Our Love. Their Courage. A Donald Berman Center
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The Meshi School

Multi-Handicaps, with an Emphasis on StrengthThe establishment of the Meshi Elementary School in 2003 marked a milestone in Meshi’s development—and gave its own “graduates” from kindergarten onwards a top-notch educational institution that continues to offer Meshi’s exemplary therapeutic and educational approach. Since 2003, a new grade has been added every year. Today the school numbers over 60 students aged six through 14, in grades one through seven.

The school is housed in a building near the Early Childhood Development Center, and includes three floors of classrooms, therapy rooms, and a therapeutic playground. Due to overcrowding, an adjacent apartment is being rented to accommodate the older children. Unfortunately, the distance between the facilities—and the need to go outdoors to reach each place-- is a particular hardship for the children.

Multi-Handicaps, with an Emphasis on Strength

The major, all-encompassing goal of the Meshi School is to cultivate and strengthen every student’s cognitive and social skills. Yet it is impossible to ignore the very difficult physical state of these growing children. While their primary disabilities are motor and neurological (cerebral palsy and spina bifida), many are visually or hearing-impaired as well. A full 20% of the students have difficulty speaking due to severe muscle damage, or to a lack of oxygen at birth that damaged language & cognitive skill. Regardless of their physical handicaps, Meshi emphasizes the children’s strengths.  All activities—academic, therapeutic and social—are geared toward improving the child’s quality of life, and granting him or her the greatest measure of autonomy that can be achieved.

Education That’s Special

Students in the Meshi School enjoy small classes, with six to eight children per class, taught by a special education teacher and two assistants (“shadows”) per class.Special Education

Like schoolchildren everywhere, Meshi students have schoolbags, report cards, tests, and fieldtrips—and enjoy being part of a group in a real school experience.

A special curriculum featuring reading, writing, math, sciences, and Jewish subjects is taught via innovative methods, tailor-made to reach each student. Top importance is placed upon teaching a child to read, a task much more difficult for children who cannot speak. Reading leads to writing, and major breakthroughs in communication and independence. Math studies, too, are geared at giving the student practical skills, such as counting money and change when he makes purchases.

A Laptop for Every Student

The Meshi School boasts one of the most advanced programs in Israel in computer-aided education for the disabled. An expert Assistive Technology specialist oversees the school’s sophisticated program to empower the severely handicapped student by use of a meticulously adapted computer--spurring communication and knowledge, and serving as a powerful tool for independent exploration.

Students are first introduced to the computer from first grade, where a careful assessment is made to determine computer accessibility for each child’s disabilities. By second grade, every student is given a custom-adapted laptop: some with special white-on-black screens for those with vision impairment, others with large joysticks, keyboard, and a mouse that even spastic or very weak hands can grasp. “Talking computers” for children who cannot speak stand at the zenith of a range of communications computers. Even wheelchairs and standers must be adapted for comfortable computer use. But the effort is well worth it---Meshi students work true wonders with their amazing laptops.

After instructing students in the use of the “Word” program and basic Internet skills, teachers begin incorporating the computer into class work. Students complete worksheets and homework on the computer, write compositions, and use the school’s secure Internet to research information. Older students are adept at making Power Point presentations for science projects, writing and editing a school newspaper, creating educational games, and more. And after school, e-mail communications connect the student to family and friends.

Strengthening Body & Soul:
Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapy for Tomorrow

The Meshi School’s intensive physical, occupational and speech therapy programs boast excellent programs adapted to the needs of growing children and adolescents. With the long-term goal of reaching full function within the community, the Meshi interdisciplinary team closely involves the students in setting goals and evaluating progress.

Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapy for TomorrowA Meshi innovation involves taking half of a class out for therapy sessions, while half remain working in the classroom. This method helps retain students’ self-respect, being together with their peers for treatment instead of being singled out and removed from class.

The physical therapists look towards the future to strengthen the children’s bodies against decreasing muscle tone, fatigue, deformations, asymmetry and pain. Occupational and physical therapists join forces for meticulous work in mastering a handicapped student’s independent passage from wheelchair to the toilet, to the table, or to bed. To help children acquire practical living skills, the OT staff offers cooking classes where students are taught  to use kitchen utensils and to be able to feed themselves, as well as many other independence-aimed activities. Specialized games play an important role in helping children improve fine motor coordination, development and coordination in an enjoyable, creative way. Best, these games give students an opportunity for social interaction and fun.

The staff also takes great pains to acquire the top wheelchairs and other equipment to give these handicapped children the finest technological tools for enhancing their mobility and function.

A major emphasis is placed on intensive speech therapy, in cooperation with teachers. With or without computer-aided communication, students are taught to express themselves and improve speech and communication abilities with the world at large.

Going Out Into the World

A flagship project of the Meshi School’s entire interdisciplinary team is to take students outside the schoolroom for regular outings. The school’s close proximity to Jerusalem’s Bukharian Market gives students a chance to explore firsthand the colorful sights and aromas wafting about this busy marketplace and its old-world craftsmen and shops. Yet each of these excursions requires military-like strategy to prepare and execute. On an academic level, the math teacher reviews how to count change when buying, the teachers help children compose their shopping lists on computer, the nature of different occupations is discussed, and much more. Yet the mere movement of the wheelchairs and walkers along the busy thoroughfare presents daunting challenges to children and staff alike. Finally, the reactions of the public to these handicapped children can often be confusing and painful, and are always a topic of class discussion afterwards. Yet these small steps just outside Meshi’s door become the very foundation of each child’s journey into the outside world of life.

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