HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

From the Desk of Bathea James, RAVSAK President

It is so hard to believe that we are fast approaching 2006. I hope that you are all back to teaching full time after a very fragmented October. More so, I hope that the joy of the holidays is not simply a memory - that it sustains you in your important work as leaders in the Jewish community dayschool movement.

This edition of our RAVSAK publication covers a very sensitive and challenging topic, that is, our ability to educate the many children at our schools who have learning challenges and need support. Special needs is commonly interpreted to reflect the children along the whole continuum from the severely learning disabled child up to and including the “gifted” child. Of course, our “community” schools are popularly understood to serve not only the broad Jewsih spectrum but to serve all children living in a given catchment area.

Our schools are frequently faced with a number of challenges regarding the inclusion of all learners. Here, I list but a few and throughout this issue of HaYidion many more are raised:

  • Jewish day schools, because of the desire and mission to educate as many Jewish children as possible, often try to be everything to everybody.
  • Jewish schools are perceived as being nurturing, safe and receptive to “special needs” children, and as a result many of our schools find themselves with a large number of children who require intervention and alternate instructional approaches.
  • Limited financial resources prevent our schools from hiring sufficient qualified personnel to work and support these children on an intensive basis.
  • The specialists trained to teach and successfully work with these students are in short supply nationally, and the salaries required to compensate them are often not within the reach of our schools.
  • Teachers’ training is deficient in preparing teachers with the strategies to ensure that all the students will succeed.

So often, we search for what is wrong, or focus on the disability as originating within the student, discounting the possibility that the educational setting and instructional methodology might be deficient. The need to “label” students in order to access any possible support available outside of the school can lead to a diminishing of the teacher’s expectations. Research has shown that this leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy of poor performance by the student and low self-esteem.

It is crucial that prior to accepting students who have learning challenges, the school clearly understands what will be necessary to ensure a successful learning experience for the student where their specific needs are met and their learning potential maximized. Several RAVSAK schools have been very successful in developing programs to assist these students. I encourage you to contact the RAVSAK office where our very able staff will direct you to the names of these schools.

Early wishes for a Chanukah Sameach to your family and friends. I look forward to welcoming you at our conference in January 2006!


Bathea James

Bathea James is the President of RAVSAK and former Head of School at the Tucson Hebrew Academy in Tucson, AZ. She can be reached at bathea@msn.com.

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Special Education in Jewish Community Day Schools

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