Among the many graduation ceremonies taking place in every available auditorium during this season, one especially moving ceremony stood out. What made the ceremony so special was the fact that it was… special! The graduates celebrated the completion of eight years of study at Sulam’s Afikim school, which caters to girls with complex learning disabilities.
Among the graduates were girls who had attended preschools for children experiencing developmental language delays, girls who had studied in resource rooms, as well as many who had attended regular schools and received assistance and comprehensive treatment for a full eight years. “As in all branches of Sulam,” says Rabbi David Ernster, director of Sulam, “the final goal for which we constantly strive is maximum independence and integration. Thirty percent of Sulam’s graduates are integrated into a regular framework.” That’s a big feat – a really big one. The day of the graduation was a big day for Afikim graduates, as it marked the day they embarked, fully ready, on the journey of life.
A stranger happening to view the impressive performance would never have guessed that the girls had complex learning disorders, some of them accompanied by emotional difficulties as well. Without Afikim, these girls would never have received the treatment they needed. They would have no scholastic achievements to celebrate and they would not be the confident, poised young ladies they are today.
“Can you believe my Tamar will be joining a regular high school next year?” her mother asked with sparkling eyes. The grandmothers on either side didn’t really see what the big deal was, because Tamar’s learning disabilities had never prevented her from being the most wonderful granddaughter imaginable, smart and full of life. It really is hard to believe if you know Tamar’s story. Until fourth grade, Tamar was the class troublemaker. Due to difficulty in reading and concentrating, she couldn’t follow her teachers’ lessons. As a result, she became disruptive and unruly. More often than not, she could be found in the hallway.
When her minor problem was discovered, Tamar was switched to Afikim. At her new school, Tamar was taught to circumvent her difficulty. The professional staff worked with her, gradually increasing the amount of time she could sit still and concentrate. It wasn’t long before the sullen, listless girl gained confidence and became a flower. At the graduation, she did a marvelous job performing her role, delivering her lines effortlessly.
The performance put on by Tamar and her classmates was not just “another play.” Rather, they portrayed an episode from the true book Alim She’alu Mitoch Ha’efer by Mrs. Sara Beinhorn. Mrs. Beinhorn personally graced the event with her attendance and related the episode, as it occurred on the coast of Italy during the Holocaust, to the spellbound audience.
Efrat and Naama, Nechami and Esther performed the drama without a hitch. The level of their performance was equal to that of girls their age in “regular” schools. The play was interspersed with extremely professional dances and a stunning choir.
Public personalities invited to the event made no secret of the emotion and pride they felt in the girls’ success. Mrs. Lea Shaked, inspector of special educational facilities at the Ministry of Education, expressed her amazement and extended warm wishes to the girls and their families. Greetings from the city of Jerusalem were presented by Rav Yitzchak Pindrus, deputy mayor, who goes above and beyond the call of duty for the sake of the welfare of the girls of Sulam. Mr. Yehuda Pinski, director of non-official recognized education at the Ministry of Education addressed the crowd and extended best wishes to the graduates as they embarked on a new stage in life.
The mothers of Tziporah, Leah and Nechami, like the other mothers at Sulam, do not need written documentation of their daughters’ success. They see it every day, in so many areas – but in case anyone was still skeptical, this graduation ceremony served as proof positive that girls suffering from learning difficulties can be helped so that they reach normative function and can be happily integrated into the wide world out there.
Photo: Mr. Yehuda Pinski delivering a greeting in the name of the Ministry of Education
(YWN Desk – NYC)