Posts in category "Reflections & Perspectives"

Speaking Publicly About My Disability

By Tamar Davis, Chief Executive Officer
August 21, 2020

 
Dear Friends,

It was overwhelming and heartening to see how many of you took time to watch my first video message two weeks ago—and thank you for welcoming me so warmly to my new role as CEO of Gateways. In my desire to get to know you and continue the imperative communal conversation about inclusion on behalf of all our children, I plan to use this space on two Fridays each month to share various thoughts, learning moments, and Gateways highlights with you.

It may seem logical that—considering the job I just took on (finishing my third week today!)—I would naturally feel comfortable talking about my own personal disability, and my experiences of advocating for myself in the Jewish community and beyond. However, this was most definitely not the case until well into adulthood. That first occasion where I spoke publicly about my personal journey of navigating our world with severe hearing loss was a life-defining moment that led me to where I am today at Gateways.

It was in 2011 when I was asked to speak one Shabbat afternoon as part of a “getting to know your neighbor” speaker series at my synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where I was living at the time. I entitled my speech, “To Hear or Not to Hear: What Was the Question?” What still amazes me most about that first time was the sheer number of people who attended that afternoon. Typically, about 100 people came to synagogue on Shabbat afternoons, but the day I spoke, over 300 people showed up. Afterwards, there were three main themes to people’s responses to me: many gained new insight on what it means to live with a disability, others were inspired (but not necessarily to action), and some even expressed how they didn’t feel comfortable talking about their own or a family member’s disability.

This experience was incredibly enlightening for me. I grew to understand that while we all want our communities and schools to be inclusive, all too often, we don’t realize how inherently non-inclusive our communities are until we hear a first-hand account of what a person with a disability is experiencing. I know now that my personal story is bigger than just me, and it needs to be told as part of the movement for inclusion in our society. 

From then on, I always said yes whenever I was asked to speak at other synagogues and with community leaders from my perspective as a person with a disability. In addition, I adapted my talk to include actionable insights, and to share practical steps on how a community can become more inclusive to all who want to access Jewish life.

I never dreamed that I would be adapting my talk to share a new perspective when I became a parent of a child with a disability (different from mine). And I certainly never dreamed that I would become the leader of an organization with a mission to advocate for inclusion for all of our community’s children, regardless of disability or diverse learning needs. How appropriate that in this week’s Torah portion reads the famed verse, “צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף” (Tzedek tzedek tirdof), “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deut. 16:20). What a clear call to action that we cannot desist in our efforts to create and sustain a just world, a world where every child has equal access to what they need to grow and thrive.

I meant every word I said in my video message, and I’ll say it again here: I want to hear from you, understand your thoughts about inclusion, and learn how Gateways can continue being a beacon of hope for our children in their path to becoming meaningful participants in Jewish life and learning. I always welcome your responses.

Wishing you continued good health and Shabbat shalom,

Tamar

Category: Reflections & Perspectives

 

What is Response to Intervention?

By Beth Crastnopol, Director of Professional Development Programs
February 12, 2016

Students with hands raised

Day schools are known for their rigorous, dual curriculum. School hours are longer than typical public schools and learning expectations are high. So, how do we make the day school option work for a diverse population of learners? How can we build an inclusive community?

At Gateways, we have embarked on a journey with local day schools to assure that all students will be successful by using a process called Response to Intervention (RTI). RTI, simply put, is a process that involves examining student learning through formal and informal assessment, identifying student needs, choosing interventions to improve learning, and then assessing effectiveness. Interventions are put into place, effectiveness assessed, and teachers respond in their instruction. The result is that students do not slip through the cracks, instruction is personalized, and achievement is optimal.

As I visit day schools today, I see highly committed and caring teachers who may lack the tools and curriculum knowledge needed to reach students who learn differently. At Gateways, we are beginning to work with selected schools to help them implement an RTI process. It is challenging and often messy work with many ups and downs.

We’ve discovered that schools need to start with a self-assessment process to help prioritize and set goals. We are also exploring ways to build and strengthen the school’s core instructional programs. RTI is presenting schools with a powerful process that will open the door for success for more students. As we develop this process through our school partnerships, we plan to share what we learn and look forward to hearing comments.

