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Summer learning kollel for professional development

Fifteen rabbeim from across ATT schools recently gathered together at Congregation Adas Yeshurun to learn Torah for the second annual ATT Summer Kollel. The program took place in the evenings for three weeks and in the day time as well for two weeks.

The kollel includes Torah learning as well as professional development to learn best practices in teaching Judaic studies.

For the Torah learning portion, participants were able to delve deep into topics like the laws of shemitah and cooking on yom tov. The program gives teachers an opportunity to review material and network with educators in schools across the Jewish day school system.

Rabbi Dovid Greenberg says interacting with colleagues enhanced the experience. “It was an opportunity to hear ideas from the presenter and interact with our colleagues.”

The teachers also learned about the concepts of Universal Design for Learning to create a learning environment where every student can succeed. Teachers gained specific tools for activating student knowledge and processing information after students have completed a lesson. They also looked at different ways to make use of chavrusa learning, supporting students at every age to collaborate with their peers.

One participant, who wishes to remain anonymous, says, “I have found the educational instruction of this program to be very beneficial. Although I’ve been a rebbi for many years, I am sure to gain from the professional insights and ideas that were presented. Thank you for bringing in Rabbi Binyomin Segal who gave a great demonstration on how to prepare class lessons…Also, although we’ve already been using the chavrusa system in our classrooms, Rabbi Gold’s showing us how to do it successfully was very insightful and helpful.”

Connecting with colleagues in different schools to learn Torah and to gain new teaching skills led to insightful conversations around classroom practice as well.

The program will continue in some capacity so that rebbeim can work more together on Gemara instruction throughout the coming school year.

The  participants left the program with renewed motivation to enhance instruction.

Community raises $479,324 for REACH

Thanks to the generosity of the Chicago Jewish community, as well as supporters outside of Chicago, the REACH team raised an unprecedented amount of money in only 30 hours on a Charidy campaign. Over 325 donors, matched by several generous REACH donors raised nearly $480K for REACH. We at REACH, as well as at the ATT staff are humbled and grateful for the generosity of the community that we serve.

REACH is Chicago’s coordinated effort to build Jewish day schools’ capacity to support students with a wide range of needs in an inclusive way. Our vision is to ensure that all Jewish students can attend the Jewish day school of their choice.

Executive Director Julie Gordon, MA says, “REACH has had unprecedented growth, and these funds will enable us to sustain the high quality services we provide.”

These services include the following:

  • Direct services to students
  • Partnering to develop best practice systems, strategies and protocols for the needs of each specific school
  • Professional development, training and coaching 
  • Community collaboration

Thank you to the families who laid the foundation for the REACH program to grow and have such an impact on our day school community: 

  • Oscar A. & Bernice Novick
  • Crain Maling foundation
  • The Walder foundation
  • Rabbi Morris Esformes
  • Gayle (z”l) and Eric Rothner
  • Robert and Debra Hartman
  • Robinson Family Foundation
  • The parent body that spearheaded the growth of REACH led by the Broner and Sheinfeld families. 

One of the most exciting parts of running this online campaign was hearing the stories that came in from our teachers, parents and partner schools.

Following are a few of the stories we heard during our fundraiser. These are only some of the stories of how REACH help students succeed in school every single year. 

“Thanks to REACH, my daughter’s learned better study skills in order to prepare her for tests and improved her reading comprehension. Her teacher has been extremely flexible and easy going.”

^JDBY parent

“I have so much gratitude for this Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) training. It has really enhanced my ability to connect and communicate. 

With parents, I use the CPS reflective listening skills and empathy tools, and I cannot begin to tell you what a breakthrough that has been. Parents have walked away from challenging conversations feeling that we have a  united and collaborative effort, thanks to CPS.

I’ve also brought it into the classroom when there’s a challenge, and the kids were responsive and collaborative. I truly appreciate what I have gained as an educator, parent and spouse!” 

