Congregation Shaare Emeth

Saint Louis, Missouri, USA

Areas of Inclusion: Autism, B’nai Mitzvah, Mental Health, and Religious School

About the Congregation

Congregation Shaare Emeth

11645 Ladue Road

Saint Louis, MO 63141

Number of Congregants: 1700

Contact Information

Liessa Alperin

Inclusion Programming

Does this congregation have an inclusion committee?


Developing Our Program

Our programming and policies that support our inclusive programming were developed over time. We have found ourselves being both proactive in terms of what are perceived needs in our Shaare Emeth community as well as the greater St. Louis community as well as reactive when we find ourselves with new opportunities to serve those in need. Our congregation has always had a strong history of being inclusive. We were one of the first congregations to provide interpretive signing at services and have always had a special relationship with the hearing impaired community of St. Louis. As our Religious School went through a strategic School Renewal plan in 2005 to examine our approach to Jewish education, inclusion of all children was very important in the new program and its format. This coincided with the hiring of a new director for our school with a background in special education as well as changes in our federations support programming for congregational learning.

Nationally two out of every ten Jewish families face the challenge of raising a child with special needs. At Shaare Emeth we know that more than 20% of our Religious School community has identified special needs. (104 documented students. In addition to those that are already identified, there are many who currently do not have a diagnosis and yet are struggling emotionally, physically, or academically. These students and families exist throughout our programming at Shaare Emeth.

Many parents in the greater community believe Jewish education or inclusion on any level in the Jewish community is not an option for their children or their family. Professionals also face their own challenges with issues of inclusion. Many do not have the training to support the needs of their students and families.

We at Shaare Emeth are proud of what we have been able to achieve in supporting our families, however, we realize there is so much more we can and should be doing.

Present Faculty Assigned Specifically to Inclusion at Shaare Emeth Religious School:

Sunday Mornings:

Lead Student Support Staff: 1

Student Support Staff: 5

Additional Support: 5

Midweek Support:

Student Support Staff: 3

Staff Responsibilities Consist of:

• Faculty Training

• Resource Materials

• Adaptive Lessons

• Communication with Families

• IEPs Interpretation

• Creating Individualized plans based on student needs

• Tracking of student needs and assessment

• Push In Support

• Resource ( individual learning opportunities)

Supports and Modifications include:

• Modified teaching styles in classrooms

• Individual support using technology ( ipads)

• Alternative seating and support for physical needs

• Coloring coding of materials

• Fidget Tools available in each classroom and in the office

• Specially trained staff to support students’ needs

• Staff who are trained and able to read IEPs and 504 plans so that their support outside of Shaare Emeth can be used as a guide for our work with them in our Synagogoue.

• Modality based Curriculum

• Students with specialized goals and objectives

• Modified learning goals for B’nei Mitzvah experience

• Ability to address sensory needs within the classroom structures

• Choices and opportunities to “adapt” our program requirements to meet the needs of each student.

• Communication with students’ “educational “team outside of our Congregation.

• Providing support so that our students can attend field trips, retreats, and Religious School experiences outside of our building.

Shaare Emeth’s Commitment to Inclusion has included:

• Willingness to continually think “outside of the box”.

• Desire to say YES before NO

• Support of Director attending and completing Matan Fellowship

• Work with Federation Inclusion Committee

• Congregation financially supports providing services to our students and their families without requesting additional monies from our families.

• Supporting ongoing faculty education so that all faculty can be part of the team supporting our students’ needs.

• Intentional work with our families to be able to provide the best possible environment for their students.

On a typical day at Shaare Emeth…

• Madricha with Autism working in the Religious School office with goals specifically established for the day.

• Kindergarten student with ADHD who has a behavioral modification plan as well as madricha trained to support them with their sensory needs ( fidget tools, “walks around the building”, as well as visual chart for the day)

• 1st Grade faculty member who has grown up through our program, now is attending college in St. Louis and has been diagnosed with Autism.

• 2nd Grade student going through receptive language testing and auditory processing testing for which we are modifying our classroom program for their needs and also working with the family to support their desire for “notes” on their student’s ability to participate in our program.

• 3rd grade student with dyslexia and Dysgraphia who is using an Ipad, auditory learning, and color coding to learn to read and decode Hebrew.

• 4th Grade student with Adhd who has a one on one student support who is helping them be successful in our classroom by providing sensory breaks, modified seating, and helping them participate fully in the classroom.

• 5th grade student with anxiety disorder and ocd who has support who meets them at the door to school to help them adjust to the program each day through specific rituals and practices needed for them to be able to enter their classroom.

• 6th grade student with visual impairments who has modified materials prepared for her for each lesson so that she can just “be like everyone else” each day.

Number of people involved in the effort: 500

Involving People with Disabilities

Shaare Emeth does not have a formal Inclusion committee at this time. However, over the past 12 years we have worked closely with our families to ask them what their needs are, to share with them our thoughts and ideas on how to support their needs. We are continually questioning and examining, with their support, what we could be doing better to serve them. We have one on one meeting with our families and our students to encourage them to share what is working...and what they would like us to improve upon in coming years. Our students (and our families) are not just in our program for one or two years and therefore we must be constantly willing to change, adapt, and evaluate what comes next for them..and for us. Often our students are our number one advocates for changes in our programming and how we implement strategies and ideas to support them.

