Gateways NewsBlog Feed

What is Response to Intervention?

By Beth Crastnopol, Director of Professional Development Programs
February 12, 2016

Students with hands raised

Day schools are known for their rigorous, dual curriculum. School hours are longer than typical public schools and learning expectations are high. So, how do we make the day school option work for a diverse population of learners? How can we build an inclusive community?

At Gateways, we have embarked on a journey with local day schools to assure that all students will be successful by using a process called Response to Intervention (RTI). RTI, simply put, is a process that involves examining student learning through formal and informal assessment, identifying student needs, choosing interventions to improve learning, and then assessing effectiveness. Interventions are put into place, effectiveness assessed, and teachers respond in their instruction. The result is that students do not slip through the cracks, instruction is personalized, and achievement is optimal.

As I visit day schools today, I see highly committed and caring teachers who may lack the tools and curriculum knowledge needed to reach students who learn differently. At Gateways, we are beginning to work with selected schools to help them implement an RTI process. It is challenging and often messy work with many ups and downs.

We’ve discovered that schools need to start with a self-assessment process to help prioritize and set goals. We are also exploring ways to build and strengthen the school’s core instructional programs. RTI is presenting schools with a powerful process that will open the door for success for more students. As we develop this process through our school partnerships, we plan to share what we learn and look forward to hearing comments.

Category: Reflections & Perspectives

 

I Am Nessa

By Nessa Levine
September 4, 2015

picture of assorted multicolored glasses framesMy name is Nessa Levine. I am going to be a freshman in high school this coming fall, and I am super excited about it, but I am also nervous. I am almost 15 years old. I am Jewish. I love writing, reading, singing, acting, dance, computers, astronomy, Rainbow Looming, and art. My goal in life is to be a published author. I also have Asperger’s Syndrome, but that is quite the tongue-twister, so I just call it AS.

How I explain AS to people is that everyone is born with an invisible pair of glasses. These special glasses have lenses that alter the viewer’s perception of the world. Most neurotypical people (people who don’t have any physical, social, emotional, behavioral, or learning disabilities) have similar lenses on their glasses. One neurotypical person’s lenses might perceive one or two things a bit differently than another neurotypical person’s lenses, but for the most part, neurotypicals see the world in the same way. People who have AS or other disabilities have really quirky lenses. Their lenses cause them to see--or, in some cases, sense--things that neurotypicals simply do not have the ability to perceive. For example, when I was little, I could often hear the faint humming noises in a room or somewhere that other people managed to ignore like it was nothing! I would not be able to focus on reading or coloring because of that cacophonous humming that my mother never noticed. Or, also when I was younger, when my teachers made a spelling, grammar, or arithmetic mistake when writing on the board, I would be the first in my class to call it out. My teachers would brush it off like it was nothing, but I would see it as the end of the world. Luckily, my math teacher really appreciated my arithmetic critiquing and my having memorized “Thirty Days Hath September” so that I could help my classmates with a math problem involving the number of days in various months.

The perception of these humming noises and the “‘I’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’ unless it says ‘eigh’ like in ‘neighbor’ or ‘weigh’” mistakes is one of the things that causes problems for people like me. Neurotypicals find it ridiculous, distracting, and completely unnecessary that I notice these things. They tell me that I shouldn’t waste “precious brain space” on memorizing world capitals, poetry, or digits of pi. The way I see it, if I don’t notice it when the teacher says that 12 times 4 is 60, who will?

The other problem that my special lenses cause people is that my lenses are so focused on remembering that the capital of Albania is Tirana that I can’t pick up on simple gestures and cues that neurotypical lenses are designed to pick up on. I don’t notice if my conversation partner zones out on me when I’m discussing chemical bonds and valence electrons. I am the last person to notice if my shirt doesn’t match my pants. And if I am flailing my arms around while emphasizing a point and there happens to be a cup of water near me, you can forget about the water staying in it. It’s as if I don’t even know the cup is there!

Even though I have AS, it is just one piece of the puzzle that is me. I am so much more than Asperger’s Syndrome. I am an artist, a writer/blogger, a dancer, a feminist, an advocate for LGBTQ rights, a hater of racism, a singer, an actress, a daughter, a friend, a granddaughter, a niece, a lover of learning and books, and a dreamer. I am Nessa.

