South Florida Sun-Sentinel
By David A. Schwartz, Staff Writer
3:28 p.m. EDT, June 16, 2014
They walked down the aisle in their caps and gowns as younger students and parents cheered them on. There were only six graduates at the South Florida Jewish Academy ceremony on a recent Wednesday morning but feelings of enthusiasm and accomplishment filled the spacious room in the school’s new home.
“We have made a difference in their lives and they have made a difference in ours,” Baila Gansburg, the school’s director and principal, said.
South Florida Jewish Academy in Coconut Creek, a kindergarten through 12th grade school for special needs children, draws students from Broward and South Palm Beach but the school also gets a few students from Miami-Dade County.
Samantha Gordon, 19, of Boca Raton, is the first senior to graduate from the school. When Gordon arrived as a sophomore, she was behind academically. South Florida Jewish Academy’s classes were smaller than those in the public school she attended, Gordon said. “It made it a lot easier to focus.” She said she began to gain confidence. “When I first came in I was like a crumbled up piece of paper. During my three years here I slowly uncrumbled,” she said.
Gordon worked with lower functioning students. “I think my passion is for kids,” said the new graduate who wants to attend either Broward College or Palm Beach State College and eventually teach special needs children.
“This is a one-of-a-kind school,” said Moshe Stander, of West Boca Raton, whose son, Matisyahu, 14, was one of the middle school students in the graduation ceremony. “They give special attention. It’s almost like one-on-one with the teachers. Most other schools sweep the kid under the rug or in the back of the room.”
While all eyes were on the graduates, it was impossible to not notice the building, the former home of Technological University of America. It will be the South Florida Jewish Academy’s new home when classes begin in the fall.
The eight-year-old school purchased the 33,000 square foot building at 3700 Coconut Creek Parkway, of the Florida Turnpike, for $5 million in December 2013.
“We had a little building in Coconut Creek. The capacity was 60,” Rabbi Yossi Gansburg said.
The new building has 18 classrooms, science and computer labs, and a feeling of unlimited space.
“We saw what this building could bring to these children,” Baila Gansburg said. “A lot of kids are technology savvy. We want to change the vision of what special needs kids can do.”
She said enrollment for the 2014-2015 school year is expected to be 75 students. “We don’t want to grow too big too quickly. Every year we’ll take on a little more.” Gansburg said she hopes to one day have as many as 250 students in the school. A short-term goal is to add a vocational school within a year or two, she said.
The numbers of special needs children in the Jewish community are growing, Gansburg said. “Almost every family is touched by it.”
Public school classes for these children are much larger, she said. “A lot of these kids are falling through the cracks and are not being able to be taught because of the size of the classrooms.”
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