by Tamar Davis, CEO
We are always beating our proverbial drums about being inclusive and welcoming in our communities, in our synagogues, in our schools, in any shared spaces. Yet, we recognize that fostering an effective and widespread culture of accommodation and accessibility is often easier said than done.
When I started as CEO of Gateways in August 2020, we were already two years into the Fred and Gilda Slifka Family Inclusion Initiative. The goal of this 10-year initiative is to create and implement a sustainable, replicable model of inclusive education for students with significant learning challenges in Jewish day schools. Over the past four years, we have been working closely with two of our local partners, MetroWest Jewish Day School and Solomon Shechter Day School, to pilot this initiative. It has been remarkable to see everyone involved — from teachers to heads of school, from therapists to directors of student services, from parents to peers — embracing the initiative’s goal so wholeheartedly.
Twice a year, we bring together the two schools, along with a group of professional experts, to share stories of what’s happening in the classroom and to learn from each other’s successes and challenges. One school remarked at the most recent meeting that teaching students to “listen to learn,” to their peers has been particularly powerful. For example, one 5th grader at this school was able to build up the confidence to tell his class about his tics and share his experience on medication because of these culture-building efforts. It has truly been amazing to hear the direct impact this initiative is having on individuals and their school communities.
There is certainly still work to be done for the Slifka Inclusion Initiative to achieve its long-term goal of day school inclusion in the fullest sense, but as we enter year five of this critical effort, we are eager to share what we have already learned and to impart these strategies, tools, and programming ideas with other schools and our broader community.
I hope you will join me in “listening to learn” how we can be more inclusive in all of our communal spaces.
Tamar Davis, Chief Executive Officer