Sunday, October 24, 2021

Yeshivat Shalshelet, a yeshiva day school for students with language-based learning differences, is set to open its doors in Bergen County in September 2022. Partnering with local yeshivot, Yeshivat Shalshelet will be modeled after premier schools located across the United States dedicated to serving students with language-based learning disabilities. “Our mission is to produce students who are poised for academic, spiritual and social-emotional success in a mainstream educational environment,” said Shalshelet Head of School Shulamit Roth.

Through the use of a carefully designed dual curriculum, small group learning structures, and direct instruction, Yeshivat Shalshelet seeks to educate students to become academically skilled, confident lifelong learners who can navigate the academic landscape, empowered by their knowledge and self-awareness. “Small group reading, writing, math and kriya (Hebrew reading) lessons will allow for teachers to provide individualized instruction and attention, meet each child at their academic level, and build upon foundational skills,” said Roth. With a rich experiential learning program led by strong Torah role models and co-curricular programing, the yeshiva hopes to imbue its students with a strong sense of connection to Torah and mitzvot.

Language-based learning disabilities are learning difficulties that affect the understanding, processing or use of spoken and written language. These language difficulties can impact a child’s reading, writing, comprehension and expression of spoken language. One of the most common language-based learning disabilities is dyslexia, although not all students with language-based learning differences have that diagnosis. Others may have intact decoding skills, but struggle with language processing and/or verbal expression. Since language drives much of a school’s curriculum, students who struggle with language often struggle in many academic areas.

Roth, a speech and language pathologist with a speciality in language and literacy, has dedicated her career to serving students who struggle with language and learning disabilities. She began her career as a clinician at the Soifer Center for Learning and Child Development in White Plains, New York. After working in private practice, she served as a language and literacy specialist in public and private schools in Boston, New Jersey and New York, including Brookline Public Schools, The Carroll School, Maimonides School, Yeshivat Noam and most recently, The Shefa School. This school is personally meaningful to Roth, who focused her career on language and literacy when her brother was diagnosed with dyslexia in third grade. “It was very difficult for my parents to face the choice between the best educational environment or yeshiva day school education for my brother.” Since then, she has been passionate about helping students reach their academic and personal potential.

“I have been incredibly privileged to be surrounded by lay leaders with a wealth of knowledge and passion for furthering Jewish education,” said Roth, who has teamed up with Dov Adler and Batya Paul, the president and executive vice president of Yeshivat Shalshelet, respectively. Both Adler and Paul have significant community leadership experience. Adler has served in leadership positions at Yeshivat Noam, Ma’ayanot, Congregation Beth Abraham and TABC. Paul has served on the founding board of Yeshivat Noam and on the boards of Sharsheret and Yeshivat Frisch. Also on Shalshelet’s founding board of directors are Glenn Pfeiffer, Dr. Nancy Block, Tzvi Goodman, Yocheved Bensinger Brody, Rachel Krich, Rabbi Andrew Markowitz and Willie Roth.

“The time just felt right, and children with language-based learning differences deserve a yeshiva that is close to home and specializes in teaching them how to read and write. The goal is to provide them with the skills necessary to re-mainstream into their family school or yeshiva high school of their choice,” said Roth.

“For years people have been discussing the tremendous need for a yeshiva day school like this in Bergen County,” said Adler. “I am honored to have been approached by Shulamit Roth, and am extremely excited to be involved in Yeshivat Shalshelet from its inception. As the saying goes, ‘Chanoch lana’ar al pi darko [Teach children according to their own way].’ Every child deserves to be educated in the way that allows him or her to maximize his or her potential. Our current yeshiva day schools do an outstanding job at educating each and every one of our children. I am confident that Shalshelet will complement the array of services already provided and will afford every child the opportunity to learn locally, al pi darko, in a yeshiva environment.”

The name Shalshelet is integral to the Yeshiva’s mission. Shalshelet symbolizes the school’s goal to infuse within its students a strong sense of connection to the local and greater Jewish community by underscoring that they are an essential link on the chain of our Mesorah. Moreover, Shalshelet is also the name for one of the Ta’amei Hamikra—the bent, yet ascending note that appears only four times in the Torah. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, zt”l, explained that the message of the Shalshelet is the importance of embracing one’s identity despite the struggles and challenges that one may encounter. No path is straight—each is riddled with its own twists and turns. Yeshivat Shalshelet aims to build an environment in which children with language-based learning disabilities have the space to understand their identity as learners and obtain the tools necessary to allow them to ascend to greater academic and personal heights.

“I experienced firsthand, through my now-freshman daughter in high school, how much a student can grow and overcome the challenges of a language-based learning disability, when they are provided with the proper tools and skills,” said Paul. “I am extremely passionate about helping to provide this type of education to students in Bergen County, in a yeshiva environment, utilizing research-based methodologies. The opportunity to work with Shulamit Roth to create a yeshiva of this kind in Bergen County is very exciting.”

This year, the board of directors and the educational advisory committee will spend time collaborating with local yeshivot to explore best practices, further design and develop curriculum, and accept applications for both students and faculty.

“As a professional, I understand the power that school has in shaping a child’s sense of self and emotional well-being” said board member Nancy Block, a seasoned clinical psychologist and well respected administrator and lay leader. “Sadly, I have seen the erosion of a child’s confidence when he or she believes that they cannot learn like their classmates. Children with language based learning challenges can be taught to be successful learners, and it is our communal responsibility to create an environment where these children can thrive and shine as students. And when they transition back into mainstream academic settings, they will be empowered with a set of skills that will allow them to feel like they are a vibrant part of our yeshiva day school community.”

Yeshivat Shalshelet is planning to open its doors in Bergen County to 20-25 students in grades two through five and organically grow into an elementary school with grades one through eight. For more information, please contact [email protected].

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