For Jennifer and Michael Sachs, a Jewish education isn’t just learning about the weekly parsha and Jewish holidays. It’s about learning Jewish practices and values as part of a Jewish community.
So when their son, Zachary, was diagnosed with dyslexia like his two older brothers, they decided that they wanted to give him a Jewish learning experience that would meet his unique needs, where he could be “with other Jewish kids and learning together,” Jennifer says. “When we came to the realization that a regular Hebrew School program wasn’t a possibility for him, we decided to try to start our own program.” And so they worked with Mrs. Zipora Schorr, Beth Tfiloh’s Director of Education, to create the Meir Program for children with language-based learning differences.
Named Meir, which means light in Hebrew (and is also Michael’s Hebrew name!), because this new program is designed to bring the “light” of Judaism and Jewish learning into the lives of these students who may not have had access otherwise.
The Meir Program class is taught by Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School alumna Jessie (Barthlow) Goldberg ’03, who holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Hofstra University and a Master’s in Special Education from Goucher College. Morah Jessie’s extensive experience in working with people with language-based differences means that she is able to expertly integrate each student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) guidelines and ensure that their unique needs are met in her classroom. Her specialty is the Orton Gillingham teaching method, the multi-sensory approach to education used at the Jemicy School, where many of the Meir Program students attend the rest of the week.
That approach means that each week’s lesson, which includes Tefillah (prayer) and Parsha (the weekly Torah portion) is a creative blend of activities and learning modalities -- visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile styles of learning -- that capture each student’s attention and interest, such as games, craft projects, music, and baking. For example, when learning about when the Jews received the Torah on Har Sinai, the students created a tornado tube with food coloring and glitter to simulate the thunder and lightning storm that the Torah tells us took place at that monumental event. It also means that sensory breaks are built into the schedule, giving the students a break from the intensity of the lesson to participate in a sensory activity, such as playing a computer game or going on a walk.
That combination thrilled Erik and Randi Kaustel, whose son, Mats, is a student at Roger’s Forge Elementary School in Towson. “He [isn’t] sitting in the classroom completely lost. Morah Jessie knows how to deliver the material in a fun way,” says Randi. The Kaustels want Mats continue his Jewish learning so that he can be “proud of his Jewish heritage and lead Jewish holidays” at their house.
Mats’ classmate, Daniel Turner, also enjoyed his experience at the Meir Program. “It was a chore to get him to go to Hebrew School before,” shares his mother, Helen. “This year, he was happy when I picked him up!”
Bennett Rosenblatt, another Jemicy student, especially “enjoyed learning about the holidays and traditions” with Morah Jessie, says his father, Sam, who attended BT day school through eighth grade. Sam wants other parents to know that there’s a Jewish learning alternative for kids with language-based learning differences. “It’s important that these kids still have an opportunity to remember that they’re Jewish and connect to their background,” he says.
And that is exactly the point.
“Every child deserves a Jewish education. Chanoch l’na’ar al pi darko
– each child can be reached in his or her own way,” says Mrs. Schorr. In response to the overwhelming positive response to the inaugural year, Mrs. Schorr adds, “We anticipate building on this year’s success and planning on the expansion of a program so important to the Jewish community.”For more information about the Meir Program, please contact Regina Jacobs at 410-526-9995 or firstname.lastname@example.org.