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1117 NE 163rd St., Suite C,
North Miami Beach, FL 33162

Our Story

If the creation of JEMS Academy could have a visual representation, it would look like an exploding prism of colors, harmonious in some areas, dissonant in others, but always brilliant and blinding with a clarity of vision that transcended the times the prism more resembled the shards of broken dreams.

Our Founders

Shoshana Jablon

Avigayil Shaffren

It was years in the making: Earnest meetings, followed by months-long lulls, as we, two South Florida moms, grappled to make sense of life with a child with special needs, struggled to juggle the insanity of endless therapy sessions, medical consultations, evaluations and the constant, constant worry of how we would educate the precious gifts Hashem had so graciously entrusted to us.
While we obligingly brought our children to the best early intervention programs (Thank Hashem for Early Beginnings Academy), we couldn’t help but wonder if our children were to be denied the same caliber of educational experience as all of our other children were lucky to have.  Would they ever be able to participate in the good-natured give and take at our Shabbos table as the entire family enthusiastically discussed the weekly Torah portion? Would they miss out on the exciting preparations and projects that were part and parcel of the weeks leading up to each major holiday? Would they learn to pray and ask Hashem from the depths of their little hearts for divine assistance in all they would do? 
These and other questions plagued us, even as we attempted to cobble together educational solutions for our children. From playgroups to a parade of shadows and RBTs, we tried every community and private resource available to us. The pandemic further complicated our search, limiting our options and lending urgency to our quest for a solution that would be greater than our children’s personal educational needs. Throughout it all we dealt with the sinking
knowledge of their lack of academic progress, the dreams of them reaching independence
subsiding into a murky fog of our own confusion and self-doubt.
It was October of 2021 when we made the decision to forge ahead and create a school for Jewish children with special needs in North Miami Beach. We would give it our all, we would pour our blood, sweat, and tears into the effort, and maybe, just maybe, we would succeed. We put together a business plan with a crisp executive summary. Next was the creation of a proposed budget, representing nights of research and toil. Seeking out our very first board member was a daunting task. In the blazing Miami heat, at a table outside Starbucks, we signed on our first board member, himself the son of the founders of educational programs in Maryland, as well as the father of a beautiful girl with overwhelmingly complex special needs and medical issues. We flew to Baltimore to spend intensive time with the executive and administrative staff of JEWELS, an inclusive Jewish school that we chose to model, to pick their brains, ask our questions, gain insight, and garner support for our delicately held dreams.

We approached the Rabbis who would comprise our Rabbinical Board and received overwhelming responses of encouragement, acceptance, and raw emotion, at the possibility of finally having a school to serve our local community’s population of children with special needs. One after another, they echoed similar sentiments, that this effort was equal to establishing a synagogue, or any other major building block of a Jewish community. We were greatly encouraged.

The addition of our other board members occurred in quick succession. Our abject fear of approaching people to whom we looked up, and viewed as community leaders, and the outright chutzpah of asking them to join and help support our not-yet-extant organization was combined with the tiny flutter of hope that they would just say ‘yes’; it was a roller coaster of emotions as each one in turn agreed to join the board.
A flurry of activity followed as we agonized over developing a logo, writing content, and creating designs for the brochure, website, and ads while filing our articles of incorporation. Things were beginning to come together, but our greatest battles were yet to be fought and won.
To say it took some convincing to get the local day school and its leaders on board would be rather an understatement.  It was uncharted territory, it was an ambiguous commitment, and it was an untenable request for space on a campus already bursting at the seams with classes already being held in trailers.  How we prayed, how we beseeched, and how we enlisted the help of some of our supporters to prevail upon the school to lease us some space.  
Throughout this process, though we could have easily gone to a plethora of other available locales to rent space for our program, we would not take no for an answer.  We knew with absolute clarity that we needed this location for our children; we strongly believed that the proximity to neurotypical children would be the key to invaluable growth and independence for our children.
 
Yeshiva Toras Chaim Toras Emes (YTCTE) leased us some space in an adjoining area across the street, enrolled our students in its ranks, and agreed to handle our  payroll processing.  While it was clear that the struggle for funding would fall squarely on our shoulders, we were in.
 
Divine providence guided the hiring of our unbelievably talented, incredibly devoted, and extremely seasoned staff members.  The process of hiring was torturous, especially because we had no stability to offer, no assurance of a steady job or continuity; after all, our staff was taking a chance on a wing and a prayer.
 
It was the summer of 2022, a mere nine months after we had formulated our business plan when we began endless cycles of meeting and preparation as we started readying our space for the students we hoped we would have.  Brave parents would have to entrust their precious parcels into the hands of an unknown entity.  In the constantly shifting sands of caring for a child with special needs, voluntarily making any change is awesomely frightening.
 

Before we knew it, it was the end of August, and we slid under the finish line with barely a nanometer of space, completing the final touches just hours before the school opened for its very first day.

Each of our beautiful JEMS children grew, excelled, matured, and made gains toward independence. It was truly a banner year.  We slowly added enrichment: Music therapy, clay art, visiting pets, balloon shows, baking, crafts, and social skills development.  Our students were surrounded by a kaleidoscope of wonderful and exciting experiences.  Now, they were culling lessons from the weekly Torah portion, learning about refining their character traits as our teachers focused on a different one each week. They could finally participate meaningfully at the family Shabbos table; they could finally exult in the wondrous preparations for each exciting holiday.  At the same time, they were being immersed in all manner of academic pursuits, learning math in an experiential way that not only made it digestible and understandable, but fun. They formed an author’s club, practicing writing with their personal word walls, each one on their own level.  They discovered that reading was an attainable skill and that it could be enjoyable instead of frustrating.

All of this would have been enough to declare JEMS a success. Never could we have anticipated that our initial visceral sense of needing to have our school co-located with a Jewish day school would prove prescient.

It began with tentative and shy fifth graders graciously agreeing to spend some time playing games with our students and reviewing the material. It snowballed to include daily recess interaction, and then to middle school students sharing clay art sessions, until we had multiple integration sessions every single day. It was truly hard to tell who benefited more: JEMS students who were eager and excited to strut their stuff, who gained tremendous social skills, or the YTCTE students who couldn’t get enough, telling their teachers and parents that the time they spent with their ‘JEMS friends’ were the highlights of their day.

Hundreds of neurotypical children were affected and changed in ways that no one could have anticipated. The sensitivity and warmth, caring and acceptance, and overwhelming love that clearly went both ways made real waves in our community. We saw neurotypical children dealing with anxiety and feelings of low self-esteem come alive in the nurturing JEMS environment, exposed as they were to the unconditional love of children with special needs who didn’t care about what they may be lacking, seeing them only for the positive within them, and relishing the relationship they shared. Even the most brilliantly contrived character development program couldn’t have been a fraction as successful as the integration program at JEMS. The impact was so real that the teachers had to limit the number of fifth-grade students who would speak about JEMS’ impact at their graduation because almost every single child wanted to shout from the rooftops about how their special friends had helped mold and develop them that year.

We are truly grateful that the prisms of light, the shadows of uncertainty, and the shards of challenge came together in the most beautiful, clear, and sparkling way, with the creation and success of JEMS.

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1117 NE 163rd St., Suite C,
North Miami Beach, FL 33162
786-505-1617
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