Responding to the need for Jewish educators who are better prepared to work with children with special needs, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion convened a panel of experts on October 3. The Rhea Hirsch School of Education’s (RHSOE) “Special Needs Day of Learning” allowed community educators to discuss the issue, share their insights, and respond to students who had requested more training in the area.
“Serving children with special needs continues to be a challenge in Jewish and public education,” said Eve Fein (pictured, right), Coordinator of Clinical Education and Admissions Associate for RHSOE. “We wanted our students to be exposed to the challenges and understand that there are experts out there that they can consult with.”
The event was created with help from BJE – Builders of Jewish Education and attracted about 45 people. The keynote addresses came from Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson (pictured, left), Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University, and his 19-year-old son, Jacob, who has autism. Rabbi Artson discussed the importance of creating a community environment that is open to people with special needs and goes beyond special programming. Jacob wrote a speech that was read by his mother about his dream of a world of full inclusion where he feels comfortable and doesn’t have to fight for certain rights. Other speakers included educators at area synagogues and day schools. They addressed such topics as “Community Resources at Your Fingertips” and “Setting the Stage in the Classroom.”
“The panel of educators presented models from their schools that were diverse and accessible. They showed us what is possible to accomplish with deliberate thoughtfulness,” Fein said.