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The Latest from the Classroom, and Beyond—SINAI Schools to Hit Riverdale

By: Steve Lipman
for The New York Jewish Week

The Sinai Schools, a network of Jewish special education institutions that began in 1982 with three students at one site in New Jersey and has grown to six locations with 150 students in the state, will establish its first branch in New York City next year.

Sinai has announced that it will open a “school within a school” at the SAR Academy in the Riverdale section of the Bronx beginning in September 2018. Aura Lurie, who has served as a teacher for more than a decade in the SAR Academy “inclusion” special education program, will be director of the Sinai pilot program at SAR.

Lurie will spend the next year finding space at SAR for the Sinai program, hiring teachers, interviewing prospective students and studying the Sinai approach to special education. She says the program is unique — “there’s a need for it.”

The initial Sinai program at SAR will include about a dozen students, ages 6-8, with “a wide range of complex learning challenges and/or developmental disabilities,” Sinai announced. As at the extant Sinai schools, participating boys and girls will be part of the wider student life at SAR, joining other students in activities like prayer services and playground recreation, and being mainstreamed into some classes when their academic abilities allow.

The existing inclusion program will continue to be offered, Lurie said.

This year, the Sinai Schools won several awards in The Accolade Global Films Competition for the network’s short film, “Jacob’s Footprint.” The documentary tells the story of the family of Sinai student Jacob Adler, who has cerebral palsy.

The Sinai program at SAR will include psychologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists and staff members who specialize in music and art therapy. “It’s a pretty integrated approach,” said Rabbi Yisrael Rothwachs, Sinai’s dean.

The new Sinai program is expected to attract Jewish families from New York City and Westchester, Rabbi Rothwachs said. “We have scores of students who are currently traveling from the five boroughs. We’re at capacity.

“If history is an indicator, we’ll grow through the eighth grade at SAR,” he said. “More, if there is an interest.”

While Sinai’s existing programs are based in Orthodox schools, the students enrolled represent “a pretty wide spectrum of the Jewish community,” Rabbi Rothwachs said.