^JDBY Assistant Principal Rena Levovitz

“One eighth grade student this year went from reading 12 correct syllables per minute in Hebrew to 44 syllables correctly. The student has a significant specific learning disability in reading.”

^Ellah Orevi-Greenberg, M.Ed., LBSI

“REACH has helped my daughter overcome a difficult learning disability in reading. In the beginning of COVID, we noticed our daughter was reading a lot more and asking us to take books out of the library that she was reading in only one session. It’s only because of REACH that she has the ability to read and only because of REACH that the passion for her reading was unlocked as well.”

^Rabbi Reuven Gottesman

“Giving every single child the chance not just to be in the school of their choice but to succeed in the school of their choice is invaluable. I can personally say for my wife and me that our daughter wouldn’t be able to be in a Jewish school if it wasn’t for REACH’s services at JDBY,” says Rabbi Uri Zimmerman, a REACH parent and the ATT director of development.

Thanks to the generosity of hundreds of donors, REACH has the ability to continue doing the important work of ensuring that every Jewish child has the opportunity and tools they need to succeed in the day school of their choice. When one child in our community is empowered, our whole community is lifted up.

REACH is an affiliate of the ATT and a partner with JUF in serving our community. Learn more about REACH here.

Why Play Is Necessary – Especially the Good Old Fashioned Kind!

The world keeps on changing, and its effects are everywhere.  A perfect example of this is how play has changed in recent years for our youngest children. Early childhood educators are now seeing a generation of children who do not have the same skill set as previous generations when entering preschool. So, what can be done to offset the new concept of play?

This week’s workshop was given by Mrs. Sherra Bloomenkranz, a registered and license occupational therapist. She explored this issue in depth and provided a toolbox of strategies to supplement what is now considered play. Her presentation consisted of answering three questions:

  1. What caused the change in play?
  2. What are the skill areas of concern?
  3. What are valuable games for the classroom that will build up children developmentally and neurologically?

Major causes of recent changes in how kids play and their effects:

  • Safety concerns are one cause of changes in kids’ play patterns. These include putting babies to sleep on their sides/backs instead of their stomachs and the removal of certain climbing apparatus at the park playgrounds. Both have caused the lack of muscle-building experiences that were once a mainstay of child development.
  • Technology is an obvious dramatic change to kids’ daily lives. Many children sit for longer periods of time watching a video or playing with a device. Teachers today tend to spend more time demonstrating, causing a lack of first-hand experiences for the child.

Skill areas of concern:

Body and space – awareness of one’s body and limbs in the surrounding space is a key skill for young children. These skills are associated with vision. Teachers today need to add the dimension of vision to help kids progress out of the two-dimensional world and create a larger picture of a child’s world. This is easy to do in kindergarten and early grades. For example, give a child directions to get papers from a back shelf in the room but do not point. Let the child figure out what to do or ask you questions about the instructions.

Figure/ground perception – the ability to differentiate an object from its background. Children who struggle with this skill often have trouble learning to read, particularly as their books feature an increasing number of words on each page. It’s also hard for them to scan text for relevant information. An activity to help children is to let the child experience a mess so he/she can differentiate objects into groups.

Time and space continuum – The universe can be viewed as having three space dimensions — up/down, left/right, forward/backward — and one time dimension. This four-dimensional space is referred to as the space-time continuum. Children do struggle with the concepts of time and space. Due to digital clocks, children lose the concept of time passing. They often confuse “yesterday” with “a long time ago.” Analog clocks show the passage of time more visually than digital clocks. In addition, children cannot sit long enough to finish a project/skill and be proficient at the project/skill. Mastery takes time to achieve. Because children are used to instant gratification today, they lose the concept of the time and space continuum. Making things that are layered is a phenomenal way to learn about space. Glue items on top of other items to give an added-up dimension (instead of the two-dimensional simpler framework). Often, it is about the process, not the finished product.

