By Arlene Remz, Executive Director
April 23, 2012
At Gateways, the focus is on children and teens. We love the wonderful bar and bat mitzvah stories, the examples of students making great strides at school, and the pictures of high school volunteers and Sunday program participants laughing at a Purim carnival. Our Day School Programs, Jewish Education Programs, Teen Volunteer Programs, and Gateways to College directly serve young people, while Community Services and Professional Development help students by supporting their teachers and schools. Parents and families get support through all these programs, but I have to admit that support has been indirect.
Not any more. This fall CJP and Hebrew College will offer a special Parenting Through a Jewish Lens (Ikkarim) class for parents of children with special needs. Parenting Through a Jewish Lens is a 10-week course for parents that explores core values through discussion and some text study. Led by expert instructors, the focus is on conversations about the questions that really matter: What is my vision of parenting? How can I help my child identify a good path? How can I help my family through dark times? How do I talk to my child about God?
Jacob Meskin, Academic Director of Adult Learning at Hebrew College and co-author of the curriculum, explained the thinking behind the class this way: “When you have a child, you change the way you think, you have a new set of things to work out. Judaism has a lot of wisdom about these kinds of issues, such as creating a family environment, getting along with your spouse, and raising children.” A parent who took Ikkarim described its power simply, "This program enabled me to slow down and think about how I want to raise my child."
Parenting through a Jewish Lens is offered in synagogues and communities throughout the Greater Boston area, and parents of children with special needs have been among the almost 1,000 who have already participated. But I believe that there is a place for a Parenting Through a Jewish Lens class specifically for those parents. The class can help build a sense of community among parents of children with special needs, who may welcome conversations with others who have similar experiences. In a shared space these parents can get the support from Jewish tradition that every parent looks for. As Meskin explains, all parents need “the sense that they matter, the strength to cope with their challenges, and help finding a way to God for them and their children.”
We coordinated with Hebrew College to offer this program at the same time and place as the Gateways Sunday Program---Sunday mornings from 9:30-11 at Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston. This way, while the students are in their Gateways classes, the parents will meet nearby. If someone is interested in Parenting Through a Jewish Lens for parents of children with special needs but their child is not presently in the Sunday program, this is a twofer—the opportunity to enroll in two wonderful programs, one for you and one for your child. And there is babysitting for siblings if you need it!
To learn more about the class and to have your questions answered, you can attend an information session on Sunday April 29 from 9:30-10:30 or you can contact Elisha Gechter, Associate Director of Adult Learning at Hebrew College.
By Arlene Remz, Executive Director
April 17, 2012
This is an exciting week at Gateways. This week we send out letters to the leaders of Boston area Jewish day schools requesting proposals to be one of the six schools that will participate in B’Yadenu, an initiative to build the capacity of day school teachers and leaders to better serve students with a range of learning needs.
You may have already heard about this initiative. We’ve discussed it on our website and it’s been in the news. Funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Ruderman Family Foundation, it’s a collaboration between Gateways, CJP's Initiative for Day School Excellence and Yeshiva University’s Institute for University-School Partnership. The initiative is called B’Yadenu (In Our Hands), Meeting the Needs of Diverse Learners in Jewish Day Schools: A Whole School Approach.
What does that mean?
Put the focus on the last three words, “whole school approach.” For years we’ve worked with individual students and teachers in day schools to develop the skills for success in those classrooms—we’ve laid the groundwork for this grant. We’ve provided support services for students in day schools. We’ve provided professional development and consultation. This has made a huge difference in many day schools’ ability to retain students that, in the past, might have needed more support than the schools could offer. That allowed for greater diversity of teaching and greater diversity of students, which in turn improved the learning environment for all students. It wasn’t comprehensive, though. It wasn’t “whole school.”
Through this initiative, the schools will work with Gateways, CJP, and YU to:
The goal is to help schools retain and attract students with a wider range of learning needs and thereby increase enrollment. Not just for these six schools—the ultimate goal is for the schools to serve as models that can be studied and adapted to work in day schools across the region and the country.
I am so excited, and proud that Gateways will play a key role in this innovative multiyear initiative. Not only will we be coordinating and providing professional development to the day schools, but we’ll also be expanding Gateways’ capacity as a regional agency for Jewish special education services and programs.
As I think about our role in B’Yadenu and what its overall goals are, it’s good to remember what B’Yadenu will mean on an individual level. Think of a child whose parents are committed to sending her to day school, but she has processing or behavioral issues that interfere with her learning. The school wants to make a day school education possible for her and is committed to helping her, but it has a tight budget and limited tools. She is often pulled out of classes for support services. For her that means being marked as different and missing out on whole class activities. She and her classmates have little opportunity to see her strengths and to experience her successes.
Now imagine a school where teachers have the strategies and resources to support a wide variety of learners in their classrooms, and where administrators expect differentiated instruction in the classroom. The student mentioned above may still need to have some individualized supports at that school, but mostly she will be in class with her peers, learning alongside them, and contributing her unique gifts.
The goal of whole school change is that the child mentioned above would graduate from her day school. But it would mean more than just her family’s feeling of pride at that graduation. It would mean that teachers in that school have the tools to help students with a wide range of learning challenges; administrators know their school is stronger because it can retain and attract a much wider base; parents see their children engaged and motivated; and students, all the students, experience success.
B’Yadenu….it’s In Our Hands!
Category: Reflections & Perspectives
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