A Jewish day school education provides a combination of rigorous secular and Judaic academics grounded in and driven by ethical values. But for kids with learning difficulties, it can sometimes be hard to learn in a regular classroom. Now, thanks to a $5 million gift from the Alfred and Gilda Slifka Foundation, Boston’s Jewish day school system can enroll an even broader array of students.

The funds will be used to launch the Fred and Gilda Slifka Family Day School Inclusion Initiative. The initiative will begin in fall 2018 in Framingham’s MetroWest Jewish Day School, and another local day school will be added soon. Both are K-8 schools. The inclusion initiative will support learners with moderate to significant learning challenges.

The goal is to provide the support needed to enable more students with learning challenges to be included and thrive within a Jewish educational framework. CJP, MetroWest Jewish Day School and Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, Boston’s regional Jewish special education agency, will collaborate on different parts of the initiative.

MetroWest Jewish Day School is an apt setting to launch this inclusion initiative: The school prides itself on offering individualized education, says Dr. Scott Sokol, head of school. With these funds, a team of skilled teachers, special educators and service providers (speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists) will work with kids. Gateways will reach out to identify families and students who might benefit from the program, and they’ll also offer ongoing consultation services. Kids will be integrated into the school, spending a good portion of their day in general education classrooms with support from program staff.

“For over 15 years, we’ve educated a wide range of learners by providing students the support they need to succeed in a nurturing and collaborative learning community. This grant will make it possible for us and our partners to do more for more students at all levels,” Sokol says.

MetroWest Jewish Day School
(Courtesy MetroWest Jewish Day School)

The initiative also provides for professional training for all teachers at both schools. CJP will launch a professional advisory board with local and national experts to consult with CJP, MetroWest Jewish Day School and Gateways about program design and implementation, making sure that they’re using the most cutting-edge practices and technologies to support these students.

Alfred Slifka was a long-term supporter of Jewish day schools and believer in equal access to day school education for students of all abilities. His wife, Gilda, continues to support that mission.

“[Fred] believed, as I do, that inclusion policies and practices benefit the entire school, not just the children with learning challenges, and that it is the responsibility of Jewish day schools to develop and provide programs that will help a broader array of student learners reach their full potential educationally,” Gilda Slifka says.

CJP president Barry Shrage has high praise for the initiative and its goals.

“This is a wonderful tribute to Fred, a great friend with a warm heart who cared deeply about every child and everyone in need. He loved our people and our community and shared a vision of an inclusive community in which every child has access to Jewish education and a meaningful, dignified and joyful Jewish life surrounded by love,” says Shrage. “The creation of this initiative will expand upon the culture of inclusion in Jewish day school education in Boston spearheaded by the Ruderman Family Foundation beginning over a decade ago. The Slifka family’s generous contribution and commitment to families who desire a Jewish education for their children with moderate to significant learning challenges will serve as a model and inspiration for other communities throughout the country.”

Want to learn more about the new program? Contact Sharon Goldstein at sharong@jgateways.org or 617-630-9010 ext. 106, or Beth Null at beth.null@mwjds.org or 508- 620-5554 x105.