Carlow University and Yeshiva Schools: Learning Together to Discuss Special Education for the Benefit of the Students

It’s usually a safe bet that every classroom at Carlow University is quiet and unoccupied on Sunday evenings. During the spring semester 2017, however, one classroom on the fifth floor of Antonian Hall was in session for a very studious, but different, group of students: teachers and administrators from the Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh, an ultra-orthodox Jewish school located in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood.

“At Yeshiva Schools, students are taught in Judaic, as well as general education,” said Jonathan King, a doctoral student at Carlow, as well as a member of the ultra-orthodox community. This means that Yeshiva’s students are not just taught math, science, and English, but also the Torah, the Talmud, and Jewish traditions.

“Our goal is to provide each student with a meaningful educational experience that is aimed at developing all aspects of the child’s well-being, including the social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual,” wrote Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld, Yeshiva’s dean in a letter to parents. “With this in mind, we have invested a tremendous amount of resources to enhance and strengthen our Special Education Departments for our students in preschool through high school.”

This is a big step for a school and community that traditionally has looked to its own members to solve problems and face challenges. But they also have learned to recognize when they need expertise that exists outside their community, particularly when faced with learning disabilities, personality and temperament issues, and conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

“The school does not have traditional school counselors, although partners from the community are brought in when needed,” said King, who was beginning his studies in the doctoral program when the rabbi asked if he could suggest someone to help the teachers and administrators understand the problems faced by their students. King went to the faculty at Carlow for help and a novel idea for class sessions was born.

Because the Yeshiva School is in session Sunday through Friday, and the Jewish Sabbath is from sundown Friday to sundown on Saturday, Sunday evenings were the only day to gather everyone together. Several times each month, Yeshiva’s teachers and
administrators would come to Antonian Hall to have class taught by Carlow faculty and doctoral students, among them Joseph Roberts, PhD, the chair of the PsyD program.

“We taught the two-hour sessions on Sundays and introduced some of the psychological theories and concepts related to development and various disorders that impact educational settings,” said Roberts. “The Yeshiva faculty was very interested in considering how they might be able to use what they learned in these classes to help their students.”

While Judaic teaching has clear principles about how one is supposed to behave, children and teens who grow up in the culture are not immune from asking difficult questions about their faith or even experiencing what might be called teenage rebellion. The teachers and administrators from the Yeshiva Schools felt better able to address such issues after taking the classes at Carlow.

“The idea for the class is to identify children who may be having problems early, understand what can be done within the school, and then connect them to the resources they need,” said King. “In that respect, we are teaching what (behaviors) are normal for a child, what is not normal, and what should I, as a teacher in the classroom, do to address this.”

Although the first course sequence was completed in June of 2017, collaborations between the Yeshiva Schools and Carlow’s Psychology & Counseling Department continue to evolve. During the 2017-2018 academic year, a doctoral student completed a practicum with the school, engaging in therapy and assessment of children and offering additional support in bridging these two systems. Additional initiatives are planned for the near future between Yeshiva and Carlow University.


By Drew Wilson