B’Yadenu: It’s in Our Hands to Create Inclusive Day Schools

The B’Yadenu Project; photo courtesy CJP.
The B’Yadenu Project; photo courtesy CJP.

By Alan Oliff and Stacie Cherner

Children are served best in classrooms and other learning environments that consistently take into account their specific learning needs. The support children receive is most effective when it is offered throughout the entire day of learning – by all educators – as opposed to only specific periods of the day.

With this premise, in November 2011, the Jim Joseph Foundation awarded a grant to Boston-based Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) (in partnership with Gateways: Access to Jewish Education and Yeshiva University School Partnership) for the development and implementation of the B’Yadenu model in five Boston-area Jewish day schools: Gann Academy, Jewish Community Day School, Maimonides School, Solomon Schechter Day School and Striar Hebrew Academy of Sharon. Much of the groundwork for this project was established by grants from the Ruderman Family Foundation that encouraged Boston area schools to set up staff and system infrastructures for serving an increasing number of students with special learning needs. The Ruderman Family Foundation has been a co-funder of the B’Yadenu project and through its efforts on inclusion and its commitment to creating sustainable models has created a vision and direction for this important work.

A Model of Inclusion

Over the past four years, the five demonstration schools have employed this model to create “whole school change” strategies, utilizing professional development activities to build teacher capacity to better meet the needs of diverse learners. A particularly compelling aspect of this project is that it enables participating teachers and schools to work more effectively with all students, not only the estimated 15-20 percent of students who have mild or moderate learning disabilities.

At the regional level, Gateways has supported the five schools through professional development in line with the strategies developed by each school.

Currently, any Boston-area school can contract with Gateways for strategic professional development. And soon, Gateways – which now has a network of professional development providers both inside and outside the agency – will expand its reach outside Boston through its new Center for Professional Learning and a host of online tools and resources, offering more communities its expertise in teacher professional development combined with a commitment to Jewish day school education.

While the B’Yadenu model was designed to address inclusion explicitly in day schools, the project’s committed team of professionals – from CJP, Gateways, Yeshiva University, and the five Jewish day schools – has created a national model that actually addresses several critical areas for day school education, more broadly, including: supporting diverse learners, especially children with special learning needs; strengthening Jewish day school leadership; enhancing professional development; and consolidating project management.

Necessary Time

A key lesson learned through implementing this model is that sufficient time for planning, for implementation, and for documenting change is necessary for a school to develop an impactful strategy that can be successfully embedded school-wide. This approach differs from the typical “in and out” or “one-shot” professional development found in many schools. The B’Yadenu model instead requires a commitment to an intensive planning process and an equal commitment to focused implementation of an inclusive learning structure over a period of years. It takes time to create the conditions that build a school’s capacity to best serve all its learners. Even as the B’Yadenu model is well on its way toward successful development and can boast of promising results to date, its use across the five Jewish day schools is still in progress.

Teacher “Buy-in” as the Key Factor

Interim evaluation results from the Goodman Research Group show that all of the schools created momentum for change with comprehensive planning and by establishing relevant and meaningful activities for their staff.

The five schools each use a variety of professional development models – including whole school staff trainings, peer mentoring, small group coaching, and consultant in residence. Across several of the schools, the “train the trainers” model has become an effective approach.

The evaluation clearly demonstrates that professional development is most likely to translate to successful inclusion strategies in the classroom if teachers “buy-in” to what they are learning. This buy-in occurs when teachers perceive that the approach enhances their teaching rather than imposes a burden. Thus, the B’Yadenu model is based on a top-down, bottom-up process with teachers and administrators working together leading to the best conditions for the success of this model.

What Now and What Next

A final report from the evaluator on the five-year initiative is due this October. Currently the five Jewish day schools are committed to their work with whole school culture change addressing students with diverse learning needs. They will continue the B’Yadenu demonstration project, and they are ready to develop the model further.

The Jim Joseph Foundation Board, following assessment and evaluation of the model, believes that B’Yadenu can contribute significantly to day school education for all who seek it. With this outlook, the Board approved an additional three year grant to complete the B’Yadenu implementation in Boston and to support a pilot dissemination and outreach program to other communities. Already, in the first phase of this program, two communities (Detroit and Miami) received support from Gateways, YU, and CJP to adapt the B’Yadenu model to their particular circumstances. In the second phase of the program, more communities will have opportunities to adapt the model.

The B’Yadenu demonstration initiative simultaneously was a means by which to implement important change in five day schools; to learn lessons about how to do this most strategically and effectively; and to develop a model that can be scaled and adapted for communities across the country. For information about the project and to learn how your community can become involved, contact Alan Oliff, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, at alano@cjp.org or Arlene Remz, Gateways, at byadenu@jgateways.org.

Alan Oliff is Director, Special Projects at Combined Jewish Philanthropies. Stacie Cherner is a Senior Program Officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation.

This post originally appeared on The New Normal Blog; reprinted with permission.