Akiba Yavneh Ma’alot targets inclusivity
Photo: Akiba Yavneh
One of Akiba Yavneh’s Ma’alot Judaics teachers, Morah Maayan Naim, works with AYA Academy student Shayna Hecht.

Akiba Yavneh Academy of Dallas is no stranger to providing a stellar general education program paired with a strong Judaic foundation in a thriving day school environment. The 2019-2020 additions of the Student Support Services department, including the Ma’alot Learning Platform, a novel approach to inclusive education that seeks to allow students to fluidly travel from mainstream classrooms to specialized settings and back, played a vital role in further meeting the needs of students with learning differences. This school year has brought many enhancements for the Student Support Services department, including additional staff, four new classroom spaces including a sensory space and cutting-edge specialty programming.

Director Amanda Walker believes in a holistic approach to teaching and learning built around each student’s individual strengths. “The student as a whole is considered. What do they need academically? Emotionally? What do they need in all their classes — general and Judaic? How does the family need to be supported? How can our department develop the correct levels and types of support to remediate the student’s needs, build upon their strengths and teach them to become self-advocates?” These are questions Walker and her team of specialists ask every day when planning for a student’s future at Akiba Yavneh. In order to provide the quality services and supports that many of the students need, the department has almost doubled its staff from seven to 13, bringing on a speech-language specialist, a behavior specialist, a math interventionist at the K through eighth-grade level, a separate math interventionist for the high school level, along with a high school humanities specialist, a Judaic studies interventionist, a Hebrew interventionist and — most recently — a Gifted and Talented educator.

The Gifted and Talented program is new to Akiba Yavneh this year and provides students with exceptional learning abilities the opportunity to explore and develop their gifts and talents through various modalities of learning. GT educator Rebecca Blomer believes that students with exceptional learning abilities, especially those who are twice-exceptional, “deserve an environment and program that provides them with ample opportunities to develop their higher-order thinking skills, leadership abilities, creative thinking and social development.”

AYA’s behavior specialist, Jasmine Hunter, also helps students develop their leadership skills and social development while aiding students and teachers to understand the “whys” of behavioral difficulties. Ms. Hunter believes that “all behavior is a form of communication. As educators, we must figure out what the student is trying to communicate and then help the student develop the necessary coping and self-regulation skills to be successful both in and out of the classroom.”

Speech and language services also play a pivotal role in understanding the communication needs of students. Specialist Michelle Mullens brings 18 years of stellar experience with her as she joins the Student Support team. Ms. Mullens has worked with a large variety of ages spanning many different learning differences and disabilities.

As Akiba Yavneh is truly a 50/50 dual-curricular school, providing equal learning opportunities in general studies and Judaic learning is vitally important. The support department believes that a student with a learning difference will not be impaired in just one subject. “If they struggle in reading, then they will need assistance in every class that requires reading across both general studies and Judaics,” said Walker. To assist these students, the department brought on Yael Stromer and Maayan Naim. 

Stromer relocated from California to join the support team at Akiba Yavneh. “I am excited to be part of such a dynamic and growing team. I love to see how much the students are growing and learning every day, and it makes my heart happy that we finally have something like this in a Jewish day school environment,” Stromer said.

Shira, a new Ma’alot student for part of her day, is grateful for the newly expanded services offered. “Being in Ma’alot helps me. Before, Language Arts was really hard for me, and everyone else understood things, and I didn’t. That made me feel really bad about myself. Now, I’m getting better grades because I get help, and I feel smarter. I’m learning new things that I didn’t know before. Class is fun, and the teachers respect the students. I can actually read pretty well now, and I really like the sensory room!”

Rabbi Yaakov Green, head of school at AYA, is extremely proud of the growth he sees in the program and its students. “This is exactly what we set out to accomplish. To demonstrate that the ideals of a Jewish education should be available to any and all families that seek it out.” Green continued that “families should not have to make an impossible choice of a Jewish environment and Torah education versus the services their child or family might need to succeed. Both must be provided. The growth of this program, and the need for this program to grow, speaks volumes about the chord we are striking. We aim to push the field of Jewish education forward and demonstrate that as Jewish educators, we need Ma’alot and any programs like it that follow. Finding ways to include all Jewish children and their diverse learning profiles is our people’s obligation and should be our schools’ expectation.”

For more information about Akiba Yavneh Academy and their Student Support Services department, including the Ma’alot Learning Platform, please reach out to the Admissions Department at admission@akibayavneh.org.

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Akiba Yavneh

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