Category: Reflections & Perspectives

Tagged under: Asperger's Syndrome, teens, actuallyautistic

 

How We Use the Gateways Haggadah

By Meredith Hirschberg, Director of Education, Temple Beth Torah, Wellington, FL
March 18, 2015

Meredith Hirschberg When I received my first copy of the Gateways Haggadah I realized that this was a special gift that I needed to share-- immediately--with my Rabbi and Cantor. It was the most unusual Haggadah I had ever seen, and looking at it first through the lens of an educator and then as a mom who leads a Seder, it seemed that much more impressive. I knew that this would be a Haggadah that would not only serve the needs of all our students, but would do so in a way that would equalize not only the learning process but the pleasure of sharing a Seder.

We have used this Haggadah in many different ways during our “All-school and Parent Passover Program.” I have purchased enough Haggadot for each student to have their own to use during their model Seders.

We begin the morning with classes divided into three grade levels: K - 2, 3 - 4 and 5 - 6. Each grade level has their own hour long model Seder utilizing this Haggadah. The teachers  choose some of the questions that are posed throughout the Haggadah for discussion during the Seder. Each section of the Haggadah is almost its own lesson plan!

Simultaneously, we host a parent program titled, “How to Have a Family-Friendly Seder.” The Gateways Haggadah is the basis of this presentation. Both activities end at the same time, and are followed by interactive family activities. Parents and students rotate through three stations: (1) the four children, (2) the ten plagues, and (3) a Passover song session.

Our Cantor was thrilled to see how the songs were presented in this Haggadah. We do not have to print out separate song sheets; the songs that are included in the Haggadah are presented so beautifully. And,  most importantly, they are accessible for  “teachable moments!” The Rabbis teaching the other two segments also use those specific parts of the Haggadah. The ten plagues section will also include “edible plagues.”

As some students require repetition, it is interesting to see how much the students remember the plagues and the different types of children once they complete their activity rotation.

I truly believe that when material is presented using all modalities that it benefits ALL students. Each student has their own individual strengths and weaknesses in an educational environment, and it’s our responsibility, as educators, to be sure that material is presented that is accessible to all.

The language used in The Gateways Haggadah is exceptional in its simplicity. The few words express high-level concepts. As educators and adults we can absolutely appreciate that we have been exposed to explanation of holidays we do not completely understand, and have even gone through the movements of tradition that were experiential; yet I still did not feel I truly understood what we were doing. The Gateways Haggadah experience is a way to embrace both students and adults and leave them with a sense of understanding of the importance of what a Seder is. Participants are able to more fully comprehend the meaning of the story and share in the music, all with the beautiful goal of inclusion. This is what creating exceptional Jewish memories is within a religious school.

Category: Educational Practices

Tagged under: gateways, haggadah, special needs, passover, seder

 

A Place for Julia

By Michelle and Ronald Herzlinger
December 15, 2014

'Why couldn't our own tribe - our own people - offer something for our child?"

“Our four year-old daughter Julia was attending a Jewish Day School in New York City with her brothers when her world crashed," relates Michelle Herzlinger. "Julia started what would become a journey into the frightening world of epilepsy. So many dreams we had for her vanished in a moment, including attending a Jewish Day School. There was no Jewish place for Julia in New York City, not during school hours - or after.”

After many years of struggling to find the right school for Julia in New York, the Herzlingers relocated to Newton so that Julia could attend the Ward School. They enrolled their two older sons in a Jewish day school. While they were delighted with Julia’s new school, they were heartbroken that there still wasn’t a Jewish option for her. Little did they know that they were about to discover Gateways, which prides itself on supporting every child who wishes to receive a Jewish education.

Following a tip from a former Ward parent – who was also a parent of a Gateways student and three teen volunteers – Michelle visited the Sunday Program and quickly enrolled Julia.

“From the first day that Julia walked in to the Gateways Sunday Program, our broken dream was repaired. She now has her own place in the Jewish community, where she is truly honored and respected. Thanks to Gateways, our dream of a Jewish education for our daughter Julia has become a reality.”

Julia is currently enrolled in her second year in Gateways’ Sunday Program and will begin planning for her Bat Mitzvah in a few short years. The Herzlingers look forward to celebrating this upcoming simcha thanks to the support of their Gateways family.

Category: Reflections & Perspectives

 

Jamie's Bat Mitzvah: A Different Voice

By Gateways: Access to Jewish Education
October 2, 2013

 Rabbi Keith Stern: What does being a bat mitzvah mean to you?

Jamie: It means that I know a lot about being Jewish. 

Rabbi: What have you done to get ready for your bat mitzvah? 

Jamie: I practiced saying prayers, learned about my Torah portion, went to Gateways, met with the Rabbi, and did a mitzvah project.  

While this may sound like a typical exchange between a rabbi and his pre-bat mitzvah congregant, it is in fact so much more. Jamie Davidge, 13, has cerebral palsy and this conversation consisted of her rabbi asking her questions out loud and Jamie selecting her answers from her augmentative communication device (a computer that speaks for her) that she uses to communicate. 

