Supporting children with diverse learning needs during COVID

REACH is stepping up to help every child get the education they deserve.

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This pre-COVID photo shows what teachers are pivoting to provide online: warm, interactive education.

Learning virtually is a struggle for many students, but for students with learning difficulties, the pandemic presents even further challenges. In Jewish day schools, one local agency is stepping up to help every child get the education they deserve.

Resources for Educational Achievement Collaboration and Health (REACH), a division of Associated Talmud Torahs, was founded in 2011 to serve children with diverse learning needs. Its services include providing consultation to administrators and teachers, coaching and training teachers, and delivering interventions to students based on each child's personal learning profile.

Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, the REACH program works with each school to fit its needs. In the times of COVID-19, when some schools are opening, others are exclusively virtual, and some are using a blended model, REACH staff are working with teachers and administrators to figure out how to provide for students in need.

"It's a time of a lot of unknowns," said Ruth "Rusi" Sukenik, REACH's Director of Student Services. "We're doing our best right now to work with the schools and devise plans that meet the needs of their students' learning challenges, but it's looking so different and stretching everybody's flexibility muscles because things are changing daily."

For Sukenik and other REACH professionals, this means extensive planning and collaboration in addition to attending online trainings to hone their skills for the unprecedented year ahead. Some sessions focus on how to help children with specific learning disabilities succeed in a virtual learning space, and others offer technological assistance and educate about how to use new software in the classroom. This knowledge can then be disseminated among day schools once they've made choices about how to progress.

"Preparing on all fronts" helps REACH serve each of the different day schools and their students, Sukenik said. With many schools preparing to open in different ways, it's important to consider many alternatives. For example, if a school is planning to use a pod model to have students in the same groups all the time, how can there be pullout classes with students from different pods? For schools that plan to teach wholly virtually, how can parents develop a home environment conducive to learning, and what is the best software for teachers to keep students engaged?

"Part of [the process] is exciting-it's going to push us to increase communication and coordination-but at the same time, it's a little scary because it makes things challenging and less flexible," Sukenik said.

REACH is empowering people to face these challenges-expanding its scope to educate teachers about virtual learning, help students at home stay motivated with private and integrated instruction, and work with families to meet students' emotional and academic needs. By offering consultation, professional development, and direct services during the crisis as well as during normal times, REACH is an invaluable resource for many day school students.

"We're committed to helping every child where they're at," Sukenik said. "And everyone is doing their best to make sure it's happening."

REACH is a partner with JUF in serving our community.

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