By Batya Graber
King David teaches in Psalm 100 “Ivdu et Hashem be-simcha, bo-u lefanav bi-renanah -- Serve God with gladness, come before him with joyous song.” And therein lays the key to the best kept secret in Brooklyn -- the IVDU Upper School, a division of Yachad/National Jewish Council of Disabilities (NJCD) | Jewish Disabilities Integration. Through academic instruction, social and life skills building classes, and vocational training, The IVDU School emphasizes the tools needed to help its students with special needs to live more independent and happy lives through succeeding in the world of work.
Yachad/NJCD is an agency of the Orthodox Union that provides social, educational, and recreational “inclusive” programs for youth and young adults with disabilities in communities throughout North America. NJCD advocates for people with disabilities and is the premier national resource center for Jewish families whose children have special needs.
The IVDU Upper School (with separate divisions for boys and girls ages 13-21), located in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, is a pre-vocational high school that prepares students with a broad range of disabilities to transition into young adulthood by maximizing their strengths and readying them for the world of work ahead of them. With provided transportation, IVDU students attend the school from all five boroughs.
IVDU students participate in a specialized vocational training enrichment program as part of their regular curriculum of academic, social and life skills. Over the past two years, the vocational program has developed into customized work experience based upon student interest and developmental level.
Declared Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, Dean of IVDU Schools and National Director of Yachad/NJCD, “Our mission is to have each student meet his or her own unique potential. One of our most important areas of concentration is to prepare them for the world of work. Work is much more than just a job or a pay check. It is self-esteem, time spent meaningfully, contributing to society and so much more. As such, we devote limitless time and energy to teach social skills in general and especially within the context of a work environment. This, together with real-life vocational experiences, prepares them for real jobs.”
"Providing our students with vocational experiences offers them the knowledge and confidence to ensure an independent and fulfilling adult life,” explained Mrs. Chavie Kahn, acting Principal of the IVDU Upper School.
The onsite jobs put into action the classroom discussions and concepts regarding key tools to be successful in life. These tools include computer skills; how to appropriately handle a work-related problem; job specific tasks; resume building; social skills, such as communicating with a boss and peers; appropriate dress and hygienic practice; and behavioral skills, such as decision making, self-control, travel training and personal safety. Role playing, content-based guided readings, and applying skills learned in the context of the real world, help students to understand appropriate behavior in different settings
Every Thursday, IVDU students go to work at their assigned community job placement, including: museums, hospitals, offices, stores, libraries, schools and more. IVDU’s dedicated staff spends tireless hours promoting their students and recruiting job placements. This semester, every student in the school has secured an individualized job/vocational placement based upon their interests and skill level.
At their job sites, office work responsibilities may include cutting, taking orders and making copies. At pre-schools, students may act as teaching assistants – leading story time, organizing projects and assisting with children. In stores, students will stock shelves, price items, sort packages, give or make change and take inventory; they may sort books at libraries or apprentice to develop skills as a handyman.
The school will also work to set up pre-vocational training, such as connecting with real estate training preparatory programs, taking practice courses for the civil service exams, and preparation for Driver Education courses. The work experience gained from the IVDU Vocational Program helped prepare an alumna to succeed towards her goal of working in schools with children. She was accepted to study at a teacher training seminary in Israel because she was able to prove her ability to handle responsibilities and to work well without supervision.
According to Eliana Porath, Director of IVDU Schools, “However possible, we customize their placements based upon development level. Once a student is able to master the required skills of one job, we will rotate them into a job requiring a new set of skills in order to maximize their employment options in the future. With each new job they are given a new set of skills to utilize, and are thriving within a setting they enjoy.”
As part of the educational vocational training program, each student receives both small group and individualized lessons. Students receive a developmentally appropriate job placement in the community and a teacher or assistant acts as their job coach in order to help them acclimate to their assigned work tasks, assist in supervising their skill development, and help them through the day.
Students are evaluated based upon job performance and vocational development. In addition, the school is meeting the goals detailed in the student’s individual IEP (Individualized Education Program). Guest speakers are set up to visit the IVDU students and discuss their professions in order to increase students’ knowledge of various employment paths and options.
Explained Dr. Lichtman, “Depending on his or her age, in addition to the nature and intensity of his or her particular challenges, our IVDU students typically stay until the age of 21. On average they attend our school for about six years. After our students graduate, we work with them even more intensely to prepare them for jobs and to find jobs either through our Day Habilitation or our Vocational Services programs at Yachad/NJCD.”
Additionally, the school has a full spectrum curriculum to maximize student potential in both their professional and personal lives. An example is the boys’ adaptive physical education program, which currently teaches karate in order to teach discipline and the ability to stand-up for oneself, when needed. The IVDU students also have Inclusion activities with local yeshivas for learning, holiday activities, and weekly lunch-time get-togethers.
“Teaching special needs students’ the necessary vocational skills gives them the opportunity to become productive and valued members of the workforce, and more importantly contributing members of society,” stated the IVDU Director. “When students graduate from IVDU, they already have applicable work experience for their job resumes. Thus, companies that may once have been reluctant to hire individuals with special needs learn that they are capable of not only accomplishing, but succeeding.”
“The maturity, responsibility, and joy gained from being able to hold a job is a lifelong tool,” she said.
Caption: Students of the IVDU Upper School at work as part of the school’s Vocational Program that matches their developmental skills and interests with jobs to best help them develop independent and happy lives.
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