IVDU School for Special Education Wins First Place in ‘Engineering for School’ Category in Mainstream STEAM Competition

18 Jun 2024

Marilyn and Sheldon David IVDU Boys Upper School was First Special Ed School to Participate in the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education’s Annual Innovation Day

In an unprecedented win for Special Education and inclusion, a team of five 10th graders from the Marilyn and Sheldon David IVDU Boys Upper School recently won first place in the “Engineering and Schools” category. The win was at the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education’s (CIJE) Innovation Day 2024 for their invention of a device that facilitates discrete communication between students and staff.

IVDU is an Orthodox network of schools in New York for boys and girls. The school serves students from Kindergarten to age 21 with mild-to-moderate learning, social, and developmental delays.

It operates under the aegis of Yachad, an international organization dedicated to enriching the lives of Jewish individuals with disabilities and their families.

Launched in 2001, CIJE is a nonprofit dedicated to enriching Jewish education at more than 200 Jewish day schools and yeshivot across 18 U.S. states, via hands-on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) learning. 

Following a year of coursework as part of CIJE’s two-year Scientific and Biomedical Engineering high school curriculum, students are invited to participate in Innovation Day. This competition encourages them to identify a daily object or process that could benefit from refinement. Working in teams, students are tasked with conceiving and designing a functional model to solve their identified challenge, using engineering principles and coding. 

CIJE’s recent Innovation Day 2024 drew over 1,400 students from 43 U.S. schools to three separate locations, including the American Dream Meadowlands shopping and entertainment complex, in Rutherford, New Jersey, where the IVDU students presented their inventions to a group of judges and guests. 

This was IVDU’s first time entering the competition and the first time a Special Ed school competed in Innovation Day. 

“We don’t view IVDU as a Special Ed school,” said CIJE’s Vice President of Development Philip Brazil.

 “To us, it’s just one of our schools. Knowing IVDU, the accomplishment is even greater.”

The project solves a common challenge encountered in most schools, where students and staff are frequently disrupted by intercom announcements. The IVDU boys’ device facilitates quiet, direct communication between staff and individual students, via pre-programmed messages that are frequently exchanged in school settings. Resembling a pager and built into students’ desks, the equipment operates independently of Wi-Fi — protecting it from being hacked, and freeing schools from having to grant students internet access.

The IVDU boys’ creation was one of over 500 prototypes presented at Innovation Day. They passed two rounds of judging to win first place in “Engineering in Schools,” one of 14 award categories.

Along with a second IVDU team that entered the competition with a different invention, the boys began working on their prototype around Sukkot time. They had the help of STEAM director and teacher Dovid Teitelbaum, who initiated IVDU’s participation in the competition, and the support of science teacher David Ackerman, who assisted with visual presentations. Additionally, history and public speaking teacher Sarah Greenberg coached them on their oral presentations.

“I am so proud of all of them,” said Greenberg. “Most stayed after school and worked on their inventions during their free time. Their win was just icing on the cake.” 

Greenberg expressed that the boys got to experience success and are using it to springboard forward. 

“After they won, the boys began discussing potential inventions for next year. CIJE Innovation Day gets IVDU students excited about learning.” 

Head of IVDU Schools Rabbi Michoel Druin noted, “At IVDU schools, we work hard to provide our students with suitable opportunities to enter and compete in the mainstream world. To our delight, their hard work and the dedication of our staff led our team to win first place. Like it says in Masechet Megillah, ‘Yagati U’Matzati, Taamin — If you put in effort, you will find success.’”