Category: Reflections & Perspectives

 

I Am Nessa

By Nessa Levine
September 4, 2015

picture of assorted multicolored glasses framesMy name is Nessa Levine. I am going to be a freshman in high school this coming fall, and I am super excited about it, but I am also nervous. I am almost 15 years old. I am Jewish. I love writing, reading, singing, acting, dance, computers, astronomy, Rainbow Looming, and art. My goal in life is to be a published author. I also have Asperger’s Syndrome, but that is quite the tongue-twister, so I just call it AS.

How I explain AS to people is that everyone is born with an invisible pair of glasses. These special glasses have lenses that alter the viewer’s perception of the world. Most neurotypical people (people who don’t have any physical, social, emotional, behavioral, or learning disabilities) have similar lenses on their glasses. One neurotypical person’s lenses might perceive one or two things a bit differently than another neurotypical person’s lenses, but for the most part, neurotypicals see the world in the same way. People who have AS or other disabilities have really quirky lenses. Their lenses cause them to see--or, in some cases, sense--things that neurotypicals simply do not have the ability to perceive. For example, when I was little, I could often hear the faint humming noises in a room or somewhere that other people managed to ignore like it was nothing! I would not be able to focus on reading or coloring because of that cacophonous humming that my mother never noticed. Or, also when I was younger, when my teachers made a spelling, grammar, or arithmetic mistake when writing on the board, I would be the first in my class to call it out. My teachers would brush it off like it was nothing, but I would see it as the end of the world. Luckily, my math teacher really appreciated my arithmetic critiquing and my having memorized “Thirty Days Hath September” so that I could help my classmates with a math problem involving the number of days in various months.

The perception of these humming noises and the “‘I’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’ unless it says ‘eigh’ like in ‘neighbor’ or ‘weigh’” mistakes is one of the things that causes problems for people like me. Neurotypicals find it ridiculous, distracting, and completely unnecessary that I notice these things. They tell me that I shouldn’t waste “precious brain space” on memorizing world capitals, poetry, or digits of pi. The way I see it, if I don’t notice it when the teacher says that 12 times 4 is 60, who will?

The other problem that my special lenses cause people is that my lenses are so focused on remembering that the capital of Albania is Tirana that I can’t pick up on simple gestures and cues that neurotypical lenses are designed to pick up on. I don’t notice if my conversation partner zones out on me when I’m discussing chemical bonds and valence electrons. I am the last person to notice if my shirt doesn’t match my pants. And if I am flailing my arms around while emphasizing a point and there happens to be a cup of water near me, you can forget about the water staying in it. It’s as if I don’t even know the cup is there!

Even though I have AS, it is just one piece of the puzzle that is me. I am so much more than Asperger’s Syndrome. I am an artist, a writer/blogger, a dancer, a feminist, an advocate for LGBTQ rights, a hater of racism, a singer, an actress, a daughter, a friend, a granddaughter, a niece, a lover of learning and books, and a dreamer. I am Nessa.

Category: Reflections & Perspectives

Tagged under: Asperger's Syndrome, teens, actuallyautistic

 

A Place for Julia

By Michelle and Ronald Herzlinger
December 15, 2014

'Why couldn't our own tribe - our own people - offer something for our child?"

“Our four year-old daughter Julia was attending a Jewish Day School in New York City with her brothers when her world crashed," relates Michelle Herzlinger. "Julia started what would become a journey into the frightening world of epilepsy. So many dreams we had for her vanished in a moment, including attending a Jewish Day School. There was no Jewish place for Julia in New York City, not during school hours - or after.”

After many years of struggling to find the right school for Julia in New York, the Herzlingers relocated to Newton so that Julia could attend the Ward School. They enrolled their two older sons in a Jewish day school. While they were delighted with Julia’s new school, they were heartbroken that there still wasn’t a Jewish option for her. Little did they know that they were about to discover Gateways, which prides itself on supporting every child who wishes to receive a Jewish education.

Following a tip from a former Ward parent – who was also a parent of a Gateways student and three teen volunteers – Michelle visited the Sunday Program and quickly enrolled Julia.

“From the first day that Julia walked in to the Gateways Sunday Program, our broken dream was repaired. She now has her own place in the Jewish community, where she is truly honored and respected. Thanks to Gateways, our dream of a Jewish education for our daughter Julia has become a reality.”

Julia is currently enrolled in her second year in Gateways’ Sunday Program and will begin planning for her Bat Mitzvah in a few short years. The Herzlingers look forward to celebrating this upcoming simcha thanks to the support of their Gateways family.

Category: Reflections & Perspectives