Gateways NewsBlog Feed


By Jodi Wenger
March 7, 2019

Three children on a bimah in front of a Torah

After three years on the Navajo nation and Passovers with the seven other
Jewish people we could find there, we were excited to connect with the Jewish
community in New Hampshire after we moved back East. One year later, we
delivered a boy with special needs. Would there be a place for him? Would he
find a Jewish identity? Could the schools and temple be inclusive? There were no
Hebrew educational options for our son, Holden, and he didn’t enjoy time at the
temple. He often signed “all done” and would stand up and try to leave. The rabbi
was at a loss on how to help us and we didn’t know what to ask for, so we only
sent our two younger sons to Hebrew School. What does inclusion mean if there
are no obvious ways to include him?

When we moved to Newton five years ago, we had no idea if Holden
would find his Jewish identity. Shortly after our arrival, a new acquaintance
recommended we sign up for Gateways: Access to Jewish Education. We found
it to be a well-organized effort with committed and patient Jewish special
education teachers, many adaptive tools and enthusiastic high school volunteers.
They made a very impressive effort, but it just wasn’t obvious to me that they
could teach Holden to feel connected to Judaism. We held off on a Bar Mitzvah
for Holden when he reached thirteen. We opted to wait for a time when this
might be more meaningful for him and for us, or until we could figure out what
that even meant.

Almost on a whim, and after a couple of years of Gateways, my husband
recommended we try taking Holden to Shabbat morning services. I wasn’t sure
this would work and I worried he would just disturb the service, but instead it
was amazing. Despite being non-verbal, Holden loved the service and songs, and
sat patiently through most of the service with a smile on his face. He covered his
eyes and bent forward at the right times. It was such a welcome change. Holden
now seems as excited to go to Shabbat services as he is to watch airplanes at
Castle Island or the T in Newton Centre. Around this time, I emailed our rabbis
to ask if it would be okay for Holden to bring his augmentative communication
device, (an IPad with an app he uses to communicate), to services. Gateways had
helped program it so Holden could participate in the service too. Rabbi Wes said
it would be the holiest IPad and we should definitely bring it. So we did. Now he can “sing” along with prayers, and wish others a Shabbat Shalom. Now is the special time that we had been waiting for.

We are nearing Holden’s Bar Mitzvah. The rabbis suggested we consider a
Havdalah service. It would be a smaller service and Holden wouldn’t need to be the
center of attention. But we opted for a Saturday morning service. It is the one we
usually go to. Holden knows the flow and routine and never hesitates to be the center of attention. He will stand in God’s image and lead services with the use of his iPad.

He will show the congregation how he can be included. He has found his Jewish
identity. We are so grateful and proud.

This article originally appeared in the Temple Emanuel of Newton From the Gates newsletter (March/April 2019).


Reading as the Gateway(s) to Learning

By David Farbman, Senior Director of Education, Gateways: Access to Jewish Education
March 5, 2019

I have loved reading ever since I was a small child. Teacher and student readingWhether I’m seeking entertainment, information, or to be challenged, I look forward to reading like almost nothing else. Give me a good book and the time to sit and absorb it, and I am in my happy place.

I suspect that many of you reading this share my passion. But we all know that for many students, reading is distinctly not pleasurable. Indeed, it can be almost intolerably painful because they suffer some form of language-based learning disability (LBLD). The process of transforming symbols on a page into letters and words—the mechanics of reading—or the act of turning words into something with meaning is a perpetual struggle. With that struggle comes frustration and feelings of inadequacy that extend far beyond the classroom. Reading is essential for absorbing and processing information, and those who cannot read fluently are severely hampered from succeeding both in and outside of school.

Imagine the difficulty of a Jewish student who is finding it difficult to read in English and is then expected to learn to also read Hebrew. The barriers to further success are that much higher. In fact, anecdotal evidence indicates that the addition of a second language to the educational program can be a breaking point for many day school students.  Witnessing their child’s struggles, parents justifiably conclude that it is simply impossible for their child to meet the learning expectations of a dual-language curriculum. Rather than watch their child continue to flail, they simply pull him or her from the school.  Another Jewish student is then shut out from the education they are seeking.

The good news is that there are solutions to this challenge. Language-based learning disabilities may slow the acquisition of language and reading skills; but, in most cases, with the right interventions and the support of professionals, children with LBLDs can catch up to their peers. Indeed, here at Gateways we have worked with hundreds of students over the years who have faced and then overcome the challenge of learning both English and Hebrew. Our reading specialists have used reading programs like Orton Gillingham or Wilson for English and Gateways’ own similar multi-sensory curriculum in Hebrew, and have turned reading struggles into reading triumphs.

