Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Well, that was fun

Tonight, I was privileged to speak to a group of donors for the day school. The "Chai Society" (Chai being the Hebrew word for 18, and 18 being the number that means luck) is the group of heavy-hitters who support the school. They were gathered to hear Rabbi Art Green speak about his new book, "Radical Judaism" (and we all got copies - I've got my light reading for Florida!).

But I got to be the parent speaker. And that was really cool. So here's my speech:

וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה, וְהִנֵּה-טוֹב מְאֹד

God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.

This line from the first chapter of Genesis tells us, clearly, that everything is good. Every difference, everything out of the ordinary, every “dis”ability. In Mishnah Sanhedrin, the sages asked:

“Why was only one person created by God on the sixth day of creation? It is to indicate the greatness of the Holy One, blessed be God. A human being mints many coins from the same mold, and they are all identical. But the Holy One, Blessed be God, strikes us all from the mold of the first human and each one of us is unique.”

At MetroWest Jewish Day School, each child is an individual, with his or her own strengths or weaknesses. Child-centered learning has been a core value of the school since the beginning. We started as a community school, expanding slowly throughout the MetroWest area until now, when we have students from as close as down the street and as far as Worcester. We include families with a varying degree of Jewish practice in the home. As our school grows, the richness of our community expands.

Many of you know me, and that means you know my children. Ten year old Samuel is proud to be the oldest boy at MetroWest Jewish Day School this year. He was also one of the first children at the school to be diagnosed with a learning disability. In first grade, we discovered that Samuel has dyslexia. I am proud to say that he has received his reading services from MWJDS every year, and now, in fifth grade, he is thriving and growing and making great strides in his reading. He also loves to learn Torah and Jewish studies, along with Social Sciences and even math and science.

Many day schools would have rejected Samuel. They would have said “We simply cannot accommodate a child who does not learn in the way that we teach.” And that is wrong, and very sad. And very much against our tradition. Elsewhere in Mishna Sanhedrin, we are told:

Anyone who deprives a student of being taught Torah is as if he robs him of his father’s legacy.

Our legacy is Torah. And all students should have the opportunity to learn Torah, not just “normal” learners. My middle child, Micah, is in the second grade now. Micah’s learning style is quite different from that of his brother. In fact, this year, Micah was able to win a medal at his first chess tournament! He, like his brother, is thriving in the nurturing environment of MWJDS.

While I am extremely grateful to Hamenahelet and everyone at MWJDS for all the support Samuel has received and all the opportunities Micah has had, I have an even greater challenge coming down the line. In September of 2011, my daughter Sofia will be ready to start kindergarten. And we want her to attend MWJDS with her brothers. But Sofia has Down syndrome, and she will need more support than most other students. She will need Speech Therapy. She will need Occupational Therapy. And she will need teachers who are able to teach to her particular learning style, patiently and clearly, until she is able to master the subjects just like her classmates.

There are many children with Special Needs, different learning needs, in our community. And our texts have been clear since the very beginning: Every child should be valued, every child should be taught. We just need to make it happen.

I had been asked only this morning to speak, but fortunately, I've been buried in these texts all week as I try to finish the first real draft of my Capstone project before Passover. My plan is to get a draft to my adviser and several other key wise folk by Friday, so they have a little "light reading" over the holiday, and then I can work on their edits and suggestions when real-life resumes.

Meanwhile, I've spent every morning (when not driving or going to the gym) cramming my thoughts into the paper. Biblical and Rabbinic Texts Pertaining to Educating People with Special Needs. Hmmmmm.

Elsewhere in our lives, we are getting ready for Passover in an unusual way this year. We are going to Florida!!!! (Ok, stalkers, I swear there will be many people, including the local police, watching my house!)

Anyway, yes, going to G-d's Waiting Room. David's parents just finished cleaning up his grandmother's apartment in Hallendale, since she can no longer travel, so we have a place to stay, and we'll have seders with my friend B and her family (her sons also go to day school, so all the kids have the week off), we'll see my grandma, and we'll go to Disney on Easter Sunday (when hopefully the crowds will be lighter). And we'll get some warmer weather and some relaxation. And I'll start working on the yearbook...

Most exciting news of today, though, is that Micah finally got his glasses!


Tracy said...

So these are real glasses this time?! LOL Rachel has some new glasses waiting for me to go and pick up. We got them thru Specs4Us that makes glasses for people with Ds. I will touch base with you soon and see if we can work out a visit while you all are in Florida! We would really love to see you guys again!