Muscle strength and eye-hand coordination – Children are constantly exploring their bodies and their world. They are holding different things today and using different muscles to hold them which do not require the same muscle effort and strength. This has led to weakness in hands, less endurance when writing, and difficulty pulling up socks/pants. Also, many manipulatives have been removed from early childhood environments due to choking hazards. Try to build up muscles with allowable manipulatives.

Motor skills – Goal-oriented play activity in early childhood improves motor skills. Children need intrinsic muscle development. This can be accomplished with wrist play, movement of rattles, bells, hand muscles and finger muscles. This affects later writing endurance, the transition from writing large letters to writing smaller letters, typing, and sewing.

Texture experience – Learning through touch and texture is also very important due to the fact that it strengthens a child’s motor skills. For instance, gripping, holding, squeezing, stacking, poking, pouring or scooping will help children strengthen the muscles in their body and also helps them to develop stronger hand-eye coordination. Children need to experience the differences in textures and “smoosh” the textures in their hands. Good items to use are play dough, sand tables, shaving cream, slime, and water tables.

Left/right dominance, crossing the midline – Crossing the midline happens when a child moves his/her hand or foot across this line to work on the opposite side of his/her body. Before crossing the midline happens, a child will typically use only one side of their body at a time. For example, they’ll use their left hand only to play with a block on their left side. Activities that provide opportunities for children to cross the midline reinforce the pathways between the brain’s hemispheres and allow for the fundamentals of fine motor skills, such as the development of their dominant hand, as well as enhancing a child’s coordination and learning.  Teachers should encourage these skills which are needed for tracking in reading and language.

Valuable games for the classroom that will build up children developmentally and neurologically

Board games – Break the game down as to what skills it can teach your students, i.e., physical, visual, and social. For example, the materials and game pieces require skills – card sequences, higher level visual skills, nicely picking one card, shuffling the deck, making neat piles, one-on-one counting as a piece is moved on the board, waiting one’s turn, giving others a chance to move their pieces, noting that someone wins and someone does not win, using groups of four vs. groups of two.

Using different media to help kids today learn through play:

Liquid glue – Squirt a little onto a “Pringles” cap or paper. Let the child pick up the item to be glued, dip it into the glue, and actually glue the item. This is great for fine motor skill practice. It develops the pincer and pincer refinement. Put the pieces to be glued on the opposite side of where the child is sitting so he/she needs to cross the midline to get them. Mix glitter with glue and then use a paint brush to paint with it. When it dries, one just sees the glitter.

Glue sticks can help with refining the pencil grip skill.

Crayons – Broken crayons foster the tripod grasp and build up muscles.

Q tips with watercolors – This is a great way to teach letter writing. A box outlined with a crayon helps force the child to stay within a waxed boundary. One can also use strips of paper or a label to create a boundary.

Erasable pens in many colors – These are great for children who have sensory issues with pencils.

Activities with hands closed and grasping.

Activities for addressing dysregulation – Some children are missing physical movement and act out behaviorally. Provide physical movement for them.

Visual games – Require students to follow multi-step or vague directions where they need to put pieces together so they can think about the clues needed to create the big picture. Ask students to tell you about what they did in camp or use imagination games. Help students by letting them play with shopping carts – go “shopping” and do chores as they role-play to be adults. For example, I Spy especially requires them to leave their seats to find things.

Mrs. Bloomenkranz concluded her session by answering questions including:

  • What is the role of fidgets and poppits in class today? These are mindless tools created by our current environment so children can sit and attend. If they are used quietly and are nondisruptive, a teacher can decide if they are allowable in the classroom. They do not really foster a missing skill.
  • How can a teacher help parents prioritize play time for their children?
  • The opportunity to play is not equal to signing up a child for soccer class. Parents should foster independence and self-initiation (self-starting skill) for their children to play.
  • Also, stop rescuing children. Help them to figure out a situation for themselves – do not provide them with step-by-step answers.
  • A set of pencils with 36 colors is not more therapeutic than 5 stubby markers.

