Shadow training helps classroom aides become more effective
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Shadow training helps classroom aides become more effective

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A team meeting at Englewood’s Kahane Center. In addition to the Shadow Training Institute, the facility includes an”¯ Aspergers Institute and”¯ nutrition center as well as a learning component and family services program.

I’ve been doing shadow training for years through my practice,” says psychologist Tamar Kahane, Teaneck resident and founder of Englewood’s Kahane Center for Developmental and Psychological Well-being.

Shadows – teachers’ aides who help facilitate the functioning of students in the classroom – are essential for many children, she said, yet “anyone can call themselves a shadow, regardless of their skill-set or educational background.”

To address this, and “concerned about the difficulties that children with autism spectrum disorder and ADD/ADHD face every day in the classroom,” in September Kahane and her associate Chassia Boczko created the Shadow Training Institute.

Many shadows function “intuitively,” said Kahane. For example, some automatically pack up a child’s belongings rather than encourage the child to do it himself, or they relay to the child what a teacher has said rather than help the child get the information directly.

Her goal is to provide these shadows with a body of knowledge to guide their actions.

“The role of the shadow is to empower the child to become increasingly more functional – emotionally, socially, behavorially, and academically,” said Kahane. “Their role is not to do the work for the child, but to help the child become increasingly more autonomous in the classroom.”

“The ultimate goal is for a child not to need a shadow,” she said, stressing the danger of “maintained helplessness,” where children are not taught to become independent and functional. “It’s found on a regular basis. It’s very distressing,” she said, adding that the intensive eight-hour shadow training she provides emphasizes the collaborative aspect of the work, involving communication between the shadow and others, including teachers, principals, and parents.

“It can be a problem if it’s not addressed properly,” she said. “Everyone works together as a team and should be included in the process.”

Training also includes a segment on autism spectrum disorders, “to help [shadows] understand what they’re looking at and how to deal with it,” as well as an interactive segment where participants explore specific tools and strategies. Graduates receive a certificate and “an impressive notebook,” said Kahane, adding that a monthly booster program helps shadows with specific issues encountered in the classroom.

Shadows trained by the center work in both public and private schools, including the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge and the Moriah School in Englewood.

RYNJ General Studies Principal Arlene Liebman credits STI with training shadows “who know when to jump in and when to step aside and let the child work independently” and for giving shadows tools to help children “learn how to strategize.”

Sharon Herenstein, who shadows a 7-year-old first-grader at the Moriah School, said that when she first started, she always carried the looseleaf of information provided by STI.

“I called it my ‘bible,'” she said. “It gives you the coping skills you need. I used it in the beginning until a pattern developed and I figured it out, though I have called Dr. Kahane for help.”

Formerly engaged in retail work, Herenstein said she has always loved working with children, whether in school or camp settings.

“Not everyone can be a shadow,” she said. “It’s a hard job – you have to love it.”

Herenstein joked that children in the classroom call her “Morah Sarah” and are clearly comfortable with her.

“They like me. This gives my child a fairer chance,” she said. “Being a shadow is an amazing, wonderful thing. I wish it was fashionable when my son was younger,” she added, noting that her own child had suffered from anxiety.

Herenstein said she feels “very much valued” by the school, and that the principal, Elliot Prager, has been especially supportive. She said she also enjoys a warm relationship with the family of the student she shadows.

“The tolerance level is not always there with teachers, and sometimes you just need someone to defuse” a child’s growing unease, “even with just a gentle touch,” she said.

Tori Ashman, Moriah’s first-grade special-needs teacher – part of the school’s Gesher Yehuda program – has seen a “huge difference” between shadows who are trained and those who are not.

A trained shadow helps his or her child make transitions more smoothly, said Ashman, whether the child is going from play to learning, or from one academic area to another. “Sharon is just incredible,” said Ashman, who has worked at Moriah for four years. “She knows exactly what to say.”

Kahane, who served as the senior psychologist at the Solomon Schechter School of Bergen County in New Milford for seven years, has been in private practice for some 18 years.

When she began her career, she said, she was one of few practitioners who focused on social skills. Now, she said, that focus is “very common.”

She noted also that for some children, “the camp situation is more of a struggle than in school,” pointing out that these children “are hugely helped by having a trained shadow [so that they can] enjoy summer in camp.”

For further information about the Kahane Center and the Shadow Training Institute, visit www.thekahanecenter.com or call (201) 894-9011.

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