OU Expert Lends Special Ed Expertise To Houston School

31 Oct 2008

Yachad/NJCD is an agency of the Orthodox Union that provides educational and social inclusion programs through its two major components, Yachad, for children and adults with learning and developmental disabilities, and Our Way for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Dr. Lichtman is an experienced psychologist who has worked with adults, teens, and kids with disabilities for many years. He has two Master’s degrees as well as a Doctorate and semicha (rabbinical ordination) from Yeshiva University. He has worked as a teacher, school psychologist, and principal in both Jewish and public schools, in both mainstream and special educational settings. He often acts as a consultant to schools and agencies that work with individuals who have special needs.

Dr. Lichtman declared, “It is very gratifying to be asked to help a community develop and implement a comprehensive plan for the special needs community from the ground up. It allows Yachad to bring our special combination of professional expertise, combined with love and understanding in our trademark ‘inclusive’ package, that will positively impact the entire Jewish community – not just those with special needs.”

Houston, with a thriving Jewish community, has not yet been able to offer regular programming and educational classes for those with disabilities. Now, with funding from the Alexander Institute administered through Houston’s Board of Jewish Education, it is able to utilize Dr. Lichtman’s expertise to develop programs to better serve those with disabilities. The first location where programming was considered was the Robert M. Beren Academy, an Orthodox day school in Houston serving grades K-12.

Dr. Lichtman said he had three goals in mind when first traveling to Houston: To work with educational institutions to sensitize them to the need for providing services and how best to facilitate inclusion; to create inclusive programming at the Beren Academy for children with disabilities; and to help Beren be able to accept more children with a variety of special needs.

Under Dr. Lichtman’s guidance, the Beren Academy is now gearing up to offer educational classes that mix mainstream students and students with special needs. Yachad will be providing ongoing support through training Beren faculty members to teach children with special needs; providing sensitivity training to the mainstream students; and providing educational materials.

Additionally, Yachad will also send its own staff from New York to help facilitate those goals. Yachad plans to begin a chapter in Houston, early next year.

Dr. Lichtman noted, “This new Yachad chapter that we will create in Houston in January is somewhat unusual. Yachad typically starts a chapter by offering social and recreational programs before branching out to offering educational services, but this time, in Houston, it is the other way around.”

Rabbi Ari Segal, Head of School at Beren Academy, declared, “We reached out to Dr. Lichtman as he is widely known as the leading specialist in Jewish Special Education. Beren had always wanted to find a way to serve children with special needs in a meaningful way, but could never get a program off the ground.”

Rabbi Segal continued, “When Dr. Lichtman arrived in Houston, he looked at the resources Beren has – a great building, professionals with serious experience in working with children and adults with special needs, and a strong desire to service this important population – and suggested we consider an alternate model. Instead of trying to offer parents the whole loaf of bread and not being able to do that, offer them a slice. Get the program started and see where it takes you. He really helped us break through the block/paralysis we were having and to take it one small step at a time. It’s the first step and we hope it fills a need that these children and families have.”

Rabbi Segal plans to hold classes with both mainstream students and students with special needs one day a week. While experiencing social integration, these students will learn about Jewish holidays, the parsha and other aspects of Judaism.

Dr. Shulamis Pollak, a staff member at Beren and a psychologist who has worked previously with Dr. Lichtman, will be the coordinator and Yachad liason for the program.

For more information, contact Dr. Lichtman at lichtmanj@ou.org or 212-613-8234.