Teachers walked away with an understanding that basic play skills in early childhood lay the groundwork for the developmental skills children need in their school experience. Furthermore, their role as educators is even more critical in this new environment, since children are missing skills now more than ever before.

Knowing the difference between sight vs. visual processing

When it comes to learning, visual processing can affect how a student performs. The ATT in collaboration with Walder Education offered an informative and practical professional development session on Visual Processing, presented by Dr. Neil Margolis, O.D., a board-certified developmental optometrist. 

Dr. Margolis defined and described the different visual processing skills and their application to learning. Sight refers to seeing clearly while visual processing refers to the brain’s ability to use and interpret visual information. Students whose academic performance does not meet aptitude predictions may have visual processing weaknesses. 

Dr. Margolis explained that vision is the understanding and interpretation of what one sees. A person’s vision cannot be measured like eyesight because vision itself is cortical, using the whole brain. When efficient, vision is thought to account for up to 80 percent of learning. 

When inefficient, it interferes with learning.

Visual processing skills

There are many areas of learning where visual processing skills come into play. Some of these areas include learning to read, reading to learn and copying information accurately.  

Specific examples of visual processing skills include: 

  • Recognizing known words correctly when reading
  • Navigating the page accurately when tracking
  • Checking copying accuracy
  • Judging spacing 
  • Layout as well as remembering and visualizing what one sees

Poor tracking causes a student to lose his or her place, skip words when reading, and misread known words. Teachers can raise awareness by observing a child’s posture, horizontal head turn, vertical head tilt, and blinking or winking. 

Visual-spatial skills affect the navigation aspect of tracking, organizing spacing when copying, direction of letters and words, and lining up columns. This will affect a student who is struggling with this skill in the following ways:

  • Determining where to go next on the page
  • Spacing between letters and words and size of letters and words
  • Finding the correct spot when looking back and forth
  • Discriminating between the letters “b” and “d”, was and saw, numbers 13 and 31
  • Understanding math diagrams & graphs

Support for visual processing

Fortunately, many of the activities to build visual processing skills can be fun and enjoyable for students. Puzzles and games are great ways to help students strengthen their visual spatial skills. As students self-regulate their learning, they need visual discrimination. This includes noticing differences between similar words and letters as well as noticing errors of copying.

Students can learn to check their work and start to notice directional differences. The students reading accuracy may be affected by misreading similar-looking words. Visual discrimination requires noticing differences based on size, color, shape, internal detail, orientation, pattern, internal or external features. 

Teachers and parents can help students improve visual discrimination by using tools and techniques. Matching objects based on criteria of color, shape, size can be helpful, especially for younger children. Matching pictures, patterns, or word searches is a useful technique.  

Using multiple criteria, having them spot the difference or correct an error can help them develop skills. It’s also beneficial to have students sort objects in a hands-on approach with sorting coins to build visual discrimination skills. Students can also list words having the same beginning or ending sounds. 

Helpful accommodations 

A teacher can help by circling differences the student may not have noticed in copying. By highlighting the beginning or ending of words before reading, teachers can provide extra support for the student to gain skills independently. 

There are many helpful accommodations to make the lesson more accommodating to students with visual processing disorders. Some of these include: 

  • Use highlighters
  • Use different colors
  • Increase white space on the page or increase the spacing between lines
  • Cover non-relevant components
  • Put less on the page
  • Use bigger print
  • Stand against a plain background
  • Read slower
  • Use text to speech software
  • Specifically point at a figure or word or have the student use his or her finger on the page to keep track

Dr. Margolis stressed the importance of the appropriate classroom accommodations that can be used to support students having visual processing difficulties. Because visual processing affects classroom performance, it’s important to address correctable visual skills. 

One way to do this is to help students notice what is relevant to the task or situation. This will ultimately build student self-esteem and confidence as the child uses effective effort and practice to achieve better outcomes in learning.

