Bais Yaakov of Baltimore is known as a big school with a personal touch. Here we spotlight Bais Yaakov’s Learning Centers, which are currently servicing over 150 students in Bais Yaakov’s three divisions.
What is the role of the Learning Centers?
Miss Penina Goldstein, Special Education Coordinator, BY Elementary School: We support students with diagnosed disabilities and fill their academic needs in the Bais Yaakov setting. Students go to the Learning Center three-to-seven times per week and work with special educators on key academic areas of need, such as kriah, Chumash, reading, math, comprehension, and writing.
Mrs. Malka Yasnyi, Supervisor, BY Middle School Learning Center: We work on building skills for students with learning differences, while ensuring success in their mainstream classrooms. Our goal is to teach the students skills they can use throughout their lives, rather than just the skills they need to pass specific tests.
Students usually go to the Learning Center once a day. They concentrate on the skill-building subjects of math, English, and Chumash, working on comprehension skills, critical thinking, note-taking, and writing. For their other subjects, they work on study skills and test support. We help them recognize their strengths and accommodate their weaknesses. Success builds self-confidence.
Mrs. Elisheva Shnidman, Supervisor, BY High School Learning Center: The High School Learning Center supports students with disabilities in all their major subjects. Students usually go to the Learning Center once a day and work on different subjects, based on a schedule that is adapted to their needs and the testing schedule. We use a variety of methods to help the students learn and provide accommodations and modifications as needed.
How do the girls feel about going to the Learning Center?
PG: We work hard to make the Learning Center a welcoming, fun, nonthreatening, safe place. Every year we decorate the room in a theme, and we incorporate fun incentives and great prizes. We disguise learning through multisensory games and activities. We have girls that say, “The best part of the day is coming to the Learning Center!”
MY: Our students enjoy prizes such as going out for ice cream with their teachers or getting pizza, but they really love coming to the Learning Center because of the connection they feel to their teachers. Rabbi Naftoli Hexter, former Middle School Principal, used to describe the Learning Center as a mini-Bais Medrash: Everyone is sitting at tables with their “chavrusas,” and there is a buzz of learning in the air, a positive vibe that helps the girls focus.
ES: We try to make the Learning Center a place where any girl can come to get hot water or cocoa or just a cup or spoon, so that students should not feel sensitive about going to the Learning Center.
How does the Learning Center staff interact with teachers, parents, and administrators?
PG: Learning Center teachers communicate with parents and collaborate with classroom teachers to provide accommodations for students, and modify classwork and tests as needed. Administrators and school counselors are also involved as needed.
MY: The Learning Center teachers communicate weekly with classroom teachers so they know what’s going on in the classroom and can help the girls be part of their classes. We stay in touch with parents as needed and have end-of-year meetings with parents to discuss the year’s accomplishments and plan for the next year.
ES: I work with the school administrators to create schedules that address the needs of Learning Center students. We like to communicate with parents and teachers regularly. Most importantly, we want to hear what the students have to say, and we do our best to accommodate them.
What else does Bais Yaakov do to help weaker students succeed?
PG: We work hard to identify learning issues early so kids don’t fall through the cracks. We do “reading screenings” for all students in grades K-2 three times a year, and we have reading and kriah specialists work with students who are not meeting benchmarks. Throughout the school, there are assistants who provide support to weaker students. In first and second grades, we have small reading classes of around ten girls taught by a special educator, a reading specialist, and an assistant.
MY: I work with the Middle School administrators to assess how the school can meet the needs of struggling students. We have tracked classes for some subjects and have created classes that focus on skill building or on hashkafah lessons. Another innovation is to have lower-track classes co-taught by special educators.
ES: We try to be a resource to the school for students who have learning needs. The administration and teachers often come to us with questions about other students.
What do parents of Learning Center students have to say?
Learning Center Parent: We are so grateful to the wonderful Learning Center staff in all three divisions, who, together with our daughter’s classroom teachers, have worked with patience and devotion to tailor her education to her needs and abilities. It is to their credit that she has grown into a Bais Yaakov girl who feels successful as a student and loves to learn.