By Rochelle Maruch Miller
Mention Gesher Yehuda Yeshiva to Dr. Joan Altman Neumann and her husband, Rabbi Naftali Neumann, and you are sure to elicit unabashed praise. They will tell you how finding Gesher Yehuda was a dream brought to fruition following their search to find a school that would enhance their son Aharoni’s academic progress. An intelligent and well-behaved child, Aharoni’s visual perception difficulties were a major cause of his falling behind in math in the mainstream yeshiva he attended. Reading had been an exercise in frustration as well.
Not to be deterred in their efforts to find a Torah-true learning experience that would meet their own standards for academic excellence, a school where Aharoni would blossom, the Neumanns persevered. Dr. Altman Neumann, an obstetrician-gynecologist in private practice, who also serves as a neighborhood bodeket, and Rabbi Neumann, reside in Lawrence with their four children. Theirs is a home permeated by Torah values and high academic standards, and they sought a warm and nurturing learning environment for Aharoni where their standards would be met.
And then they found Gesher Yehuda Yeshiva and everything changed. “The school has an amazing faculty,” Dr. Altman Neumann told the 5TJT. In addition to a special-education teacher and classroom aide and rebbe, there is a reading specialist as well as a support specialist. The support staff includes a social worker, psychologist, and occupational, social-skills, and speech therapists.”
Aharoni’s learning differences affect not only reading, but other aspects of visual perception, such as recognizing facial and spatial expressions. “The team works together, unlike mainstream settings, where support services are often not as well-coordinated with the overall educational programs and the students are ‘pulled out,’ thereby diminishing socialization with their peers, as well as labeling them as ‘different.’”
The coordination is the key that makes Gesher Yehuda a success. “And the engineer of the process is the school’s director, Mrs. Deborah Katz,” says Dr. Altman Neumann. “She is amazing in her efforts and concerns to bring everything together.” She adds, “Aharoni is doing wonderfully at Gesher Yehuda. He is now almost at grade level. He no longer finds reading to be a frustrating experience; he will now pick up a book and read to himself (and sometimes to us) just because he enjoys it. He is really blossoming.”
That Gesher Yehuda parents share the Neumanns’ enthusiasm and have experienced their own miracles is not surprising. Indeed, if you want to experience Hashem’s miracles, pay a visit to Gesher Yehuda and savor the joy of precious children learning. Speak to the parents and hear their amazing stories: “When my son first came to the school, he couldn’t add two plus two, he didn’t know his ABC,” says a grateful dad. “Within three months, he was able to read and write and solve math problems. In three months Gesher Yehuda accomplished what the other school could not in three years.”
Staffed by master teachers and rebbeim who reach out and touch the hearts of their students, Gesher Yehuda impacts powerfully and positively on every precious young life. “At graduation, the kids write words of gratitude to the teachers, expressing their thoughts about their experiences at Gesher Yehuda,” explained the proud father of a Gesher Yehuda graduate. “My son wrote this story: ‘Before I came to Gesher Yehuda, I was struggling. I was doing poorly in my studies. I had no friends. I came to Gesher Yehuda and all that changed. The teachers and staff are amazing. They believed in me and encouraged me to believe in myself and to succeed.’ My son delivered this speech at graduation in front of 150 people, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.”
To create a learning environment where fluency is reached, teachers focus on cumulative learning, where information is not lost in a vacuum. By implementing a planned course of steady review, children can consistently recall and build upon past lessons. One fun method is to energize students with spontaneous Torah facts throughout the day for extra points. Workbook activities specifically geared to reinforce proficiency is another. Ideally, one school term should pick up precisely where the previous one left off in order that the stream of learning and retention continue yearly. By deftly not letting go of the information, trained teachers can close the gaps in a student’s knowledge base.
Throughout the environs of Gesher Yehuda, the excitement is palpable: Working as a team, the school’s professionals shares a common goal: to help these youngsters recognize their learning differences, to learn how to work with them and achieve their full potential. Gesher Yehuda is meeting that goal, as students leave the school, at year’s end, to rejoin their peers in typical schools. The Gesher professionals exclaim, “Our greatest triumph is when a student has picked up the social lessons we are implementing and he or she can classroom mainstream to a community school.”
This is thanks to their exemplary team approach; they don’t just send a therapist in. “We have a team that develops a unique plan for each student and it is incorporated and reinforced throughout the day. As a result, the kids who were once shrugged off as impossible to deal with find themselves running a school canteen, behaving professionally and learning life skills,” says the director, Mrs. Katz.
At Gesher Yehuda, students are taught a full New York State curriculum, a full Judaic-studies syllabus, and, at the high-school level, they receive college guidance. Gesher Yehuda Yeshiva imbues every child with the self-confidence and tools to succeed in life.
Since its inception nearly two decades ago, Gesher Yehuda Yeshiva, and, more recently, Yeshivah Preparatory High School, have been preparing students who possess out-of-the-box thinking. At Yeshivah Prep, students are assisted with the many college and career choices commensurate with their interests and abilities. In addition, professional guidance counselors help families navigate the college admissions process.
The senior internship program eases the transition from the classroom to the professional sphere, setting students on the path of becoming journalists, legal assistants, receptionists, and more. Enabling its students to strive for excellence, Yeshivah Prep provides programming geared to their strengths while meeting the standards of the New York State curriculum. The goal of the programs is to allow their students to complete the Regents curriculum and prepare for colleges and/or careers. Small academic classes and individualized therapeutic instruction arm students with the tools of socialization and appropriate behavior. Yeshivah Prep graduates emerge as self-aware, confident young adults, possessing the necessary skills to succeed.
Throughout the day, students walk the short distance from Yeshivah Prep to Yeshivah of Flatbush High School to participate in daily minyan, peer activities, chesed opportunities, rosh chodesh rikkudim, clubs, Shabbatons, gym, and SAFE classes.
“Our message to prospective parents is that your child can be successful in school even if he or she learns differently,” says Rabbi Naftali Neumann. “Gesher Yehuda is an academic school for children with learning disabilities. Many of the children are extremely intelligent and, if given the right direction, can be very successful. Never blame your child and never give up on your child. ‘Chanoch l’naar al pi darko’ (Mishlei 22:6); children learn differently based on many factors and Gesher Yehuda successfully helps each student attain their full potential.”
You are cordially invited to attend an informative and enjoyable meet-and-greet graciously hosted by Dr. Joan Altman Neumann and Rabbi Naftali Neumann, at their home, 173 Briarwood Crossing in Lawrence, on Tuesday, March 4 at 8:00 p.m. If your child is struggling academically, you won’t want to miss this stellar event to learn how Gesher Yehuda can help your child succeed. Featured speakers include Mrs. Deborah Katz, school director; Ted and Susan Salame, board members; Mary Courtney, Ph.D., educational consultant; and Dr. Joan Altman Neumann, Gesher Yehuda parent.
For further information, please see Gesher Yehuda’s ad in this week’s edition of the 5TJT (page 40) or call 718-714-7400. v