Visual memory also influences learning. This type of memory includes working memory (both short and long-term) affecting recall and recognition of letters, words, and sight word vocabulary. Often there is visualization through verbalization. This helps a child visualize objects, words, sentences, and paragraphs of information to aid in learning as visual memory is necessary for recall and comprehension.

By recognizing the difference between sight and visual processing, educators will be better equipped to help students thrive in learning by giving them the support they need.  

Back to school during COVID-19

As we approach the upcoming school year, we recognize that our ATT teachers, administrators, families and students are concerned about the continued uncertainty of what this school year will look like.

All of our schools are faced with the task of the usual back to school planning, combined with the daunting need to plan for safely educating our community’s children during a worldwide epidemic.

Over the summer, we have seen our schools meet this challenge with creativity, perseverance, resourcefulness and much hard work. 

As the State of Illinois currently remains in Phase 4, all ATT schools are scheduled to open on time and in person. Each school, depending on its size and population is working hard to determine how to reopen in the least restrictive, yet safest manner. Schools will be following the Illinois State Board of Education and state and local boards of health guidelines.

In addition, some schools have seated medical oversight and planning committees to assure that their school is not just fulfilling the governmental guidelines, but more importantly, they are applying them correctly and effectively. Schools also have access to the ATT medical advisory board comprised of infectious disease doctors, school nurses and a pediatrician.

It is our hope and Tefillah that the situation continues to improve throughout the coming school year. At the same time, we are reassured to see our schools all building on lessons learned last spring and planning for contingency scenarios if stricter social distancing and possibly a return to remote learning is required. All of our schools have the common goal to minimize the disruption that might arise. 

ATT has worked with the Jewish Federation and other funders who are eager to help financially stabilize the schools and help them meet their needs in continuing education. The ATT acknowledges the generosity of the JUF and the Walder Family Foundation for very substantial support and concern they continue to show for our schools.

Helping ATT schools access available funds

ATT has been assisting schools in accessing and maximizing public relief funding by identifying opportunities, helping schools navigate the process to access these funds and assuring that local school districts, who typically are the gatekeepers for Title funds and the ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund), are distributing these funds equitably and in accordance with Federal rules.

Below are some recent ATT activities in this area:

  • Consultation with Chicago Public Schools and four other public school districts to access the Federal CARES Act/Education Stabilization Fund and understanding appropriate uses of the funds. These consultations consist of the exchange of information and monitoring that our schools are getting their fair share.
  • Numerous collaborative discussions with other nonpublic school representatives of the Illinois Coalition of Nonpublic Schools regarding opening schools in the fall and accessing CARES Act funding.
  • Informing ATT schools of the processes they need to follow as details about the new funding unfold.
  • Forwarding communication from the Illinois State Board of Education that impacts our schools.
  • Assuring that remote learning requests are eligible for Title I funds.
  • Successful efforts with Chicago Public Schools to reinstate IDEA Proportionate Share special education services for eligible students so that services could resume remotely. These services include speech, LD learning specialists and other LD interventions.
  • Managing the required paperwork for Federal Title programs and tracking their progress for payment.

Our schools have also been able to access Federal Payroll Protection Loans (PPP) to assure that staff will continue to remain employed. ATT and JUF assisted schools in accessing this opportunity, and all of the schools benefited from this critical financial infusion.

To support our schools, the ATT is overseeing training to make this year as successful as possible.

ATT has been convening its Principals Council more frequently so that principals can hear each other’s ideas and concerns and network effectively. Schools can exchange information, successes and resources to help meet the increased needs of this time. This week’s meeting focused on reopening, planning and surveying schools’ reopening needs.

Individual schools and teachers have received support for technology in education, best practices and content.

ATT will be providing several professional development courses over the remainder of the summer break to help teachers gain confidence and insight into the new realities of our students’ learning needs.

ATT is proud of its partnership with its affiliated schools and its role in assuring that our schools continue to thrive and grow so that your child will experience the best education that we can provide.