Funding This Effort

This revitalized effort has been funded through the Religious School budget, our Congregational Budget as well as grants from the Jewish Federation of St. Louis and other congregational funds and endowments.

Helpful Agencies & Organizations

We have worked with Matan as well as the Inclusion Committee at the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. We have also been supported through educational leadership at Special School District in St. Louis and experts in the fields found within our Shaare Emeth Community.

Spreading Awareness About Our Work

Our website, our Religious School information and registration materials all include information about our program. In addition, word of mouth in St. Louis is extremely important in sharing our work. Families who call the congregation and have a conversation learn about initiatives and or desire to include all students. It is part of the conversation, whether they ask about I or not. We want it to be a "known piece" of all we do.

Process & Sharing

Marketing Documents Indicating Our Commitment to Inclusion

History, Materials & Processes that Guided Our Approach

Our Mission Statement, boldly displayed on our website states:

Congregation Shaare Emeth is a compassionate and inclusive community that makes Judaism relevant, meaningful and joyful.

Also stated on our materials and website is the following:

About Our Temple

At Congregation Shaare Emeth, members and guests feel a strong sense of community; are intellectually and spiritually engaged; are inspired, stimulated and challenged by the Reform Jewish tradition; and are building a strong foundation for the future.

Congregation Shaare Emeth encourages the participation of interfaith couples and families as well as people of all backgrounds, sexual orientations and gender identities. We welcome children and adults with disabilities and their families. We strive to ensure our programs and facilities are accessible to all and to accommodate any special needs.

If you have questions or concerns regarding access or participation please call the Temple office at 314-569-0010.

We have learned that communication, personnel, and a supportive community are the keys to success in becoming a truly inclusive Religious School community. The overall St. Louis community is the only one in the nation to have an entire public-school system dedicated to individuals with learning needs. Special School District,, is unique in its ability to work with all the major public-school systems in St. Louis. Therefore our greater community recognizes the need to work in partnerships with families to set students up for success. Our ability to communicate with our families our desire to be their partner, to say YES before NO, and to find a way for each of our students to be and feel welcomed at Shaare Emeth Religious School is among our main goals as a community. By providing supportive faculty, personal one on one support for students when needed, and creating a learning environment that recognizes students have multiple learning needs and styles, allows for our community to be inclusive. Our initial registration and intake forms already begin with asking the "hows and whys" the students learn. We want to know who our students are so that we are able to meet them and immediately begin thinking about what is best for them to be successful. The entire faculty at Shaare Emeth Religious school is hired based on their ability and desire to "think outside of the box" and be creative in finding the right answer for each child. We have on our Religious School faculty a Student Support coordinator as well as many faculty trained in working with students with special needs. Due to the size of our school, if "it" exists in the outside community, we are most likely to find "it" within our community as well. We also hear from our parents that because we frame our support as "everyone is special...let's figure out how to support what is special about your child…” They are more willing to share with us the exact needs of their students.

Evidence of Successful Inclusion Efforts

I have attached a few quotes from some of our families and faculty in our Religious School community. We have many more who would like to share their thoughts and support of our program.

We know that our families feel welcomed mostly because they speak to others in the community and share their story. They invite families to call us and talk to us about what we are doing and how we could support their family in their hopes and desires for a Jewish education for their children. Want to be their partner, and the increase in calls and conversations over the last 10 years has shown us that our desire to do what is wanted matches the need in the community to find a place to call their Jewish home.

Evidentiary Documents

Evidence of Changing Attitudes

Inclusion of students with special learning, social, or emotional needs within our Religious School was once seen as something special we did. has become just who we are as at Shaare Emeth. At first there was a vast learning curve for our students, our families, and most importantly our faculty. It was something new, different, and unique. Something we had to put extra thought into as an "added extra". It has become merely just part of the fabric of our program and our community. Whereas it was once something that was an addition to conversations with families; it is now part of every conversation. In the beginning, there was trepidation and concerns. Can we do this? Should we be doing this? WHO will do this? When do we need to say we "can't" do this...Little by little there is less "not sure how we can do this" and much more "of course we will figure it out!" Many of our students who approach ch us now with specific needs are not the "first" of that type of need. We have strategies, ideas, and logistics already in place. When our congregants talk about what we do it is with pride and acknowledgement of it being a positive attribute. The misconceptions originally came from the uncertainty and unknown. Once we have proven ourselves, this begins to disappear.

How We're Using and Sharing the Disabilities Inclusion Learning Center

I'm planning on using the resources in three distinct ways already!

1. To share with our faculty at Religious School through development opportunities as well as ongoing email communications.

2. To share with our clergy and directors through our weekly meetings.

3. To use as we begin to further delve into "next steps" and possibly create an inclusion committee within our congregational structure.

Future Inclusion Efforts

Although there is SO MUCH more to do, we feel that our Religious School community is now established as a place for those with learning, social, emotional needs to come and be welcomed and included in all of our programming. The next steps are to ensure that this is not merely a silo in our greater Shaare Emeth community. Shaare Emeth has already made grade strides within our Early Childhood, Camping, and Youth Programming. However, must strive to make inclusion a seamless endeavor at Shaare Emeth. These are our next steps in this process. The silos have been created; we must now work on building bridges for our congregants to travel across as they live and interact within the Shaare Emeth community.

« Back to the Exemplar Congregations