Gateways has partnered with day schools and congregational schools to help them put in place the curricula and the infrastructure to support struggling readers. We have trained dozens of educators to implement our Hebrew reading program so that they can help students realize the dream of reading a second language. to students. As for broader strategies, our focus has been on early intervention, for so often the key to conquering LBLDs is to work intensively with students in the primary grades. The sooner children can develop reading fluency—a process that intensive interventions can promote—the sooner they will be able to make the switch from “learning to read” to “reading to learn,” and from there they are more likely to meet with success. In order to assist schools in identifying reading struggles early, we at Gateways have promoted the implementation of the Response to Intervention methodology in Jewish day schools. This process involves carefully tracking every student’s reading progress and, then, if and when deficits are noted, intervening immediately.

Throughout all our work with children, with individual educators and with whole schools, our goal is constant: ensuring that every student, no matter his or her learning challenge, can thrive in a robust Jewish educational setting. Because we’ve seen so many students who were once struggling readers come to succeed, we know that the next success story is right around the corner.  And we can’t wait to be there to help that story unfold.


MaDYK Assessment of Hebrew Reading: The Importance of Progress Monitoring

By Scott Goldberg, Associate Professor at the Azrieli Graduate School of Yeshiva University
March 5, 2019

According to the 2018 Kids Count Databook report from the Annie E. CaseyFather reading Hebrew book to daughter at bedtime Foundation, only 35% of students in the United States read English at proficient levels by the end of third grade. This low rate of literacy is alarming, as reading is critical for learning and is a predictor of significant social, emotional and behavioral challenges. For the Jewish community, it should be equally, if not more, distressing that only 42% of day school students are reading Hebrew at or above benchmark levels by the end of third grade.  More than 15 years ago, I studied the impact of Hebrew reading difficulties, and found that those who struggle with Hebrew reading feel socially excluded, which then often leads to anti-social behavior. Indeed, if you are not a fluent Hebrew reader, you may not be able to fully participate in Jewish communal activities. Jewish day schools throughout the world are continually searching for effective ways to deploy and guide staff to support Hebrew reading. Given a limited pool of resources (including money, time and qualified staff), educators are often stymied about how to meet this challenge. 

For many Jewish day schools, MaDYK (Mivchan Dinami Shel Yeholot Kriah) has been part of the solution. MaDYK, a universal screening assessment of Hebrew reading skills, enables educators to effectively, efficiently and easily monitor a child’s Hebrew reading progress from Kindergarten through the end of Grade 3, especially for students who are  learning Hebrew as a second language.  As with dynamic assessments in English (e.g., Acadience Reading – formerly known as DIBELS Next), MaDYK benchmark assessment tools are designed to be a core component of a multi-tiered system of support. Using the data generated through the MaDYK assessment—which is expected to be administered to all students three times per year with a test that requires only approximately three minutes per child—educators are able to identify student needs with precision. This assessment of student strengths and deficits in Hebrew reading then guides the formation of instructional groupings and identification of areas for intervention. For example, reports will show which students meet benchmark goals for accuracy and fluency, allowing a school to easily create at least four reading groups (e.g., above benchmark goals in both accuracy and fluency, below benchmark goals in both accuracy and fluency, and above in either accuracy or fluency). Teachers use additional forms of the measures to periodically monitor the progress of those students who are determined to be at-risk for further reading difficulties (i.e., they scored below the benchmark goal). 

MaDYK is agnostic to curricula and instructional methods, meaning that educators use the results to make data-informed decisions about individual students and also about the success of the curriculum and teaching methods and other systems-level issues. Schools use reports at the student, class, grade and school levels in regular data meetings with teachers and staff to discuss trends and to plan for improvements. The aggregate of representative schools can also be used to report on the state of the field of Hebrew reading (as demonstrated by the statistic presented earlier about the percentage of students reading at benchmark level by the end of third grade).

The current MaDYK suite of measures have been rigorously studied for more than a decade, and have been scrutinized for reliability and validity, as we have come to expect from any assessments we use in our schools. The development team is currently piloting new measures and refining the reports that schools can access in the online data system to further advance the effectiveness of MaDYK’s use. 

For more information visit 


Literacy as the Bedrock of All Learning

By Marlene Moskowitz Dodyk, Former Director of Student Services, Wayland (MA) Public Schools
March 5, 2019

OverBooks in a heart-shaped bookslef the decades I have supported children in developing their literacy skills, I experienced time and again that they have an innate desire to learn to read and write. From their earliest ages, children take pleasure in turning the pages of a book and in hearing stories read to them. They live in a world saturated with language: printed, digital, verbal and nonverbal. They are inquisitive and want to find out what words mean. It is our professional responsibility to help children understand the complexities of language, to develop the requisite skills to effectively engage and interact with text and to express themselves both orally and in writing.

The development of solid literacy skills serves as the foundation upon which all future learning occurs: Children will not be able to acquire knowledge across all curriculum areas without knowing how to read and understand text. For literacy instruction to be effective, teachers must establish (a) a cycle of ongoing assessment using formative and curriculum-based measures and data to inform instruction, (b) differentiated instructional strategies and materials to specifically address the needs of individual children, and (c) calibrated approaches based on data from progress monitoring activities. It is vital to consider dosage (which includes both frequency and duration) dedicated both to direct instruction and to opportunities to practice reading and writing when establishing an effective balanced literacy program throughout the grades.

