The Learning Circle
Special needs children in L.A.’s Jewish community have a new schooling option: The Learning Circle. Currently operating out of the Friendship Circle of Los Angeles’s facility on Robertson, this small learning center is offering a unique program for Jewish kids ages five to seven with moderate to severe special needs
Founders Chaya Chazanow and Sarah R’bibo were introduced through friends who expected they’d have a lot in common. Chazanow explains, “My child was 2 or 3 when we met. I was looking for other parents to talk to, and we actually connected at first over the phone. From my perspective, I was finding it very hard to find other frum parents in my position.” Since her child was too young at the time to participate in the Friendship Circle or the like, that wasn’t yet an outlet, and the few special needs parents she had met had children with autism or other conditions which were very different than her own child’s. “Sarah’s child has a different diagnosis [than my child], but there were a lot of similarities, so we had enough in common to connect.”
At the end of a two-year battle with the local public school district – just for an appropriate preschool placement – the Chazanows didn’t receive the services their son needed. “We had zero options. We seriously thought we were going to have to move cross-country.” That was the moment Chazanow hatched the plan for the school. “My personality is if something is not working, you work to change it. It’s not only affecting my son but affects other kids in our community.”
Although The Learning Circle is located at Friendship Circle of Los Angeles’s building, they are independent entities. Sharing their facility has been ideal. “It’s helpful that they are designed for kids with challenges,” Chazanow explains. In addition, construction has started already on a sensory room.
Following an innovative model, The Learning Circle functions as a learning center; their students are enrolled in an independent study charter school and gather at their location each day. Therapeutic services largely take place on-campus, thus eliminating parents’ need to transport their child from place to place as needed. The school has contracted with occupational therapists, physical therapist, and speech therapists, and offers an adapted PE class. Some students also have ABA therapists working with them one-on-one.
Additionally, the children daven each day, exploring the alef-bet, parshah, and Jewish holidays through a variety of therapeutic and educational media. They throw a Shabbat party weekly.
Teacher Doonie Mishulovin – who has a Master’s in Education and 25 years of experiences with special needs students – relates the pleasure she gets with her students at The Learning Circle. “I learn alef bet with [my student] who knew none of the letters at the beginning of the year and now [he] is familiar with almost all of them.” She adds, “Every time we daven together, I thank Hashem that these children have the opportunity to daven in school.”
In this initial phase, The Learning Circle has just a couple students. Next year, Chazanow and R’bibo are hoping to expand. “We would love to have three or four [additional] students join for next year,” says Chazanow. “[I]f we have interest from more parents with children of the appropriate age and level of need, we would try to accommodate that.” Chazanow hopes that planning strategically and pacing the learning center’s growth will ensure long-term quality for its programs.