HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal


Partnering with Parents to Turn Vision into Reality

by Mariashi Groner Issue: Special Needs

“Every Jewish child deserves a Jewish education.” “No child will be turned away for financial reasons.” “Of course, the Jewish community believes in Jewish education.”

Our curriculum was providing an education experience for our students that was sometimes one or two grade levels above typical expectations. We could not support children in the classroom who were lagging six months to two years behind.

Do you sometimes feel like you’re speaking out of two sides of your mouth? I do. I felt like that during last two years when we were unable to accept every Jewish child because we did not have the funds available to support families who could not pay full tuition.

I have also felt like that many times over the past twenty years, when we had to counsel out many Jewish children who had learning disabilities that demanded support, guidance and repetition we just could not provide in a classroom typically moving at an academically accelerated pace. As the education professionals that we are, we sat with the parents, with compassionate faces and words, and explained that we could not teach their children in the way they needed to be taught. We were a school that was competing with the best of the best. Our curriculum was providing an education experience for our students that was sometimes one or two grade levels above typical expectations. We could not support children in the classroom who were lagging six months to two years behind. What were we to do with them? This was beyond differentiated instruction. This demanded extra teachers, resources and funds that we just did not have.

As a result, these Jewish children went on to public schools where (at least in North Carolina) they really didn’t get that much support, but they weren’t as challenged because the classrooms weren’t that advanced, or they went to private schools that were specially set up for these children and where they paid $7,000 above our school’s tuition so that the children could get all the extra added support that they needed.

Jewish children who belonged in a Jewish school were going elsewhere because they couldn’t learn the way we decided they needed to learn. Shame on us!

The transformation in my, and my school’s, thinking started from personal experience. When my son was ready for kindergarten, I took him for his IQ screening that our school requires for admissions. I had the school psychologist do a more extensive evaluation, since I knew that he had more challenges than the typical child. After the psychologist finished the assessment, he turned to my husband and me and said, “I don’t believe CJDS is the right school for your son. You might want to look at some other options.” Keeping in mind that there are no other Jewish schools in the city, I responded, “That’s not happening. Tell me what I need to do to make it possible for him to attend CJDS.”

I knew I could not expect the school to provide the support, therapy, tutoring, and shadowing that he might need. I would have to find the resources for that, but I would be providing all of it in the Jewish environment and atmosphere that I value over everything else. And so we did, and he successfully graduated CJDS fifth grade with standardized scores in the 80th percentile across the board. Was it costly? Yes. Would I have paid it at some other specialized school? Yes. But he would have missed out on what I consider most precious—his Judaism.

These children are now moving on in their lives and know their way around the synagogue, can read and speak Hebrew, and know who they are and where they come from. Why should they get lost?

I learned my own personal lesson and took it to other parents who together with me valued what CJDS offers their children, whether it is the Judaism that they are fortunate enough to realize is so important, or the nurturing environment that they know exists nowhere else like our school, or the class size and teacher-student ratio that they cannot find in other schools. Since then I have often (not always) been able to impress on some parents that we can make it happen if they will partner with us—and that is the most important part of this plan—to provide a Jewish day school education for children who can’t necessarily keep up with an academically accelerated curriculum.

At times, we have students who are given special instruction in math or reading in a separate classroom because they are unable to manage a typical math class or reading curriculum. Other times, there are students who need shadowing only at recess, but academically are stars of the class. All of these supports are paid for by the parents, and the school makes every effort to find the most economical way to set up this type of support so that they are not at the rates you would typically find in the regular tutoring agencies.

This intervention has been successful many times, and I watch children graduate from our school when many people would have said it could never have happened. These children are now moving on in their lives and know their way around the synagogue, can read and speak Hebrew, and know who they are and where they come from. Many times these are the children with the extra passion for Judaism. Why should they get lost? We owe them no less than what we provide for every other child who attends our school and was born with an IQ with a few numbers higher than theirs or with a few DSM numbers added to their psychology evaluation. Truly, let’s leave no child behind. ♦

Mariashi Groner is Director of the Charlotte Jewish Day School. She can be reached at mgroner@cjdschool.org.

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Special Needs

Schools increasingly need to be aware of a growing range of conditions and challenges that students confront. These challenges present school leaders with numerous considerations at various levels: funding, admissions, staffing, curriculum, health care and more. This pioneering issue serves as a roadmap for leaders as they navigate this complex terrain.

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