Federation funding supports neurodiverse supplementary school classrooms

In May 2021, the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s Board of Directors approved $25,000 in Strategic Funding for Supplementary Schools. This funding would provide one-time grants up to a maximum of $10,000 to schools with 15 students or more, for applications that strengthen a school’s offerings including implementation of best practices that foster innovation and creativity, increase and enhance promotion, and support special education.

Chabad Hebrew School (OTC) received $6,000 and is using the grant to introduce an audio-visual component to their lessons. Each lesson will be accompanied by a Powerpoint-style presentation and interactive exercises. The funding was used to purchase both relevant educational materials and hardware, including screens and laptops. 

“There are so many different learners and learning styles — some learn by listening, some by doing, some by watching. What we’re trying to do is reach every student in the classroom,” said Rabbi Menachem Mendel Blum.

“It’s so much more important in a supplementary program because they’re only with us once a week for two hours. Our goal is to make the greatest impact we can Jewishly, so we’re always evaluating our offerings to see what we can do to really make it more impactful.” 

Rabbi Blum said the teachers are really excited to use the new materials, but what’s more important is how excited the students will be.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the excitement of the children. Last year, we had a pilot program where we rented some virtual reality goggles and kids could take a tour of what the temple looked like in Jerusalem,” said Rabbi Blum. “We always work to have a cutting-edge curriculum with fresh activities. This is going to help us use modern methods of teaching to accommodate the needs of every child.” 

At Temple Israel’s supplementary school, the $4,400 received from the grant was used to purchase Wacom tablets and a smart TV. 

Principal Ranit Braun said the Wacom tablets can be used to help teach Hebrew in a collaborative way by connecting to the TV, so an entire class of students can see what everyone is writing. 

“While we all wish that COVID never happened, there were really great learning techniques that weren’t in the mainstream teaching toolbox prior to the pandemic,” said Braun. “Doing things more digitally, more online … kids are very online-savvy to begin with. As an early millennial, we learned very traditionally.”

Braun hopes that using technology they might be familiar with in their everyday classrooms might make learning more engaging and fun. 

“As well as reaching kids who have different types of learning techniques,” she added. “It’s hard to give up the time for classes, for families and students alike. If we can make it a more exciting and interesting experience by using things they already enjoy using, they’re more likely to enjoy coming.”

Ottawa Talmud Torah (OTT) received $10,000, which will be used to create a fully-inclusive classroom. 

“In the past couple of years, school has looked different, being online with the pandemic. Getting students back into the classroom, we’ve realized there are some social and emotional gaps that students might have,” said Corinne Baray, OTT’s director of education. “It was really important to us to create an inclusive space and not just offer learning in the same capacity that we have.”

With the funding, OTT is putting in different types of seating and tables that benefit all learning styles to be used in a single large room for all classes. 

“No more desks, so we’re all looking at each other and learning together and can collectively share and be together,” said Baray. “That’s the first change that we’ve made.”

OTT has also been able to fix a donated Smart board, which will bring in another dimension of learning.

“We’re also hoping to purchase some iPads, which will provide another medium for learners who might have difficulty with writing,” added Baray. 

Baray said the entire team at OTT is “incredibly excited” and looking forward to the year ahead, with 20 per cent more students registered than last year. 

“It’s my hope that if we create a space where every Jew can come and learn in their own way and in their own capacity. We can really create a vibrant community where we all work together and help each other,” said Baray. 

Rabbi Blum agreed, adding that knowledge is power. 

“If we can provide a safe and inclusive environment to teach Jewish values, children will thrive educationally, emotionally … in all aspects of their lives, not just in their Jewish studies.”

Ottawa Jewish Modern School also received $2,500 for seed funding for rolling carts, educational materials, and art supplies to improve capacity.

See the full report on how funding was distributed here.