Helping Our Children Succeed 

Hylton I Lightman, MD, DCH (SA), FAAP

I’m heartbroken. 

Mishpacha magazine’s interview with Avreimie and Rivka Klein, the grieving parents of the late Malky Klein A”H, is gut wrenching.  Malky tragically overdosed on drugs this past June.  Popular amongst her peers, Malky struggled academically.  She was evaluated by the New York City Board of Education but there was no diagnosis.   She received extra help in school:  being pulled out of class negatively affected her.  Some might say bullying. Unfortunately, no high school accepted Malky.  The 9th grade school term was days old when a high school finally accepted her.

Yet this start proved false and Malky was soon expelled.  Three months passed before her parents found her another school.  Determined to succeed and supported by her parents, she immersed herself in her studies.  After completing 9th grade on a strong note, she independently approached the principal of the high school of her choice to request a transfer.  The answer was no.  Malky’s one-way, rapid descent with a thud into an underworld that no parent or child should ever know was launched, at full speed.

This story is told from the viewpoint of parents who tried everything to help their daughter.

Unbiased it’s not.

Nevertheless, there are several points which can help others.

Parents: Be proactive.  Tell teachers that you want to hear from them and not wait only for parent/teacher conferences.  Involve the principals and learning specialists especially if you suspect something is amiss. Educate yourselves.  Network to learn what your child’s struggles might mean.  Social media and communities of similar parents can be helpful.  Your pediatrician is also a resource.

School district evaluations can be important starting points.  Supplementing them with private evaluations can zero in more efficaciously on problem and weak areas.  Evaluations should elicit useful, practical information – in other words, a diagnosis.  Because once there’s a diagnosis, a plan of intervention with goals, modalities of treatment, and a timeline can be formulated and tailored to the individual child.

The bottom line:  No one will advocate more effectively for the child than the parents.  It will be tiring.  It feels like pushing the boulder uphill as the boulder threatens to run out of control and trample everything in its path.  So be it.   As always, daven.

Further, every child – Alef, Beis or otherwise — deserves a school. 

A preschool.  An elementary school.  A middle school.  And a high school. 

I understand that some high schools refuse to universally accept their middle school students.  But please – All schools must work together to make sure that no child is left out and/or left behind.

Unfortunately, the principal with whom Malky met after ninth grade is not a minority.  How careful we must all be in our interaction with others as all people are created B’Tzelem Elokim.

It’s no secret that there can be a direct line from kids having learning issues to kids who become “at risk” and experience the awful spectrum of drugs,  illicit relations and worse.  At the root of all learning issues are weaknesses in reading and/or kriah.  It’s time to develop and institute universal reading and kriah evaluation programs, starting with the end of pre-1A and then being conducted throughout the elementary school years three times annually – before the school year begins, mid-year, and at the end of the school year.

A few favorite books 📚 Dr. Lightman has on his bookshelf

Why evaluate during the latter part of pre-1A? 

Phonemic awareness is a prerequisite to children learning how to read.  Weaknesses in this area can emerge during this school year.  It’s an opportune time to identify them and with, appropriate intervention, nip them in the bud from developing into larger problems.

Reading and kriah are fundamental to our curricula.  Yet too often, they are assumed or taken for granted.  Mistake.  Our children need to be drilled in the fundamentals in elementary school so a firm foundation is established upon which everything else is built.  No doubt it will cost money.  But it’s small change in the larger picture and think of the problems they will prevent.

Whether school is in session or summer vacation, small changes can be implemented.  

For example, every student should be required to read out loud, both Hebrew and English.  Yes, it may identify learning issues.  As important, studies have demonstrated that reading aloud can achieve the following:

  • Sharpens one’s focus
  • Introduces and increases vocabulary
  • Results in greater comprehension
  • Gives a person an opportunity to play with intonation (and makes reading fun)
  • Exercises different parts of the body
  • Improves listening and reading skills
  • Helps children recognize what reading for pleasure is all about.

Of course, parents reading out loud to children from an early age has untold benefits.  At some point, children can read to parents.  This is great for bonding and will give parents insights into their children.

Avreimy and Malky Klein are courageous to go public with Malky’s story.  They are using their unfathomable pain to help others.

May they be successful.  And may Malky’s precious Neshoma enjoy a Lichtige Gan Eden.

Read the full article “Destroying Students Potential” here.

Read the full article “Always My Malky” here.

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