Teachers must emphasize the need for children to acquire phonemic awareness and decoding skills in the early grades; however, educators should also integrate and explicitly teach children strategies to develop reading fluency, which includes accuracy, ease, and prosody. Reading rate is often misconstrued as analogous to reading fluency; but fluency has more to do with reading comprehension. Thus, educators should focus on developing in children  a strong vocabulary, a grasp of syntax and text structure, and an expansion of background knowledge. Read Alouds—the reading aloud of age-appropriate texts in a group setting—are very effective in helping to teach and guide children in cultivating the various components of reading comprehension. These promote reading as interactive experience between the author and the reader, and are a wonderful opportunity for teachers to model good reading strategies and critical thinking skills.

Writing, a skilled process that can expand and improve throughout life, starts at a very young age. Through age-appropriate writing experiences, including journal writing, Writers Workshop and direct instruction on writing genres, structures, standard grammar and usage, children can learn to experience writing as an expression of themselves and, with practice, find their voices. Students develop the ability to clearly organize their thoughts, articulate a cogent argument with supportive details, and can creatively express their ideas and opinions. Writing then becomes a forum where students can take risks and hone their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Children need and can appreciate the positive power of words through the development of strong literacy skills. However, literacy instruction involves many complexities. Educators must therefore themselves become committed learners, always seeking new methods and approaches that will set the widest range of students on a solid path to becoming confident and capable readers and writers.


A Day School Tackles the Challenge of Literacy

By Lenore Layman, Director of Educational Support Services at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School
March 4, 2019

Can students with dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities flourish in a rigorous Jewish day school setting? Student listening to teacherHow can students who are struggling to learn to read English in the primary grades also be expected to learn to read Hebrew?  Questions like these are commonly heard from psychologists who assess students and from educators across the country who experience challenges in enabling struggling students to meet expectations in various aspects of language learning.  More heartbreaking is the question raised by current and prospective parents in our school community: “Will my child be able to stay in (or come to) your school with these struggles, and how will you possibly meet their needs?”

The Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, MD has been working to strengthen our educational support services in a number of ways so that we can confidently meet the needs of many students with  learning profiles that might otherwise preclude their inclusion in day school education. Our journey towards creating a strong support system has included expanding our Educational Support Services Department, together with ongoing and comprehensive professional development for all our faculty in differentiated instruction, executive functioning, and anxiety disorders as well as engaging our learning specialists in continuing trainings in a variety of literacy areas.

We revamped our support services model several years ago to include pull-out/push-in supports, a change that has greatly enhanced the effectiveness of our team approach in meeting the literacy needs of our students in both English and Hebrew. We have also restructured the Judaic Studies and Hebrew programs in our Lower School to create a new model for our students with more significant language-based learning disabilities in grades 3–5. These alterations were made possible by adding special educators from Israel with a background in remediation to our Educational Support Services team.

The literacy support we currently provide to students with language-based challenges includes:

  • Pull-out decoding groups for students in grades K–5, taught by our learning specialists using Orton Gillingham, Wilson and the DISSECT program;
  • One-on-one fluency work outside the classroom using the Great Leaps program;
  • Pull-out reading comprehension strategy group instruction and intervention in classrooms using Project Read Report Form and Story Grammar Marker;
  • Pull-out writing strategy group instruction and intervention in classrooms using Project Read Framing Your Thoughts, Teaching Basic Writing Skills and other writing strategies, a program shared by Sarah Ward (a speech and language therapist in Boston, who has provided ongoing professional development to our faculty);
  • Strategy instruction in Hebrew decoding and fluency, using a variety of methods including Otiyot Medabrot;
  • An alternative Hebrew and Judaic Studies class for children in grades 3–5, which employs a modified literacy curriculum developed by our faculty; and
  • Technology supports for reading, writing and presentations including use of Learning Ally, speech-to-text dictation and See Saw.

Through utilizing a number of these techniques in literacy instruction, we have experienced notable growth and skill development among many students who have mild-to-moderate language-based learning disabilities; but we are not done. 

When we have students who show improvement but still need more frequent intervention, we meet with families and ask them to consider hiring a specialized English or Hebrew reading tutor or speech and language therapist with literacy training to supplement the small group support that we are able to provide. On occasion, we have requested that a family hire a part-time or full-time instructional assistant (at their own expense) to be part of the student’s team, and to provide a higher level of scaffolding support in the classroom. These more intensive interventions can make a marked difference for individual students. 

Meanwhile, all our students have benefitted from the literacy support that our classroom teachers now regularly provide. This strengthened instruction in core classrooms has resulted from teachers’ commitment and from their participation in extensive professional development. The growth also reflects the ongoing partnership and collaboration among teachers and learning specialists. We are proud of the support services we are able to provide and are committed to continuing to improve and expand them to meet the literacy needs of Jewish students in our community.