Jewish schools, Hanna Perkins Center for Child Development form special bond
Five Jewish preschools in Greater Cleveland are taking advantage of a program funded by Cuyahoga County that helps to identify children with special needs who act out and have trouble fitting into their classrooms.
The Hanna Perkins Center for Child Development, a nonprofit organization in Shaker Heights, sends specialists into preschools and early childhood centers to help these children.
As a result, children who might otherwise be asked to leave their school of choice are able to get their emotional needs on track, said Pam Millar, who coordinates the Special Needs Child Care Program for Hanna Perkins.
“We have licensed psychoanalysts who are invited to the schools,” said Millar, Hanna Perkins’ associate director of community engagement and school programs.
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“We form a relationship with the school.
“The goal is for the therapist to provide teachers with strategies that will help them work with children who may have some emotional behavioral needs.”
Jewish preschools using the program are Hebrew Academy of Cleveland in Cleveland Heights; Park Preschool at Park Synagogue East in Pepper Pike; JDN Early Childhood Center at Bellefaire JCB in Shaker Heights; Solon Jewish Preschool at Solon Chabad and the Joseph and Florence Mandel Jewish Day School in Beachwood.
Each school decides independently whether to use the program and then contracts with the Cuyahoga County Office of Early Childhood through Invest in Children, a public/private partnership administered by the county.
All five are member schools of the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland, which communicates the existence of the program to the schools.
“One of (Hanna Perkins’) board members, Susie Meisel, is also on the board of the JECC,” Millar said. “She was the one who brought this up (to the JECC) and got the ball rolling.”
Anne Sportas, director of Park Preschool, said the program has been beneficial to children there.
“It is my philosophy to have as many children mainstreamed into the preschool experience as possible,” Sportas said. “It really goes along with Jewish values in respecting all of G-d’s creatures and that all people are created in G-d’s image.”
Sportas said Park Preschool has an intervention specialist on staff who assists special-needs students with behavioral or educational issues.
“We work very hard with all our teachers, in conjunction with the Hanna Perkins specialists, to ensure that these children with special needs have their needs addressed and can participate in all of our activities successfully,” she said. “Children with special needs learn to play and interact with all children, and the teachers receive guidance and support from the Hanna Perkins staff, as well as periodic service training, which we appreciate very much.”
The special needs program is also used by Park Synagogue’s Hebrew school and Sunday school, said Rabbi Joshua Hoffer Skoff, senior rabbi at Park.
Millar said Hanna Perkins specialists observe the children and work with the teachers to figure out what to do.
“When a child misbehaves, they are trying to express a feeling that they can’t use words to express,” she said. “Our therapists try to help the teachers understand the child’s behavior, and they will continue to provide the help as long as the teacher requests it.
“The goal is the next time the teacher deals with a similar situation, you want the teacher to be able to handle it (himself or herself). We want to ingrain that in the teacher.”
Millar said the program also seeks to educate teachers “to identify when they need to call us in order to prevent the concerns from getting out of hand or becoming too big to handle.”
“When you have a child who has behavioral concerns, they won’t last long in a preschool program,” she said. “They will put them out.
“We are often dealing with children who have been put out of three or four schools because the teacher doesn’t know how to help the child. The goal is to not keep putting these children out; we continue to provide consistent care.”
In addition to consultation services and state-approved teacher education, the program offers parent education and support, Millar said.
Before coming to Hanna Perkins in 2013, Millar served as director of the early learning child care center at The Centers for Families and Children in Cleveland, where she worked for 32 years.
Millar said she would come to any preschools or early childhood centers in the area to explain about the program. If interested, call her at 216-929-0200.