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.