New Initiative Empowers Jewish Students to Embrace Inclusion

gateways-e1480446031290Gateways: Access to Jewish Education is partnering with the Ruderman Family Foundation to create the Ambassadors for Inclusion (AFI) program, an initiative that teaches students in Jewish day schools and congregational schools, from kindergarten through high school graduation, to understand, respect and speak thoughtfully about differences. The AFI is designed to expose students to continuous, developmentally-appropriate messages about disability awareness and advocacy in order to foster more inclusive Jewish communities. The program is the first of its kind nationally to address students in multiple Jewish educational environments, in grades K-12.

The AFI initiative was born out of a collaboration between Gateways, the Ruderman Family Foundation and Understanding Our Differences (UOD), a Newton, MA-based organization that developed a disability awareness curriculum for students in grades 3-5. For the past three years, Gateways has partnered with UOD to bring that program to seven Jewish day schools and three congregational schools in the Greater Boston Area. The K-12 AFI initiative builds on the success of the three-year pilot of the grades 3-5 program, significantly expanding its scope and geographic reach.

Sharon Shapiro, Trustee at the Ruderman Family Foundation tells eJP, “We are very excited about our latest partnership with Gateways around the Ambassadors for Inclusion initiative. We have seen how this program has given day school students, teachers and parents the opportunity to learn about people with various disabilities and have an open dialogue about inclusion. We are creating a next generation that values everyone’s contributions and participation. The initiative is taking the mission of the Ruderman Family Foundation, to create a more inclusive society, and spreading it to the Jewish educational community on a local and national level.”

The program will continue in the initial partner schools and Gateways will implement the initiative at additional sites, including rolling out the UOD curriculum for grades 3-5 at schools in West Hartford, CT and Port Chester, NY. Gateways began working with middle school students in 2015-16, successfully using a panel discussion format focused on the theme of bullies and allies. The organization will continue to develop age-appropriate curricula for students in these grades. Moreover, Gateways will begin to develop and launch the initiative in grades K-2 and 9-12. The full K-12 AFI curriculum will incorporate, books, art, hands on activities, speakers and other tools to help promote disability awareness and inclusion in all Jewish communal settings.