“Mainstreaming” Special Needs Jewish Children in Moscow
Community organizers in Moscow created a buzz of excitement late last month with a fun-filled day of activities for Jewish children with a variety of special needs. Participants included 12 children from the JDC-Jewish Agency Integration Project, which is supported by UJA-Federation of New York.
Hosted by Perspectiva, a local program partner, the Sunday event included fun “master classes” attended by some 43 children (both with and without disabilities) from various Moscow schools. The kids made cards together, watched a magic show, took part in physical activities, and baked and decorated treats to eat--and to share with friends and family.
Parents were thrilled and delighted by their kids’ enthusiasm. “I was shocked and amazed to watch my son, who cannot sit still for three minutes, work to make something with his hands—which is so hard for him—and independently bake and decorate his own cookies," said the parent of a 10-year-old. “This event helped me see that my son can be interested and focused, and can participate and be productive in community activities."
That is precisely the point of this jointly operated Integration Project. It promotes the mainstreaming of special needs children into both formal and informal Jewish educational environments, with about 25% of participating students successfully integrated into regular school classes each year.
The project works with remedial teachers and diagnostic staff and trains specialized high school teachers. The aim is to enhance the children’s development, alleviate their families' stress, and promote their inclusion in a caring community. Arts therapy and inclusive summer retreats and Shabbatonim are popular with the children, and new workshops for teenagers and young adults were opened last year. Project professionals have been sharing the unique experience they’ve gained with other NGOs and with schools working in the field.
The project has cultivated an active pool of volunteers who provide valuable assistance to the children and their families. A large number of volunteers helped this most recent event move smoothly, and a psychologist was there to offer advice to the parents while their kids were engaged in activities. The children all went home with books contributed by another local partner.
"I am so grateful to this project for the wonderful day," one parent summed up. "It was a real gift they gave us and our kids; and [I am grateful] for the hope they give me.”
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