Creating a Positive Environment for All Children

By: Mrs. Baila Gansburg, Rabbi Gavriel Ohayon, Ms. Tracy Brown, Morah Leah Gansburg
from South Florida Jewish Academy

Differentiated Instruction

Subject(s) of entry:
Art, Engineering, Foreign Language, Gemara, Math, Science, Social and Emotional Learning, Technology, Tefila

Experiential Education, PBL - project based learning, Social and Emotional Learning, 21st Century Skills

Grade(s) to which this was taught:
K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, Elementary school, Middle school, High school

Grade(s) for which this will be useful:
K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, Elementary school, Middle school, High school

The South Florida Jewish Academy engages in a holistic approach to education. All teachers, in every subject and at every level work seamlessly as a team to put together a comprehensive plan for each student. This manifests itself in numerous creative and innovative programs and curricula.

Entry Narrative

חנוך לנער על פי דרכו גם כי יזקין לא יסור ממנה.
Educate a child according to his way, so even when he grows old he will not deviate from it.
(Proverbs 22:6)

There are many explanations and commentaries on this particular verse. Many are puzzled as to what King Solomon was getting at. One interpretation lies at the very heart of the South Florida Jewish Academy’s raison d’etre.

“Educate a child according to his (or her) way”. In other words, there is no one way to educate a child; not all students are formed from the same mold. True, we are all created in the image of G-d, but G-d is infinite, so His creatures have infinite variations. At each stage of life, we differ from one another. Some differences are insignificant and superficial; hair color, race, gender and size. Other differences are more consequential; emotions, intellect and social skills.

South Florida Jewish Academy is a school entirely devoted to this concept. At each grade level, and in every subject, the staff is aware that students learn differently. Inclusion and differentiated instruction is the motif and mission statement of the academy. This is very apparent from the moment one passes through the doors. From the principal and teachers, to the administrative staff and even the building maintenance crew, patience and love is the common denominator.

Here we will highlight and describe a number of ideas that are designed to enable each child to learn and succeed. Some of the programs are subject- or grade- specific, others are universal.


Category: Differentiated Learning
Grades: Middle & High School

Teaching Talmud is challenging under the best of circumstances, as any teacher knows. The subject matter is abstract, and at times very far removed from the students’ daily life. The multitude of opinions can be difficult to keep track of. We also need to bear in mind that the Gemara is written in Aramaic, not Hebrew, and there are no vowels or punctuation. Children with reading difficulties and others with a limited attention span, face compounded obstacles.

The creative solution that Rabbi Gavriel Ohayon came up with has really worked. Rabbi O, as he is affectionately known by his middle- and high- school students, wrote a play together with his class. The students collaborated on the script-writing, and then chose their roles. The section of Gemara came alive as they had to use their creative talents and their writing skills to bring the play to fruition. Then, as they rehearsed, and finally performed, the play they grasped the nuances of the debate and the substance of the law. The accolades they received from their audience, fellow students, faculty and parents boosted their self-esteem and feeling of accomplishment.

We have attached two scripts below.

1 Middle School Gemara Drama Script.pdf  is the script that is on the video above.
2 Middle School Gemara Drama Script.pdf is another play that the students wrote and performed

Category: Social & Emotional Learning
Grades: All

Many of the students attending the South Florida Jewish Academy have transferred from other schools where they were unable to flourish. They come to the school not believing in themselves, with feelings of inadequacy and apathy. Some of these students have not had any friends, and worse yet, others have been bullied for being “different.”

The “Sister Sister” program addresses these issues and more. The idea is not unique; the “Big Brother” and “Big Sister” programs across the country are similar. What is special about “Sister Sister” is that both the older and the younger child have their own challenges. In the past, neither of them felt loved or useful. The program gives them both a sense of purpose and camaraderie. Special teachers and activities are prepared for them; a seamstress came in and taught them how to sew. The pride that they felt and showed when they had mastered this fine art was a joy to behold.

The introductory video features a segment (2:45 minutes) where “Sister Sister” is explained.


Category: Tefilla, Foreign Language
Grades: Middle & High School

Moshe (a High-School student with Down’s Syndrome) reads from the Torah at Morning Minyan.

Morning Minyan is a very important part of the school day. The pre-Bar Mitzvah students as well as those who have already celebrated their Bar Mitzvah gather every day at 8:15 am for the Shacharit services. This instills discipline in the participants, as they realize that they are needed to make the Minyan. Many of the boys are joined by their parents, giving them an opportunity to share the responsibility of getting ready, putting on Tefillin and Davening together.

The students rotate and take the responsibility for leading the services, and they also prepare the Torah Readings for Monday and Thursday Minyans. All children are given the opportunity and responsibility to master the art of reading form the Torah, which is no small feat. As you can see from the accompanying video, the Minyan encourages everyone, no matter the challenge, to try their hand – and succeed.


Category: Parent-Teacher Communication
Grades: All

Communication between teachers and parents is an essential part of all schools and at every level. We are all familiar with the traditional model of parent-teacher conferences, where the parents meet individually with each teacher. At SFJA they take a holistic approach to conferences; each parent meets with the entire team of teachers as well as the principal. This teamwork approach makes sure that everyone is on the same page. The teachers and parents strategize and brainstorm together to come up with the very best approach to breed success.

1 Integrated Parent-Teacher Conference PEP.pdf is the Personal Education Plan that is developed for every student in the South Florida Jewish Academy.


Category: Science, Art, Engineering, Mathematics, Technology
Grades: Middle & High School

Teaching science can be as challenging as Talmud study! Once again unfamiliar terms are being used and abstract concepts are being discussed. Many times, the student fails to understand how these scientific concepts relate to their personal lives and how it might prepare them for the future.

Ms. Tracy Brown has found a fun and creative way to deliver important lessons while keeping her classes engaged. By adopting a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Mathematics) program, she has incorporated many different types of learning and skills into her science classes. She has adopted the materials from K’nex.

Realizing that many of her students do not respond to traditional, frontal, book learning, Ms. Tracy has made science come alive; she had her class build its own amusement park. She understands the individual skills and strengths that each child brings to a project. Some are involved in planning, others in drawing the designs and others actually build the pieces of their amusement park. As you can see from the attached video interview, this was a big hit!

1 Stem KnexProject.pdf provides a brief description of the project

Entrant Bio(s)

Mrs. Baila Gansburg is the principal and founder of the South Florida Jewish Academy, a K-12 school that is dedicated to the inclusion of children who learn differently. Rabbi Ohayon, Ms. Tracy and Morah Leah are all part of an amazing team of teachers, specialists and therapists who bring out the best in their very diverse student body.