Jamie’s becoming a bat mitzvah marks the culmination of a journey for the Davidge family, who had to pursue a long and winding path to get to this day. Families of typical Jewish children either enroll them in their congregation’s religious school or send them to day school to receive a Jewish education. They hire a tutor and meet with their clergy to prepare for b’nei mitzvah using the blueprint laid out by their congregation. This system works for most families. But for families with children with more severe needs, the idea of being able to prepare their children for a meaningful ceremony oftentimes seems unrealistic or unattainable. 

Jamie is just one example of how the Greater Boston Jewish community has made an effort to embrace all its community members. In her conversation with her rabbi, Jamie mentioned Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, the local central agency for making Jewish education accessible to all Jewish students. Her journey began when her parents learned about Gateways’ Sunday Program which is a self-contained religious school for children who need a more intimate learning environment and are unable to thrive in the synagogue religious school setting. There, Jamie attended classes and was assisted by a one-on-one aide. As she grew to pre-bat mitzvah age, she joined the B’nei Mitzvah Program on Wednesday evenings, where she was part of a small class and worked one-on-one with a Gateways tutor. 

Gateways provided Jamie and her family with a structured program where she received individualized support and differentiated instruction. She was also lucky that Gateways received funding from the Boston Jewish Community Women’s Fund, enabling her teachers to create a Special Path to Bat Mitzvah, a girl-centric curriculum focused on highlighting strong Jewish women (including women with disabilities) and the contributions they have made. “Jamie was really the impetus that prompted us to apply for the grant,” says Nancy Mager, Director of Gateways’ Jewish Education Programs. “Having her in our program challenged us to identify the unique needs of girls with special needs. We wanted to make accessible to our girls the best of what is out there for typical bat mitzvah aged girls.” 

Although Jamie did not participate in Temple Beth Avodah in Newton’s religious school, she and her family remained connected with the congregation through the process. She submitted a profile to the temple newsletter (like all b’nei mitzvah in the congregation are expected to do), sharing news about her bat mitzvah. 

“Rabbi Keith Stern was an incredible, supportive partner in the process,” recalls Mager. “In our initial meeting [about Jamie’s bat mitzvah], he made it clear that it was important to the synagogue that Jamie felt at home and was celebrated for who she is and what she knows. Her disability was always secondary.” 

“Jamie has been a member of Temple Beth Avodah since she was a baby,” says Rabbi Stern.  “As she has grown up, I have been endlessly amazed by her tenacity and the dedication of her parents. Her excitement over her Bat Mitzvah was positively electric! She showed this with an extraordinary smile and, after every completed prayer, a “Yesher Koach!” straight from her sound board.” 

Understanding and respecting that Jamie’s ceremony would look different than a typical service, Rabbi Stern and the temple staff worked with Gateways’ staff and Jamie’s family to create a ceremony that would enable Jamie to participate meaningfully. This meant restructuring the typical service to include everything she had learned, but in a shorter length of time so Jamie wouldn’t become fatigued; relocating from the large sanctuary to a space that was less intimidating; and using Gateways materials to aid in creating a meaningful dvar Torah.  

“Since Jamie cannot say the prayers herself, instead of using the preset voice of her device, we recorded her sister Anna reciting them,” explains Rebecca Redner, Jamie’s teacher at Gateways. “We recorded Anna at the Davidge’s home with Jamie sitting and listening and grinning the whole time. After each prayer was recorded, Jamie insisted on trying it out. She was delighted with our decision to use her sister’s voice.” 

When asked how she felt when she first learned that she was going to have a bat mitzvah, Jamie said “Confused”. When asked later, she answered “Excited and nervous”.  When her rabbi asked her how she thought she would do on the day of her bat mitzvah, she said “Great!” 

Redner is not surprised. “I always knew how intelligent Jamie was. She was really the one to push us [Gateways] to create a ceremony that showcased her knowledge and passion,” says Redner. “This is a girl who clearly loves praying and being Jewish, and I am so proud that we could help her learn to her greatest potential and enable her to share it with the community.”   

“I am truly awed by Jamie and the effort she expends to express herself,” says Rabbi Stern. “Her siblings and her parents are remarkable people who deserve halos if Jews ever start giving them out. And I am deeply thankful and proud that Jamie knows that she is a part of a congregational family – a place where she was, and will always be, welcomed.” 

Category: Profiles

Tagged under: bat mitzvah, b'nei mitzvah, Davidge, Rebecca Redner, Dynavox