MONTREAL — One out of every five Jewish children has some level of learning difficulty, the same ratio as in the general population.
“There are 7,000 Jewish children in public schools, which means that 1,500 or so have some level of learning disability,” said Nathalie Myara, who has been working with the organized Jewish community to help these kids.
Since 2008, Myara, co-ordinator of a master’s program in special education at the Université de Montréal, has, with her husband Eric Ifergan, been behind the Lanaar Achievement Center for the enhancement of learning potential. The program is designed to help Jewish public school students who have learning or “adaptive” problems.
Two years ago, the couple also created Banav, which is run out of designated rooms at the YM-YWHA Ben Weider JCC lent out by the Communauté sépharade unifiée du Québec (CSUQ) and is specifically geared to providing Jewish schoolchildren with learning difficulties the fundamentals of a Jewish education.
The issues the children face range from the relatively benign, including dyslexia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, to more intrusive difficulties.
“There’s just not enough out there,” said Myara, who lived in Israel for nine years and is a disciple of renowned Israeli educator Reuven Feuerstein. She said there’s a dearth of overall resources for Jewish children attending both public and Jewish schools.
Myara noted that some local Jewish schools have “resource classes” for children with learning difficulties, but they are outside the regular classroom environment and run only a few hours each week. Those schools include Solomon Schechter Academy, JPPS-Bialik and more Orthodox schools like Hebrew Academy and Yeshiva Yavne. The latter two work with the private, specialized Vanguard School for children with learning disabilities.
Public schools do have a certain level of designated funding for kids with learning disabilities, which Myara said could be a factor in the decision made by some families to leave the Jewish system.
But she added that there are not enough resources for children with learning disabilities in either the Jewish or the public system. Supports they could profit from in the Jewish system, such as a child having someone “shadow” them all day, are not there.
That may also be a factor, Myara said, in her getting calls from parents seeking her professional, individualized intervention.
Myara’s techniques are based on Feuerstein’s pedagogical philosophy of allowing the children, in effect, to show you how they learn best, “according to their own characteristics.”
She said she has been meeting with officials from the Bronfman Jewish Education Centre (BJEC) to figure out ways, using an interventionist model she developed, to have kids improve within the regular classroom environment.
Meanwhile, the Lanaar and Banav programs for public school Jewish kids with learning disabilities that she and her husband developed continue to attract increasing numbers, Myara said, with the basics of Jewish traditions being introduced. During the school year, those after-school classes take place four days a week (except Friday).
“One idea I am working on with BJEC,” Myara said, “is to open a Banav program at a Jewish day school.”
She expects the number of classes involved in the two programs to increase significantly and there is a waiting list, she said.
For more details about the Lanaar and Banav programs, contact Eric Ifergan at 514-677-2458 or email [email protected]