special Needs Programs
Professional Development for Staff Members of
Ramah Programs for Campers with Special Needs
by Shira Arcus, Coordinator, Ramah Programs for Campers with Special Needs, February 2013
With the generous support of the Neshamot Fund of UJA-Federation of New York and the 2011 Ramah Israel Bike Ride, National Ramah has provided many professional development opportunities for staff members of Ramah programs for campers with special needs.
At both the National Ramah Spring Leadership Training Institute at Ramah Darom in May 2012, and the Weinstein Institute for Staff Training at Ramah California in January 2013, staff members shared best practices and programming ideas. One participant, a rosh edah in the Ramah Wisconsin Tikvah Program, said, “The feeling of solidarity at these training institutes is really invaluable for me. Having developed friendships with Tikvah staff from other camps really opens up a huge new source of support, both before and--hopefully--during the summer.”
In addition, National Ramah sponsored two wonderful professional development workshops in May 2012 and this past year that were open to staff members of Ramah programs for children with disabilities, as well as other organizations that serve people with disabilities. Both sessions were held at the National Ramah Commission office at The Jewish Theological Seminary. Additional participants from various parts of the country and an array of organizations and institutions were able to watch the presentations via a live webstream.
(Note: As we went to press, a third session was scheduled for February 28, 2013. Jason Lieberman, disability advocate and former Ramah Berkshires camper, will lead a discussion exploring what the Torah says about inclusion and disabilities and how culture has shaped the integration of people with disabilities in both Israel and North America.)
May 2012: Social Stories Workshop
Presenters Nancy Tarshis and Debbie Meringolo led an informative session about social stories, an approach to teaching social information to people who do not pick up this information through intuition, but instead need direct instruction about the social world and social situations. The presenters introduced the goals of and the criteria for using social stories, and led the group in activities that highlighted how social stories can be tailored to the camp setting. For example, the group discussed how helpful it would be to use social stories with a camper who likes a schedule and is and feels uncomfortable when his schedule is disrupted (e.g., it is raining out and he cannot go swimming in the lake).
Those who attended the workshop in person were enthusiastic about the possibility of sharing social stories among the camps so that staff members do not need to reinvent the wheel.
Nancy Tarshis is a speech-language pathologist, and Debbie Meringolo is the long-time associate director of the Infant/Toddler Team and RELATE Program at the Rose F. Kennedy Center Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center (CERC) in Bronx, NY.
November 2012: Autism Workshop
Ilene Lainer, the co-founder and executive director of New York Collaborates for Autism, as well as the mother of a camper in the Tikvah program at Camp Ramah in New England, presented an overview of the characteristics of autism and how autism may manifest itself in different people. She then facilitated a group discussion highlighting helpful strategies to use when working with people with autism in formal and informal settings.
One participant said, “Even though I have experience working with people with autism, this presentation was so clear and practical and helped remind me about things I learned previously.” Ms. Lainer also provided the participants with visual aids that could be brought back to their organizations with them to be used when presenting to colleagues at camp or in professional settings.