Friday, July 15, 2011

What I Want to say to our school community

(Hopefully most of this will be sent out in some form. For now, here is my draft:)

The original announcement about Sofia said “Our goal is for Sofia to become part of the MWJDS community.” In fact, Sofia has been part of this community since she was born. She even had her Simchat Bat (baby naming ceremony) here at MWJDS, back when her big brother Samuel was in kindergarten! Sam and his classmates are entering 7th grade now, and as far as Sofia is concerned, she is welcoming all her new classmates to her school!

Sofia has Down syndrome. The medical term is Trisomy 21—there are three copies of the 21st chromosome instead of two. Down syndrome is a syndrome (named after Dr. John Langdon Down); it is not a disease, it is not contagious. Sofia is likely not the only person you know who has DS. In fact, Down syndrome occurs in one in every 691 live births.

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.”

While there are many shared traits amongst people with Down syndrome, every person is unique. You will find that Sofia is more like her brothers, Samuel and Micah, than she is like anyone else with DS.

Usually, mental development and physical development are slower in people with Down syndrome than in those without the condition. Your children may ask about Sofia’s speech, which is the most obvious delay. Sofia’s first expressive language was American Sign Language (ASL). She can hear clearly, but it takes longer to learn to speak. So she may not say as much as the other students. But she is certainly listening, and she will make herself understood when she wants something!

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. 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 are grateful that we were able to work out the partnership between MWJDS and the Ashland Public School. It has always been our goal for Sofia to attend MWJDS with her brothers. But MWJDS is still a small school, and there are resources available at the public school that we just don’t have here yet. Sofia will be receiving Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy during her time at the public school, in addition to special education support in her Inclusion classroom.

When Sofia comes to MWJDS, Hamorah Amy will reinforce what she has learned in public school, and will add a Judaic curriculum for Sofia. Hamorah Nitzan will work to include her in the kindergarten class and the wider school community. At home, we will supplement the Hebrew language instruction that she will miss, so that she can still keep up with her MWJDS classmates.

I want to make sure everyone in our MWJDS community understands that there are no stupid questions. Please feel free to ask if you want to know something about Sofia.

But our tradition also teaches that words can hurt. In the Torah, we are enjoined not to wrong one another, meaning not hurt one another with words. Instead we are to consider the effect of our words on others carefully, reflecting on the word choices we make and their impact on others. The Jewish tradition places great emphasis on not hurting another’s feelings.

In a small Eastern European town, a man went through the community slandering the rabbi. One day, feeling suddenly remorseful, he begged the rabbi for forgive­ness and offered to undergo any penance to make amends. The rabbi told him to take a feather pillow from his home, cut it open, scatter the feathers to the wind, and then return to see him. The man did as he was told, then came to the rabbi and asked, “Am I now forgiven?” “Almost,” came the response. “You just have to do one more thing. Go and gather all the feathers.” “But that’s impossible,” the man protested. “The wind has already scattered them.” “Precisely,” the rabbi answered. “And although you truly wish to correct the evil you have done, it is as impossible to repair the damage done by your words as it is to recover the feathers.” (Words that Hurt, Words that Heal, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin)

Many of us grew up at a time when the word “Retarded” or “Retard” was an acceptable descriptive word, not just applying to people but to situations and things. But we have learned not to use certain words to describe people of different races or religions, because those words are considered insults and slurs. The “R-Word” is also a slur, and an insult to a whole group of people who do not have the collective ability to fight back. I ask that you be mindful of your own speech and model that mindfulness for our children.

Sofia has Down syndrome. Sofia has developmental delays. But Sofia IS a child, who loves to play and sing and dance and learn. Just like everyone else!


Eileen D said...

Very well worded.Personally, when I read the part about "welcoming Sofia to the MWJDS community" I thought "Welcome her? She could probably give the incoming class a tour."

Hope you're having a good sumer.


Anonymous said...

well said