By Orrin Konheim
Rachael Wilks-McCann is a guidance counselor for Stride K12 Private Academy, which accommodates non-traditional students through remote learning. In the Washington area, it serves Friendship Public Charter School Online and Virginia Virtual Academy.
A Reston resident, she is a graduate student at Liberty University for home counseling and active at Washington Hebrew Congregation, where she engages in Rabbi Aaron Miller’s Tuesday Torah study online. She’s also involved with the synagogue’s 2239 group for young adults.
Last time I saw you on the Tuesday Torah session, you were speaking with Rabbi Miller about 2239.
At [Washington Hebrew Congregation], I am looking to start on the music team for the in-person 2239 events.
What do you mean by that?
I sing along and add a little depth to their music component of the Shabbat services.
What’s the difference between someone who is on the music team and someone who’s in the pews?
You’re the one with the mic. If you’re introducing a new melody, you’re the one who’s demonstrating it.
How did you grow up Jewishly?
I grew up Reform but I consider myself somewhere between Conservative and Reform Judaism.
What do you look forward to about Judaism and what keeps you in the community?
It is a spiritual growth track and I think our history and our traditions and the Torah offer so much to learn about ourselves and to learn about human nature. I think Judaism offers us the ability to become better people and live our lives with more intention.
Why did you pick Washington Hebrew Congregation?
I was looking for a new Shabbat experience to try and I found Rabbi Miller very, very engaging, and I saw that he offered the Torah studies on Tuesday and I just really enjoyed it and it fit in my schedule. It feels like a very fresh take on something that’s very old and ancient.
You’re in grad school online, you’re working online and you study Torah online. Are you an embracer of technological trends?
I benefited from technology, but the enjoyment doesn’t come from using technology.
Can you speak to the novelty of the idea of online schooling as opposed to the pandemic?
Stride has been doing online education for the past 20 years we’ve accumulated experience. In everyone’s emergency scramble for school districts to adapt during COVID, those school districts have seen a learning loss, and not a learning loss for online schools.
What’s most important for online success?
The top things are parents or guardians or learning coaches instead of, “Gosh, I can just plop my child in front of the computer.” There’s a different kind of relationship when you’re the online learning coach or you’re the student wishing for success.
So you’re saying in online learning, there’s a greater need for a parent or learning coach.
Yeah, you have to follow up to make sure there’s a greater need for a school. If they’re not doing their schoolwork and it’s dropping, the parents have access to that 24/7.
What’s your work background?
I have an education background. I was a classroom teacher in Vietnam and Florida State University. I worked for intensive studies where international students came through if they didn’t place high on their English exam and we take care of them [and get them up to par].
Why did you choose Vietnam? I know most kids out of college go to Korea.
They had a short-term contract. I wasn’t looking to be away from home for more than six months.
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