Innovating Our Way Into the School Year

Twenty-nine years ago, Keshet and Solomon Schechter Day School of Metropolitan Chicago started a journey to address the Jewish education needs of all students. The result was Schechter opening its doors to house a therapeutic Jewish day school operated by Keshet. This model is as unique today as it was three decades ago. It has allowed thousands of kids with and without disabilities to learn in one community.

This school year, Keshet and Schechter have launched something new–an inclusive kindergarten class–to provide extra support within the classroom for students with disabilities to learn alongside typically developing peers. 

For Keshet and Schechter, this means a kindergarten class co-taught by an experienced Schechter kindergarten teacher and a special education teacher. They work together to ensure that the curriculum and materials are accessible and adapted for all students and their learning styles. Additional support in the classroom is provided by Keshet’s social workers, occupational therapists and speech therapists, in addition to the current related services team at Schechter. 

Having students with a range of abilities learning together demonstrates how all people can be part of their community, develop a sense of belonging, and become better prepared for life in the community as children and adults. With Schechter’s decades of experience in Jewish education and Keshet as a longstanding leader in disability inclusion and special education, we are confident in our combined abilities to best support all students to grow and thrive.

The inclusive kindergarten class pilot year is supported in part by a generous grant from JUF’s Day School Innovation Fund that was awarded to Schechter to launch this program with Keshet. Not only does this commitment demonstrate a belief that everyone benefits when everyone is included, it also addresses a gap in services available in our community. Each year, Schechter receives inquiries from families who have children who have additional needs and want their children to attend a Jewish day school.  Administrators face the challenge of having to decide whether they can serve the students. At the same time, these students do not need the intensive supports offered by Keshet’s day school. As a result, most of these families end up attending public school. The inclusive kindergarten is an opportunity to address this gap and serve more students in Jewish day school.

Keshet has dreamed of an inclusive classroom for years, and we are so excited to see it finally become a reality. We believe that inclusive education is about finding different ways of teaching so that classrooms actively involve all children and students can learn from one another. Recognizing students for their individual strengths and gifts takes creativity and commitment, both of which Keshet and Schechter staff already have. Most importantly, it fosters a culture of respect and belonging in ways that we haven’t experienced before. Kindergarten is just the start of a program that we hope to expand in future years. We are confident in our partnership with Schechter in helping bring this innovative model of inclusion to life in and out of the classroom. We are looking forward to seeing all the ways that these kindergarteners grow this school year!

If you’re interested in learning more, please reach out to Robert Lee, Keshet’s Director of Education.

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