This September, the Shefa School, a new pluralistic Jewish community day school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, welcomed its first students. Founded by Ilana Ruskay-Kidd, the former director of the Saul and Carole Zabar Nursery School at the JCC in Manhattan, Shefa is the only Jewish Day School for students with language-based learning disabilities. Shefa currently has 24 students enrolled in grades 2-5 and will ultimately enroll children in grades K-8.
Shefa addresses learning difficulties connected with language, which includes challenges in reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Reading disabilities may make it difficult to sound out (or decode) written words–often called dyslexia–or comprehend a written passage once it is decoded. Dysgraphia, or writing disability, interferes with one’s ability to express ideas in writing.
When we were planning our curriculum, I really wanted to think about as many ways as possible to integrate Jewish learning into our work, and the arts felt like a really natural place to talk about Jewish history, culture, tradition, and Israel. In addition to a traditional arts period as part of their core curriculum, Shefa students also have an optional arts “chug” period, they engage in the arts as they experience the Jewish weekly and seasonal schedule, and they have a chance to respond to the weekly Torah portion in writing, or to draw and create an artistic rendering of what they’ve learned.
As we planned for our school year, we also hosted an arts roundtable with working artists to help brainstorm an arts curriculum that would best meet the needs of our incoming students. By allowing students to express themselves in various ways beyond the conventional academic structures–to explore, get messy, take risks, and hone in on their individual strengths–we hope to create an educational experience that will bolster students and lift them up to reach their highest potentials.
Read the entire interview at Kveller.