School days in most schools are typically spent with a single teacher, in one classroom, except when it’s time for recess, lunch or gym. After moving up to middle school, students are expected to go from class to class for different subjects, stopping at their lockers in between for what they need.
Calling on her experience teaching law at Queens College, raising five Hebrew Academy of Five Towns and Rockaway students, age three to 10, and conversations with her aunt, Stacy Bieder-Mayer developed the Aliyah Program to help students who may have difficulties adjusting. Beverly Bernstein, Bieder-Mayer’s aunt, is the educational director of Orot, an organization that supports Jewish schools and helping students with learning needs.
Bieder-Mayer said she named her program Aliyah after the Hebrew word for to rise up. “That’s what we’d be doing with the students,” the Cedarhurst resident said. “Instead of having them fall through the cracks.”
The program would focus on executive functioning skills, she said. The idea jumps off from the book “Smart but Scattered,” by Peg Dawson, a psychologist at the Center for Learning and Attention Disorders at Seacoast Mental Health Center in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
“Executive functioning skills, according to Dawson, are the cognitive processes that help us make decisions, set and achieve goals and regulate behavior,” Bieder-Mayer said. “She describes a child with weak executive functioning skills as being disorganized, forgetful, acting without thinking, having trouble getting started on a task, losing focus easily, having difficulty competing a task or becoming angry with a change in routine.”
Bieder-Mayer said she believes that the departmentalization of middle school and moving from class to locker to class could make it more difficult for children with weaker executive functioning skills to reach their potential. Her solution would be that students in the Aliyah Program would instead spend school days in one classroom with one teacher who would work closely with three or four students.
The curriculum would be the same, so students that might excel in one or more subjects could rejoin their classmates should they show improvement in the facets they are trying to strengthen, such as organization. “Children have to internalize the strategies,” Bernstein said. “These are life skills. One day they’ll have to meet deadlines for their jobs. These aren’t skills just for school, but skills they’ll take into adult life.”
This wouldn’t be the first idea of Bieder-Mayer suggested to a Five Towns school. Last year HAFTR installed a buddy bench at her request. Students without anyone to play with during recess sit on the bench, and other children are then encouraged to invite them over to join their games.
“I read about it being a solution to some kids having trouble socially and thought it could help everyone,” Bieder-Mayer said. “I’ve gotten so much feedback about kids actually sitting on it and inviting each other over to play. I’m very big on inclusiveness.”
Bieder-Mayer is hosting a meeting at Young Israel of Lawrence Cedarhurst at 8 Spruce Street in Cedarhurst at 7:45 p.m. on Oct. 25, for interested parents and the leaders of local Jewish schools.