The Problem of Summer Holidays and Working Parents

by: Alisa Fox Coleman, Director of Organizational Advocacy

It’s nearly the end of June. It’s the time that panicked parents ask themselves, “what am I going to do with my kid for the next two months?”

My youngest son is 10, he is the first of my four kids to go through the long and hot, two-month summer holidays while both of his parents are working full-time. We feel sorry for ourselves as parents, having to juggle child-care, and find answers to the problem of the summer. Most of us parents get 14-18 days of holiday each year. Summer holiday is 45 days – these are just  logistics but does anyone think about the summer from our kids point of view?

Going to school is tough, and I am not just talking about the academics. Peer pressure and teacher expectations are an ongoing challenge during the course of the year.

Holidays should not be about any of that.

Holidays are for fun and relaxation – all those adjectives we would use for taking a break from the conscious and subconscious struggles of the school environment. At least, that’s what I think holidays should be.

Holidays are also  a time for informal education. They’re for a different kind of educational experience – of equal importance to every child as the school year is. As a child and teen I remember waiting until my next camp experience. I made so many good friends at camp. I learnt about myself, and how to live and work in a group setting, first as a camper and then as a counsellor. If I could go back to camp tomorrow , I would.

Camp Shutaf Is an oasis of calm amongst the storm of yearly peer interactions . Quality counsellors, and a relaxed family-style environment with fun, low-tech camp activities.

Every child is treated as an individual with their own preferences, abilities, and moods.

When a child walks in to camp in the morning, whatever mood they may be in they will be greeted by counsellors who care,  staff who want them to be happy and have fun.

Sounds obvious, but as we all know as parents, camp is often like a factory – rushing kids on and off buses, and from activity to activity. Often, kids don’t feel good about themselves if there is an activity in which they are forced to take part. Or, it is run by counsellors who are young, and without the proper tools to deal holistically with the kids in their care.

On my vacation, I personally do not want to be forced to do anything that I don’t want to do!

So what is different about Camp Shutaf? Shutaf Inclusion Programs in Jerusalem offers inclusion day camps three times  a year during longer school holidays, for children with and without disabilities. Camp Shutaf’s biggest program is August camp. This summer, 135 participants, ages 6-23, will enjoy 3 fabulous weeks of day camp in Jerusalem.

Shutaf’s innovative, reverse-inclusion model combines a majority group of participants with varied developmental challenges (75%) with a smaller group of participants (25%) without disabilities.

How does this work you may ask?

Firstly, there is a long waiting list for the campers without disabilities.Shutaf’s inclusion ethos, professional program planning and staff training ensures an excellent program in an uniquely, accepting environment .The camp provides quality, personal attention , an inclusive and accepting atmosphere all of which you can only describe when you have seen it in action.

The counsellors listen to the needs of all the kids in their charge. Every kid has good days and bad days or days when they arrive at camp not in the mood.The difference is that their counsellors will listen and be patient and do their best to accommodate and be there for them.

When you do not label kids special things happen. All the kids are looked at as individuals with their own feelings and needs.

The counsellors are not told before who has the disability, they work on dealing with each kid in their charge individually.

Many professionals in the field of disability  have gone to visit Shutaf over the years, and they all admit that it is difficult to tell which are the kids with disabilities and which are without .

When you focus on kids having fun with an emphasis on peer- communication , everyone wins.

Honestly, I wish I could spend my vacation, doing fun activities in a chilled fun environment where people care about me.

Wouldn’t you?

I’m sure all of our kids would.

Alisa

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First Day Impressions

IMG_20150731_182637Today is my first day of camp. I have the same feelings I did when I was a little kid going off to camp at the beginning of the summer. It’s only been about twenty minutes since I have been here, and I already feel overwhelmed. Not the run-for-the-hills kind of overwhelmed but the kind where you are very excited and nervous for what’s to come. One of the groups I spent time with was with was singing “Hakuna Matata,” and even though they were singing in Hebrew I found myself singing along (in my head in English). For me, being around and hearing something foreign and yet so familiar, like that well-known song, was very comforting. Watching all the kids energetically bounce around reminds me of when I went to camp. That made me so happy because once again I felt as though I could relate even though I could not understand anything that was being said.

What was even more comforting was just how friendly everyone was. Almost half of the staff and campers speak some level of English but even those that couldn’t, still made an effort to come over and make me feel welcomed. I am a very shy person when it comes to meeting people, as well as being in large groups but the friendly atmosphere helped me get through it.

The best part of my day was being in one these blow up plastic balls called “Zorbs”. At first it was just me and the other interns but after a few minutes all these campers came rushing in. They just started pushing me around, and then the staff joined in and it was really fun interacting with everyone in such a friendly manner.

Overall I had a really good day. I was internally freaking out most of the day trying to find my place and see where I fit in within the camp. I think after a few days I will start to feel more comfortable, and really get to enjoy Camp Shutaf for what it is – a really fun and inclusive environment. Within one day, I already feel like a changed person. and I can’t wait to see what the rest of these three weeks will hold!

Stephanie Reynolds is currently a summer intern at Shutaf. A Toronto native, she is in Israel on the ‘Real Life Israel,’ summer program.

I want excellence. I want opportunities.

I’m the mother of a 17 1/2 year old girl with special needs. As I watch Adina’s peers without disabilities graduate from high school this month, going on to mechina or the army, my heart aches. What future awaits my daughter? She has another 3 years to go in the Israeli special education system. And then what?  Where are her Mechina programs, army options, college track?

vinnyAdina started out by being individually included in neighborhood preschools and elementary school until fourth grade, when she expressed that she was tired of always being “on the side”. We transferred her to special education – Tidhar – a wonderful school for children with severe learning disabilities, as well as emotional and behavioral issues in Jerusalem. She had three excellent years there. But since then, she hasn’t yet found a place that truly answers her emotional needs.

And yet, the bigger question is what happens after the school years? Adina loves to work with babies, horses and dogs – she’s a good worker. Where is the vocational school that will train her to do these jobs, truly believing her capable of hard work and giving her the emotional support she needs to succeed as well as the social framework that a young person craves? Where are the adult education frameworks, and college programs for young adults with special needs, like Adina? Don’t they also deserve to continue their formal education, just like everyone else? Where are the job opportunities for these capable young people?  They are part of our society, even if they think or move a bit slower than most of the rest of us.

For example, the Jerusalem municipality should have a certain number of places set aside for people with disabilities – cognitive and physical – in its city programs. Imagine if the municipality, when planning a complex of discounted studios for artists, set aside a studio or two for artists with special needs. Nobody wants or needs a “Festival Tsamid” – a separate municipal festival for people with disabilities – that just emphasizes difference. It’s condescending, wastes public funds that should be spent on quality services and ultimately and is of no interest to anyone in the broader society.

I want opportunities, excellent opportunities for my daughter. I want people to see and really understand what she CAN do and not only focus on her limitations. Stop separating and feeling sorry for the person with cognitive disabilities! Instead, stretch your mind and open your eyes to believe in that person’s abilities and her inherent right to be an integral part of society. That will benefit the person with cognitive disabilities and even more, will strengthen our society.

It’s time to think about finding a way to integrate people with cognitive disabilities into every walk of life, naturally.  Cafe Aroma does it on a national level. Why can’t the government? It’s not because of limited budgets, it’s because of limited thinking.