All Means All: Investing to Make Jewish Day Schools Inclusive
I’ve read a couple of different articles recently about the value of day school education for raising children who will identify and remain Jewish. I couldn’t agree more. I know I’m not alone in having a fantasy that one day a super-rich person will decide that he or she or their family is going to substantially underwrite the costs of day school with the future of modern Jewish community in mind. The difference is that when I think about it, it is with a focus on special learning needs – so my fantasy is not only for a super-rich person, but for someone who recognizes that our communal need to educate and imbibe Jewish learning and values in our children goes far beyond a traditional day school model. To be successful, our community needs to embrace the realization that Jewish day school must be synonymous with providing universal support for all different learners. If we fail to do so, we will lose those learners (and there are many) – and with them, their families and siblings.
Our children are growing up in an environment of increased educational, social and extra-curricular demands, and their parents are tuned into their individualized learning needs and the supports both in and out of the classroom which allow them to thrive. The public school system is far from perfect, but it offers a variety of resources to meet different learning needs – from the more “traditional” support for the children who have academic difficulties to the newer types of support offered for children who can keep up academically, but need other types of resources for their sensory and other needs. Well-endowed private schools are also offering attractive, broad support for the many different types of learners growing up in this generation.
If we are serious about fostering a thriving Jewish community for future generations, it begins with all of our children – and the market for all of our children’s education is competitive. If Jewish day schools want to keep up, if they want to stay open, they cannot dismiss the support necessary for learning differences as an expense they cannot afford – they must look at the expense as an investment in the future of our community and our religion. From the perspective of growing our Jewish community, day schools simply cannot afford to close their doors to the numerous different types of learners out there, whose parents will put them in a public school or different private school which is equipped to support their children. Jewish day schools need more than learning specialists and speech therapists on staff. They need resources to train all of their general education and Judaic studies teachers in ways to support different learners in the classroom. They need a special educator on staff who can support the classroom teachers. They need to organize and operate in a way that fosters communication between everyone at home and in school who is involved with each of these children. They need to reach out to specialists – the gym, art and music teachers who see all of the students – to make sure they are each aware of how they may need to modify their lessons for the children who have different learning needs and sensory issues. But to do all of this? They need money.
Of course, I am passionate about this because it is personal to me. My son is on the autistic spectrum and attends a new community day school which is rich in Jewish values, education and community, but still struggles with financial resources. My fantasy cannot be met by people like me, with personal experience and insufficient financial backing. Could we help provide individual supports for our son? Yes. Can we fund the supports for the whole school? No. My fantasy is for the person who both recognizes the value and has the means to fund Jewish day school education for all in an effort to sustain our future. I know this person is out there – and I know I am not alone in hoping he or she steps forward soon.