By Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer, Director, Whole Community Engagement

The Reta Emerson Fellowship/Teen Assistant Program (TAP) is Jewish Learning Venture’s education initiative through which a group of selected high school students are trained and mentored to assist children with special needs and those experiencing difficulty in congregational classroom settings. Beginning with a week-long intensive training, and continuing monthly through the school year, teens study, learn skills, work in classrooms in their congregations, and reflect with one another about their experiences. The program is generously funded by the family of Reta Emerson, z”l, who was dedicated to helping children and worked tirelessly for many causes through her life.

Sixteen amazing teens spent four nights last week learning about disability awareness and gaining practical skills to use when they work 1:1 or in small groups with students who need extra support during religious school. The teens learned also about how children with learning differences can be socially isolated and may need extra support to make friends and feel part of the Hebrew school community.

We are grateful for our guest presenters, Rabbi Michelle Greenfield, occupational therapist Jaime Bassman and Bruce Sham, co-founder and teacher of the Amanda Sham Resource Center for Children with Special Needs at the Old York Road Temple Beth, who shared many different strategies and ways of thinking about positive motivation for all students.

This year’s TAP teens come from the following synagogues:
Germantown Jewish Centre
Jewish Children’s Folk Shul
Keneseth Israel
Or Hadash
Temple Judea
Ohev Shalom (Wallingford)
Temple Sholom (Broomall)
Or Hadash
Beth Am Israel
Adath Israel
Or Ami

The teens had many important reflections on their intensive learning. Here are a few comments about what they will take forward as they begin their work as TAP teens:

“A new way that I am thinking about learning disabilities is that everyone who has one struggles differently…”

“Learning disabilities don’t make you incapable of learning. It just makes learning harder.”

‘Fair isn’t giving everyone the same thing…it’s giving everyone wh
at they need.”

“Something that I can use with students include offering breaks and creating visual schedules.”

“People with a disability don’t need to be treated differently than someone else who doesn’t have one. They are humans and that’s all that matters.”

We are looking forward to a wonderful year ahead!