By Guest Bloggers Arlene Remz, Executive Director, Gateways: Access to Jewish Education; Alan Oliff, Director of the Initiative for Day School Excellence at Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) and Jane Taubenfeld Cohen, Director of Capacity Building, Yeshiva University (YU) Institute for University-School Partnership
Rachel’s parents are committed to sending her to day school, but she has processing and 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. And, since Rachel is often pulled out of classes for support services, this marks her as different and she misses out on classroom activities.
Now imagine a school where teachers have the strategies and resources to support Rachel and other children with a wide variety of learning challenges and where administrators plan for – and expect — differentiated instruction in the classroom. Rachel may still need some individualized supports at her school, but mostly she will be in class with her peers, learning alongside them, and contributing her unique gifts.
You may have already heard about B’Yadenu, an initiative funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Ruderman Family Foundation, and a collaboration between Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP’s) Initiative for Day School Excellence and Yeshiva University’s Institute for University-School Partnership.
This week the leaders of Boston area Jewish day schools are being invited to apply to be one of six schools that will participate in B’Yadenu (In Our Hands), Meeting the Needs of Diverse Learners in Jewish Day Schools: A Whole School Approach. It’s an initiative designed to build the capacity of day school teachers and leaders to better serve Rachel and countless other students with a range of learning needs.
To understand B’Yadenu, we need to focus on the last three words, “whole school approach.” For years Gateways has worked with individual students and teachers in day schools to develop the skills for success in those classrooms which laid the groundwork for this grant. The agency, which is the central address for special needs Jewish education in the Boston area, has provided support services for students in day schools as well as professional development and consultation. This has made a monumental difference in many day schools’ ability to retain students who, in the past, might have needed more support than the schools could offer. It’s allowed for greater diversity of teaching and greater diversity of students, which in turn improved the learning environment for all students. However, schools have not had the professional development resources to create this positive impact uniformly in classrooms and in other programs.
Through this initiative, the schools will work with Gateways, CJP and YU to:
- Create a baseline assessment to establish their current practices and capacity for serving students with special needs throughout their school;
- Create and implement a comprehensive three-year whole-school professional development plan to improve instruction of all learners and
- Strengthen the knowledge and skills of school leaders to ensure genuine school-wide commitment to this initiative.
The goal is to help schools retain students like Rachel and attract additional ones with a wider range of learning needs and thereby increase enrollment. And not just for these six schools — the ultimate goal is for the schools to serve as models to be studied and their programs adapted by day schools across the region and the country.
With teachers equipped with the tools to help students with a wide range of learning challenges, administrators who know their school is stronger because it can retain and attract a much wider student base, parents who see their children engaged and motivated and students who can now all experience success, Rachel and so many others will have the support they need to be full participants in their own education. You can just imagine their families’ pride as their children step up to receive their diplomas on graduation day.
All of us are also proud to be a part of this exciting work and we are confident that B’Yadenu will have a broad and lasting inclusionary impact on countless children, their families and the community in the years to come.
– Arlene Remz, Alan Oliff and Jane Taubenfeld Cohen