The Shefa School (www.shefaschool.org), the first Jewish day school specifically for children with language-based learning disabilities, will welcome its first students in September 2014. The school will provide a research-based academic program for bright students in grades K-8 with the goal of remediating their language-based learning disabilities, including dyslexia (difficulty with reading) and dysgraphia (difficulty with writing). The school will address the complex and interconnected needs that these children and their families face in seeking a high-quality education while remaining in a warm and engaging pluralistic Jewish environment.Even among the wide range of excellent schooling options available to New York City families, there are few ways that a child with learning disabilities can receive a full-day, Jewish values-based education. These families face the very difficult dilemma of selecting between a school that can provide a rich Jewish environment and a school that has expertise in serving the learning needs of their children.
Simply put, the Shefa School will eliminate this painful choice. It is time for a “both/and” solution: a special needs school of academic excellence that seamlessly integrates rich Jewish values, community, culture, traditions, and holidays.
In addition to serving current Jewish day school students whose needs are not being met, Shefa will also attract students struggling in secular mainstream public and private schools. By offering families a model of academic excellence within a Jewish setting, Shefa will provide not only an antidote to the estrangement often felt by families counseled out of Jewish day schools, but also an appealing option to families who otherwise may not have considered a Jewish education for their child, potentially engaging many young Jewish families previously disengaged from the Jewish community. Shefa will employ and develop best practices in Jewish and special education (e.g. low student-teacher ratio, individualized instruction, and a research-based multisensory approach), integrating the best of Jewish scholarship with special education practices, and thus will be well-poised to strengthen the broader community of Jewish special education.
We hope to help many families directly through the Shefa School but also to challenge and provide support for our community’s many excellent day schools and other organizations to better serve individuals with special needs so that most can remain within the mainstream institutions. Shefa will be a convener and agitator for change within all Jewish day schools and organizations to effectively welcome and support children with special needs and their families throughout our community, in alignment with Jewish values.