Bringing Sinai to the masses

Bringing Sinai to the masses

Special needs school set to open in Bergen

PARAMUS – Starting next September, North Jersey’s Jewish children in need of a self-contained special education environment will not have to travel to Livingston to get it within the walls of a day school.

Sinai Special Needs Institute, which runs eight separate programs in New Jersey for children and young adults with learning and developmental disabilities, will partner with Yavneh Academy to establish an elementary branch at its building here. The program is expected to begin with classes for pre-K through second grade, and should expand over time.

"North Jersey for many years has been growing into one of the nation’s most dynamic Jewish education centers. Yet students needing full-time Jewish special-needs education have had to travel long distances to be served," said Laurette Rothwachs, Sinai’s dean.

The institute runs high school programs in Teaneck, but its elementary school, now serving 51 children, has been based at the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston since Sinai’s inception in 198′. Many area families whose children cannot be educated in day schools have been reluctant to send their kids on the 45-minute ride to Livingston, and have opted instead for public schools or Jewish alternatives in New York.

"Some children are simply unable to make that commute," said Rothwachs. "For kids who are hyperactive or have certain medical issues it’s just too much to travel an hour to an hour and a half a day, and we’ve been looking for a partner where we can offer these kids what we can offer in Livingston. We welcome the opportunity to work with the leadership of Yavneh so North Jersey children can receive their education locally. "Rabbi Peretz Hochbaum, now in his second year as dean of Yavneh, said that the idea of better special-ed services in Bergen County has been in the works for a long time, and had been one of his goals from the start of his tenure.

"Special education has become a huge priority for Jewish preschools and elementary schools, especially since early intervention plays such a critical role in a student’s long-term success," he said.

When plans to move the older grades out of Yavneh’s crowded facility next year — to the present Frisch building — were firmed up, Hochbaum and leaders from both Sinai and Yavneh realized they finally could put the idea into reality. Rothwachs said she is particularly excited about the pre-K class that will be offered, since preschool hasn’t previously been available at Sinai. "I’ve gotten a number of calls about that," she said. "It’s easier for the children if you find the right place to educate them right from the start instead of bouncing them from school to school. Until now, most of our students have gone to public preschool programs."

The Sinai program incorporates an intensive special education curriculum with Hebrew and Judaic studies. The core curriculum of English, math, science, social studies, Hebrew language, Jewish laws and customs, and Torah studies is accompanied by a strong emphasis on social skills and social interaction.

Sinai students will share tefillah (prayer), lunch, gym, music and art activities with Yavneh students, and mainstreaming in academic areas will be available where appropriate. Sinai professionals will provide training to Yavneh faculty in special education methods, evaluations, and early warning signs.

Tuition for Sinai programs is steep, in part because of a low teacher-student ratio. For in-state students in the elementary program it now stands at about $’4,000, and for out-of-state students it’s more than $34,000. Rothwachs said scholarship assistance is generous.

"Special education is expensive," acknowledged Hochbaum. "As in the past, both Yavneh and Sinai will look to the community to help out."

Yavneh, located at 155 Farview Avenue, will host an open house for prospective parents interested in learning more about Sinai at Yavneh on Nov. ‘9 at 9:30 a.m. To register for this event, call (’01) 833-9”0 ext. 301. For more information about Sinai programs, visit