First Jewish school for children with special needs in our community
As the People of the Book, we value our children’s education highly. Jewish schools everywhere are increasingly taking great care to accommodate different children with many different learning styles. Yet here in Los Angeles, there is one group of children who are severely overlooked and underserved by our schools, despite our focus on education for all.
That is not OK with me.
I moved to this community four years ago. My son was a baby, just a few months old, and as very young, brand new parents, my husband and I were already learning very quickly that we would have to battle the world for this child. It was not an easy move, and we struggled to find resources and families to connect to, who could advise us in navigating the foreign world of special needs.
To be honest, I was quite shocked to discover that despite having one of the largest Jewish communities, and so many synagogues and schools, Los Angeles lacks a comprehensive support network for Jewish special needs families. Granted, there are a few wonderful programs, but each address specific areas of need. Few are geared to very young children or brand-new parents. We found no one to guide us fully through the big picture, to advise us on how to deal with both developmental and medical issues in a very complex system.
To compound this, we did not initially try so hard to reach out. We were hesitant to open up about the huge challenges we faced every single day. We didn’t tell many people that our son has a non-inherited genetic disorder, which affects every single aspect of his daily life. We didn’t want people to judge him; we wanted him to have a fair chance at being accepted for who he is, and not for his disabilities. But as months passed, despite hours of therapies, doctor visits and numerous medications and supplements daily, our son did not “catch up” as quickly as we had hoped. As the babies of friends and family continued to grow, to walk and talk and become toddlers, he continued to struggle. It became clear to us that this was not going to be something we could hide, and we redirected our focus towards trying to educate, to rebuild, and to create a strong support network for our son and for ourselves.
On this rollercoaster journey, we have gained insight into some key issues holding back this community from providing greater support to families like ours. We have met wonderful, kind people who have opened themselves up to our son and made him feel like he belongs, is understood and accepted. More commonly however, we have discovered a supreme lack of awareness and familiarity with children and adults with special needs. This leads to discomfort and avoidance, because people simply don’t know how to engage or to relate. How is it possible, that in a nation of people who are baishanim, rachmanim and gamlei chassadim, we find that this portion of our society is seriously overlooked?
On occasions when we bring our son to social events or to shul, we see so many of our friends and family whose typical children do not know how to interact, to engage, and to include him. How different would this be if they went to school with children like him? If they were consistently exposed to children with different challenges, who may or may not look like them? If they were given guidance in a structured setting to accept and include all children, of all abilities? They are all children after all. They all deserve a chance.
Due to the current inability of the Jewish schools to cater to many children with special needs, these children have no choice but to attend non-Jewish private or public schools. They must forgo a Jewish education to receive the help they need; yet even in the non-Jewish system, the lack of decent therapeutic programs is astounding.
When my son was turning three, and had to enter the school system, I was determined to find him the best school in existence. I didn’t approach Jewish schools as I knew they don’t have the resources to provide for my son’s needs. Reluctantly resigned to that, I explored the public school system. But as I searched, and toured school after school, I discovered that the program I was looking for simply did not exist in LA. Our children deserve a right to a solid Jewish education. They deserve to come home with pictures of Menorahs instead of Xmas trees. Just like all children, our children deserve a fighting chance to succeed.
The good news is, we are now making that happen.
This fall 2017 we are partnering with Friendship Circle of Los Angeles to operate a pilot class for a Jewish comprehensive therapeutic school for children with special needs. FCLA has a beautiful, state of the art facility, complete with an incredible adapted playground, and a sensory room in progress. Please open your hearts to our special children. Take on this mitzvah and help them gain access to their dreams; to receive a Jewish education and the tools they need to become successful, contributing members of our society.
To make a donation please go to https://jewishspecialneedsschool.donorzen.com
Alternatively, checks can be made payable to Friendship Circle of Los Angeles and mailed to 1952 S. Robertson Blvd, Los Angeles CA 90034. To find out more about funding or how you can be involved, please contact the Friendship Circle at (310)280-0955.