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The program we have created will fill the void which currently exists for Jewish teens with developmental challenges in Westchester County. This is a population that desperately needs to learn a large repertoire of life and social skills—abilities that most teens understand and take for granted. In order to generalize these skills, special needs teens need lots of opportunities to practice these life and social skills and a lot of arenas in which to practice them—a need that secular schools can’t possibly have the time to fill. This program recognizes the importance of peer mentoring and inclusion not only for the teens with special needs, but also for the wonderful learning opportunity it provides for the typically developing teens. The following outlines the various components of what we see as a multi-faceted program.

  • The pilot program for teens with developmental challenges runs on Wednesday nights at the Kol Ami Religious School from 6:15-8:15 pm. This is the same night as the regular religious school program for 7th-12th graders. This allows for a seamless inclusion opportunity for the peer mentoring component of the program.
  • From 6:15-7:00 pm the curriculum would focus on Jewish learning, life skills and social skills. From 7:00-7:45 pm the teens would be paired with peer mentors. They would choose an elective to participate in together such as Israeli dance, drama or games. From 7:45-8:15 pm they would partake in a k’hilah, community, activity with peer mentors that involves girls and boys working together to focus on social skills building. Peer mentors would be trained for their participation in the program.
  • Post b’nei mitzvah students between the ages of 13 and 18 who have developmental challenges have been assessed for eligibility for the program. We consider a number of different areas of functioning when making placement decisions for the pilot class. These include: developmental, cognitive, support needs, strengths and weaknesses and Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) goals. This is a population of teenagers who have severe social disabilities in addition to overall developmental disabilities. These are students who have significant processing issues which had an impact on many areas of functioning. They are students who require a lot of direct instruction and practice and repetition of taught skills. They tend to be adolescents who are naïve, vulnerable and overly trusting. They misread body language and social cues and have tremendous difficulty sustaining extended reciprocal conversations.
  • In order to generalize the knowledge and skills they learn in the classroom these teens will have an opportunity to practice what they learn with different people and in different situations. Inclusion opportunities will take place in the Religious School setting as well as in the community.
  • Kol Ami has experience working with individuals with special needs. In an effort to accommodate the many different learning needs of our children and provide all our students with a positive environment in which to learn we have a Chedar Midrash (Resource Room). Specialists are available to work with students who may benefit from the opportunity for extra support or extra enrichment. Teachers recommend students who may be having difficulty with a concept, a task or with their Hebrew learning.

In addtion, we have a Special Education Coordinator on staff who works with teachers and provides them with strategies to best meet the needs of students in their classrooms who have special needs. New this year, we have a self contained special education classroom of 4th and 5th grade students.

  • The staff of this program should include: a Special Educator with a religious school background, a Program Coordinator to organize the many facets of the program both at the religious school and in the community and two Special Education Assistant teachers
  • The program would have five main components:
    1. Jewish Learning/values/identity
    2. Pragmatic Social Skills
    3. Life skills
    4. Peer Mentoring
    5. Community Service with members of youth groups


  • Peer mentors would be trained to work with the teens with special needs. Staff running the electives would be trained as well to most effectively work with the teens in the program
  • We have established an Advisory Board to brainstorm goals and objectives of the program. The Board consists of Special Ed Directors, Special Ed teachers, Social Skills Consultant(s), Special Ed Consultants, Social Workers, Religious School Principal, Program Coordinator, a member of the our board and parents of teens with special needs.
  • Our goal is to plug these special needs teens into the multiple activities the synagogue offers, such as Synaplex and Friday night Shabbat Services with the teens actively involved in the service. We will periodically hold special “Shabbat of Inclusion” Friday night services. Our Yad B’Yad teens and their peer mentors will participate together in the service and we’ll have Shabbat dinner together after services.
  • The program will include both pairing teens one-to-one, as well as pairing a group of typically developing teens with a group of special needs teens. On Wednesday nights the teens would be paired one-to-one with a peer leader for elective and community time. However when engaging in community service activities such as nursing home visits, cooking for the homeless, etc., the teens will be working in coordination with Kol Ami’s youth group. We have a Junior Youth Group (7th and 8th grades) and Senior Youth Group (9th through 12th grade). In addition, our plan with the special needs teens and their peer mentors would be active engagement in structured, planned social activities. These may include: field trips, joint social activities such as barbecues, a sports night in the gym, a dance and bowling.
  • Field trips – There would be numerous trips throughout the year. Teens would travel on the bus with staff and peer mentors. Here there would be numerous opportunities to reinforce social and life skills taught in the class and assess that they are being understood. Trips may include restaurants, a show in New York City, a science museum and a trip to the Jewish Heritage Museum as a culminating activity at the end of the school year.
  • Parent Education – We would encourage parents of the special needs teens to be part of occasional coffees with teachers to discuss curriculum, ways to reinforce learning at home and in the community and answer parents’ questions. Moreover, it provides opportunities for parents to share with other parents and make a social connection. Parents and their families would be encouraged to partake in the many activities the Synagogue has to offer, to experience a connection to the Kol Ami community.

For more information about addressing issues on inclusion in your congregation, visit the  Disabilities section of URJ's Caring Community web page.

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CONGREGATION KOL AMI        805 Households
914.949.4717    914.946.8143


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