08 October 2015
He told me proudly that it was his first day driving to school by himself. When I asked him if he had rolled the windows down and cranked up the radio (recalling memories of rejoicing on my first day driving solo), he smiled broadly and said, “Absolutely!”
Ephraim drove to school that morning from Baltimore. His destination was Sulam, an independent school for the inclusion of students with diverse learning styles, at its host school Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy. Established in 1998, Sulam (which means “ladder” in Hebrew) is the only Jewish day school of its kind in the Greater Washington area.
I spent an afternoon there recently, meeting with high school students Ephraim and Ezra, Head of School Lianne Heller, Upper Division School Chair Rachel Sushner and Director of Development Amy Blum. There are 28 full-time students in Sulam with a range of learning challenges, including specific learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, Down Syndrome and other cognitive challenges. They also have a “Twice Exceptional” program for children who are gifted/talented and have learning differences. There is a new “Shearim” (meaning “gates”) program for children in Kindergarten through 12th grade , which opens up a world of education, not only for academic instruction, but also life skills and vocational training for children with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities. Additionally, there are a number of Berman students who access the modified classes given by Sulam’s special educators.
In my brief visit, I was struck by the passion of the professional leadership, the enthusiasm of the students and the pervasive flexibility and welcoming approach to education. Berman Academy is a gracious host to Sulam, and the two collaborate to include the Sulam students in as many ways as possible. The relationship is symbiotic: the host community is enriched by the presence of those with individual differences, and the Sulam students benefit from being part of a larger group, giving them the confidence and skills to participate proudly in the school community.
Ephraim and Ezra shared their individual stories and I was struck by the similarities. Both spoke with comfort and confidence. They expressed frustration with previous educational experiences, both in Jewish day schools and in public schools. They are very pleased with their Sulam experiences and after graduation, have plans to spend time in Israel and then attend college. They are active in athletics and in music, have Berman Academy classes and Sulam-only classes. And finally, they both spoke of something they have always wanted to do – and now can at Sulam – “fit in.”
Isn’t that what every child wants? What we all want? To feel a part of a community, to have friends, to have teachers who believe in them and encourage their growth with love and support? Sulam’s mission is, “… to impart a strong Jewish identity and to ensure every child’s right to meaningful participation within the Jewish community…. Our goal is to help them become independent adults and contributing members of their communities.” Every student at Sulam is different, and the faculty works to ensure that each has an individualized educational plan, created to maximize potential and achievement.
With pride, Ephraim told me about the Facebook page he created. Called, “Humans of Sulam,” it is modeled after the famous Humans of New York series. Its goal, said Ephraim, is to proudly tell others about Sulam and its students, “one story at a time.”
I was touched by my visit to Sulam, and inspired to share its story. Our community is ever-changing. Let’s focus on what draws us together rather than what separates us. Let’s roll down our windows, crank up the radio and rejoice in our diversity and in Sulam’s ability to welcome and fully include children – and their parents – who want so much to be a part of our Jewish community.
For more information, see Sulam’s website or call 301-962-9400 x5207.
Israel & Overseas
We watch with grave concern as the escalation of terror attacks continues in Israel. All of us at Federation pray for a swift, peaceful reconciliation and safety in our homeland.
Ways to Make it Yours
Apply for the highly selective 2016 Connect Gens Fellowship to transform your BIG IDEA into a venture that will reinvigorate our Jewish community.
Register now to join hundreds of young adults at the 5th Annual Impact DC on Thursday, October 15 to celebrate the incredible impact generation is making on the future of our Jewish community!
Join Federation for an inspiring, communal conversation on the future of disability inclusion in our community next Sunday, October 18.
Learn about hereditary cancer in the Jewish community with a panel discussion at the JCCGW on Sunday, October 25.
Explore what made Israel the ‘Start-Up Nation’ and how it is invigorating the US marketplace with a special panel discussion and lunch on Wednesday, November 4.
Click here to access the full community calendar