A SPECIAL THIRTEEN
Although his class consists of only 13 students, Rabbi Eliyahu Cohen contends daily with thirteen vastly different and very challenging worlds. “Sometimes my expectations are too high,” admits the 8th grade Special Education teacher at Boys Town Jerusalem. “My goal is simply to give each boy the fortitude to take his place in society, make an honest living and build a family. I really believe that every one of them can reach this point, despite considerable hurdles.”
Rabbi Cohen’s class is known as one of the toughest in the school. The majority of the students come from single-parent, poverty stricken homes. Three boys are adopted, and others have parents or siblings who are quite ill. “I try to create a haven in class where there’s very little pressure, a great deal of support, and clear goals. The boys know that I believe in them.”
Within the classroom curriculum, each student has his own individual program. “Some boys are hindered by learning disabilities, others have serious emotional issues. Still, there’s progress to show: this year several students are joining regular 8th grade math and English classes and holding their own.”
Rabbi Cohen and his fellow teachers in the school’s 9th and 10th grade special education classes work very closely with BTJ’s social services team. In addition, the teachers are in constant contact with parents. “In our case, this means the birth parents, divorced or separated parents, step-parents and foster parents,” Rabbi Cohen clarifies.
There’s slow but steady improvement being made, notes the rabbi, who has been teaching this class since they entered Boys Town last year. “One student who had absolutely no idea what it meant to sit in class is finally able to do so. We’ve stood by another boy who was placed in a foster family this year, and he’s excelling in his studies at last.”
Rabbi Cohen places the highest priority on imbuing his boys with Jewish ethical values. “Last week our students joined a 12th grade class who went to sing and dance for disabled youngsters. I’ve never seen my boys happier than when they were cheering these children,” he marveled.
“I begin every day with a special prayer that my students will be blessed with good lives, and that I will be blessed to empower them to succeed.”
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