I love having SINAI students and faculty as part of our Ma’ayanot family. It is a testament to the culture of SINAI, Ma’ayanot and the intertwining of the two that so many of us view the SINAI students and teachers as an organic part of our school. SINAI students regularly participate in our morning tefillot, eat lunch with us, take part in our chagigot and shabbatonim and chat with us. Sometimes they also cry, seem anxious or laugh joyfully in the
hallways—indistinguishably from other Ma’ayanot students.
Last Friday, though, I had a lens into just how unique the SINAI experience can be, and how much we can learn from it, when I joined the Morning Meeting of SINAI’s students and faculty. Mrs. Sima Kelner, director of the SINAI school at Ma’ayanot, had invited us administrators to join on a day of our choosing, and I am glad I chose Friday: It was a perfect way to start off a particularly busy day.
Sitting in the Morning Meeting circle, we began under the gentle leadership of Mrs. Picker, who
guided us through deep breathing in order to bring us to a calm place, as the students explained. Time slowed down immediately as we focused on deliberately filling our lungs with air, exhaling, caring for ourselves individually, in unison. When, a few minutes later, we went around the circle saying good morning to each person on our right and left by name, I was no longer preoccupied with my to-do list for the day. Instead, I was breathing calmly and happy to be connecting with people and exchanging greetings. Mrs. Field then introduced the next part of the meeting, in which each of us shared a brief reflection of how we were feeling that morning, and why. We were happy, or upset, or determined, or confused, or a combination of emotions—all normal and normalized through descriptions that allowed each person to be expressive without feeling exposed.
We ended the Morning Meeting with a weekly student share, in which a student reads aloud a piece she has written about her area of passion—in this case, dancing. Chaya Ziporah proudly shared with us how much she enjoys dancing—at chagigot, at our annual Heartbeats performance, really anytime!—and the way it makes her feel, and then we had the opportunity to offer compliments and reflections on her wonderful presentation. Mrs. Methal spoke about the commitment Chaya Ziporah had shown to working on this presentation from the time she had accepted the assignment, through writing and practicing it and culminating with that morning. Others spoke about how much they enjoy watching her dance, or how much they enjoyed listening to her speak about it. For everyone in the room, it was a pleasure to let a friend shine and to shower her with positive feedback.
I found the entire experience moving. It brought to mind several things that can get lost if we don’t make sure to integrate them into our lives. For instance:
A lot happens in a given day that is by the seat of our pants; starting off the day with a routine grounds us.
Extemporaneous conversations can be stimulating and fun; interactions that are somewhat predictable can be calming and create a sense of security.
Constructive feedback is sometimes necessary for growth; positive feedback is vital for pride and awareness of our own growth.
And so much more. A message that the teachers convey implicitly in this meeting is that various aspects of our development—personal, emotional, physical, academic—are related organically. A message that the students receive and clearly embrace is that SINAI is a place of safety and love and maturation, where taking risks can only benefit them. This is just good education, and we all benefit from having SINAI at Ma’ayanot to remind us of that.
By Tamar Appel
Associate Principal, Ma’ayanot
Tamar Appel is associate principal of Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls, one of SINAI’s seven partner schools for children with a wide range of developmental, intellectual and complex learning disabilities. SINAI’s annual dinner will be on February 24, at the Marriot Glenpointe Hotel in Teaneck. The annual dinner is the largest single source of scholarship funding for their students. Visit www.sinaidinner.org to donate or make reservations.