A Lifeline

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In a rare appointment, the Israeli Ministry of Education has selected Boys Town Jerusalem to open its third “mainstreaming” class in the 2012/13 school year to serve special-needs students. The new 7th grade class will join the 10th and 12th grade classes now operating in the school. “Very few schools are called upon to conduct three mainstreaming classes.” said Boys Town special education instructor Rabbi Mordechai Rosenfeld. “This is a tribute to Boys Town’s hard-won accomplishments in granting special-needs students both life skills and independence.”

Most of the mainstreaming students have high potential, but are plagued by harmful behavioral problems deriving from such family traumas as divorce or dysfunction. According to Rabbi Rosenfeld, the students arrive in 7th grade with no motivation, self-esteem or study habits, which gravely impair their ability to learn. “Our program targets both the emotional and academic realms, building the student’s self-confidence and his knowledge base at once.”

Rabbi Rosenfeld’s colleague Moshe Fortgang has been a special education instructor on the Boys Town mainstreaming team for nearly a decade. “I specialize in teaching the students strategies to apply to all of their studies. Because they are generally quite impulsive, I teach them to carry out instructions, how to ask and answer questions, analyze and pass exams, and improve reading comprehension. It’s a very long process, but through the years I’ve seen students gradually integrate the concepts to become more independent and capable.”

Both instructors stress that Boys Town’s very small mainstreaming classes (from eight to 14 students) and their interdisciplinary professional team of teachers, therapists, a psychologist and guidance counselor are major elements in the success of the program. Yet the students are highly involved in Boys Town’s school life and have good friends among the entire student body. The mainstreaming students study in regular English and math classes, and also join in the school’s sports teams, field trips, community service projects and other activities. “They have a very busy and varied schedule,” Rabbi Rosenfeld notes. “Like all Boys Town students, they study a dual curriculum of academic and Jewish studies. However their program is augmented by special training in organizational and social skills, as well as time management. Our professional team works closely to design an individual study program for each student, in full cooperation with the parents.”

“We’ve seen a number of our graduates become outstanding soldiers in the Israeli army, hold down jobs and make great strides,” says Moshe Fortgang. “Had these students remained in regular classes, they would have suffered terribly and been bound for failure. Boys Town’s diligent efforts have given them a lifeline. With a record three mainstreaming classes this year, we have our work cut out for us—and we have great hopes for the future of our very special students.”

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