When Ilana Picker, one of the head teachers at SINAI’s Karasick Shalem High School at Ma’ayanot, heard about the upcoming Veterans Day Hero 5K Run at Bergen Community College, she knew immediately that the experience would be perfect for her SINAI students. SINAI at Ma’ayanot offers a functional academic high school program designed to prepare students with intellectual and developmental disabilities for rich and productive adult lives. The 5K run was an opportunity to combine adaptive physical education with personal goal-setting and inclusion in the broader local community.
Mrs. Picker partnered with SINAI Physical Therapist Courtney Gelernter to develop a Mind and Body curriculum with a focus on physical fitness and wellness. Sima Kelner, Director of SINAI at Ma’ayanot, looks to the Rambam as an influence on the curriculum development; as both a Torah scholar and physician, the Rambam taught that maintaining a healthy body through exercise is one way of serving God. With a focus on both mind and body through this Torah prism, the Mind and Body curriculum serves to inspire and motivate the students to reach new heights. This curriculum is particularly important for students with special needs who already benefit from instruction on the importance of maintaining daily hygiene and healthy habits in order to improve their physical and mental wellbeing.
In the spirit of Ma’ayanot’s partnership with SINAI and SINAI’s commitment to inclusion, the SINAI students were joined by a number of Ma’ayanot students who signed up for the 5K and trained alongside the SINAI students. In advance of the Veterans’ Day 5K, the students began training two to three times a week, logging the miles they had completed as they looked forward to the big race. Mrs. Kelner explains, “While the 5K was a great motivator, we tried to place the focus on the training, in order for the students to continue daily physical fitness after the 5K as well.” Alongside the emphasis on setting and completing a goal, students were encouraged to reflect on gaining increased stamina and agility and the role fitness plays in living a healthy and full life. To support the concept of the mind and body health connection, Mrs. Picker and Mrs. Gelernter designed mini exercises, breathing techniques, and mindfulness exercises that all SINAI at Ma’ayanot teachers incorporated into the girls’ daily curriculum.
The Hero 5K Run raises money for American veterans. In the weeks before the race, SINAI students learned about the important contributions veterans made to our country and even had the opportunity to meet with a veteran, who visited the students to speak about his experience in the military and help give the students an understanding of the impact of their fundraising and training efforts. In the weeks since his visit, the students have remained in touch with the veteran and continue to reflect on the contribution these men and women make to society. SINAI at Ma’ayanot students are often the recipients of community help and resources, and the girls enjoyed the opportunity to see how they can also give back to their community.
After weeks of training, Veterans Day saw the students out in force alongside parents, siblings, therapists, teachers, and Ma’ayanot students, running with a sense of unity, purpose, and teamwork. Completing the three miles was not easy, but as the students crossed the finish lines, they were greeted by family and friends cheering, holding signs, and calling their names. The students finished with an overwhelming sense of pride and satisfaction.
With this accomplishment behind them, the students continue the Mind and Body curriculum, training twice a week and incorporating new mindfulness exercises into the school day. The students are looking forward to running another 5K in the spring but as Mrs. Kelner explains, “The Mind and Body curriculum is about more than the race itself; with an emphasis on physical fitness, stamina, agility, and mindfulness, the students have learned the greater value of mind and body wellness. Beyond the physical strength they have gained, SINAI at Ma’ayanot students are now empowered to believe that they can achieve any goal they put their minds to.”
This article was originally published in The Jewish Link.