Dec 11, 2015

Local Jewish Day Schools Ramp Up Together to Support Diverse Learners in Classrooms

South Palm Beach County’s five Jewish day schools are looking forward to advancing their effectiveness with diverse learners in their classrooms. Together, they have embarked on a course of professional development with Hidden Sparks, a national organization dedicated to developing and supporting professional development programs for Jewish day schools to increase understanding and support for teaching students with an array of learning differences.

Click here enjoy more photos from the December 8 Hidden Sparks training.

Hidden Sparks is sharing its expertise locally through a new partnership with the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County and the participating schools: Donna Klein Jewish Academy, Hillel Day School of Boca Raton, Torah Academy of Boca Raton, Yeshiva High School and Yeshiva Tiferes Torah. The Hidden Sparks “Learning Lenses” course and “Internal Coaching” program are made possible in the community by a generous education grant from the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education (CIJE), as well as support from the Federation and the participating schools.

“We are pleased to be partnering with Hidden Sparks to provide vital training for instructors to help students with learning differences to reach their full potential in school and life,” said Jason Cury, president of CIJE. “Hidden Sparks is meeting an important need in the Jewish day school community and we are happy to provide support and assistance as part of our mission to help all Jewish day school children succeed.”

“Bringing Hidden Sparks to our community is another example of our diverse local day schools coming together for professional development to increase their capacity to enable each student to succeed,” said Marilyn Nachman, Director of the Federation’s Department of School Educational Services. “We are pleased to be not only the first community in South Florida to benefit from Hidden Sparks’ expertise, but also to be the first community overall in which all local day schools (both elementary and high school) will collaborate in this training. We know that Hidden Sparks' high quality ongoing professional development training will provide the educators additional learning opportunities through engagement and reflection.”

"Teachers are at the heart of the educational process, and educator quality is one of the most important influences upon student achievement," said Marilyn Nachman, Director of the Federation’s Department of School Educational Services. “Recognizing this value, our community has always strived to support quality professional development toward increasing our educators’ knowledge, skills, attitudes and beliefs so that they are better equipped to enable all students to learn and succeed.”

Debbie Niderberg, Co-founder and Executive Director of Hidden Sparks, is excited about the new partnership. "It's very impressive that the day schools and Federation made this shared commitment to building capacity to support diverse learners. While the curriculum and strategies begin with the 'hidden sparks' in classrooms, the coaching and content help improve the skills and understanding of all teachers, ultimately benefiting all students. We are very grateful to CIJE for their vision and support, to the South Palm Beach Federation and the schools for their collaboration, and to the Ravsak Jewish Community Day School Network for helping to make initial connections and their ongoing involvement.”

The Head of Donna Klein Jewish Academy (DKJA), Helena Levine, was instrumental in building the Hidden Sparks partnership at the community level. “I was pleased to address our South Palm Beach County Heads of School Professional Council about developing a partnership with both Hidden Sparks and our Federation,” said Levine, who heads the only K-12 Jewish day school in the community. “After researching Hidden Sparks, which benefits students with diverse learning needs and their families, the value of the program was such that we knew our schools would benefit greatly. The value of this professional development for all local day schools, and the training resources available, will be an enhancement to our Jewish community at large. This is an important investment in our staff to augment our ability to help students with different learning styles succeed in our classrooms.”

The training will open at DKJA on the Jewish Federation campus with the Hidden Sparks Learning Lenses core curriculum on December 7 and 8. A group of educators from each of the schools will be increasing their awareness and skills in observation, reflection and planning for all students in their classrooms. The educators will gather for further training on January 5 and 6.

Then, on February 3 and 4, two to three educators from each school will participate in further intensive Internal Coach training. This program is designed to support a school’s long term ability to understand and teach all students in the classroom, as the prepared coaches train members of their schools’ faculties in understanding and teaching to diverse learning styles and behaviors. With ongoing mentoring support, each school’s coaches provide classroom-centered coaching and strategies for children, and guide their colleagues to be reflective educators.

Hidden Sparks facilitators, Claire Wurtzel, who is co-Educational Director of Hidden Sparks and was the Director of Faculty Development for the New York City Schools Attuned initiative for All Kinds of Minds, and Hollis Dannaham, a senior Hidden Sparks coach and instructor at Hunter College, will conduct the initial training, to be followed by an intensive mentoring program led by Bianca Senker, a long-time educator at the Kesher program in Schek Hillel in North Miami Beach. Elizabeth Fox, Hidden Sparks’ Director of Education, will also be present to help launch the programs.

Since inception in 2006, Hidden Sparks has trained 150 coaches in 50 Jewish day schools in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, Chicago and Israel. It also offers the Hidden Sparks Without Walls webinar program free of charge to teachers and parents. More information can be found at their website

The Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County's School Educational Services facilitates and supports joint activities and professional development among the community’s Jewish day schools, congregational schools, early childhood centers.

Click here enjoy more photos from the December 8 Hidden Sparks training.