Gateways founding director serves Boston’s Jewish community and beyond

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/02/01/gateways-founding-director-serves-bostons-jewish-community-and-beyond/
Arlene Remz, Gateways Special Education Entrepreneur (NewBostonPost photo by Mary McCleary)

Arlene Remz, Gateways Special Education Entrepreneur (NewBostonPost photo by Mary McCleary)

As founding Executive Director of Gateways, a regional special education consortium, Arlene Remz has become a well-known figure far beyond the Boston Jewish community her organization serves. Remz launched Gateways in 2006 from her bedroom alcove, and developed it into a multi-million dollar operation that serves a wide range of children with disabilities.

Located in Newton, Gateways has become Boston’s central agency of special education for Jewish students. It operates in preschools, day schools, and congregational and community programs. It also runs several self-contained regional ventures. Their educational model has attracted the attention of other regional operations around the country who come to Gateways for guidance.

Remz started her career as a special education professional, and was an early leader in the movement while working at associated development centers in Boston and New York. Her interest in the field expanded when she took over as President of the Board of Directors at Solomon Schechter Day School in  Boston. Remz describes how 15-20 years ago very little was being done to accommodate learning disabled and special needs children, including at Jewish schools. Even though none of her children had disabilities, Remz became a board member of one of the first grass roots organizations, Etgar l’Noar, which helped children with moderate to severe conditions. In 2006, she led the merger between Etgar l’Noar and the Jewish Special Education Collaboration, which specialized in children with less severe learning and reading disabilities who attended day schools.

Their volunteer work becomes part of their core development as persons. Not only do they help others in need, but their training, weekly commitment, and relationships with the students also change their own lives.

With the expanded resources of the merger, Remz saw that Gateways could have a comprehensive approach that would enable them to focus on best practices for  learners at every level.  So she implemented developmentally-appropriate curricula and differentiated instruction throughout the system. Remz built programs that included support services, speech and occupational therapy, and learning and behavior help for students. She was also one of the first leaders to incorporate professional development and training for educators. Remz noted that their regional model has the advantage of reaching many teachers throughout the community to equip and support their diverse student population.

Gateways special education program in early years (Courtesy, Gateways)

Gateways special education program in early years (Courtesy, Gateways)

Communications director, Rachel Fadlon, concurred: “Gateways’ model can be applied to other communities of worship, since we reach across educational settings: we work in day schools, religious schools, preschools, and run our own independent programs.” Fadlon added, “other religious educational systems that have a similar structure could create a comparable regional model, where one organization provides streamlined supports and services to all educational institutions.”

Gateways also launched initiatives to help learning disabled students learn Hebrew and prepare for their b’nei mitzvahs. Remz noted, “Gateways is a unique model. There is no other Jewish community with an organization with the same reach and responsibility.”

Remz explained that Gateways services disabilities that most private schools are unable to accommodate. This is particularly true for children with significant problems, since the schools simply do not have the resources or personnel to help them. For example, Gateways has helped children with non-verbal cerebral palsy, autism, and hearing and visual impairment. With the individual attention and specially designed curriculum, the disabled children perform better and also feel more accepted among their peers.

The peer support at Gateways is a rare, if not unique, feature not normally seen in special education programs. Remz cites it as one of the most important services they provide, and readily admits that they could not offer the extensive level of support without their teen volunteers.

Teen volunteers from Mitzvah Mensches, or "good persons" (Courtesy, Gateways)

Teen volunteers from Mitzvah Mensches, or “good persons” (Courtesy, Gateways)

Most of the group’s volunteers come from their “Mitzvah Mensches” program. This extraordinary group of high school students helps every Sunday, usually as one-on-one aides for the children. The teenagers are carefully selected and undergo a comprehensive training process. Remz added that after nearly 16 years in operation, the program has become so popular that there are consistently more applicants than available positions.

Gateways’ inclusion of teen volunteers is an enlightened concept that both motivates the special needs students and provides a meaningful outlet for the teens to grow in friendship and understanding.

It is a profound experience for the teens, many of whom have gone on to careers in special education, neuropsychology, and clinical psychology. One of the current teachers at Gateways, for example, started as a Mitzvah Mensche.

Remz noted the participants develop on a personal level as well: “Teens grow in many ways through their volunteer experience. Their volunteer work becomes part of their core development as persons. Not only do they help others in need, but their training, weekly commitment, and relationships with the students also change their own lives.”

And that is not the only way the young adults develop. Remz elaborated: “The overlying theme is teen philanthropy. But the underlying theme is helping them develop social skills by working together on projects.”  For instance, they learn first hand about texting too much and how it adversely affects their interpersonal relationships. Remz noted that the youth group in inclusive, and also welcomes volunteers who are  learning disabled.

Describing the positive influence of volunteer work on teens, Remz discussed her own three children, all of whom donated time to the program. For example, her son planned to study business in college, but nonetheless sought out volunteer opportunities when he left home for Emory University in Atlanta. Every week, he mentored a boy with Down Syndrome, which turned out to be an enriching experience for them both. He now works at an investment bank, but still helps out at Gateways whenever he can.

Student and volunteers at Gateways' Sunday Program (Courtesy, Gateways)

Student and volunteers at Gateways’ Sunday Program (Courtesy, Gateways)

Remz’ legacy in the special education world comes from building a unique regional model that has widespread applicability in a variety of academic settings. She developed a workable plan for an umbrella organization to handle a broad range of programs that individual schools were unable to provide. It is especially useful for private school networks, such as secular independent schools and regional religious operations, such as Catholic diocesan schools and loosely affiliated Christian academies.

Above all, Gateways’ inclusion of teen volunteers is an enlightened concept that both motivates the special needs students and provides a meaningful outlet for the teens to grow in friendship and understanding. Remz’ vision in building Gateways into the large and respected organization it is today has earned her considerable recognition in the field, and more importantly, the gratitude of the families who have benefited from their programs.

Remz added enthusiastically, “It’s been a wonderful, very fulfilling way to incorporate my personal passion and professional work.”

Contact Mary McCleary at [email protected].

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