By Rabbi Yehuda Adelist
How can the phenomena of children failing the yeshiva system be prevented? This is a question that many parents face. We all know what can result when a child struggles in school repeatedly for years on end. The experience of failure and lack of self worth can do much damage R”L.
What can a parent do when this is observed as it first begins? Until now, the solution has unfortunately not been an easy one. If the child has an underlying learning disability (the term ‘learning difficulty’ is really more appropriate as there is hope), tutoring will not be enough to keep the child up to par. There are programs out there that offer promises of magic. Though these programs may have merit, ‘magic’ is usually not the reality, and they can be quite costly.
Sending a child out of the mainstream to a special kind of yeshiva is not for everyone. For a child with a severe delay or a child whose personality will not be affected by a change in the social atmosphere, a yeshiva that addresses their core issue may work. For many though, such a move carries risks as there is a good chance that the classes will be watered down without seriously remediating the core issue. Even when the core issue is addressed, the child can develop a social stigma of feeling different from the community which they grow up in or be affected by negative influences. In addition, many of these special kind of yeshivas rely on government funding and as a result, they compromise on the yiddishkeit being taught to be kept to a minimum.
At the same time, leaving the status quo in the mainstream school where there is much emphasis on textual learning (information that is learnt from reading a text) is not a solution. For a child with a learning difficulty such as reading, auditory processing, or lack of mental focus, the textual learning is just simply too overwhelming. And it only gets more difficult as they move up the grades.
As a special educator, the answer to this dilemma, although experienced by many, seems obvious. These children need a program that tailors the textual classes to their level while at the same time attempting to remediate their skills in the core textual subjects. The ideal would be for this program to be offered during the time of those classes where the child struggles. The children would still be able to join their regular class for the easier non textual classes (such as yahadus, halacha, parsha etc) where many of them thrive. This would also allow them to socialize with their friends in their mainstream yeshiva.
It was on this basis that Cheder Darchai Limud was founded 3 years ago to provide remediation in multiple core subjects using a highly professional curriculum that was developed specifically for this purpose. Until now, it was run as a separate program in the afternoon. The good news is that as of the coming school year, the above in its ideal form will be an option for children in Crown Heights from 1st grade and up, as CDL’s program will become streamlined with the mainstream yeshivas.
Cheder Darchai Limud has collaberated with some of the mainstream yeshivas of Crown Heights to begin a full program offering classes on the core subjects of Kriah, Chumash, Mishnayos, and English during the time that they are taught. From 1st to 4th grade this is in the morning until lunch and 5th to 7th grade from 1:00 to 4:00pm. These classes will be considered as an alternative to the mainstream classes that are taught at that time. They are also skill based and work to remediate the underlying learning difficulty. Students join their mainstream friends for the remainder of the day.
80% of the students do get pushed back into the mainstream full time after 2 to 3 years. For those students who eventually move on to a special yeshiva (if and when the mainstream becomes too difficult in the upper elementary and mesivta years), such a program serves a purpose and acts as a solid stepping stone.
Having worked with children with learning difficulties for over 10 years, I have seen clearly that when the child has no major difficulty other than needing a boost, the child can keep up to the pace of the class with the support of a tutor. When there is an underlying learning difficulty, the child usually struggles to keep up in the mainstream class, regardless of support staff and modifications. The only chance of remediation is for them to learn skills at their current level without the pressure of living in the shadow of the mainstream class. For example, a child with a kriah issue will struggle in Chumash as well and will likely fail despite the help. When given a Chumash class on his level simultaneous to kriah remediation, the child can gain chumash skills and narrow the gap. The stigma of leaving the mainstream yeshiva is a big issue, but can be alleviated when the child is still part of the mainstream yeshiva for the majority of the day the way Cheder Darchai Limud packages it.
It would be great if the yeshivas could provide such a service, but that is an unrealistic expectation as the financial burden is too prohibitive. B”H CDL has been able to keep the cost down to a fraction of the cost of an alternative yeshiva and are able to offer limited scholarships.
CDL thanks Rabbi Lustig and Rabbi Simpson for their advice and encouragement, and for their help in this becoming a reality.
Registration at Cheder Darchai Limud is now open. CDL operates from the Crown Condos shul at 580 Crown St and therefore space is limited. Registration will be available on a first come first serve basis. For more information please call 347 743 6132 or email email@example.com.
Rabbi Yehuda Adelist, MS SpEd is the director of Cheder Darchai Limud and has been working with children with learning difficulties in Crown Heights for 10 years.