Since its inception in 198′, the Sinai Special Needs Institute has premised its work on the belief that all children can learn when provided with the support they need to develop their individual talents.
But while the school offered programming for children of all ages, its local branches housed at the Torah Academy of Bergen County and Ma’ayanot High School for Girls were geared only to high-school-age students. Only the school’s facility in Livingston, a long bus ride away, worked with younger children.
Laurette Rothwachs, dean of the school, told The Jewish Standard that many parents in northern New Jersey were hesitant to send their young children to the Livingston school, based at the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy, because of the distance. So last year responding to parents’ entreaties Sinai decided to create a second facility for preschool and elementary-school-age children, closer to home.
Last week, Sinai opened a new branch in Paramus, in partnership with Yavneh Academy. In some cases, said Rothwachs, the new venture has served to "reunite families," since parents who formerly had to send their children with special needs elsewhere are now able to send them to Yavneh, together with their siblings.
Rothwachs pointed out that while other local schools have in-house programs for special needs children, "Sinai is the only school dedicated specifically to address the educational, psychological, and emotional needs of students with varying types and degrees of learning and developmental disabilities."
She noted that the program at Yavneh will combine "an intensive special education curriculum with Hebrew and Judaic studies" and said that Sinai’s teachers and therapists will address multiple learning styles within a variety of educational contexts. In addition, Sinai students will have an opportunity to participate in all the extracurricular clubs and activities open to Yavneh students.
"Our goal is for the kids to be exposed to the full range of Yavneh subjects and social activities," said Rothwachs, "including special programs, music, art, and gym."
According to the Sinai dean, the school’s first class consists of 17 students between the ages of 5 and 9, and, for the moment, they occupy three classrooms. Students, who will attend school during regular Yavneh hours, 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., are learning both English and Judaic subjects and are served by a staff of 1′ including six teachers, three therapists, a social worker, and two directors. Transportation arrangements vary for each family, and while most students hail from Bergen County, several come from Rockland County.
According to Rothwachs, "the school was honored" to dedicate the Sinai Judaic studies program at Yavneh Academy in memory of Riva Blatt Weinstein, an alumna and teacher at Yavneh, who died in ‘004.
Weinstein’s mother, Michelle Blatt of Fair Lawn who, with her husband Jake, has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Sinai Institute for many years said that her daughter, trained to deal with autistic children, had worked in both regular classrooms and special education settings, serving as a teacher, counselor, and tutor. In looking for an appropriate way to memorialize her daughter, she felt, as did Rothwachs, that naming the new program for her "was most fitting, reflecting what Riva was most interested in."