(Courtesy of Darco) Public school. For many Orthodox Jews, that word combination is not even in their vernacular. A Jewish education is a given, and no matter what, every Jewish child goes to a yeshiva day school. We are an affluent community with wonderful schools that can really serve most children. There is Sinai and there is Shalshelet, and almost every school has an inclusion program for children with learning challenges. The options are really amazing. Unless … your child has behavioral issues, which could really arise from myriad different causes. Perhaps your child has ADHD, or is being bullied, or suffers from sensory issues, or is gifted and bored. Suddenly the options are much more limited within the yeshiva system.
I managed to get several of my children through yeshiva. Until that one child. The one with the adorable smile and face full of freckles, whose IQ is off the charts but who has limited understanding of social interactions and so gets bullied by children he thinks are his friends. The one who sometimes has a hard time sitting still but can tell you facts about pretty much anything you want to know. Who came home from yeshiva day after day looking sadder and sadder, believing he was a bad and angry child. Who could probably be a real talmid chacham if given the chance. Instead, after trying and trying to make yeshiva work for him, we finally gave up and did the thing we had never thought we would. We sent him to public school.
Then we discovered that we are not the only ones. There is a whole group of people, a Facebook group of over 300 Orthodox families whose children are in public schools. Either their children were asked to leave a yeshiva or the families just could not take it anymore and felt that they had no other choice.
Our son is not in a special school; he is in a regular public school class. There is one main teacher and one special ed teacher for 22 students. And he is doing better. He doesn’t doubt himself more and more each day. He doesn’t come home saying that he is bad or unwanted. He finally is starting to believe in himself. The only thing the school has to say is that he sometimes needs reminders to stay focused.
Before deciding to send our precious Jewish child to public school, I searched and looked and called every single yeshiva within an hour drive. I asked, could they help my child, would they take my child? But each time the answer was the same. “Sorry, we really can’t help you; try to work with his current school.” Try we did. We consulted with experts and rabbis and finally came to the conclusion that there was just no other choice. It took many sleepless nights and many tears cried. Initially, he did not want to go, and he kept asking why we were sending him to public school. He cried and he fought, and finally he started to go, and now he’s happy. He doesn’t wear a yarmulka or tzitzit, and doesn’t daven, but he comes home with a smile on his face. He finally feels good about himself and that he can be successful in school.
As a mom, I am conflicted. I am happy that he is happy in school, but not really because he is not with his people. Every so often he turns to me and says, “Why did you send me here?” and all I can tell him is, “Because.”
It is time that we can tell these children more than “because.” There is no reason in this day and age, in this community, that we cannot help these children. There is no reason that they cannot have a school, or even a track within a school, that is also a yeshiva and also can help them learn in the way that they need.
This is my story, but really it is all of our stories—all the families whose children don’t fit into the box, who cry and wonder what will happen to them. Who want their children to find their place but really don’t want that place to be in public school. Whose children may be bored and frustrated in school, who could use more recess or breaks, who could benefit from interactive or hands-on learning, who may be very smart but just not thriving in school.
With that idea in mind, Darco learning pod was created. It was created by a group of families who want their children to find their place within our community, who don’t want them to feel rejected by their people or that they can only succeed in a public school.
Darco learning pod will be located in Bergen County and run by an experienced teacher who is also a behaviorist. It is rooted in the understanding that no child wants to be bad, and that their behaviors result from a variety of reasons, and can change when those reasons are addressed. Rather than only treating the behavior, Darco’s goal is to address the root causes of that behavior in a responsive environment with consistent positive feedback. Learning will be hands-on and allow for acceleration and passion projects. Regular breaks will be part of the schedule, and social skills will be routinely taught and practiced. Judaic studies will be included as part of the curriculum and integrated throughout the course of the day. Darco will provide a place for neurodivergent learners to receive an education in a Jewish environment with a focus on emotional intelligence as a tool for life.
We believe that there can and should be options in Jewish education for all of our children. As Dr. Seuss so brilliantly stated in “The Lorax,” “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.” It is time! Time for things to get better. It is time to help these children.
For more information about Darco please email us at [email protected]