February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM). This is part of a series of blog posts highlighting Inclusion at Temple Ohabei Shalom and cultivating diverse voices within our community.

 

Did you know that February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion month? At Temple Ohabei Shalom, we are proud of our integrated and inclusive education model, where we offer an appropriate Jewish and secular education for each and every child who attends one of our education programs. Whether they come for preschool, religious school, or afterschool enrichment (or all of the above), approximately 30% of children in our education programs come to us with some configuration of social, emotional and diverse learning needs. Since the inception of each of our schools, our visionary leaders and school directors have insisted that it is our duty and responsibility to educate EVERY member of our community.

We have always used a wide lens for our children, realizing that all children benefit from classroom structures and accommodations for unique learners. This holistic view allows us to better serve all students in our programs. Our staff and children are supported by an Inclusion Specialist and a Learning Specialist who systematically build teachers’ own capacities to reach a wider range of learners and to maximize the inclusion of students with special needs into the regular program. As with all of our programs, these professionals work with our schools (and our afterschool program, HomeBASE) to apply our model of integration consistently.

Our skilled educators benefit from deep relationships with strategic community partners such as the Brookline Early Education Program (BEEP)Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, Inc., and the Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project. Strengthened by these partnerships, we provide a positive and productive Jewish education for each and every child at the Trust Center for Early Education (TCEE) and Ansin Religious School (ARS) and HomeBASE. Our teachers and administrative staff receive both formal and informal professional development and meet with specialists regularly to discuss how to provide and sustain the appropriate structure and support for each of the children, particularly those identified as having special needs.

This year we have been piloting a new program, Jewish Holiday Detectives, in both our preschool and religious school classrooms. In partnership with Gateways, we have developed an integrated social pragmatics and Jewish holiday curriculum for children ages 4 – 7. In the synagogue world, it is quite unique to find an institution where curriculum spans programs and age groups in this way. We make the time and resources available because this integration is intrinsic to our mission.

Over the summer, 8 members of the TCEE and ARS staff participated in intensive learning and professional development in order to develop this program. Our highly trained TCEE and ARS staff use this curriculum to teach and review the holidays while supporting students’ social and emotional development.

I love watching these lessons unfold in our classrooms. During the “detective hunt” the children search for clues about the holiday and then their teachers help them figure out what the clues are trying to tell us. Recently, they searched for the clues for Tu BiShevat, the birthday of the trees, and found pictures of soil, seeds, many different types of plants and trees, and a single birthday candle. The lesson that followed was rich and descriptive as the children compared and discussed their pictures.  When looking at the different seeds a child shared, “A seed is something that lives in the forest, in the trees and sometimes trees can live in the city too.”

I am so proud to be the Education Director at a synagogue committed to seeing each child as Betzelem Elohim, in the image of God. At Temple Ohabei Shalom we want all children to have the very best education for them. Inclusion is an important and necessary component of education, as each child is unique. Nurturing the potential for learning and growth that is inherent in every child is the reason the education team and I do this work. Well, that and the hugs!