by Meg Kennedy

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.

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Last June, I rejoined the Trust Center for Early Education (TCEE) and Temple Ohabei Shalom communities in my new role as an Inclusion Specialist, a new position created to provide even more services for our community. Combining my love for Hebrew and a desire for accessible education for all, it is my goal to provide behavioral and educational support for the Trust Center morning and Extended Day programs, HomeBASE, and ARS classes alike. Some days you can find me teaching Hebrew to 3 year olds using a Social Thinking-based curriculum, while other days I’m helping to create token systems for use with our school-aged children. I am here to augment the teaching staff by providing services that aren’t typically found in a traditional teacher’s responsibilities, such as new curricula and functional assessment of behavior.

In our programs, we have over 250 children from many world cultures speaking more than 15 different languages. We have typically developing children as well as children with language, fine/gross motor, and cognitive needs. Every child needs and deserves education that is focused around showcasing strengths while simultaneously supporting skills that are still developing. While our amazing teachers provide an enriched learning environment, some children need additional support, modifications, or accommodations. As Inclusion Specialist, I strive to ensure that all of our teachers are provided with tools and strategies to learn with every child in the classroom. When an extra set of hands or eyes is all the teachers need, I love going into classrooms to be with the children one-on-one or in small groups.

Using curricula such as Jewish Holiday Detectives and Hebrew Through Movement, the children are able to access difficult concepts at a young age and continue to engage with these topics as they progress through our various programs. While our preschoolers are learning how to label body parts in Hebrew, our 3rd grade ARS students enjoy stringing together these labels with commands to play games such as Shimon Omer (Simon Says). Though some of the programs we use are designed with consideration for special needs, aspects of the programs are applicable across our range of learners. Using curricula and strategies that support all learners allows our classes to grow to become a learning community, interested in the welfare and progress of each member of the group. Our goal at Ohabei Shalom, whether at TCEE, ARS, or HomeBASE, is to create a kehillah kedosha, a holy community, a community that supports and values the abilities of every member.