By Rosie Alchalel (‘21)

The San Diego Jewish Academy has unveiled an exciting new addition to their extensive collection of educational electronics. Mr. Aning, the school’s Director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Thinking, has recently broken the news that SDJA is now home to a brand new virtual reality lab. “The purpose of this center is to give kids the opportunity to build things; either things they’re passionate about or things that they want to learn about,” Mr. Aning says.

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Talia Abu (‘22) explores new frontiers of gaming in the virtual reality lab. Photo: Rosie Alchalel (‘21)

The lab is located in the A building, in a room previously dedicated to video production. At the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, Mr. Aning decided to turn the room into an augmented reality environment. So far, two sets of virtual reality equipment have been installed. Each can be used to play a wide variety of games and educational programs.

Students’ creative efforts were put to the test in designing the virtual reality lab. Seth Novom, (‘19), was one of the students involved with the design. “I had always wanted to learn to use VR and what it was capable of, so when I learned that the school was getting a VR lab, I jumped at the chance to help be a part of it,” Seth said.  He believes that virtual reality opens doors that cannot be opened in real life, and he hopes students use it to “leave their digital mark upon the world.”

After only three months, the lab has already been utilized by a variety of students and classes. For instance, the high school visual art class recently spent some time there. Kelsey Grolman (‘21) found visiting the lab to be an exciting change of pace. “It was a very surreal experience,” she said. “We went through a gallery where we could even go inside some of the paintings.”

The art class also got to use a program made by Google called “Tilt Brush.” This program allows students to draw in three-dimensions and explore possibilities that would otherwise be limited or even impossible outside of the digital world. Creating art this way can also spark ideas for real-life artwork.  Anabelle Simble (‘19) shared her enthusiasm for this new creative opportunity “I loved the virtual reality lab, it really inspired me to make my art a bit more three-dimensional.”

The virtual reality lab also invites students to use the equipment outside of class, such as during their free periods or POD. A lab regular, Figo Liasch, (‘23), enjoys playing educational games as well as non-educational ones, “because it teaches us to do things that you can’t really do in real life.”

There is a popular myth that virtual reality is attempting to replace real life, but instead San Diego Jewish Academy’s virtual reality lab demonstrates that it truly just embellishes life and enhances it.

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