. Not because teachers could not gain from the conference but because of the cost of the travel and missed class time. A school can't just close down for a few days and send a dozen teachers to one of these conferences. They have children to teach.

This is one of the reasons that I am SO excited about JedcampNJNY taking place this Sunday, April 21 at Yavneh Academy in Paramus, NJ. Jedcamp is a conference for teachers. The cost is free. It is on a Sunday, not a school day. And it is local. At this point you are probably saying that I am just another New Yorker (or in this case a New Jerseyan) who thinks anything outside the tri-state NY/NJ/Connecticut area is "out of town". That is not my point.

My point is that this model, with a grass-roots all-volunteer staff of organizers and no formal preplanned keynotes and workshops, is so low cost, it is so AFFORDABLE, that it can easily be franchised to any Jewish community. We ourselves are piggybacking on the great work of Meir Wexler and Seth Dimbert, who actually is travelling from Florida to attend this conference, who set up Jedcamp in South Florida this past December to gather educators in Jewish day schools. They were piggybacking on the Edcamp model designed two years ago to join together general educators which was piggybacking on the BarCamp model set up as a place for computer programmers to gather. You get the point.

In this age when everyone is talking about Jewish day school affordability, I cannot say that I have found a solution to the tuition crisis. But together with Aaron Ross, the visionary behind this JedcampNJNY, our Jedcamp team of volunteers, and the many people who came before us, we might have found a solution to the Jewish day school conference affordability crisis. Now all teachers can be able to afford to go to a conference and benefit from the conversations and sharing with each other.

If you live in NY/NJ and have not already done so, please register for JedcampNJNY by clicking here. At last check, we had 99 educators registered. You could be number 100.

If you live outside NY/NJ, please contact me, Aaron Ross, or any of the other people that I mentioned above about setting a Jedcamp in your community. Let's help every educator in a Jewish day school join the conversation.