By Naomi Nadata, Program Director
How do you improve upon the Cahal kindergarten program which has been successful beyond expectations and has been taught by a highly experienced, outstanding, dedicated, NYS-certified special education teacher for over 15 years? Add a new, state-of-the-art Epson/SMART Interactive Board.
With unwavering support, the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County (HANC) has provided a home for the Cahal kindergarten class from its inception. This year, the HANC administration provided immeasurable assistance with the selection, installation, and operation of this newest technological teaching tool.
Last week, I had the privilege of observing a science lesson in Morah Melody Harris’s Cahal special education kindergarten classroom. The children were totally engrossed as they were taught about the properties of liquids and solids in a hands-on, interactive lesson. They observed that water was clear, but in order to learn more about liquids, Mrs. Harris colored the water blue. They watched as Mrs. Harris asked individual students to pour the blue water into various containers and molds. The students were able to explain why the liquid took on the shape of its containers while the solid objects could not. The class discussed the difference between ice and snow and how they are formed. They learned that while they could freeze water to make ice, only Hashem can make snow. Star-shaped molds filled with water were placed on the window ledge outside of the classroom to experiment if the water would turn to ice by the next morning.
Just when I thought the lesson was over, the students were invited to view their new Epson/SMART Interactive Board, and they watched in amazement as the entire lesson came to life in an interactive video. Incredibly, the children were able to answer all of Mrs. Harris’s questions about their lesson during the video.
I wondered which came first, the lesson plan or the video. How did she do it? It was a perfect fit. I later asked Mrs. Harris, and she explained that she spends endless hours researching available material for the SMART Board in order to create the best and most effective learning experiences for her students. She has already created many interactive games and other activities to enhance the children’s learning, and this is just the beginning. She commented to me that her daughter recently asked her why she had gotten a SMART Board in her classroom. Her daughter thought that it was meant to make teaching easier for her, but instead, her mother was busy spending endless hours creating new and exciting lessons.
As Cahal students are almost an ‘invisible’ population, with the goal of blending into the mainstream whenever possible at each yeshiva, many community members are unaware of the mission and effectiveness of the program. Cahal represents the epitome of achdus. Cahal is sponsored and coordinated by the local yeshivas in the surrounding communities including Bais Yaakov Ateres Miriam, Bnos Bais Yaakov, Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway, Hebrew Academy of Long Beach, Hebrew Academy of Nassau County, Mesivta Ateres Yaakov, Shulamith, Torah Academy for Girls, Yeshiva Darchei Torah, Yeshiva Ketana of Long Island, and Yeshiva of South Shore.
Twenty-three years ago, the local yeshivas collaborated to create and sustain Cahal. This year, Cahal has 11 classes, ranging from kindergarten through high school, in seven of our local yeshivas. The yeshivas that have Cahal classes include the children in all their non-academic activities, and the Cahal students are not highlighted as different or having special learning needs. The children are embraced as students of each yeshiva. When individual Cahal children are ready, they attend mainstream classes with support for one or more academic subjects. For many, the program serves as an effective bridge back into the yeshiva mainstream. For others, the small Cahal classes (maximum 12 students per class, 4:1 student to teacher ratio) for children with learning differences and challenges provide the ideal learning environment where they receive individualized attention and specialized teaching strategies as they master the skills needed to transition to the next stage of their lives. The curriculum is individualized to each child’s level of skill development as they progress throughout the year.
In the Cahal kindergarten at HANC, the children are taught a full yeshiva curriculum including kriah, chagim, and tefillah. Academic readiness skills and cognitive development are fostered through an integrated curriculum that incorporates math, reading, writing, science, and social studies. An individualized sensory integration program for each child is implemented to build motor strength and coordination and general organization. There is a major focus on expanding receptive and expressive language skills through daily lessons and activities. In addition, a multisensory approach utilizing visual, auditory, and kinesthetic modalities enables different styles of learners to reach their potential.
Early intervention and innovative curriculum are the keys to a young child’s progress and success. The SMART Board installed in the Cahal classroom was an anonymous gift to Mrs. Harris’s class to enhance the learning process. On behalf of the parents and children, Cahal would like to express its thanks for this very special and important donation.
For more information and to discuss placement of a child, contact Cahal at 516-295-3666 or visit www.cahal.org.