By Guest Blogger Andrea Oxman, Director, Special Needs Programs, The Jewish Community High School of Gratz College
I would like to tell you about my beloved student Hannah. She has been a committed participant in the ATID (Advocacy, Transitions, Involvement and Development) program since its inception six years ago. At that time a Kehillah director relayed a request for Judaic programming to JCHS from a new assisted living community.
Since one of Hannah’s strengths is her ability to socialize, I thought she might enjoy interacting with the senior citizens as well as other teens. Hannah thrived in the ATID program. She would go up to residents with no hesitation and ask them: “Can I tell you about myself?” and their answer each time was indubitably “Yes.” Hannah, who has intellectual disabilities, wanted to “read” when we had plays, so she repeated the lines that were quietly read aloud to her. Each year several other students who had learning, emotional or intellectual disabilities joined the class.
Our Judaic art specialist Dodi Klimoff, Rabbi Sandi Berliner and I created ATID, an intergenerational inclusion program for all teens. In addition to celebrating the Jewish holidays as a community, the teens together with the elderly residents of Sunrise of Dresher worked on Judaic craft and cooking projects, participated in games and engaged in discussions on various thought-provoking topics. The success of the ATID program has prompted our JCHS administrative team to change the focus of the special needs programs. JCHS is now providing supports necessary for successful inclusive educational programming and service learning opportunities for teens with special needs throughout all our branches in the community.
Hannah received Certificates of Merit and Service Learning as well as the Rina C. Goldberg Memorial Award for Commitment to the Jewish Community High School (JCHS) at our 2012 graduation ceremony. Hannah’s parents have brought her up with such a terrific outlook on life and have given her many wonderful opportunities. Through ATID we all shared a lot with one another and there was a strong feeling of community among all the participants. I will miss Hannah as she is going to college next year. I have been her teacher for the last seven years. In reality though, it is Hannah who has taught me so much!
– Andrea Oxman