By Rochelle Maruch Miller

It takes an extraordinary school to infuse students with such a high level of enthusiasm that they cannot wait for another school day to begin. No matter how great the distance or how long the commute, they eagerly anticipate arriving at their destination, the Shefa School, to experience another day of academic, social, and emotional success.

“I love Shefa — they gave me back my daughter!” said Aviva Brandsdorfer, audiologist and owner of I Love Hearing hearing-aid clinics. “For years, she had been struggling in the mainstream school she attended. Because of all her language deficits, she was being pulled out of class eight or nine times a week and was held accountable for all the work she had missed. She felt terrible, and as a result of being unsuccessful at school, she developed so many issues. She began acting out in school and at home. There were days when I just didn’t send her to school because the situation was untenable. She was in fourth grade but wasn’t learning. Although her school tried to help her, she just wasn’t the same child I knew; I felt that I had lost my daughter.

“She had always talked about becoming a nurse practitioner someday, but how would that be possible if she was having difficulty reading in fourth grade?”

Determined to help her child succeed and bring her dream to fruition, Aviva had her evaluated by Dr. Shoshana Goldman. After administrating a battery of tests, Dr. Goldman diagnosed the youngster as being dyslexic. At that point, Aviva was faced with making one of the most critical and courageous decisions of her life, with far-reaching impact.

“Dr. Goldman discussed my daughter’s challenges with me and recommended an academic setting that would help her succeed and reach her potential. She highly recommended the Shefa School as the ideal option, so I reached out to them.

“I was invited to one of the prospective parent information sessions and I was wowed by what Ilana Ruskay-Kidd, Yoni Schwab, and Naomi Schimmel said. The way that they teach all the children is amazing! Not only is Shefa’s approach to teaching subjects innovative and engaging, they have outstanding extracurricular activities, including art, chug, basketball, garage band, and so many more wonderful options to build a child up and develop their self-confidence.

“Shefa’s faculty is amazing — the teachers love working there and they love what they do. Shefa is a school that truly cares about every student and does wonderful things. They changed my daughter’s life and imbued her with a love for learning. She loves school. When school is canceled on snow days, she gets upset because she doesn’t want to miss a day of school. At the beginning of November, just a few months into the school year and at the start of fifth grade, she was already reading chapter books! When I call her, she will often ask, ‘Can I just finish reading this chapter?’ And to think she was having difficulty reading last year!”

At the Shefa School, every student is a success story.

“Seeing how happy my son is about going to school every morning is such a great feeling,” said Hadassah Barzideh, student-services coordinator at Yeshiva of South Shore. “He is so excited and loves learning. When he comes home, he is always happy because he’s had a successful day.”

But that was not the case when the youngster was a first-grade student at a local yeshiva last year. “My son was having behavioral and other issues and just wasn’t learning. The school he attended is excellent and was very supportive. I got him in a reading group and in a math group. I got him a tutor and outside services but nothing seemed to help.

“He was constantly being pulled out of the room and though his teachers were very supportive, he wasn’t learning. He had attended an excellent yeshiva, but no mainstream school is equipped to handle dyslexia. We took him to a neuropsychologist for an evaluation. We were told he’s too young to be diagnosed with dyslexia, but he was diagnosed with a learning disability. Meanwhile, the behavioral and other issues were continuing. He’s very smart but couldn’t keep up with the work at school. He wanted to be able to learn like the other boys, but he wasn’t getting it. We realized that if he wasn’t succeeding in first grade, how would he succeed in second grade?”

Spurred to action, Hadassah and her husband Yaakov decided to place their child in Shefa, a school that specifically serves students with language-based learning disabilities who have not reached their potential level of success in traditional classroom settings.

“I had actually heard about the Shefa School from a friend who first told me about it several years ago and has been raving about it ever since,” Hadassah recalled. “We submitted an application for our son and the process began. He had a three-hour interview and my husband and I had our own interview.” Soon after their interviews, Hadassah received the good news that their son had been admitted to the Shefa School.

“But how would I tell him that he would be leaving the school he had attended since he was in preschool?” Hadassah says. “How would he react to finding out he would be going to a new school?”

His enthusiastic response was an unexpected and welcome surprise for his parents.

“I told him that I found this new school that offers karate (one of Shefa’s plethora of features) and he thought it was great.”

For Yaakov and Hadassah and their son, the best was yet to come. “After only a few months at Shefa, the transformation in our child was amazing. The effect of success has had a tremendous impact on him, and he is receptive and responsive to learning. Instead of feeling defeated, he is experiencing success throughout the entire day. It is a tremendous sense of relief to know and see how Shefa is helping him reach his potential and become a happy, successful contributing member of society and that there is a place for him. Registering him in Shefa is the best decision we have made.”

Founded in September 2014, the Shefa School is a Jewish community day school, serving children in grades 1 through 8 who will benefit from a specialized educational environment in order to develop their strengths while addressing their learning differences.

As the school’s name — “Shefa,” abundance — implies, it reflects their belief that each child possesses abundant strengths. The school’s mission is to build upon these strengths while teaching students the necessary skills to overcome their challenges in a caring and supportive school community that seamlessly integrates Jewish values and traditions.

Some Shefa students have dyslexia and struggle with the mechanics of reading. Others decode words easily but have trouble comprehending, often because they need more time to process the information.

“Shefa kids are much more typical than people expect,” said Ilana Ruskay-Kidd, Shefa’s founder and head of school. “They’re comfortable and feel good here. They might have been acting out in another school because they were frustrated.” Under Ruskay-Kidd’s leadership, the school has grown exponentially, enrolling 24 students in grades 2–5 in its first year and surging to 110 in the fall of 2017.

Embracing families from a range of Jewish backgrounds and practices, Shefa nurtures the students’ Jewish identity and teaches them the skills to enable them to participate fully in Jewish life. Shefa’s mission is to empower students to become active, joyful, lifelong learners, critical thinkers, kind and responsible individuals, and contributing members of the Jewish community and the broader world.

Rochelle Maruch Miller is a contributing editor for the Five Towns Jewish Times. She is a journalist, creative media consultant, lecturer, and educator, and writes for magazines, newspapers, websites and private clients. She welcomes your comments at Rochellemiller04@aol.com.

1 COMMENT

  1. Is it my imagination or did the article leave out where the school is located? That’s a pretty basic point of information

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