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Chaim and Shaindl Stein were your typical Orthodox Pikesville parents of two. Their boys were happily enrolled in Yeshivat Rambam. They went to and enjoyed school, had many friends and a lot of fun. However, when the Stein’s youngest son, Gavi, entered first grade his life took a sudden turn.
Gavi was diagnosed with Blepharitis,” recalls Chaim in his typical, warm-hearted manner. He smiles, but it is clear from his eyes that this was not a simple auto-immune syndrome.
Blepharitis, he explains, is linked to a dysfunction of the glands within the eyelids that secrete oils to help lubricate the eye. Symptoms include burning, flaking, crusting, tearing, irritation and redness. Gavi was in so much pain he could barely open his eyes, let alone learn.
We were incredibly concerned,” Chaim explains. “Our son is very bright, but by the end of first grade, he had missed 50 days of school.”
Gavi enrolled in second grade like the rest of his classmates. However, by Chanukah time, he was drastically behind his peers academically. His self-esteem had deteriorated. Rabbi Shmuel Feld, then principal of former Yeshivat Rambam, informed the Steins about the SHEMESH inclusion classroom for children with learning differences where Gavi would be able to receive the support he needed , including targeted skill building in particular subjects, while still being able to join his class for davening, lunch and special programs like art and gym. SHEMESH is a program of THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.
Gavi’s services included, but were not limited to, one-on-one limudei kodesh learning and basic reading and math skills. After only two months, the SHEMESH instructors were able to tutor Gavi back to his class level; he joined the mainstream second grade for one class a day. After another month, Gavi was back in his proper class for all secular studies. In fact, he even exceeded his classmates in some areas.
This year, for third grade, Gavi is attending Yeshivat Ohr Chadash and he is truly thriving,” Chaim says.
The academic skills were not the only achievements of the SHEMESH instructors. In the inclusion classroom, Gavi started to gain his confidence back. Says Chaim: “Gavi is once again the happy, go-lucky child that he was before his difficulties.”
Chaim is funny. He approaches his son’s illness with a sense of optimism and laughter. But when posed with what it is truly like to raise a child with a learning difference – or even a physical disability that impairs the child’s ability to learn – Chaim gets a tear in the corner of his eye. He is thinking about his smart and animated son and the year in which he suffered. The stress of raising a child with learning differences, Chaim says, is compounded for frum families; our community puts so much stress on success in school and Torah learning. Additionally, there is the added need to send one’s child to school in a proper Torah environment.
If SHEMESH did not exist, we would have enrolled Gavi in a public school. Perhaps we would have hired a Hebrew tutor,” says Chaim. “He would have almost entirely lost out on the full-day Judaic program we always envisioned for our sons.”
It’s getting late and Chaim is ready to go home. But first, he says, he has to say, “thank you.”
My wife and I have so much hakaras hatov to THE ASSOCIATED, SHEMESH, the wonderful SHEMESH educators, and, of course, our schools that partner with SHEMESH to make the program available,” he says. “Although Gavi does not require the services of SHEMESH this year – so far – we are extremely pleased to know they are available.”
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“Since kindergarten, we have had challenges with Shlomo*. At first, the teacher thought he would be one of the very advanced students because he had excellent verbal skills. However, he had a great deal of difficulty paying attention and completing tasks. As Shlomo got older, these difficulties became overwhelming. It was beyond me why Shlomo couldn’t remember his notebook for class, why he never seemed to complete a task in a timely manner or why his friends never seemed to invite him over,” said Mrs. Katz.
The family sought the help of SHEMESH. The SHEMESH experts discovered Shlomo has executive functioning issues and noted his difficulty in a social environment. An Executive Function Coach conducted an extensive evaluation and created a customized plan for intervention. He joined one of SHEMESH’s innovative social skills groups for six weeks, where he learned how to interpret social cues, respond appropriately and form meaningful friendships.
“My son is a different boy today than he was two years ago,” said Mrs. Katz. “We had labeled him unmotivated and disorganized. Our home was filled with constant arguments. Now I know that he just needed help. SHEMESH has brought back our family’s shalom bayis and given our son a chance for success.”
“Rebecca* had such serious learning difficulties, all I could do was hope with all my heart that one day there would be a way to help her learn,” says Mrs. Green. This year, the Greens were able to enroll Rebecca in the new SHEMESH small classroom for children with learning differences who require a full day of intensive strategic instruction. She’s already integrated into davening, lunch and specials like art and gym. Rebecca is well on her way to learning to read, write and do basic math. The family and teachers expect Rebecca to be ready for the mainstream classroom in the next two years, with support from the SHEMESH Learning Center.
Says Mrs. Green, “We wanted very much to keep Rebecca in a Jewish environment. SHEMESH services have made all the difference in the world – for Rebecca and, of course, for our entire family. We are so grateful.”