By Shana Liebman–
While it’s been a bleak year, there is at least one good thing that came out of the pandemic lockdown: Irvington’s new gem, Learning Together. Created by the same parents who founded Reading Together, a free book service for children, this new organization launched by Irvington dad Andy Rafal offers free extracurricular after school programming for area kids.
Since fall 2020, Learning Together has offered 25 classes—including chess, art, investing, inventing, sports analytics, cooking, debate, robotics—among other brainy and cultural subjects. They are the kinds of classes, as Rafal points out, that are often only available at elite private schools.
“It became clear during this past year that many families in our community were supplementing their kids’ education, while others were simply trying to navigate the insanity of the moment,” Rafal explains. “Supplemental learning is often cost prohibitive, which furthers educational inequities along race and class lines. Learning Together seeks to reduce barriers by providing best-in-class, innovative courses consistent with the same values of a public school education—free and accessible to anyone.”
So far, 650 kids have been the beneficiaries of these classes, with over 300 hours of instruction and an estimated 5,000 hours of student learning. And all this, which would have cost parents over $100,000, was paid for by investments and donations.
In many ways the pandemic made Learning Together both necessary and possible. All of the classes have been remote, taught by esteemed teachers—such as MLB general managers, national chess champions and top professional investors—who would have been unable to offer an in-person class.
In fact, one of Learning Together’s greatest achievements is its ability to access outstanding instruction and leadership.
It also fills in the social gap left by remote learning and distanced living. Kids are able to interact in a fun and fulfilling way during Learning Together’s classes and clubs.
A team of 15 parents has made the operation a success by helping to manage communication and/or contributing ideas and connections. A few individuals, like Sarah Weiss and Matt Kamin, have gone above and beyond. Some parents have offered to teach classes based on their own expertise—photography, for example. When there was overwhelming interest in a particular subject, Learning Together was able to create multiple classes at different times to accommodate all the kids.
“Overall it’s been a true community effort,” Rafal says. “So many different kinds of families have pitched in to make it happen.”
With schools reopening and warmer weather returning, Learning Together may slow down for a few months to listen to families about what is needed in the community. “That might mean spring or summer programming, or it might mean pausing and coming back full-steam in the fall,” Rafal says.
While Learning Together was originally created to fill in the gaps that the pandemic created, Rafal reminds us that “there is still an urgent need for children to build skills and discover a real passion for learning.”
For more information (as well as the email list signup), visit Learning Together.